30 September, 2020

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Ambassador Jayatilleka challenges UNESCO to imagine a socio-economic system which permits “all living beings to be happy”

By Colombo Telegraph –

“May all living beings be happy is the challenge. Is it possible or not to imagine a social and economic system which will permit all living beings to be happy? The final thought I would like to share with you since we have been talking about philosophy is that sometimes the answers have to be post-philosophical and I say post-philosophical; in the sense that a great philosopher, Karl Max intended in his XIth thesis on Feuerbach: “Hitherto philosophers have all interpreted the world. The problem however is to change it.” Ambassador Dr Dayan Jayatilleka said.

Dyan -If I may bring it back to the new humanism; in what sense must a new humanism be new? I would say that humanism has to be globalised.

Ambassador Jayatilleka made this remarks as panelists at a symposium at UNESCO in Paris on November 15, 2011. Ambassador Jayatilleka, together with Ambassador of Chile (who has served under Pablo Neruda) was one of the two Ambassadors invited as panellists at a symposium at UNESCO in Paris. This initiative, named NUNC (Latin for “now”) organized by Ambassador Ion de la Riva (Permanent Delegate of Spain to UNESCO) and the Spanish Delegation to UNESCO, consisted of a series of symposia on the role of New Humanism in the context of the challenges to Science, Culture and Communication are facing in the new Digital Era. NUNC was inaugurated by the Minister of Culture of Spain.

With the participation of Director General Bokova, the event gathered dignitaries as well as renowned scientists, artists and professionals around a series of interdisciplinary and inter cultural round tables focusing on the most pressing aspects of the human past and future. Present among the conference participants were: Prof. Cristovam Buarque (Brazil), David Nelson Gimbel (historian, USA), Fatou Diome (writer, Senegal), Apolonio Ruiz Ligero (economist, Spain), Dario Valcarcel, (managing director of Estudios de Politica Exterior S.A., Spain), Eric Altmayer (prod ucer, France), David Bravo (lawyer, Spain), Bella Thomas (writer and journalist, UK), Maria de So u sa (scientist, Port u gal), Adela Cortina (philosopher, Spain), Prof. Dominique Miller (psychoanalyst, France), Alaska (musician, Spain), Isabel Coixet (journalist and film director, Spain ), Isabel Aguilera (former Director of Google Spain ), François Malye (journalist, France), Sameer Padania (H u man Rights specialist, UK ), Fabio Gandara (May 15thMovement, Spain ) and Mercedes Mila (journalist, Spain ).

Below is the full text of the Ambassador Jayatilleka speech.

Louis Althusser who dominated the field of radical philosophy here in Paris in the 1970s, once said “I am only a philosopher”. Now I am not even a philosopher, speaking for myself, I am only a political scientist; though I have strayed through the realm of political philosophy back into ethics.

I suggest that we look at the topic in terms of its founding categories, building blocks. We have on one hand, humanism and post-humanism, h u man science and ethics and these are bracketed. And we have got humanism and post-humanism, science and ethics; all related to the overall rubrics of the discussion on the new humanism. Now if I may recall some fairly basic proposition about humanism or that school of thought is human-centric which posits that “man is the measure”. It is useful to recall us to the bifurcations that took place between man as individual and man as social and political being. Man alone even in his togetherness and man together even in his solitude. We are speaking really of the stress in liberal humanism, on liberty, on individual freedom and the Hegelian notion of increasing extension of the realm of freedom and the recognition or the stress in radical humanism or socialism, on man and the social and political field, man in collectivity. This contestation has dominated the philosophical debate of modernity and politics in the middle of the democratic, and socialist, communist ideas and ideologies.

The symposia on the role of New Humanism in the context of the challenges to Science, Culture and Communication are facing in the new Digital Era

Now let me shift to post-humanism which is not the same as new humanism. We may understand humanism in one of three senses. One sense that David Gimbel intended it yesterday that’s that man’s presence in the cosmos has in fact been of relatively short duration and may in fact end. So in that sense we are talking about post-humanism. But it all depends on the stress one places, if it is human post-humanism, are we talking about post-man or are we talking about post-humanism in terms of transcendence of an idea and a school of thought. So post-humanism in the sense of “the end of man”, this is one. Post-humanism also in the terms of the transcendence of a philosophy. But there is a third sense which I would wish to draw your attention because humanism, be it the humanism of the earlier centuries or one which hopefully remains a project on “new humanism”, has to face the challenge that was posed by Nietzsche when he said “Man is something that has to be overcome”. Now what did he mean by this? He did not mean some sort of genetic experiment. What Nietzsche meant was that the values by which man lived in the Homeric heroic age. Nietzsche has, you know, been ambivalent on the Socratic moment. And he sought what he calls the transmission of values to perhaps restore that to a certain heroic grandeur. So when we discuss post-humanism we must transcend and go beyond the smugness in which we place man as he or she exists, at the center of philosophy. We must also think of the limits of men, his existential limits, the limits in terms of values, the limits in terms of consciousness that Nietzsche was addressing. Since we are here in Paris, it is important to remember that Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir chose to call Ernesto Che Guevara “the most complete man of our age”, the age of the 2th thcentury. In that sense, it was an echo, an answer to Nietzsche’s problems of the fall or decline of man and the need or the evolution of a new or restored type of man who combines certain qualities. Nietzsche himself indicated in a very striking metaphor the kind of man he is talking about: “Caesar with a soul of Christ”. So that remains in a way a challenge for post-humanism or perhaps even new humanism.

Now if we move to science and ethics, I would like to shift the emphasis from the ethical limits on norms on scientific experimentations to the social. What I mean is this. Science is a double edge sword. On one hand, it has exponentially expanded the possibilities. On the other, it has also exponentially increased the hazards, the dangers. This is where ethics come in, because the point I think is not to place a cap of ethics on development of science. This is not only wrong, it is historically wrong in terms of the evolution of ethics, mathematics, politics; philosophy and ethics existed together, if we go back to the Greeks. I think ethics comes in, in a different sense. Is it possible for u s to permit, encourage, enhance the possibilities that science open u p while minimizing, determining, protecting ourselves, o u r species against the catastrophies that looms with the unfettered development of science. The point therefore is to have an economic and a social experiment that would permit the development of science to benefit humanity, for instance in the realm of medical research as the fight against cancer, but on the other hand combating the effects of climate change. And there we are talking not only about political will but of an economic system and a political system because what we have today and what we have experienced are anti-humanistic systems which I refer to as predatory, namely neo-liberal capitalism and statist-socialism. We have had climate change and natural disasters and man-made disasters that both systems have caused.

Ethics and science come in the sense that the challenge is to imagine an order, a social structure, a social system, social arrangements and economic arrangements which are in fact humanistic, which place man and everything that he and she needs to sustain themselves in this ecosystem. There is where we must address o u r efforts when we think about science and ethics.

If I may bring it back to the new humanism; in what sense must a new humanism be new?  I would say that humanism has to be globalised. This is not to deprive or deride the breakthroughs made in the West and in the North in the history of the h u man thinking. But we must seek out the Southern and Eastern contributions to human-centric world outlook. The globalization of humanism which could be new may also take us to older routes of humanism. So there will be continuity and change. And since most of the speakers have presented us with many words of wisdom, important thoughts of thinkers past, I will leave you with two. One which sums up for me the most humanist motto which brings together the well-being of humankind with that of nature. The saying attributed to the Buddha 2500 years ago, which may or may not derive inspiration from the earlier tradition of the Vedas, where he said: “May all living beings be happy”. That is the challenge. Is it possible or not to imagine a social and economic system which will permit all living beings to be happy? The final thought I would like to share with you since we have been talking about philosophy is that sometimes the answers have to be post-philosophical and I say post-philosophical; in the sense that a great philosopher, Karl Max intended in his XIth thesis on Feuerbach: “Hitherto philosophers have all interpreted the world. The problem however is to change it.”

Watch his speech here;

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_profilepage&v=DsY1huaQC5E]

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    Well said,Dayan Jayatilleke!”Sabbe saththa bhavanthu sukhithuththa!” Are the Governments of the U.S. or for that matter,Sri Lanka,willing to commit to such a “post-philosophy”? Or will “The whirligig of time bring in its revenges”?
    Thakshan Fernando

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