The burden of philosophy

05:06 AM September 04, 2017

In his “Inaugural Address” at Freiburg, Martin Heidegger writes that “metaphysical inquiry must be posed as a whole and from the essential position of the existence of a man that questions.” This form of questioning goes beyond logic and the objective certainty of the empirical sciences. It is a method of thinking that seeks to overhaul two millennia of philosophical toil and discourse. Yet, Heidegger’s eloquence, while making manifest the grandeur of esoteric thought, actually finds no resonance in the world of moral and political conflict.

While young minds grapple with “Being and Time” in the academe, right across the street, two boys carrying a bag full of trash brave the scorching heat of the sun. They are smiling, as gratified as those among us who seek the meaning of being, but are unsatisfied in their search for love and significance in an otherwise inconsolable world that has remained forgetful of the essence of humanity. Soon, the boys will arrive home, only to realize that their father has abandoned his children and a sick wife.


Just as society is built on the blood of its martyrs, our personal lives are not exempted from being victims of the pathologies prevailing in our times. Philosophy offers that sort of respite that sees the light, and yet has failed to bring the ship ashore. The problem of philosophy is not merely finding the reason to be in a world that appears so characteristically unreasonable. For it to be relevant, philosophy must transform itself into a tool for liberation and change.

The biggest battle ahead for millennials struggling to find their place in the order of things is not about the great unknown in the universe. It will be against the elitism in a society that is so divided not only by class but also by its hegemonic culture. High culture elevates the thinker to a self-indulgent automaton, one who has helped define the meaning of social justice but not the value of love. Moral individualism has become the crowning glory that is exclusive only to a select few. The philosopher is an advocate for change, but he or she actually does nothing to effect that change.


The estrangement of philosophy from the ordinariness of human life makes it unreachable to the common person. Thinking is viewed as something that is alien to the masses. The truth is not just a blue-blooded idea. The important truth that has escaped the self-absorbed ways of the modern-day thinker is the reality that the poor are not in need of the beauty and magnificence of abstractive thought, but of the pragmatic solutions to problems that have made human life insufferable. The philosopher who presents his or her ideal picture of the world is irreparably guilty of a moral crime.

The dignity of any person for that matter does not lie in the power of any idea. Rather, it is to be found in the deep roots of our humanity — in our moral worth as persons. Then Sen. Jose W. Diokno once said: “If you deny people their human rights, then you deny them their humanity.” Thus, human achievement should never be measured on the basis of the individual’s self-induced means of moral gratification. Moral propriety is the resolve to contribute most meaningfully in building a just society by being fair in all our judgments and acts.

The loss of innocent lives in any war and conflict should remind humanity of the important role that reason plays in making a society just. Violence is the collapse of reason. But people must not also forget that reason is the same source of barbarity when it is used to justify any war and murder. Reason, of course, is not the enemy, but the absence of it. But if reason is to be of value, then philosophical thought should carry the moral burden of emancipating the powerless from the fetters of political oppression and social injustice.

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Christopher Ryan Maboloc, PhD, teaches philosophy at Ateneo de Davao University. He is the founding president of the
Social Ethics Society.

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TAGS: Christopher Ryan Maboloc, Inquirer Commentary, Martin Heidegger, metaphysical inquirer, philosophy
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