The ways of the “philosophy of common sense” – 2

Serhii SEKUNDANT: “A genuine reform of higher education calls for rejection of the administrative command system”

In the first part of the interview, Serhii SEKUNDANT, Doctor of Sciences (Philosophy), Associate Professor, Head of the Department of Philosophy and Common Humanitarian Knowledge, Odesa National Illia Mechnikov University, reflects on the mentality of Ukrainian society and difference between real reforms and imitation, and analyzes the phenomenon of public philosophy in Ukraine and its impact on the development of the country and people. Read here about how to return real science to the system of higher education and why The Day’s interviewee considers Indian philosophy more profound than European.

“THE INDIVIDUAL MUST BE AWARE OF THE SENSE OF LIFE”

Mr. Sekundant, Eastern philosophy is also part of your scholarly interests. Why did you decide to combine the Western and Eastern traditions in your research? Do you think Eastern philosophy is present in the cultural field of Ukrainians or these links are confined to interest in martial arts, yoga, and exotic religious trends?

“I also began with karate! My brother drew me into it – he has the fifth dan. Then I took interest in Indian philosophy. Mystical at first glance, Indian philosophy is in reality very rational – it is much more profound than European. I think European philosophy is in its infancy.

“The word ‘philosophy,’ which was first used by Pythagoras, translates from Ancient Greek as ‘love for wisdom.’ God being the only sage, philosophy means love for God. Unlike Aristotle, Plato was a religious thinker and saw the goal of philosophy in catharsis – the purification that opened the way to cognizing the truth. The sage is a person who lives by godly principles, for example, does not lie. It is written directly in Shatapatha Brahmana [a Vedic text of the first half of the 1st millennium BC. – Ed.] that only the gods do not lie, while man always has an inclination for lying. I understand Indian philosophy quite well and believe in it more than in European.

“European philosophy has become a vogue. We have not been seeking the truth for a long time. I think Leibniz was perhaps the last one who tried to direct philosophy into searching for the truth. After him, especially with the appearance of the so-called neoclassical and post-neoclassical philosophy, European philosophy plunged, in my opinion, into a deepest crisis.

“Philosophy must be conceptual, it is supposed to solve problems and cannot confine itseld to descriptions. Modern-day ‘philosophers’ are inclined very much to descriptions, they retell some subjective ideas, thinking that, by doing so, they follow Heidegger and Husserl. Degree seekers don’t know how to give arguments and cannot apply methods of philosophical analysis on a proper level. Their works often assume the form of a simple narration, they use metaphors instead of notions, and their reflections are often based on associations. Their thinking is usually associative rather than conceptual. Non-classical philosophy has ceased to perform the functions classical philosophy used to perform. This is especially characteristic of the post-Soviet space – it is surprising how Ukrainian philosophers are dependent on their Russian counterparts’ pattern of thought. This is why I prefer to read German authors.

“The point is that some sense can always be put into any stupid utterance. Today, the authors of many dissertations are ‘catching’ at certain terms and trying to put their ‘homespun’ sense into them. Philosophy is losing a collective nature. Meanwhile, the path to the truth requires knowledge of all basic theories and the history of philosophy. The foundation of philosophical education is undoubtedly the history of philosophy. It only in a discussion with other concepts, in a polemic that envisions reflection, that the truth is found.

“I think going back to basics is an acceptable alternative to the current pursuits of non-classical and post-neoclassical philosophy. It is Heidegger who began to return to Ancient Greek philosophy. But the Ancient Greek Philosophy of Plato and Aristotle was deeply metaphysical and ontological, and, hence, well-grounded. It called for fundamental ontological principles by which man should be guided in life. Man should be clearly aware of sense in life.

“The same qualities distinguish Indian philosophy. It is very integrative, simple, and, at the same time, profound. Indian philosophy discovered the phenomenon of karma consciousness and put release from sufferings to the fore. Differences between various schools and trends were only caused by different views of the ways to get rid of suffering. Unlike European philosophy, the Indian one could not follow the way describing and exploring the subjective associations of the author because it had a clear-cut practical task – to relive consciousness of the determinism of karma, which is the source of sufferings. According to Indian philosophy, consciousness is determined by the past – previous actions, particularly, traditions. It is impossible to get rid of this metaphysical load of our consciousness in a purely philosophical, speculative, way, as Husserl suggested. For he set a religious goal, and it should be achieved in religious practices.

“European philosophy caters for sciences, and sciences cater for our body – they are aimed, first of all, at creating pleasures and comfortable conditions for the body. The body is in turn doomed to aging and death. From the viewpoint of Indian philosophy, the body is not the essence of man, and, therefore, what European philosophy deals with is of no sense to it.”

“THE PHILOSOPHICAL COMMUNITY SHOULD ESTABLISH CLEAR-CUT CRITERIA OF QUALITY AND DEMAND THAT THEY BE MET”

About 20 years ago, you wrote an article on the depth of totalitarian legacy in our system of education. Has anything changed in this period? Incidentally, the rhetoric of the present-day “reformers” of education is consonant in some aspects with your ideas, but what is the real situation?

“Unfortunately, I have noticed no major changes. It is no secret that a lot of universities and faculties were established in the 1990s for commercial purposes only. Today, bribery is rife there, especially in provincial institutions.

“Under the new law, there should be at least 200 full-time students at a faculty. Our philosophy faculty has also fallen victim to this regulation – it was recently decided to merge it with that of history. I see no tragedy in this. As a historian of philosophy, I am used to thinking concretely. Any problem has its own history, and a philosopher, who strives for an academic degree, must know the history of his problem.

“At the same time, I feel pity for the physics faculty which is becoming part of the faculty of mechanics and-mathematics. Exact sciences are very important for the development of society. If we are striving to integrate into Europe, we need high-technology industries. It is wrong to merge departments and faculties which took so many pains to organize specialization. On the other hand, if the dean and a large part of the philosophy faculty believe they don’t need specialization, what’s the use of such a faculty of multi-hyphenate philosophers? Kant calls such multi-hyphenates dilettantes in his Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. If a faculty is headed by a person who has not gained a philosophical education, is not open to philosophy, and employs people who have no philosophical education, it is a very terrible thing. Graduates of such an institution do not understand philosophical problems, and you can’t find logic in their written works. This kind of faculties is only a profanation of education. The ‘most terrible’ part of dissertations today is methodology. Some doctoral degree seekers do not even know which method they’ve used. Structure is also a major problem. Having turned philosophy into ideology, Marxism killed philosophy and normal philosophical thinking in this country.

“Like the other spheres of life, Soviet education was statistics-oriented. We competed with the West for the number of books and dissertations but never cared about quality. Now the system of education is beginning to reach a qualitatively new level – requirements were toughened for those who seek academic degrees, and so on. These are really positive changes. But the habit of working for statistics still remains. One can dash off 20 ‘publications’ in three years and present it as a doctoral dissertation. And the educational institution meets him or her halfway because it is interested in a larger number of doctors and professors. It is very difficult to struggle with this. The philosophical community must establish clear-cut criteria and demand that they be met.

“A lot talented guys come to study at our faculty, but many of them lose interest in philosophy in the last years of study. The blame lies with the legacy of a totalitarian, administrative command system of education in the USSR. There are very many bureaucrats in Ukrainian education – moreover, this system spawns them. People often defend candidate of sciences and doctoral dissertations in order to gain an office and ‘command.’ University bureaucrats form a specific clan that possesses special preferences. Under the education law, a candidate of sciences, not necessarily a researcher, can be the dean, but he is vested with enormous powers. Having obtained the office of dean, this ‘bureaucrat’ decides whether or not you will win a degree or a professorship, become a member of the academic board, or work in this establishment at all. He chooses which of the departments will be developing.

“There are no such things in the West. In the German system of education, for example, one teacher cannot give orders to another. A department in that country is a research team chaired by an academic, the author of serious scholarly works. All the department members are busy trying to achieve the goals set to the team. Conversely, in our country everybody is busy writing endless reports which only distract you from research. No wonder, many teachers do not pursue research or simulate it. Much to their luck, there are proper conditions for this. In my view, the university is not a place for people who don’t want to conduct research. In Germany, one of the department heads is appointed the dean for two years – they hold this office by turns. For them, it is, above all, an additional load and the obligation to report on behalf of several departments. They are not exactly happy about this obligation. The German system of education should serve as a model for us.

“A genuine reform of higher education calls for reducing the Ministry of Education and Science staff to the minimum and, what is more, giving up the administrative command system itself. This is all possible – all we need is political will.

“It is necessary to cancel all kinds of reports and ‘paperwork,’ for the communist party and a planned economy are in the past. Students should be given an opportunity to choose a course, as was, incidentally, the case in the pre-Revolutionary era. This opportunity will be a natural filter for bogus academics in the university. Of course, some really profound specialists, who are unpopular among lazy students, may also ‘suffer.’ Still, I believe that students must have the right to choose a considerable part of the courses – a true philosopher should know how to express himself in an easy-to-grasp and popular way, without sacrificing the depth of a thought. For me, the model of philosophy is Plato’s dialogs, in which Socrates takes any routine problem and immediately reflects to its deepest foundations. It is the task of a philosopher to uncover these in-depth foundations.”