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Philosophy Around the World
Philosophy in Uzbekistan
At the end of the 20th century humankind has developed a new understanding of its interrelatedness in all aspects of life. The economic basis of international integration is the world market. The socio-political aspects of the consolidation process involve the expansion of democracy everywhere in the world. Democracy is becoming a prerequisite for the implementation of human rights, a vital necessity for the majority of world nations in general, and for every member of society in particular.
The collapse of Soviet totalitarianism has become a powerful impulse for democratic change in the many nations which strove to break free of the old Soviet Union. Among these nations is independent Uzbekistan.
While my country consolidates its independence and lays the foundation of a civil society and democratic state ruled by law, it struggles with the aftermath of the totalitarian state, the rule of which is passing into history. The task has turned out to be less simple than it seemed. Democratisation is not a one time act; on the contrary, it is a slow process full of difficult political, legal, socio-economic, spiritual and psychological changes involving society as a whole as well as the private life of every citizen of our young state.
What I have said above applies to a large extent to the spiritual sphere including philosophy. The newly-won independence did not simultaneously bring the collapse of the command economy or the disappearance of state-run governmental structures or their bureaucracy or, what is most important, change the totalitarian mentality which Soviet rule formed over the course of many years among the majority of the people.
Let me illustrate with a few examples the rigid framework within which our spirituality and philosophical thought were confined during the Soviet period.
Before Uzbekistan won its independence, we were not permitted to publish our own textbooks. We were restricted to translations of textbooks written and published in Moscow. At best the national republics were allowed to publish their own manuals.
In the sphere of academic research, the regions were allowed to implement ideas approved by the Centre, i.e. Moscow. We were not expected to produce independent ideas or research. Moreover, those who tried to come up with ideas of their own, automatically found themselves on the list of dissidents. Such was the fate of the Vice President of the Uzbek Academy of Sciences, Professor I. Muminov (1908- 1974). He wrote an article about Amir Timur (Tamerlaine) and gave a presentation on ‘The Role of Amir Timur in the History of Central Asia’ at the extended meeting of the Presidium of the Uzbek Academy of Sciences in 1968. As a result he was accused of idealising the epoch of Amir Timur and his personality.
Outside Uzbekistan, Amir Timur is viewed as a distinguished figure whose life and work are carefully studied. In his native land, he was considered an illiterate vagabond and brigand, the invader of neighbouring territories and states.
A similar situation established itself in philosophy. During the Soviet period a fairly solid system of philosophical education was offered at both universities and secondary schools; there were several research centres focused on the study of the contemporary problems of philosophy; several original Soviet and international philosophical works were published. However, the ideological dictatorship was in the foreground of all activities. Dogmatising research and teaching was based on universally accepted, moreover, compulsory research topics and syllabi which excluded any original thought. Nor did they take into account any element of national culture either in philosophical research, or in the lecture courses in philosophy.
Although the philosophy of the Soviet period called itself dialectical materialism, as a matter of fact, there was nothing to it that was either dialectical or materialistic. It could probably go under the label of pseudo-dialectics: or vulgar materialism. Other trends of philosophical thought which distinguished themselves from the official marxist-leninist mainstream were simply refused the right to exist. For example, so-called non-socialist (for the most part West European) philosophy with its modern schools and trends was taboo and at that time we did not even have a chance of conducting unbiased objective study of these works. We had to be satisfied with second-hand or even third-hand interpretations of the original ideas.
However, if the ban on the research of Western philosophy could in some way be explained by the infamous Iron Curtain and the ideological competition of the two systems, no rational explanation could be provided for the obstacles put in the way of researching our own philosophical legacy.
The many thousand year old philosophical ideas of our ancestors were proclaimed unworthy of research due to their alleged religious mysticism and idealism. Abu Nasr al-Farabi, Abu Raihon Beruni and Abu Ali ibn Sina were at least described as being indirect forefathers of marxist philosophy. The social-philosophical content of their ideas was, nevertheless, almost completely ignored. In the edited books or in the multi-volumed collected works devoted to the history of the Peoples of the USSR, they occupied a modest place varying from a few lines to several small-scale pages. The reason was simple: the younger brother could not be ahead of the older brother in the field of philosophical competition. The older brother was pushed ahead; while the younger brother was done away with.
Meanwhile, it is obvious that without changes in peoples’ world view, without returning to the sources of our many centuries of cultural history and the spiritual legacy of our ancestors, our society cannot achieve changes in peoples’ standard of life or their mentality. At the same time, you cannot achieve the new mentality and outlook without certain changes in peoples’ everyday lives. This is how this major issue is formulated by the head of our state, President of the Republic of Uzbekistan I.A. Karimov.
The proclamation of the Republic’s independence allowed us to lay the first foundation stone of reform. Substantial changes of a political, legal, economic and spiritual character followed in its wake. Spirituality was, without doubt, given the top priority on this list. Moreover, spirituality was elevated to the level of state supported policy.
It is well known that spirituality is unthinkable without a philosophical grounding, a philosophical nucleus; it becomes devoid of substance or meaning. The momentous changes which took place as a result of achieving national independence determined corresponding changes in the study and teaching of philosophy. This can be summed up in the following way:
In the first place, the first move of the Uzbekistan state leadership in the person of President I.A. Karimov was to announce that without spiritual development there cannot be any social development.
In the second place, turning to the ancient spiritual sources, the philosophical and scientific works of our ancestors, and Islamic culture as a whole is a major factor in regaining the national identity of the people, strengthening our independence and restructuring the society on the basis of humanism, justice and democracy.
In the third place, a high level of spirituality, broad philosophical outlook, faultless legal system and intensive social activity are viewed as important features of every citizen enjoying full rights as a subject of a new political system.
Lots of people think that philosophy is an academic discipline of use only to students needing an examination grade. Others suppose that philosophy is an elitist subject, not accessible to just anyone. In our opinion neither party is right. To begin with, philosophy is necessary for society as a whole, for citizens of the country – and only as a consequence of that should it be part of the education, a prerequisite for the future specialists in various fields. It is necessary for the people because it can help them to sort out their own lives and familiarise them with such concepts as the world, humans and society. They should know the essence of these concepts and adapt them to their lives. In brief, every person in a democratic society should be in the first place a citizen taking an active part in governing the society and the state and only in the second place a worker, a producer or an expert in the sphere of manufacturing things.
In Plato’s Republic, Socrates tells us that until philosophical wisdom and political power merge, there will be no end to human grief and troubles. Today this idea acquires new meaning from the perspective of practical implementation. More than one thousand years ago our famous ancestor Abu Nasr al-Farabi wrote in his ‘Treatise On the Outlook of the Residents of the Virtuous City’ about the philosophical issues that everyone should know about, and not the elite exclusively.
From this perspective, in my view, the choice of the main discussion topic at the recent World Congress of Philosophy in Boston – ‘Philosophy Educating Humanity’ was not random. I was privileged to be a participant of this forum; I saw with my own eyes the importance attached at the Congress to idea of paideia, (education) which was cultivated, in fact, not only in Ancient Greek philosophy, but has always been an integral part of the East and South Asian traditional approach as well as part of the Islamic, African and American cultures.
Incidentally, in the Islamic interpretation, a man with an undeveloped mind, narrow vision or not behaving rationally is worse than an animal in a herd, and therefore, cannot be a Muslim. A true Muslim cannot sit on the fence while outrageous things take place before his eyes. The Koran says that Allah is not responsible for what people or whole nations should do to improve if they have got off the righteous way. In the Khadisas it is said that the kind of rulers the people get is determined by who the people themselves are. Nonelection of a worthy man to a post is considered to be as treason to Allah, the Prophet and the pious believers.
The reforms being carried out in Uzbekistan are based on a certain philosophical conception – the people and their development as the main aim; a sociallyoriented market economy, and a civil society with corresponding forms of government as the means of achieving this goal.
The conditions for philosophical pluralism are being created, and a substantial philosophical potential is being formed. The Republic’s philosophers (more than 1000 scholars bearing various degrees and academic positions) are employed by the Institute of Philosophy and Law named after I.Muminov and affiliated to the Uzbek Academy of Sciences, as well as by more than sixty Uzbek universities. They publish books, pamphlets, research and popular articles, collections of works and conference proceedings; they participate in international conferences and symposia. They are often heard in the media, discussing such issues as: what is philosophy about, what should it be nowadays, what is its social role, its scholarly and practical function?
Since 1994, our Institute has held an all-Republic scientific conference every May on the theme ‘Independent Uzbekistan: Contemporary Problems of Philosophy and Law’. We have already had five such conferences, with eight volumes of their proceedings edited.
The scholars of the Institute focus on the study of the following issues: the issue of humans in philosophy, the philosophic and methodological problems of environment; world outlook and ideology; socio-political problems of the development of Independent Uzbekistan; socio-philosophical and political problems of establishing a civil, democratic, lawabiding society in Independent Uzbekistan; sociological and political science issues related to the spiritual and ethical revitalising of society, marriage, family, national integrity, harmonising relations among the various peoples inhabiting Uzbekistan, as well as problems of the history of philosophy and civil ideas in Uzbekistan, Central Asia, CIS and other countries of the East and West.
Familiarisation with foreign philosophical thought is of vital importance for us, especially with regard to the experience of teaching philosophy in such countries as Great Britain, USA, France and Germany. We have recently established a non-profit foundation called ‘Mugafakkir’ (The Thinker). Its purpose is to publish ancient Turkic manuscripts containing philosophical thoughts, as well as the philosophical works of our famous ancestors and to make them available for careful research not only locally but also worldwide, allowing the international philosophical community to join the research effort and giving us the opportunity to share this knowledge with our colleagues abroad. Another aim is to establish overseas links and undertake translations of foreign philosophical works. The republic has an actively working Philosophical Society of Uzbekistan. Recently, we have founded another organization of a similar type – the National Society of Uzbekistan Philosophers.
To sum up, Uzbekistan’s aspiration to find for itself a worthy place among the nations should without doubt be accompanied by an equal effort of a philosophical character. Philosophy is the most transparent and at the same time palpable spiritual expression of the unity of humankind. It shows us the way to consolidate and unify the humanistic efforts undertaken in the modern world. Such consolidation and unity are feasible only if they are based on and carried out in the name of the mutually-beneficial cooperation and equality of all peoples, nations, countries which, in their turn, expect a certain spiritual and intellectual balance of interests. In this context philosophy can unify, annihilate differences and promote spirituality.
© Abdulhafiz M. Jalolov 1999
Abdulhafiz Jalolov is Director of the I.Muminov Philosophy and Law Institute in Tashkent, Uzbekistan Translated from the Russian by Anna Maslennikova, University of Rochester, NY.