Philosophy & Life: A View from Vietnam
One of Vietnam’s leading academic philosophers Vu Tinh describes the role of philosophy in his country and in the world at large.
The natural sciences and technology have developed rapidly and successfully. This has directly produced a great impact on the lives of human beings. We do ask how this affects the most general, abstract science, philosophy? What is philosophy’s role and how can we distinguish it from the natural sciences?
In fact, the development of any science could not exist on its own but always in relation to others. It always relates to philosophy and human actions. In looking back at the history of the human, we know that human beings appeared about four million years ago. For ninety-nine point nine per cent of that time, they existed in ignorance. Then the first science that humans knew and studied was philosophy. It was named natural philosophy and consisted of several kinds of knowledge that today we call mathematics, physics, biology and so on. At that time no one doubted their opposition to philosophy and the role philosophy played in their formation.
The development of society motivated humanity to look at each field of the universe. Some people studied the sky, some the earth and others the rivers and oceans. From these endeavours relatively independent bodies of knowledge appeared, and then a science equivalent to each body of knowledge. Perhaps it was at about that time that every science gradually separated from philosophy and became independent. Every science had its specialised object that used to be a part of philosophy. It was with this fragmentation that the scepticism of the opposition and the role of philosophy appeared. Many people have wondered whether humanity needs philosophy if the universe had specific scientific studies.
This idea reminds me of Shakespeare’s King Lear – a king who had in his hands a whole kingdom. But when he divided his kingdom into parts for every member of his family, he became homeless, wandering around with a false crown of flowers and leaves to remind him of his past glory.
Is the fate of philosophy the same as that of King Lear? The answer to that question depends on two things: first, the ability of philosophy to solve the problems that life poses and second, the point of view of each nation in regards to its intellectual system that it uses.
In Vietnam, philosophy survives by the intellectual system of the most common cognition of humans in the world – the role of humans regarding their lives and the life of the community. Philosophy does not produce materials but it does affect the everyday life of human beings who produce materials in our society through its applications – the application to valuation, to education and most importantly the application to world outlook and the application to methodology.
The application to world outlook: the thoughts, the view of human beings in the world and the belief of human beings regarding their own thoughts and views. Philosophy is not identical with the world outlook but is the foundation of the world outlook, its logical nucleus. This foundation has been defined by philosophical thought. The application of philosophy may or may not be realised but it effects the perspective taken to change things, both the phenomenon of nature and society; it effects the point of view taken towards the good, the bad, goodness, evil: as well as views towards economics, politics, law, and other fields.
The logical nucleus of world outlook: the rational manifestation of the most condensed and concentrated thoughts of humanity. It makes the world outlook form and develop as a conscious process, thanks to generalising the scientific technology and cultural products of human beings.
The application to methodology: the justification of the method. This is the system of thoughts that leads to finding,building, choosing and applying the most suitable method for every scientific field. Methodology can be divided into three degrees: the field methodology, the common methodology and the most common methodology.
The field methodology is the methodology of the concrete, scientific field.
The common methodology is the methodology that is used in several scientific fields
The most common methodology is the methodology that is considered the starting point for determining the common methodology, the field methodology and any methods used for systematising the actions of human beings.
Philosophy provides the most common, general methodology because this is what it studies and proves. It then applies that general character to every action of human beings.
Thanks to these applications, philosophy is an important subject in the educational and training systems of Vietnam. Philosophy is taught in all the universities and colleges as well as being part of a reasoning program for all government officials.
Learners are educated in the history of philosophy in a systematic way so that they can strain off what is useful for them and for their nation in modern life. The largest part of the philosophical education is the study of Marxism- Leninism. Its dialectic materialist world outlook and the materialistic dialectic methodology of Marxism have been studied deeply and expanded into the social fields so that the students are equipped with knowledge in order to improve the world and their society. With the thoughts of President Ho Chi Minh, Marxism-Leninism has been the foundation of the ideology of our nation.
The results of applying the philosophy of Marxism- Leninism and the thought of President Ho Chi Minh creatively to each concrete situation and stage can be illustrated by the following examples; firstly, the masterminding of the fighting for the protection of the freedom and independence of our nation, secondly, in restoring the processes of our nation after the wars, and thirdly, in modernising the technology of Vietnam.
Every philosophical theory has been the product of the history of humanity. So each theory carries the deep trace of the historical stage in which it was born. Every philosophical theory appears to participate in solving the problems of each historical stage.
Philosophy is always an open system. The multifarious character of life requires each nation and each generation who must strain it off to complete, develop the good thought of their predecessors’ philosophy.
Not expecting that any theory is an omnipotent medicine that can treat every disease, we do see, through the applications, that philosophy gives orientation to the life of human beings.
© Dr Vu Tinh 2000
Vu Tinh is Head of the Faculty of Philosophy at the National University of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
[Many thanks to Pamela Jencks who persuaded Vu Tinh to write this article when she visited him recently and also to Tran Quang Dung of Jardine Pacific (Vietnam) for enthusiastically facilitating the communication between two cultures.]