“Pilosopiyang Pinoy: Uso Pa Ba?

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Pioneering and Prominent Filipino Philosopher
Chair, Department of Philosophy
University of San Carlos, Cebu City
Conference Speaker, SMMRS Auditorium
November 19, 2010. 9:00am


When I accepted your invitation for me to speak at your annual Regional Philosophy Gathering, what attracted me mainly was the intriguing theme of your celebration: “Pilosopiyang Pinoy: Uso pa ba?” Uso pa ba ang Pilosopiyang Pinoy? Actually, my suspicion is what you’d like to ask is really a more general question: Uso pa ba ang Pilosopiya? The specific reference to Filipino philosophy makes the situation even worse. Its implication is that there is such a thing as “pilosopiyang Pinoy,” and the question being asked is only whether it is still relevant: uso pa ba? But the assumption is itself a question deserving to be asked: Mayroon bang Pilosopiyang Pinoy? Ano ba ito? Only after having satisfied this latter question (Ano ba ang Pilosopiyang Pinoy?) will it be meaningful to ask about its relevance, if at all. In a philosophical discussion, we might as well not assume anything, or else we might find ourselves deeply in trouble later. And so let me begin by asking the assumed question: Is there a Filipino Philosophy? And the proof for a positive answer to it can only be found in the actual articulation of it. Without this articulation, it will be difficult even to show that there is such a thing as a Filipino philosophy. Maybe in the first place we are talking about nothing. At this point, indeed, it would be better not to assume anything and so we need to ask: Is there a Filipino Philosophy? We need to give credit to whom it is due, and we must yield to Fr. Leonardo Mercado, SVD the right to claim to have consciously written the first book on Filipino Philosophy. His Elements of Filipino Philosophy, though not impeccable, is a landmark work. What he says in the Preface is not inaccurate: “This pioneering work is the first systematic attempt to present the philosophy of the Filipino masses.”[1] This doesn’t mean that Mercado is the first Filipino philosopher, only that he is the first Filipino philosopher to have tried to present a systematic philosophy which he conceived to be a ‘philosophy of the Filipino masses.’ There are two things to notice here, first that Mercado claims to have presented a ‘systematic philosophy’ and second that this philosophy is that of the ‘Filipino masses’ or the ‘common tao.” He justifies this claim by stating that his method involves “an analysis of Philippine languages” and “a phenomenology of Filipino behavior.” He further elucidates this in Chapter I where he describes as ‘holistic’ his methodology[2] which consists of ‘metalinguistic analysis’ and ‘phenomenology of behavior,’ neither of which is, to be frank, indigenously Filipino. In a previous work, I describe this method of Mercado as ‘anthropological,’[3] and it is no accident that among the prominent authors mentioned here are Claude Levi-Strauss and Emile Durkheim,[4] as well Benjamin Lee Whorf and Edward Sapir.[5] As to phenomenology, the ones featured most are Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre and Merleau-Ponty,[6] without excluding the other philosophers of language such as Ludwig Wittgenstein I and II[7] and the analytic philosophers. This makes phenomenology and analysis rather apt descriptions of his method which, however, cannot really qualify as something indigenously Filipino. The anthropological approach, after all, is universally accepted, and my suggestion is that it cannot be this which makes Mercado’s philosophy Filipino. It is also a question when an anthropologist, not a philosopher, could have been the more qualified expert to undertake this. If not the anthropological approach, what makes Mercado a uniquely Filipino philosopher? Perhaps the answer has to do...
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