Sun | Mar 29, 2020

Peter Espeut | All ideas are not equal

Published:Friday | December 7, 2018 | 12:13 AM

One of the huge deficiencies in our school curriculum is that we do not teach philosophy, which is the science of critical thinking (it includes logic).

I am told that the Primary Exit Profile (PEP) assessment, which will replace the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT), will encourage critical thinking; I only hope that our primary-school teachers (who were never exposed to critical thinking) can manage the PEP curriculum.

Whether we are aware of it or not, every one of us has a personal philosophy (or mix of philosophies), a system of ideas and ideals which guides our lives. Our personal ideology may derive in whole or in part from one religion or another, or it may be wholly secular; but from whatever source, our personal philosophy is an attempt at a rational system of ideas which explains the world and our relationship with it and its other residents.

Christian denominations differ in ideology, some claiming that the world and the people in it are wicked and evil, and only by the grace of God can there be anything good. Others believe that the world and humanity are fundamentally good, because they were created by a good God. Attempts at Christian unity must first resolve conflicts at the philosophical and ideological level before doctrinal differences can be addressed.




Nation states also have ideologies that are enshrined in their laws and traditions, because different groups of citizens hold different and often conflicting personal ideologies, productive public discourse should be at the philosophical level, rather than shouting matches and posturing.

Some personal ideologies are quite selfish. Those, for example, who believe that might makes right, and that they are entitled to take the property of others, deny others the same right they claim for themselves. Whereas people are free to believe any set of ideas they wish, if those ideas are destructive of society as a whole, and are against the common good, those who hold them should be marginalised.

Some people believe that the purpose of life is the pursuit of pleasure. Gordon Robinson, in his column last Sunday ('That dirty three-letter word') sounded like someone in that camp:

"So stop making rules for sex. That's contrary to nature and to everything God is supposed to represent. Sexuality can't be regulated. Never deny yourself pleasure because some pastor believes he knows what's good for you and makes you feel guilty if you fail to accomplish the impossible.

"Self-denial as a be-all/end-all is self-destruction. How can you give others pleasure if you deny yourself pleasure? How do you give what you neither have nor know?"




Hedonism, as a personal ideology, has a long history in human civilisation. The original Old Babylonian version of the Epic of Gilgamesh, written ca BC 2100, advises: "Fill your belly. Day and night make merry. Let days be full of joy. Dance and make music day and night [...]. These things alone are the concern of men."

A study of philosophy will reveal that hedonism (as a principle by which to live) is destructive of society. A sense of duty is necessary for the smooth operating of nations, which often may mean going against one's feelings and desires. As a husband, no matter how much I am devoted to my wife, there are times when I am attracted to other women, yet because of my marriage vows, I must deny myself the pleasure of pursuing new interests. As a personal ideology, hedonism is destructive of the family.

In his column last Sunday, Robinson asserts, "Religion makes sex taboo. It's dirty. Disgusting! Shameful! We must pretend it doesn't exist or speak of it only in hushed tones." Clearly Gordon's experience with religion is limited. He and I attended the same church school in the 1960s, and that is not how the good Jesuits treated sexuality.

Come now, Gordon; you know better than that!

- Peter Espeut is a sociologist, theologian and philosopher.