Our very own Professor Emeritus, the “Venerable Master,” Alfredo Co deserves much thanks from his students—especially us, whom he was able to encourage and inspire to participate in the recently held World Congress of Philosophy in Beijing, China. I am only too aware of the magnitude of this congress: It has been held since 1900 in different parts of the world and many of the contemporary intellectuals, whom we read, had lectured in this gathering. The sterling cast includes Henri Bergson, Bertrand Russell, Rene de Saussure, John Dewey, Etienne Gilson, Paul Weiss, Jacques Maritain, Karl Popper, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Alasdair MacIntyre, Paul Ricoeur, Emmanuel Levinas, Jean-Luc Marion, Charles Taylor, Jurgen Habermas, Umberto Eco, among many—many!—others who are equally notable.
Almost two years ago, Dr. Co floated the idea of Thomasians doing philosophy and participating in the world congress. Little did we know then that he was already requested by Dermot Moran, then president of the Fédération Internationale des Sociétés de Philosophie (FISP), to be a chair of the largest session of the gathering, that one on Confucian Philosophy. We, too, were uninformed that he was elected as Vice-President for Asia of the Conférence Mondiale des Institutions Universitaire Catholique des Philosophie (Comiucap), the sectorial group for philosophy of the International Federation of Catholic Universities. When we much later heard of these news, we received it with great delight, but not with surprise. It was never in Dr. Co’s demeanor to arrogate what others might already consider as prodigious achievements. Those who have witnessed how he teaches already know that Dr. Co’s presence alone commands respect—regardless if it is inside or outside the classroom. At all times, Dr. Co’s authority does not depend on any administrative or academic office. He is a person of authority and not merely a person in position.
I recall that Dr. Co did not only suggest the idea of attending the congress; he encouraged us to present our research work, which seemed to be a tall order at that time. For, unlike in many conferences where organizers only ask for abstracts, in the world congress one is required to submit a complete research paper, which would be examined by a panel of experts whose competence are known in the field and not just in an institution, or in an office. In short, organizers were after quality more than quantity of participants. And this was the first challenge that we hurdled with the help of Dr. Co. He made us realize that our training in philosophy is not meant for us to talk only among ourselves in the University or in our respective professional societies; we must also learn to listen to contrary opinions and to subject our thoughts to scrutiny and more importantly, to dialogue. He taught us, quite convincingly, that we grow in adversity and even more in dialogue.
In the 24th World Congress of Philosophy, we had our chances to learn from the lectures of leading scholars, like Roger Ames, Guillermo Hurtado, Richard Kearney, Mogobo Ramose, Chaiwat Satha-Anand, Tu Weiming, Judith Butler, and William McBride, who talked of topics that ranged from Chinese Philosophy, Latin American Philosophy, African Philosophy, Philosophies of Peace, Gender Philosophy, Political Philosophy, and Philosophies of Faith, among others, in the contexts of contemporary issues, time, and/or place. But the schedule could not be less overwhelming: Aside from the plenary lectures that opened each day, we had to choose one among sixty sessions that were being held at the same time in the afternoon. The first set ran from 2pm to 3:50pm; the second set was from 4:10pm to 6pm. Each day would conclude with endowed lectures. Having had this picture in mind, we already knew that an eight-day affair would still be short. Instances when we had to choose a lecture over another honestly frustrated us.
By “we,” I mean at least those whom I was able to constantly interact with during the congress. That we went to the event by Dr. Co’s invitation and that we are alumni of UST were the things in common among us: There was Kelly Agra, the junior scholar keynote of the 2016 Zizek Conference in Ohio, USA who is now with the University of the Philippines-Baguio. Her paper for the world congress was “Situational Ethics and Social Epistemology in Confucian Philosophy.” Nanyang Technological University-Singapore scholar Christine Tan delivered her research titled “Li as Ziran in the Analects: Spontaneity in the Ritualized Self.” Mark Kevin Cabural, scholar from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, had the paper “Humanness and Righteousness in Dong Zhongshu’s Luxuriant Gems of the Spring and Autumn.” I presented my work “Rethinking Indigenous Philosophy: Alfredo Co’s Notion of ‘Pre-Philosophy,’” which Dr. Co straightforwardly refused to read or hear until after I have presented it in the congress.
We were joined by the Dominican friar from the Holy Rosary Province, Fr. Martin Bai Ziqiang, OP, who discussed his project on “Dao as Verb: a Revisiting of Lao Zi’s Metaphysics”; Sr. Li Xuena Sophia, who had the paper “The Ethical Issue on Filial Piety in Modern China”; and Salesian Br. Paul Dungca, who discoursed on the “Police-Oracle: AI, Determinism and Human Freewill.” Wendyl Luna, who is now a research scholar at the University of New South Wales in Australia, flew in to China to literally surprise Dr. Co aside from presenting his research “Temporalising the transcendental: Foucault’s Introduction to Kant’s Anthropology.” Even Dr. Co, despite being the moderator for seven different sessions on Confucian Philosophy, had the time to present his research on “The Place of Forgiveness and Reconciliation in a Two-Tiered Political World of Ancient Confucian China.” To note, at 68, Dr. Co is still teaching in the University at the Ecclesiastical Faculty of Philosophy, the Faculty of Arts and Letters, and the Graduate School.
In between lectures, we would catch up over cups of coffee along the halls of the China National Convention Center. During lunchtime, some of us would meet at the canteen, where we found the best Beijing tomato and egg dish, Peking herbed pork, and caramelized aubergine served with cups of steamy rice or mantao. That would already be a feast for celebrating well-received presentations and new learnings. For a day or two, we also headed to the Olympic Green subway station or the nearby Xin Ao Shopping Center for sliced servings of Peking duck and dumplings. Rare, though, were the times when were complete as a group, but for very good reasons: Some of us were invited to join other scholars in private meetings, or to attend round-table discussions, or to talk about research collaborations, or simply to continue discussions that were left hanging during the sessions. It would be too soon to disclose certain results of our participation but, to be sure, for young aspiring philosophy scholars, the thought that established philosophers are willing to sit with us and talk about philosophy is refreshing, especially today when even the value of a human person is quantified by farcical metrics.
The world congress certainly lived up to its billing as the “Olympics of Philosophy,” and we were privileged to have fully witnessed it unfold. Many would of us agree with Prof. Dr. Luca Scarantino, the newly elected FISP president who said that “the congress in Beijing will be a turning point in the history of philosophy.” With a participation of about 8,000 scholars from around the world, which makes the 2018 world congress the biggest gathering in its history, what Dr. Scarantino claimed could not be far from being realized.
That turn, Dr. Scarantino referred to, is the trajectory of philosophy of being more inclusive, that it would reassess its methods by overcoming prejudices and stereotypes across philosophical cultures. This can only be positively possible by way of a philosophy of dialogue, and we in the University of Santo Tomas are fortunate to have a resident philosopher with that as specialization.
The author is Levine Andro Lao, a part-time faculty member of the Ecclesiastical Faculty of Philosophy, University of Santo Tomas