Philosophy and teaching go hand in hand; they are not exclusive but complementary. Each reinforces the other; they provide credit to one another. Perhaps this is the reason why the most basic yet very classical method of teaching is Socratic, that is, a “philosophy of education” drawn from the practice of the Attic wise man Socrates. He arrives at wisdom by addressing probing questions to his students whose responses he probes further in analytical fashion. From such dialectical exchange, he later establishes a synthesis that, while not the complete truth, somehow approximates it.
In much the same way, Oriental thought makes thinking and teaching complementary. To the Asian philosopher, one should not forget the two essential meanings of “learning.” Learning as noun means wisdom, and learning as verb means acquiring wisdom. As Confucius says, “Study without thought is labor lost; thought without study is dangerous.”
Both Western and Eastern currents find resonance in the Dominican tradition of prayer and preaching, embodied in the Dominican studiuum or house of studies, which is also an oratory and a house of prayer; and likewise summed up in the pithy Latin formulation of Saint Thomas Aquinas: contemplata aliis tradere—to contemplate and to share the fruits of one’s contemplation.
To be sure, both teacher and student learn from one another, and by dialogue and openness to one another’s views, they are able to establish the utmost truth that can be sufficiently learned as far as relative human knowledge is concerned: that to know the world, one must know oneself. And for others to know the truth, they must be taught to know themselves and their world. Such is essential philosophy, such is fundamental pedagogy.
Professor Alfredo P. Co, Ph.D. combines in his person the fundamental qualities of a good philosopher and a good teacher. His philosophical investigations complement his instruction, and the probity and substance of his intellectual work are tested against the crucible of the classroom and the lecture hall, and the Areopagus, the marketplace of ideas.
As philosopher, his task is to provide answers, perhaps tentative yet always striking at the core of issues, to the most basic and universal questions that preoccupy humanity and their relation to the world—physical, social, moral and yes, spiritual. And as teacher, his task is to train minds how to arrive at such answers. In more ways than one, he arrives at the answers in creative engagement with the young minds he trains, for the best philosopher and best teacher is always at heart a good student.
Without a doubt, Doctor Co has been a good student all his life. He started to read philosophy at the UST Faculty of Arts and Letters at a most critical point of world and Philippine history: the late 1960s when university campuses in Europe and North America experienced massive student riots, and in the early 1970s when the Philippines experienced the so-called First Quarter Storm and the imposition of martial law that saw private universities, including UST, threatened with closure.
In the US, the Neo-Marxist critical theorist Theodor Adorno, an exile from Nazi Europe during the Second World War, suddenly balked at the sight of rioting students mouthing Marxist slogans and called in the police, the signification of fascism if there was one, to break them up. Meanwhile in former Germany, Joseph Ratzinger, peritus or theological adviser during the Second Vatican Council to progressive German bishops crying for the Church to embrace modernity, and future prince and pope of the Church, was sufficiently horrified by the sight of rioting students at Regensburg as to modify his views and revert to a more conservative, more “organic” view of theological and ecclesiological evolution. In the Philippines, Emerita S. Quito, who took up her doctorate in Fribourg and was one of Doctor Co’s teachers, was sufficiently impressed by the First Quarter Storm as to provide insights on freedom based on the philosophy of Louise Lavelle, her dissertation-focus in Switzerland.
Then as now, all of these developments—global and local, social and moral, political and intellectual—certainly have provided a creative context with which to see the evolution of Alfredo Co, the man, the philosopher, scholar, writer, and teacher.
Amid the momentous international and domestic crises of his early age, Professor Co chose to take up graduate studies at the UST Graduate School in order to read philosophy further and deeper. It is as if at the sight of a world on the verge of collapse, Alfredo Co, at the cusp of life, at the pinnacle of his youth, opted to go back to the ancient verities established by Classical Philosophy, Occidental, Oriental, and Catholic. Seeing the world coming unhinged, young Alfie Co sought the mooring and stability that came with ancient learning and old wisdom. Having learned the solid perennials of Classical Philosophy at UST, he took up post-doctorates in China and France, the former on a Japanese scholarship to a Chinese institution, and the latter on a French Government scholarship to the Sorbonne.
His familiarity with and expertise in both Western philosophy and Oriental thought have made Doctor Co perhaps the best scholar in the world today to pit both traditions, engage them with one another, exhibit their essential commonalities and incidental disagreements, and display their mutual complementarity.
In fact, Doctor Co has become one of the best resource persons to explain China to the West and its allies and to explain the West to China and Asia. In book after acclaimed book (one of his works was reviewed by Time Magazine), and in lecture after brilliant lecture, Doctor Co has shown that despite their many differences, there’s much for East and West to recognize in one another. Doctor Co’s work has effectively been a denial and a rebuttal of the Occidental’s Orientalist preconception that was perhaps best articulated by Rudyard Kipling: “East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.”
In all of this, one sees the three trajectories in the development of the philosopher in Doctor Co: Classical Western philosophy (UST and the Sorbonne), classical Asian philosophy (Japan and China), and Christian philosophy (UST). Chinese by ethnicity, it could be said that Doctor Co had no way to go but Oriental and Asian in his philosophical investigations. But it is also true that his education at the University of Santo Tomas, the oldest university in Asia—and his long career of writing, research, teaching, and scholarship there—have provided him with an ecumenical, multidisciplinary, and Catholic sensibility that forever seeks to conserve and develop what is true and useful of all philosophical schools or traditions, be they from the West or the East.
The beneficiaries of this universal sensibility are the students of Doctor Co, many of them now sporting the title of “Master” or “Doctor” as their most venerable mentor. It could be said without any fear of exaggeration that Doctor Co is now the Philippines’ most acclaimed philosopher-teacher.
His renown is such that he has been plenary speaker in important international conferences organized by prestigious global philosophical associations such as the Conference Mondiale des Institutions Universitaires Catholiques de Philosophie (Comiucap), Asian Association of Christian Philosophers, and Academie du Midi. And his expertise in both Western and Asian philosophical traditions and how the Church should especially deal with other religious and cultural traditions have made him plenary speaker in important missiological conferences of the Urbaniana, the pontifical university in Rome dealing with the propaganda fidei or the missions; the Office of the Socius of the Master of the Order of Preachers based in the Dominican Curia at Santa Sabina in the Aventine Hills; the Pontifical Institute of Religion and Philosophy in India; and the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, Poland.
In a world of blatant materialism and smug mercenarism, the philosopher and teacher are considered valueless and irrelevant. So it is often the case that the philosopher-guru feels the utter thanklessness of his job. But it is to the credit of Doctor Co’s sense of both mission and optimism that he has marched on all these years as a leading thinker, an effective teacher, and an advocate of the relevance of philosophical education in the formation of the total person.
Doctor Co himself reflects the benefits of philosophy to the making of the total person: he’s a great thinker, a great teacher, and a great family man, his family not only consisting of his beloved wife, Evelyn S. Co, and son, Alfred Charles S. Co, but also extending to his students who find in him not only an intellectual parent, but also a father in nearly all senses of the term except blood and lineage.
Many of us who have benefitted immensely from the teaching of Doctor Co not only call him “Venerable” but also “Beloved.” He is our beloved parent who has formed our minds and worldviews. We may not agree with him in all points but all of us know children don’t always agree with their parents.
We also know that despite disagreements, children remain loyal to their parents. And since it could be said that it is the University that has husbanded—or is it midwifed?—the birthing of Alfredo P. Co, despite occasional disagreements and disparateness in views and approaches between them, he has remained loyal to UST just as UST has remained loyal to him.
There’s no other proof of his loyalty to the institution than the fact that despite invitations and allurements for him to transfer to more affluent universities here and abroad, he has remained a faculty member of UST. He has proven loyal to UST by upholding the applicability of Thomistic philosophy in creatively engaging with other philosophical movements, cultural currents, and even religious traditions, and by upholding the Thomasian values of competence, commitment and compassion.