‘Tulala’ in Philosophy and Anthropology

A major symptom of someone who is philosophizing is tulala, at least from my experience back in my AB Philosophy class; a state of deep thought, seemingly staring at emptiness. I can still remember my professor, elucidating on the categories of being or the problem of universals, and me staring blankly at our “Philosopher’s Tree”; so named because it is the only visible tree from our classroom and is the sorry object of our academic examples. “That tree with its tree-ness, cannot be and be at the same time and at the same respect.” That tree has been the object of our tulala-ness for a very long time that it may already be on the verge of its own existential angst.

That vision of the lonely Philosopher’s Tree and my usual state of tulala were playing like an old recording in my mind’s eye while Dr. Vidal was explaining the early theories and theorists on human and culture.  In that state, I imagined a parade of Philosophers. Confucius was leading the parade of gadflies, with his firebrand exorcising China’s old ancestor and spirit cults, exalting order and compassion for men. Plato and Aristotle were heatedly arguing about the world of ideas while a deep, dark shadow stalks them. Augustine, in his Bishop’s gown, was attended by angels singing songs of the city of God, the body and the soul, original sin and salvation. Aquinas was busy trying to figure out the order of the universe. Pufendorf, with his big wavy wig, was lazily lagging behind the procession as he ponders about peace as the state of nature directly opposing Hobbes who is ranting about the violence and savagery of man. Montesquieu was categorizing societies while Rousseau was ranting about social contract.

With the procession of philosophers ending at the tip of my ballpen, I was roused from my reverie as the ‘reflection guide’ was flashed in front of us. While reading the questions, I noticed pareng Aristotle had a new-found friend. He was chatting with Malinowski! – That lanky Polish-born and British-naturalized fellow who had all the time in the world (an expatriate and an exile) and who wrote about an obscure people in Papua New Guinea.  I said to myself: “What a small world after all.”

For a time, I’ve been expecting this Philosophical haunting in our anthropology class. We were oftentimes told in our Philo courses, that Philosophy is the foundation of the other sciences and disciplines. True enough and as we are now experiencing, we always come back to the great thinkers of the ancient and medieval times, the modern and the postmodern, occidental and oriental. They have become footnotes to other great thinkers. Anthropologists, may they be significant or modestly mediocre, are not exempted. Indeed, we stand on the shoulders of others who have come before us. Ideas do not come from thin air – even Jesus needed the jars of water to turn it into wine. Our collective understanding of natural or human phenomena comes from years of studying the flaws and intellectual greatness of other thinkers. We develop better ideas from the bad ideas. We develop theorems from the experience and experiments of other people. Knowledge is supposed to be shared and not miserly monopolized.

Concepts and ideas from these long-dead thinkers are still alive and remain in our present thinking. Let us not look far but the present contentions in the Reproductive Health Bill. In a time when postmodernists are already deconstructing everything we have learned from the philosophers of ancient and medieval times (and sometimes proving themselves to be true), we have here a Catholic Church who still engenders the legitimacy of the natural law argument. From Aquinas to Hobbes, the proponents of the natural law argument deduced that a system of law existing in nature is binding and universal – one problem of which is that it doesn’t take into consideration the variety of human cultures and the environment we are exposed to. Another problem of the natural law argument is: how do we determine the essential or morally praiseworthy traits of human nature? Traditional natural law theory has picked out very positive traits, such as “the desire to know the truth, to choose the good, and to develop as healthy mature human beings”. But some philosophers, such as Hobbes, have found human beings to be essentially selfish and brute. It is questionable that behavior in accordance with human nature is morally right and behavior not in accord with human nature is morally wrong. For instance, if it turns out that human beings (at least the males) are naturally aggressive, should we infer that war and fighting are morally right?

Aquinas and Augustine’s arguments on the existence of God are still very much in our present discourses in Religion and Theology, and may even be present in the anthropological discourses on the supernatural, rituals and ‘primitive’ religions.

Even the spirit of Rousseau’s Social Contract still holds true when he asserts that, “only the people, in the form of the sovereign, have the all-powerful right to legislate” concepts that reverberated in Marxist anthropology and even cultural materialism.

In the discourses of personhood, Artistotle’s concept of progressive ensoulment strangely mirrors the incremental personhood of the Gebusi in Papua New Guinea, through social relations. For Aristotle, the pre-‘person’ takes an evolutionary journey from vegetative to that of being a real human person just like the journey of Gebusi men and women, marked by different life-crises rituals.

The Etic approach in Anthropology can also be another concept derived from Phenomenology, the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view. The central structure of an experience is its intentionality, its being directed toward something, as it is an experience of or about some object.

There are still a lot of things to be said about the different concepts in Philosophy that were carried over by the study of Anthropology. There are already a lot of people who stared at that Philosopher’s Tree or that Philosopher’s Wall or Philosopher’s Blackboard, they wondered, tulala, at the many questions that seems to bounce back from the tree, the wall, the blackboard. It is a web. Knowledge and the production of knowledge is a web of interconnectedness from the old to the new – the philosophers and anthropologists parading in the web of collected human knowledge.


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