Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy: A Historical Meeting of the Minds

Article excerpt

Philosophers, politicians, scientists, and teachers are among the many who have continually debated the merits of applying old solutions and methods to new problems. But whatever the given idea or ideology, the very recurrence of such perennial discussions already indicates a certain truth: the need for mutual discourse, clear communication, and living dialogue in dealing with present dilemmas is something that is integral to the enrichment and education of all human beings in all cultures and epochs.

On August 10-16, 1998, many of the world's best minds will convene in one place in order to devote themselves to continuing the ongoing debates and dialogues which have shaped and informed our century and even our millenium. The city of Boston, Massachusetts, will play host to the Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy, the main theme of which will be "Paideia: Philosophy Educating Humanity."

This international gathering -- a promising banquet of ideas and discourse, the effects of which will no doubt reverberate like ripples down the Charles River or across Walden Pond -- aims at bridging the interests of philosophers with those of other educators in both general and specialized fields. Hailing from places as diverse as Moscow and Mexico, India and Indiana, British Columbia and Beijing, these scholars will discuss such topics as technology, religion, medical ethics, economics, gender studies, cognitive science, politics, literature, the environment, mathematics, and law. With an expected attendance of nearly 5,000 participants, this major event will constitute the largest and most diverse assembly of philosophers and educators ever held.

The history of philosophy has presented us with glimpses of thinkers who have studied together and dialogued in terms of both schools and common approaches. But the organization of official associations of thinkers and scholars -- those who could work together on common issues and problems -- do not realty develop until the beginning of the twentieth.

World congresses of philosophy, traditionally organized since 1948 under the aegis of the International Federation of Philosophical Societies (FISP), have taken place, on average,every five years throughout this century. The only previous time one was, held in the United States was in 1926, when noted American philosopher William Ernest Hocking of Harvard University welcomed a large audience of international philosophers to Boston. This year, the local institutions sponsoring the congess include Boston College, Boston University, Brown University, Suffolk University, the University of Massachusetts, and Wellesley College.

Organizers of this year's congress promise a "melting pot" of different philosophers and philosophies. "What strikes me as particularly worrisome in many areas of philosophical activity is the relative lack of relevance, even the refusal of relevance in the face of the fundamental social, economic, political ethical, and technological problems which confront us today," says organizer Venant Cauchy, honorary president of FISP. "The relative impotence or inability to cope significantly with the issues, the tendency to view philosophy as a game or a mere formal exercise, is very worrisome indeed."

Congress Cochair Jaakko Hintikka, who is also vice-president of FISP and editor of the philosophical journal Synthese, concurs in regard to this issue of philosophy's recognition of its own signifinance. "This is a question of the function and usefulness of philosophy for different academic disciplines and walks of fife in general. The problem is with philosophy and philosophers.... I feel very strongly that too many philosophers have lost touch with different sciences and humanistic disciplines. This is not true without exceptions ... [but] it's a development that is very dangerous and has to be a major concern."

Congress Executive Director Alan Olson says there are many issues facing philosophy today but agrees that the central issue has to do with the identity of philosophy itself. …