How the Matheia Society Evolved
David L. Cale
While preparing a proposal to the chair of my philosophy department for a course on African philosophy, I made the interesting discovery that, unlike Western, Mid-eastern, and Asian philosophy, a substantial part of African philosophy’s literature seeks to answer the question: What is African philosophy? Should African philosophy be regarded as geographically limited to the sub-continent or be extended to include the whole of the continent? Should it begin with ancient Egyptian philosophy or in the year 1729 with a now lost work titled The Rights of Africans in Europe by Anton-Wilhelm Amo, a Guinean-born European scholar? Should it be ethnophilosophy, a composite of hermeneutics on deeper questions within Africa’s spiritual and cultural traditions? Should it be, like Western philosophy, sage oriented, primarily influenced by the inputs of African intellectuals? Should its focus be political, centering on Africa’s modern governance, human rights, and the relationship of traditional cultural values to both? Finally, there is the professional approach, the view that African philosophy, like its geographic counterparts, holds certain universal themes that transcend time and culture. Certainly, Kwasi Wiredu (1996) and Paulin Hountondji (1983) write from this perspective. My proposed course was both approved and expanded to include Asian and Mid-eastern philosophy.
Attracted to the professional approach and anxious to find a way to demonstrate the universality of philosophical thought to diversified students, I began with a search for a definition of philosophy to which non-philosophy majors might relate. The need for a search existed because the definition of philosophy is unsettled. Introductory textbooks, at that time, gave it only a sentence or two, usually with a reference to its etymological meaning which joins philo (fĭló), fond of, with sophia (σoφία), wisdom. Two of the better themes used were that philosophy is “thinking about thinking” and that it is an investigation into how “things” fit together (Palmer, 2002).
Alternatively, in their introductory textbook, Philosophy, Margaret Wilson, Dan Brock, and Richard Kuhns, Jr. dedicated an entire chapter to the question: What is Philosophy? But even they could only answer the question by providing selections, each from a well-known philosopher, wherein each reveals his own interpretation.
Socrates, for example, tells us that philosophy is the path to the perfection of the soul. René Descartes (1596-1650) asserts that philosophy is established to provide a path to valid conclusions. Similarly, Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) thought philosophy a device to take us from judgments based on instinct to those based on reason. Frank Ramsey (1903-1930) believed philosophy to be a system of definitions and rules for forming definitions. Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) saw philosophy as a tool for making us sensitive to social forces. Lastly, that chapter offers the perspective of David Hume (1711-1776) that philosophy is a study of the laws governing human nature. (1972)
In turning to my dictionary I found only further evidence that the answer to the question: What is philosophy?” is obscure. The one I had in my office at the time provided twelve different answers for the definition of philosophy. (1988)
I then turned to the literature for my course and asked the question: What is it that Western, African, Asian and Mid-eastern philosophical literature have in common such that I can provide my students with a meaningful definition for philosophy? I found they all have in common a search for a single coherent worldview that integrates acquired knowledge from three fundamental learning platforms. These learning platforms are, in fact, so fundamental they are intuitive.
The first learning platform one encounters is, of course, direct experience. Through direct experience nature reveals itself as existing. At birth, knowledge of this existence arguably begins with bodily cognizance, both through sensory perception and internal feelings, immediately attended by an awareness of external surroundings. Nature, as a learning platform, provides, to an individual knowledge, both of what it has learned and of its presence. Knowledge of what nature has learned, through the trial and error method of evolution, is called by some a priori knowledge and by others instinctive knowledge. Knowledge of nature’s presence is called by some a posteriori knowledge and by others empirical knowledge.
The second learning platform one encounters in life is that provided by one’s community. Here, one enters the realm of human institutions, most often the first being one’s own family. This learning platform has three stages, the first provided by the mentorship of family, the second by educational institutions within one’s community, and the third by the on-going instruction that attends professional development and technological change. This learning platform builds on that of nature by bringing to the learning it provides the additions of language and writing. A dog cannot know the thoughts of a dog that lived even twenty-five years ago; yet, even as a child, a human can know the thoughts of a human who lived 2,500 years ago.
The third learning platform one encounters is that provided by introspection. Through introspection, one enters the realm of one’s own mind. Here, are found phenomenological considerations, rules of judgment and logic, and, generally, one’s private interpretations of the learning gleaned from the influences of nature and community. Self-perspectives often lead to new ways of looking at things. The first seed of every new theory always begin with the thoughts of a single person.
With these three learning platforms identified, I saw that philosophy’s framework for a coherent worldview can be generalized with a finding for the meanings for self, community, and nature; and an interpretation of the proper relationship between each. With this, a philosophical system can be heuristically defined as one which coherently addresses the following twelve questions: 1What is the self? 2 What is humanity (as social arrangements)? 3 What is the world (as nature)? 4 How should the self relate to the self? 5 How should the self relate to humanity? 6 How should the self relate to the world? 7 How should humanity relate to a self? 8 How should humanity relate to humanity? 9 How should humanity relate to the world? 10 How does the world relate to a self? 11 How does the world relate to humanity? 12 How does the world relate to the world?
Grouping these questions provides for discussion areas. The first three questions are ontological; the second three ethological; the third three sociological; and the fourth three are epistemological in that they are experience-based.
Through this “three players” approach to the understanding of philosophy I found that my beginning students were able to quickly grasp humanity’s philosophical enterprise. As each topic was covered, whether belonging to Western, African, Asian or Mid-eastern philosophy, I found I could easily place it under the banner of one or more of my twelve questions. This ability provided a context for each discussion in the course.
In other courses it worked as well. For example: many undergraduate students initially find Husserl’s philosophy of ideation to be inexplicable. But, if the appeal of a beautiful sunset is first reviewed as a sub-topic of esthetics, a topic within the box holding all questions belonging to: “How does the world relate to the self?”, then phenomenology shown to also belong to that box, a ray of sunshine enters the classroom which helps to lift the fog obscuring Husserl’s arguments.
Later reflection on these three learning platforms led me to a deeper understanding of why it can be said that learning is fundamental to nature, to individuals, and to humanity; perhaps to humanity because it is fundamental to individuals and to individuals perhaps because it is fundamental to nature. Nature is in a continual search for stability, always favoring in temporal duration that which is stable over that which is unstable. Every molecule, every plant, every animal, every person, can be regarded as a local experiment conducted by nature in its eternal quest to “learn” what endures and what does not. From this perspective it can be said that the creation of minds, arises without premeditation as the telos of nature’s learning process.
Through the creation of intelligent beings, the universe comes to know of its own existence. For each individual, there is not only learning by instinct, learning by experience, and learning by education, there is also learning by introspection and inference. From this perspective it can be said that the creation of a worldview arises, without premeditation, as the telos of an individual’s learning process. Opinions come to all simply through, as Heidegger put it: “Being in the world”.
However, the creation of a coherent worldview, as the telos of an individual’s learning process, requires premeditation. To be coherent, a worldview must avoid contradiction, both with experience and with its own logic. Secondly, it must provide experience with a context. For example, if one studies the history of the evolution of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, one finds that it arose because many physicists in the third decade of the twentieth century felt their empirical findings needed a context, one that explains why experience is unavoidably stochastic. (Cale, 2002, pp. 34-62)
What I see in the twelve questions, created by the three learning platforms, is the template used by that segment of humanity who consciously seek a coherent worldview. These individuals all have in common one thing: a well thought-out answer to each of these twelve questions. I came to call this segment of humanity: the Matheia Society.
What these individuals don’t have in common are the same answers to many sub-questions belonging to each of the twelve questions. My choice for the name Matheia Society came from the two things I believe these individuals all do have in common: a love for learning and a possession of the virtues needed for excellence in the activity of learning.
Those who choose the path to a complete and coherent worldview must first have what the ancient Greeks called: philomatheia. Pronounced fē-lŏ-mŏth-ĕ-ē-ä, the ancient Greek word filomatheia (φιλομαθeια) means: the love of learning. But even this is not enough. There must also be virtue in one’s learning.
If one places the attainment of a coherent worldview upon the pedestal that serves as that place where one places what one values, one must possess certain virtues to achieve that attainment. Pronounced hä-rē-mŏth-ĕ-ē-ä, the ancient Greek word arimatheia (αριμαθeια) can be translated as either excellence in learning or virtue in learning. When taking long driving trips, my wife, Lillian, and I would often pass the time by reflecting on the virtues of arimatheia. We kept a clipboard in our car which tracked both the virtues we identified and the definitions that we felt best related them to the activity of learning. Because learning is a lifetime process and a part of all we do, the virtues of arimatheia, in themselves, form a code for proper conduct.
The idea that my thoughts on the “Matheia Society” should be formalized in some public way first came to me as a way to help solve three problems: There is first the problem that intellectuals are overwhelming the publishing capacity of America’s academic journals. Much good work is going unpublished. There is second the problem that many authors have papers that represent a stage in a larger unfinished enterprise. They would like to present their work-to-date for peer feedback without having to give up copyright ownership.
Finally, there is my own wish to see how others classify the hundreds of subtopics that belong to the twelve questions. Many topics, especially in philosophy, touch upon two or more of the questions and cannot be neatly placed under only one question.
Therefore, I felt a formalized Matheia Society is needed as a forum for works that serve to answer one of the twelve great questions in philosophy and which have not yet been recognized by traditional publishing sources. Following incorporation of the Matheia Society Foundation, the first step was taken in 2013 with the support of twenty-two scholars who graciously agreed to join me as the organization’s charter members.
Cale, D. L. (2002). The Kantian Element in the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. Ann Arbor: ProQuest.
Hountondji, P. J. (1983). African Philosophy. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Palmer, D. (2002). Does the Center Hold?: An Introduction to Western Philosophy. Boston: McGraw Hill.
The Riverside Publishing Company. (1988). Webster's II, New Riverside University Dictionary. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Wilson, M., Brock, D., & Kuhns, R. J. (1972). Philosophy. New York: Meredith Corporation.
Wiredu, K. (1996). Cultural Universals and Particulars: An African Perspective. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.