All ideas are not equal

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY - Pe­ter Espeut is a so­ci­ol­o­gist, the­olo­gian and philoso­pher.

ONE OF the huge de­fi­cien­cies in our school cur­ricu­lum is that we do not teach phi­los­o­phy, which is the science of crit­i­cal think­ing (it in­cludes logic).

I am told that the Pri­mary Exit Pro­file (PEP) as­sess­ment, which will re­place the Grade Six Achieve­ment Test (GSAT), will en­cour­age crit­i­cal think­ing; I only hope that our pri­mary-school teach­ers (who were never ex­posed to crit­i­cal think­ing) can man­age the PEP cur­ricu­lum.

Whether we are aware of it or not, ev­ery one of us has a per­sonal phi­los­o­phy (or mix of philoso­phies), a sys­tem of ideas and ideals which guides our lives. Our per­sonal ide­ol­ogy may de­rive in whole or in part from one re­li­gion or an­other, or it may be wholly sec­u­lar; but from what­ever source, our per­sonal phi­los­o­phy is an at­tempt at a ra­tio­nal sys­tem of ideas which ex­plains the world and our re­la­tion­ship with it and its other res­i­dents.

Chris­tian de­nom­i­na­tions dif­fer in ide­ol­ogy, some claim­ing that the world and the peo­ple in it are wicked and evil, and only by the grace of God can there be any­thing good. Others believe that the world and hu­man­ity are fun­da­men­tally good, be­cause they were cre­ated by a good God. At­tempts at Chris­tian unity must first re­solve con­flicts at the philo­soph­i­cal and ide­o­log­i­cal level be­fore doc­tri­nal dif­fer­ences can be ad­dressed.


Na­tion states also have ide­olo­gies that are en­shrined in their laws and tra­di­tions, be­cause dif­fer­ent groups of ci­ti­zens hold dif­fer­ent and often con­flict­ing per­sonal ide­olo­gies, pro­duc­tive pub­lic dis­course should be at the philo­soph­i­cal level, rather than shout­ing matches and pos­tur­ing.

Some per­sonal ide­olo­gies are quite self­ish. Those, for ex­am­ple, who believe that might makes right, and that they are en­ti­tled to take the prop­erty of others, deny others the same right they claim for them­selves. Whereas peo­ple are free to believe any set of ideas they wish, if those ideas are de­struc­tive of so­ci­ety as a whole, and are against the com­mon good, those who hold them should be marginalised.

Some peo­ple believe that the pur­pose of life is the pur­suit of plea­sure. Gor­don Robin­son, in his col­umn last Sun­day (‘That dirty three-let­ter word’) sounded like some­one in that camp:

“So stop mak­ing rules for sex. That’s con­trary to na­ture and to every­thing God is sup­posed to rep­re­sent. Sex­u­al­ity can’t be reg­u­lated. Never deny your­self plea­sure be­cause some pas­tor be­lieves he knows what’s good for you and makes you feel guilty if you fail to ac­com­plish the im­pos­si­ble.

“Self-de­nial as a be-all/end-all is self-de­struc­tion. How can you give others plea­sure if you deny your­self plea­sure? How do you give what you nei­ther have nor know?”


He­do­nism, as a per­sonal ide­ol­ogy, has a long his­tory in hu­man civil­i­sa­tion. The orig­i­nal Old Baby­lo­nian ver­sion of the Epic of Gil­gamesh, writ­ten ca BC 2100, ad­vises: “Fill your belly. Day and night make merry. Let days be full of joy. Dance and make mu­sic day and night [...]. These things alone are the con­cern of men.”

A study of phi­los­o­phy will re­veal that he­do­nism (as a prin­ci­ple by which to live) is de­struc­tive of so­ci­ety. A sense of duty is nec­es­sary for the smooth op­er­at­ing of na­tions, which often may mean go­ing against one’s feel­ings and de­sires. As a hus­band, no mat­ter how much I am de­voted to my wife, there are times when I am at­tracted to other women, yet be­cause of my mar­riage vows, I must deny my­self the plea­sure of pur­su­ing new in­ter­ests. As a per­sonal ide­ol­ogy, he­do­nism is de­struc­tive of the fam­ily.

In his col­umn last Sun­day, Robin­son as­serts, “Re­li­gion makes sex taboo. It’s dirty. Dis­gust­ing! Shame­ful! We must pre­tend it doesn’t ex­ist or speak of it only in hushed tones.” Clearly Gor­don’s ex­pe­ri­ence with re­li­gion is lim­ited. He and I at­tended the same church school in the 1960s, and that is not how the good Je­suits treated sex­u­al­ity.

Come now, Gor­don; you know bet­ter than that!

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