A Paper by Cyril Bernardo

Thomas Jefferson gave a succinct appraisal of the significance of reasoning in a country where the people are the ultimate source of sovereignty; “In a Republican nation, whose citizens are to be led by reason and persuasion and not by force, the art of reasoning becomes of the first importance” (as cited in Copi & Cohen, 2005, xiii). This statement, given in correspondence with David Harding in 1824, remains relevant not only in United States, but also in our own country. Our Constitution itself asserts among state principles that, “The Philippines is democratic and republican State. Sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them” (Art. II, §1, Philippine Constitution).

As self-governance is central to our State, we are responsible for charting our country’s course. This is a difficult task to undertake as our choices can and will have an impact on the lives of our compatriots. The Philippine setting is notable, however, in the degree that reason is repudiated and anti-intellectualism is embraced. Prevalent among many Filipinos is the tendency to latch on to a belief, close the mind completely, ignore bothersome truths, and shut out all opposition. This is apparent in many aspects of our lives, but the phenomenon becomes most pronounced during elections and in controversies of national concern.

Elections are perhaps the clearest expression of our democratic and republican principles, where we confer our sovereign mandate on officials of our own choosing; they are beholden to exercise this mandate in accordance with our will and within the framework of our Constitution and legal system. This exercise, considering how its outcome has far- reaching consequences, ought to be considered and reasoned out carefully. However, David Timberman (1991) demonstrated that the prevalent attitudes shaping the Philippine traditional political culture, namely primacy of kinship ties, reciprocity and patron-client relations, and pakikisama among others, are basis of choices made by many Filipinos on elections (p. 14- 20).

Where we should be scrutinizing policy, we give preference to personality.  This is why campaign periods resemble a circus, dramatic life stories of candidates are featured, platforms are often mere motherhood statements, and there is widespread mudslinging; all these are aimed to exalt or degrade personalities running for office. For this reason, many politicians choose to cultivate the image of a benefactor, and with the electors feeling indebted, they see their votes as a way to repay this debt (real or contrived).  This personalistic approach is also the cause of a trend in the presidency as people view a candidate whose personality they believe to be a panacea to all the country’s problems. Thus the candidate rides a wave of popular support all the way to Malacañan, only to be turned upon by the discontented and disenchanted electorate after six years, often ensuring a lack of continuity. Such attitudes also explain why the political parties in the Philippines are weak. Due to the aforementioned initial popularity of a new president, politicians (particularly those in Congress) abjure their erstwhile parties to embrace the president’s new party in a crazed rush to gain favor with those who wield power, and this takes place every time a new president takes office.

Also significant is unswerving allegiance, where aspirants are voted for not on basis of merit but due to blind sense of loyalty, perceived or otherwise.  Other manifestations of this phenomenon are regionalism and parochialism. All these indicate a lack of valuation for reasoning as we allow our judgment to be clouded by irrelevant matters.

In approaching issues, there is a tendency to disregard points-of-view that do not coincide with deeply held convictions, and resort to invective instead of argumentation. All too often there is an almost-fanatical belief in the strength of one’s position that people are led to ostracize those who hold contrary opinions.  In the worst cases, it becomes a persecution complete with physical and emotional attacks. This is exemplified in the recently-concluded elections, where overzealous partisans of candidates had recourse to vicious ad hominem attacks, with some threatening the lives and human rights of disputants. Dissent, apparently, is unacceptable, as is anything less than complete devotion to groupthink.

The foregoing cases are simply facets of the hostility of Filipinos to reasoning. At least, this hostility exists when their position has been threatened or revealed to be indefensible. Yet, rather than an extolling of ignorance, it may be attributed to our emphasis on pakikisama, signifying our refusal to engage in confrontation, and leads to emphasis of style over substance (Timberman, 1991, p. 20) (Madrazo-Sta. Romana, 2015). In this refusal to engage the status quo with ideas out of fear of disrupting social relations, the Philippines is enfeebled. When there is need to make a difficult judgment, we cannot always rely upon compromise and evasion. How can our democratic republic be successful in our pursuit of excellence when we insist on rejecting reasoning through silencing opposition? Despite the discomfort that it may bring us, it is essential to hear as many opinions, viewpoints, and ideas as we can. After all, the search for truth demands our willingness to examine differing propositions (Damer, 2013, p.7).

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. expressed perhaps the most compelling defense of free speech: “…the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas — that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out” (Abrams v. United States, 1919 [Holmes, J., dissenting]). In a democracy, the public is compelled to engage in a “rational, civic discourse in order to determine how to best form a consensus to shape the destiny of the Nation and its people” (Schuette v. BAMN, 2014 [plurality opinion]). For us to be able to pursue the best interests of our country, we must not prevent, but instead encourage discourse and free exchange of ideas.

There is, of course, an accompanying risk in this open debate where some would capitalize on the divisions of the country over an issue and use it to their advantage; it takes an informed citizenry to be able to discern legitimate and rational points as opposed to vitriol and concealed interests (Schuette v. BAMN, 2014 [plurality opinion]). Admittedly, this is a hurdle that we must overcome, as it is further complicated by the aforementioned resistance to reasoned discourse. Still, this should not stop us from endeavoring to promote proper and disciplined reasoning.

Education is the solution to prevailing this effort, as it is concerned with developing the mind to formulate ideas, think critically, and draw valid conclusions (Sinco, 1961, p. 4-5). More than preparing individuals for jobs and professions, education must cultivate the inherent capacity of an individual for reasoning.  This is the ideal that we aspire to, and here in the University of the Philippines, the goal that is pursued by all courses (Bonifacio, 1961, 1950). A critical populace will be able to commit themselves to the quest for common good through the marketplace of ideas. Thus, it is desirous to develop the natural curiosity and instill a healthy skepticism in and individual from the earliest stages of formal education.

For us who have studied and learned about proper reasoning, we must be committed to observe a “Code of Intellectual Conduct” (Damer, 2013). As it may be a well-worn platitude, we ought to embody the change that we hope to induce. We must be committed to the promotion of the value of reasoning in our everyday lives. In all our interactions with other people, we must abide by our commitment; in whatever context, it would be well to nurture a culture of civil discourse.

What change does promoting reasoning bring to our society? I have mentioned various ills that plague the Philippines stemming from our culture’s non-emphasis on reason. These problems (e.g. traditional politics, intolerance of opposing viewpoints) will be resolved, simply because rational individuals will no longer find merit in continuing these damaging practices. The greatest we stand to gain is the success of our democracy, as debate and reasoning is integral to our system of government. In cultivating people’s capacity to reason, we ensure that our society has individuals not only capable as resources of the state, but fully empowered and participative citizens who will have the best interests of their country at heart.

References

  • Abrams v. United States, 250 U.S. 616 (1919). Retrieved from https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/250/616#writing-USSC_CR_0250_0616_ZD
  • Bonifacio, A. (1961). Critical thinking and general education. University College Journal, 1 , 159-171.
  • Copi, I. M., & Cohen, C. (2005). Logic: language, deduction, and induction. Jurong, Singapore:  Pearson Education South Asia.
  • Damer, T. E. (2013). Attacking faulty reasoning. Australia: Wadsworth Cengage Learning. Madrazo-Sta. Romana, J. J. (2015, July 6). Smart-shaming and our Pinoy culture of anti- intellectualism [Supplemental material]. GMA News Online. Retrieved from http://www.gmanetwork.com
  • Republic of the Philippines. (1987). Constitution.
  • Schuette v. BAMN, 572 U.S.       (2014). Retrieved from http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/13pdf/12-682_8759.pdf
  • Sinco, V. G. (1961). A plan for concentrated guided study. University College Journal, 1 , 159-171.
  • Timberman, D. G. (1991). A changeless land : continuity and change in Philippine politics.Singapore: ISEAS.