Can we teach philosophically about unspeakable human suffering?

Dr Rowena Azada-Palacios

Some recent attempts by philosophers to comment on the war in Gaza have been met with harsh criticism. When the war ends, it will, by some measures, be one of the worst in recent history, and against this backdrop, armchair concept-parsing about it has appeared frivolous to many. As Tena Thau (2024) put it in her guest post on the Daily Nous: ‘The hellish reality of this war is transfigured by philosophers into abstract thought experiments and technical prose’. Criticisms such as Thau’s raise the question of whether any philosophical approach — and therefore, any approach to teaching philosophy (whether in educational settings or the public sphere) — can be appropriate when its object is other people’s urgent and widespread human suffering. Considering the substance of such criticisms, I argue that attempts to philosophise about urgent and widespread human suffering ought to culminate in a praxis-oriented solidarity. Against this criterion, I weigh potential approaches from two philosophical traditions. First, I consider anti-colonial approaches, which themselves have been both widely used and widely criticised in the current discourse about the war in Gaza. Second, I consider phenomenological approaches, which have been seen to be useful for understanding private experiences but have been less influential so far with respect to exploring political questions. Following on from this, I attempt to reconsider how the task of teaching philosophically might be understood, and propose a phenomeno-political approach that benefits from the useful analyses of power provided by anti-colonial traditions.  

The Battles of Ideas in Contemporary Politics of Knowledge
Reflections from Decolonial Perspective

Professor Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni

The knowledge domain is in turmoil as the existing dominant ways of knowledge are questioned and challenged, within a context of resurgent and insurgent decolonization of the 21st century also known as decoloniality. The dominant ways of knowing in place since the dawn of the transcendental model of power (global coloniality) delivered through colonial conquest of the world from the 15th century, are said to be Eurocentric, limited, exhausted, and excluding epistemologies of the South. At the same time, the resurgent and insurgent decolonization has itself ignited various critiques beginning with a sense that it lacks precision and has become a buzzword, a metaphor, a slogan, a catch all phrase, and even a wrong-headed intervention. It is this reality that provoked me to turn my attention to the subject of the battles of ideas and contemporary politics of knowledge from a decolonial perspective.  Therefore, this keynote address performs five tasks. (1) introduce the key aspects of the contemporary epistemic crisis, which has provoked new battles of ideas; (2) mapping the contours of the contemporary battles of ideas; (3) examine the content of the contemporary politics of knowledge and its implications for education; (4) explain the challenges imposed by the cognitive empire and its coloniality of knowledge; and (5) conclude by reflections on the new meanings of decolonization and its necessity today.     

[1] Abstract of Keynote Address Delivered at the 19th International Network of Philosophers of Education Conference: Postcolonialism: Forging a Knowledge of Belonging, Edge Hill University, Lancashire, United Kingdom, United Kingdom, 7-10 August 2024.

Recovering Anticolonialism as an Intellectual and Political Project in Philosophy of Education

Professor Michalinos Zembylas

This talk revisits the tension between decolonization and other social justice initiatives in education scholarship. It particularly focuses on the arguments both in favour of and against the concept of decolonization involving the return of land. While various colonized communities understandably emphasize their unique political priorities in their struggles against specific forms of colonial domination, I contend that it would be beneficial for education as both an academic field and a practice to reemphasize the importance of anticolonialism as a shared intellectual and political endeavour.

Anticolonial thought and action can provide education scholars, activists, and practitioners with a framework that fosters connections and solidarity in the fight against colonialism, without ignoring the differences between decolonization and other political endeavours. Instead of pitting various political projects against each other, such as viewing social justice initiatives that don’t prioritize land restitution as misguided, anticolonialism seeks as a point of departure to analyze and oppose a wide array of colonial practices and their consequences. These include racism, militarism, resource exploitation, land dispossession, and more.

The talk concludes with a discussion of possible intellectual trajectories through which philosophy of education may contribute.