UJ philosopher on 'the meaning of life'

No other philosophy department in the country is doing more to train black postgraduates as the University of Johannesburg (UJ), says Professor Thaddeus Metz, head of the university’s philosophy department.

Through a combination of UJ’s New Generation Scholarship Programme and some pro-active mentoring and financial support, the institution is training some students who are likely to become “the first African female philosophers in the country”, he told Mail & Guardian Education on Tuesday.

He delivered his inaugural address, titled “Toward a Theory of Great Meaning in Life” on Wednesday (August 18) in the Council Chamber on UJ’s Kingsway Campus in Auckland Park, Johannesburg.

Philosophy plays an important social role by providing answers that help shape communities, Metz said. “Since 1994, South Africa’s overarching question has been: ‘How should we live now?’ For example, how should we deal with historical injustice and racial divisions? How do we properly integrate the best parts of both Western and sub-Saharan traditions? What is the right way to distribute economic wealth? All of these questions are about good and bad, right and wrong, just and unjust—which philosophers study systematically for a living.”

He says the one thing that should be understood about philosophy education is that during apartheid, the kind of philosophy a university department did was based on race and language.
As a result, some departments focused exclusively on Anglo-American philosophy, others on Continental philosophy, and still others on African philosophy.

“Since UJ’s inception five years ago [following the merger of Rand Afrikaans University with Technikon Witwatersrand], the philosophy department has become probably the most well-rounded one in the country, offering first-rate instruction in all three areas,” he told M&G Education.

The politics of memory, poverty and justice, the African ethic of ubuntu, the meaning of life and the philosophy of science are among his department’s research areas, he said: “I’d like to see some of this work become more influential by appearing more often in journals with an international readership.”

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