Home > Books > Zara Yakob: Rationality of the Human Heart, Book Review

Zara Yakob: Rationality of the Human Heart, Book Review

Zara Yakob:Rationality of the Human Heart (Red Sea Press, 2005);

156 pp.Author: Teodros Kiros, PhD.

Reviewed by Veritas

The book under review is a slim volume yet it contains lots of insightful ideas on one of the few Ethiopian philosophers we’ever had, Zara Yacob.Teodros Kiros has done a tremendous service by writing this book, which, I’d like to think, could well be a source of inspiration for more works on Ethiopian philosophy to be done by a new generation of Ethiopians in the years to come.That is my hope.In this review, I’ll highlight some of the key points in the book and share, at the end, a few points by way of refelection on the book.

The book is divided into Seven Chapters. Chapters I & II, are stage setting and I’ll only mention the issues they touch briefly. Chapter III is on Zara Yacob, the main subject of this book. Chapter IV focuses on Walda Heywat, Zara Yacob’s student and his work. Chapter V focuses on Zara Yacob’s work in light of African Philosophy, while Chapter VI highlights his place in the history of philosophy in general. Chapter VII concludes the book by touching on Zara Yacob’s distinct contribution to philosophy as a philosopher of the rationality of the heart. My review does not necessarily follow the above chapter divisions.

I

In chapter I, “Classical Ethiopian Philosophy and the Modernity of Zara Yacob”, Kiros sets a stage for his exposition of Zara Yacob’s work and his exposition of classical Ethiopian philosophy is accordingly short. Consequently, Kiros contrasts Zara Yacob’s radical break from tradition by emphasizing classical Ethiopian philosophy’s focus on tradition and a subtle appropriation and integration of Greek, Egyptian, Aramaic and Arabic philosophy into that of classical Ethiopian philosophy.
Kiros emphasizes the fact that classical Ethiopian philosophy has never been a pure work of translation. He writes, “Ethiopians never translate literally; they adapt, modify, add, subtract. A translation therefore bears a typically Ethiopian stamp: although the nucleus of what is translated is foreign to Ethiopia, the way it is assimilated and transformed into an indigenous reality is typically Ethiopian.” (P. 12). Kiros reiterates that anything that gets ethiopianized is through a transliteration more than translation and in the process gets fundamentally changed, that is, becomes ethiopianized.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[1]

<!–[endif]–>

Kiros also notes that classical Ethiopian philosophy focuses on moral values which is the feature of Fisalgos, that is the transcription from the Greek Physiologos that contrasts with The Book of the Philosophers, which is “a collection of sayings that illuminate tradition as a source of philosophy and philosophy as orality” (p. 2). Most of the sayings in The Book of the Philosophers are ethiopianized interpretations of the works of classical Greek philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle and Pythagoras (p.2).
Kiros pays attention to two major elements of classical Ethiopian philosophy. Accordingly, he briefly discusses three main moral categories such as wisdom, moderation, and faith as examples of the classical Ethiopian philosophy. He also highlights the key place the story of Skendes occupies in classical Ethiopian philosophy. The story of Skendes, Kiros notes, has been the subject of Greek, Syrian, Arabic and classical Ethiopian philosophy. Kiros remarks, “The pervasive philosophy of wisdom through silence, the need to control the tongue, discourse on the nature of women, the miseries, slayings, excess and abstention of desire, fear and anger, which Skendes delicately analyzed, became powerful ethical and septennial [sic] themes in classical Ethiopian philosophy.” (p.9).
It is in the background of such classical Ethiopian philosophy that Zara Yacob emerges, in the 17th century, whose radical break from the way philosophy was conceived in Ethiopia before him was a point of departure and the subject of Kiros’ work. Kiros says, Zara Yacob was “…the first rationalist and modernist [who] simultaneously appropriated and transcended the sapiential tradition that engulfed him.” (p. 11) Modernity contrasts with tradition or being traditional and it’s progressive and it’s, more or less, identified with scientific rationality.

II

Kiros underscores two methods of interpretation of existing philosophical work that Zara Yacob introduced as a way of doing philosophy, viz., Hassasa and Hatata. Claude Sumner, who has done more than any other person to bring together much of the extant literature on Ethiopian philosophy, alongside Kiros, contends that “…Zara Yacob along with Descartes was a founder of modern philosophy”, to which, Kiros adds, that “Zara Yacob and Walda Heywat are the first rationalists and modernists in Ethiopian history.” (pp. 17-18)
Now Kiros notes that by the modernity of Zara Yacob he, Kiros, refers to Zara Yacob’s rejection of tradition if and when tradition and traditional beliefs and values fail to meet the standard of reason, or rationality. For Zara Yacob, as it’s the case for philosophers in general, reason should play a key role in our reflective appropriation of what has come before us through the tradition of our fathers and forefathers. But Zara Yacob’s rationality is that of “the rationality of the heart”, which is the theme of Kiros’ work. More on that below.
Philosophy is a reflective and critical activity and hence Zara Yacob’s use of philosophy to critically engage the beliefs, thoughts, and values in the context of which he was born in the 17th century Ethiopia. Zara Yacob’s starting point for his philosophical activities and philosophizing in general was his conviction that God exists and reason is God-given and God rewards those who seek truth, truly, so to speak, and most of his reflective activities were informed and infused by his faith in God and in his desire to be a wise person recognizing God as the fountain of wisdom all the way. Kiros writes, ‘He [Zara Yacob] prayed to God to make him intelligent and wise so as to use reason accurately and fairly and decipher human nature and inform it with moral wisdom and depth. This was the test of Rationality.” (p. 20)
According to Kiros “[Zara Yacob’s] fundamental conviction is that God exists”, which Kiros contrasts with that of the modern philosophers’ attitude to God and faith in God that is dismissive. Though Zara Yacob starts with his faith in God, his philosophizing was meant to make his faith rational, reasonable. For Zara Yacob true faith is always reasonable or rational or should be consistent with reason if reason is also directed at seeking truth.
For Zara Yacob human actions reflect human rationality which is flawed if it does not reflect the rationality of God and if humans are irrational their actions would also be irrational. Kiros remarks on Zara Yacob when he writes, “On this view rationality is not a given, what are given are intelligence and will, and it is the proper use of both that makes it possible for us to develop a rational way of life, as a habitual way of existence.” (p. 27) Again, Zara Yacob is emphatic as to how our choices and our actions are reflective of our thoughts in that they show where they spring from, our hearts. Zara Yacob says, “…God created man to be the master of his own actions, so that he will be what he wills to be, good or bad.” (p.64). Hence human thoughts and choices and actions are intimately related according to Zara Yacob.

Kiros underscores the fact that for Zara Yacob praying to God is a path to thought and God discloses himself for those who intensely engage in prayer with a desire to seek the truth. Kiros remarks that for Zara Yacob prayer is a modality of philosophy, a mode or a means by which philosophy is done and prayer “is a highly concentrated and disciplined exercise in thinking.” (p. 41). Hence prayer plays a key role in Zara Yacob’s philosophy.

  1. It was facing conflicting truth-claims by people who embraced different faith-commitments, e.g., Christians, Muslims, and Jews, that led Zara Yacob to engage in Hassasa, that is searching as a method of discriminating which truth-claim is true. Zara Yacob shares his reflections on the human tendency to lie, speak untruth as follows: “We cannot, however, reach truth through the doctrine of men, for all men are liars…God sustains the world by his order which he himself has established and which men cannot destroy, because the order of God is stronger than the order of men.”<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[2]
    <!–[endif]–> (p. 47). Kiros notes that only if humans rely on God’s reason and are guided by God’s reason and God’s doctrine, besides using their own reason, that they can be protected from liars or lies since all men are liars. In other words, relying on human reason in seeking truth about God and other things is a necessary condition but not a sufficient one according to Zara Yacob.

Kiros contrasts Zara Yacob’s work with his French contemporary, Rene Descartes, and he goes on to note that Zara Yacob’s Treatise addresses philosophical issues such as metaphysics (study of what reality is), morality, and the nature of knowledge. As we’ve already observed, knowledge, according to Zara Yacob, can be obtained through prayer, and meditation on the doctrines or teachings of God, and by using our human reason at the same time relying on God’s reason. As for reality, that is, what exists and what does not, Zara Yacob starts with God’s existence and the existence of all the creatures God has created and sustains in existence. As for morality Zara Yacob was concerned as to how to live our lives rightly and rationally and how the human search for truth following God’s precepts can guide human life and action. Kiros writes, “Zara Yacob portrays humans as potentially reasonable—but only if they work on the potentiality, otherwise, they are evil and disposed to lying.” (p. 62). One cannot miss the emphasis Zara Yacob places on truth and the value of truth.
Among the features of Zara Yacob’s philosophy is his focus on the heart as the seat of reason and rationality and hence his philosophy being characterized as the rationality of the human heart. Kiros notes that “Intelligence, for Zara Yacob is centered in the heart. The heart as opposed to the brain is expected to enable us to choose correctly. The relocation of intelligence in the human heart is a measured redefinition of reason according to Zara Yacob. Intellection itself is an activity of the heart.” (p.57).Again, Kiros underscores that the heart is the source of feelings and passions thus: “Zara Yacob is contending that thinking is an activity of the heart, and that genuine thinking is passionate, and passion as an expression of feeling is an integral part of thought and not separate from thought. Thought itself is passionate; thought is a passion for truth and feeling grounds truth.” (p. 70). These preceding ideas capture the rationality of the heart according to Zara Yacob.

III

Kiros devotes a chapter to the work of Walda Heywat, Zara Yacob’s student who went on to transform his teacher’s work. Walda Heywat drew out implications of Zara Yacob’s work mainly for social ethics. He like his teacher emphasizes the value of intelligence and reason in human life. Kiros notes that “Walda Heywat was an accommodationist whereas Zara Yacob was a radical critic of traditions.” (p. 86). Walda Heywat’s ethical teachings underscore the fact that in order to live rightly we need to develop self-awareness. Kiros remarks that critical awareness of oneself is indispensable for one to develop character since character development requires knowledge of one’s vices.
Kiros considers how Zara Yacob’s and Walda Heywat’s philosophical work can be seen as an example of doing African philosophy that shares the value and universal role of reason in philosophy against the prevailing view that holds African philosophy as being based on emotions without reason. He also discusses Zara Yacob’s place in the history of philosophy as he compares Zara Yacob’s work with that of Immanuel Kant and Aristotle especially Kant’s emphasis on the faculty of reason which is also Zara Yacob’s as we’ve so far observed.
The book concludes with Kiros’ contention that the heart as opposed to the brain is the seat of rationality, reason, and thought and passions with which he captures Zara Yacob’s work. He argues that among Zara Yacob’s contribution to philosophy is the recognition that “The heart as part of the body is a muscular pump, as the house of the mind, [it] is an organ of thought…the human heart is both part of the body and the mind”. (pp.118-119).
Kiros finally contrasts rationality of the heart, following Zara Yacob, with that of scientific rationality. Scientific rationality Kiros argues is exclusively concerned with meeting the economic and psychological needs of the individual with a focus on devising means to meet the individual’s needs. Scientific rationality is indifferent to the suffering of the other and hence at the end self-centered. Rationality of the heart, on the other hand, issuing forth from the human heart, offers what scientific rationality lacks such as compassion and concern to the other and that is due to the fact, according to Kiros, that thinking and feeling and passion affect the actions of a human being as these originate from the human heart.
Kiros adds a short appendix in which he addresses the debate about the authenticity over the author of Yacob’s Treatise and he supports his conclusion for Zara Yacob’s authorship of the Treatise by providing some textual evidence.

IV

Now it’s time for me to share a few points by way of reflection on the book under review and will leave it for another occasion to fully develop a more philosophically informed evaluation of the book.
First off, personally, it’s been quite an experience for me to have been exposed to the work of Zara Yacob, which is a remarkable achievement for a person given the historical context in which he had lived and also developed such a critical work. Any philosopher who works in the contemporary analytic philosophy of religion, while reading Zara Yacob’s work, cannot help thinking about Zara Yacob’s philosophical predecessors of the European medieval period and how similar his work was to that of his predecessors.
Consequently, Zara Yacob seems to belong to a tradition of doing theistic and Christian philosophy known as “Faith Seeking Understanding”, or in Latin, Fides quaerens intellectum, originated with another African Christian philosopher, St. Augustine of Hippo (of present day Algeria) in the 4th century, which was also adopted by St. Anselm, the Archbishop of Canterbury who lived in the 11th century, who is also known as the founder of European scholasticism. The most famous living contemporary Christian philosopher who belongs to the tradition of “Faith Seeking Understanding” is the American Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga of the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.
I’d call Zara Yacob the first Ethiopian theistic (Christian) philosopher to be followed by his student Walda Heywat. Zara Yacob’s work distinctly belongs to that of theistic (Christian) philosophy tradition of the medieval times and that of the contemporary Christian philosophy that has experienced unprecedented renaissance in the last three decades or so under the leadership, among others, of Alvin Plantinga. If Zara Yacob has independently developed all his philosophical reflections without any contact with the works of his mainly European predecessors his work is truly a remarkable achievement.
At this moment I leave for historians to determine whether Zara Yacob had any contacts with any literature by any one of his predecessors from outside of Ethiopia. Since philosophical work is usually done in response to and in interaction with other philosophers’ works, even if one establishes that Zara Yacob was exposed to an outside philosophical work, that does not undermine the fact that he was the first Ethiopian theistic (Christian) philosopher. By theistic philosopher I mean a philosopher who’s committed to belief in God and by a Christian philosopher I’d refer to a distinctly Christian philosopher as one who does not only believe in God but who is also committed to a Christian understanding of who God is as opposed to that in Islam and Judaism.
The reason I call Zara Yacob a theistic (Christian) philosopher as opposed to simply calling him an Ethiopian philosopher might raise some questions for some. A very short answer to such a question would be this: all philosophers start their philosophical work with some givens or starting points to which they are committed. Some start with belief in God while others start with believing all that exists is the universe plus nothing else, or no God as understood in a Judeo-Christian tradition. The former could be called theistic philosophers while the latter naturalistic philosophers. The point is that both are philosophers. There is no philosopher who does his/her philosophical work in a vacuum of fundamental intellectual commitments. Zara Yacob starts his philosophical work with his belief or faith in God. Hence he can rightly be called a theistic and also a Christian philosopher. From what has been presented about Zara Yacob in the book under review it seems more reasonable and more accurate to call him a theistic philosopher (as opposed to calling him a Christian philosopher) since Zara Yacob’s emphasis is on a generic understanding of God to all the major theistic traditions such as Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
Finally, though this book contains number of insightful ideas on Zara Yacob’s contribution as a theistic philosopher I’ve also found some areas that the author can take into consideration for future revised edition that can improve the quality of the book significantly: there is a tendency by the writer to repeat the same ideas throughout the book. That could have been avoided and the book could have been shorter, concise, if the writing was more precise, and more rigorous. Most analytic philosophers would be put off by writing that does not aim at precision and rigor of argumentation and my hope is that the future edition of the book will consider adding such valuable things to make the book a contribution also to philosophy as practiced in the analytic philosophy tradition to which this reviewer belongs.
One other problem that I’ve noticed is about multiple avoidable typos and there are words miss-spelt on many pages and I hope that they’ll be corrected for the subsequent edition. There are a number of ideas in the book to take issues with but not now as I’ve indicated above. Otherwise, I think the book can serve as a source for more work on philosophy by a new generation of Ethiopian philosophers in the years to come. It’ll particularly be an inspiration for future theistic and Christian philosophers in Ethiopia.

Veritas

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<!–[endif]–> <!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[1]<!–[endif]–> Some caution here: I take it that Kiros’ comment on Ethiopians never translating literary is to refer to Ethiopians in the context of the translation work he’s talking about and not to refer to contemporary Ethiopians for that does not seem to be right. <!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[2]<!–[endif]–> The statement “all men are liars” is very problematic if it’s taken literally to mean all men are liars. If it’s true that the all men are liars, then this very statement that is written or uttered by a man is a lie, and therefore, false, since lies are untrue. That, is if it’s true, then it’s false. On the other hand, if it is false (i.e., if it’s a lie) that all men are liars, then this very statement written or uttered by a man is true. That is, if it it’s false, then it’s true. These both generate contradictions. Such statements, if unqualified, lead into what philosophers and logicians call a Liar Paradox. It’s possible for Zara Yacob to escape this contradiction if he meant that “all men are liars” in a hyperbolic way or as meaning all men have a tendency to tell lies but they do not lie all the time.

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Categories: Books
  1. Veritas
    May 26, 2007 at 3:07 pm

    I’ve also posted the above book review on this blog where I’ve been discussing about the Ethiopian society and character issues to which I thought Zara Yacob’s thoughts would also contribute something.

    You can read the book review which does not have the footnotes but then the footnotes are inessential to the review and it’s here:
    https://arefe.wordpress.com/2007/04/07/the-continuing-self-search-debate/#comments

    The review is the last one at the very bottom on the link provided.

    I look forward to reading responses to it and to continuing the discussion here.

    Cheers,

    Veritas

  2. Ezra Kebede
    May 29, 2007 at 8:10 am

    I am impressed by the review.Looking forward for the discussions.

  3. Veritas
    May 29, 2007 at 3:17 pm

    Hi Ezra:

    Thanks for your note. I’ve also been looking forward to reading some responses, by the author of the book I reviewed, among others, and you’re the first person to share a line about having read the review.

    I’d like to engage those who’d like to share their thoughts about the ideas the book contains and anything in relation to that. I hope that will happen some day.

    You can start the discussion sharing some thoughts if you’d like to do so and you’re most welcome to do that. The book has some relevant ideas that can further the discussion that has been going on about the Ethiopian society and character issues but then I want to leave it for other to share their ideas first. Otherwise, I’ll just talk it all by myself. That does not sound good anyways.

    Cheers,

    Veritas

  4. Teodros Kiros
    May 30, 2007 at 3:04 pm

    Veritas has an extraordinary review marked by honesty, competence and a passiong for truth. I am most grateful to him for devoting so much time, care and attention to my work.
    As time progresses, and reflections begin on the work, I will write more and respond more fully.
    For now, I write to simply say, Thanks and Bravo.
    Teodros

  5. Veritas
    May 30, 2007 at 4:11 pm

    Hello Prof. Teodros:

    Thank you so much for your very kind words about me and that is very kind of you, indeed.

    My hope is that many others will respond to your work partly based on the review and partly having read your work first hand, which is even much better.

    Yes, I look forward to some fruitful exchange of ideas in the future when we all get more time to further develop ideas contained in your insightful work for fellow Ethiopians to learn much from.

    Thanks a lot.

    Cheers,

    Veritas

  6. Yaya
    June 1, 2007 at 7:28 am

    It was with a great pleasure that I read the review. But I couldn’t get any enlightenment on the claim by Conti Rossini who said Zara Yakob’s work is not original and was taken from the work of an Italian monk. I was to know if the book has anything to say about the claim and what the author’s thought is.

  7. Teodros Kiros
    June 1, 2007 at 2:00 pm

    Conti Rossini’s claim has now been put to rest. Zara Yacob is the uncontested author of the Treaise, evident as Sumner has shown ,in the Ethiopianity of the language, the rhyme and rhytm of his Geez.

  8. Veritas
    June 1, 2007 at 3:10 pm

    Hi Yaya:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts about the review and raising the historical question about the authorship with respect to Zara Yacob’s work.

    It’s good that the writer of the book shed some light on your question to which I did not know the answer and would not know such a thing without doing further studies.

    In another post I want to show how Zara Yacob’s thoughts have any relevance to what has been going on in the discussion that has been about character problems in the Ethiopian society that I’ve been arguing are among the fundamental problems for the Ethiopian society.

    Zara Yacob’s already contributed so much to the very issues that I’ve been trying to address and we’ve been discussing to some extent. Hope to share some such thoughts soon.

    Cheers,

    Veritas

  9. Veritas
    June 1, 2007 at 7:11 pm

    Hi All:

    This is just my first attempt to share some ideas from Zara Yacob’s work, ideas that have been reflected in the review and others that one can find in the broader work of his Treatise as Teodros Kiros has made the work available for us.

    Just to remind readers of the original theme of discussion on this blog as I’ve originally proposed the ideas for discussion and debate as follows:

    I proposed and intermittently briefly argued here and there, that character problems that afflict the Ethiopian society in various ways are consequences of failing to love truth for its own sake and hence failure to embrac truth, that manifest itself in encouraging and propmoting inherently wrong and harmful character traits and a broader cluture of willingly telling lies, that is being untruthful, being dishonest, lacking in personal integrity, lacking in oppeness to one another, that is being suspicious, etc.

    Such character vices have an inherently destructive consequences for a society that harbors and cultivates such character traits, knowingly or unknowingly, and that is evident in how much bad character traits have negatively impacted the various instutitions of the Ethiopian society that we’ve mentioned before such as education, political leadership, businnesses, even religious intitutions which seem to have a resource for moral values that they are supposed to promote and live out in the daily reality of life in the society.

    Now one can see how Zara Yacob with his passion for truth has already contributed to such a discussion that we’ve been participating and debating for the last nearly three months. Zara Yacob has no room for lies and strongly against the culture of lies and untruth. He also was explicit about how much we should value reason and rationality that is almost an enemy to most of the Ethiopian mindset.

  10. Veritas
    June 1, 2007 at 7:16 pm

    Hi All:

    Please ignore the above post. Something went wrong while I was typing my thoughts and I just saw the above having been posted without my intending it to be so. I did not finish my thoughts nor did I do any editing for typos.

    Just ignore it and read the following note instead please.

    Cheers,

    Veritas

  11. Veritas
    June 1, 2007 at 8:04 pm

    Hi All:

    This is just my first attempt to share some ideas from Zara Yacob’s work, ideas that have been reflected in the review and others that one can find in the broader work of his Treatise as Teodros Kiros has made the work available for us.

    Just to remind readers of the theme of the discussion on this blog as I’ve originally proposed the ideas for discussion and debate as follows:
    I proposed and intermittently and briefly argued here and there that character problems that afflict the Ethiopian society in various ways are consequences of failing to love truth for its own sake and hence failure to embrace truth that manifest itself in encouraging and promoting inherently wrong and harmful character traits and a broader culture of willingly telling lies, that is being untruthful, being dishonest, lacking in personal integrity, lacking in openness to one another, that is being suspicious, etc.
    Such character traits/vices have an inherently destructive consequences for a society that harbors and cultivates such character traits, knowingly or unknowingly, and that is evident in how much bad character traits have negatively impacted the various institutions of the Ethiopian society that we’ve mentioned before such as education, political leadership, businesses, even religious institutions which seem to have a resource for moral values that they are supposed to promote and live out in the daily reality of life in the society.

    Now one can see how Zara Yacob with his passion for truth has already contributed to such a discussion that we’ve been participating and debating for the last nearly three months. Zara Yacob has no room for lies and strongly against the culture of lies and untruth as reflected in the book by Teodros and his own Treatise. He also was explicit about how much we should value reason and rationality that is almost an enemy to most of the Ethiopian mindset. The value of reason and rationality has been the LEAST visible value that one can observe in our society. It does not require a PhD in philosophy or in anything to see how much we Ethiopians have a culture that goes against nurturing and cultivating our minds or our faculty of reason in order to be people of reason who value truth and care about truth and as a result who can stand against lies and unreason that affect and shape our society in multiple forms.

    Hope that some would recall that my challenge to develop critical thinking skills by reading good books and hence and practicing such skills as part of developing intellectual virtues has nearly brought to a stop this discussion. One of the reasons why this discussion is the least popular is, I think, due to a lack of desire for many fellow Ethiopians to develop critical thinking skills. It is a terrifying experience to realize that one would lose one’s fellow Ethiopians from such a forum as this if one issues a challenge to one’s fellow Ethiopians to develop their intellectual virtues.
    I think one does not need to do any serious research in order to see how much of the Ethiopian people care the least for developing reasoned views about what they believe or what others believe and we can see that in almost all forums be it in education, even at the universities and colleges, or politics or religious institutions. Speaking of religious institutions we should not underestimate the value Zara Yacob has taught us if people take time to consider and reconsider their religious beliefs (like all other of their beliefs, of course) and develop openness to evaluate the truth-claims of their religious beliefs and values and embrace what they find to be reasonable and live it out in their lives.

    Being deeply religious for Zara Yacob did not conflict with having a very strong desire to be reasonable and rational about his religious convictions. Such an open and searching mind could do so much good to one’s convictions, be it about one’s religious convictions or otherwise. It’s a rare thing to find the likes of Zara Yacob in our society and the consequences of such a failure to promote the Zara Yacobs in a contemporary Ethiopia is much, much worse than that of the society at the time of Zara Yacob. We live in a world where there are much, much more frequent interactions with beliefs and values embraced by other societies, among others, that requires a much more careful thinking and reflection about who we are as persons and what we should believe and how we should live.

    I think the above are some of the insights that one can initially glean from Zara Yacob’s work and I want to leave for others to share their views and we can move on to share more of our reflections and thoughts on the difference that Zara Yacob inspired life and thought could make to our society now.

    Cheers,

    Veritas

  12. Yaya
    June 3, 2007 at 7:15 am

    Thanks for this enlightening topic and discussion. I have two questions. I hear that Zara Yakob’s Christianity was so rationalized that it could be read an atheist exposition. Was he atheist? What is the role of his disciple, Walde Hiwot in the work?

  13. seife
    June 3, 2007 at 7:23 am

    About Conti Rossini’s claim, I have no doubt that it is pure racist. Just learn more about Zara Yakob’s philosophy and any one could understand the Ethiopian character of the work. An Italian Capuchin missionary came to Ethiopia to produce a philosophical dissertation and wrote it in such beautiful Amharic is the most stupid claim.

  14. Veritas
    June 3, 2007 at 10:00 pm

    Hi Yaya:

    Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts with us. Now your question, the first one, raises a number of other related issues about the relationship between faith and reason in Christianity which is a topic of great philosophical interest to me personally but then I’m not sure how to address your question since I’m not exactly clear as to how to understand it. Let me try a bit to address it briefly if my understanding is correct:

    1)You say, “I hear that Zara Yakob’s Christianity was so rationalized that it could be read an atheist exposition. Was he atheist?”.

    a.I think you wanted to say that Zara Yacob was too intellectual or his faith was too intellectualized for it to be properly called a Christian faith and that kind of faith would be compatible with what an atheist would believe even as an atheist. I do not know if that is what you wanted to communicate.

    b.Or, perhaps you wanted to say that Christianity requires no reason for reason is against faith and Zara Yacob was all about reason and not about faith as much. Therefore, his intellectualized Christianity would amount to atheism.
    c.Or, another attempt: only atheists are rational and intellectual and therefore Zara Yacob was an atheist because his exposition of Christianity was what an atheist would do about Christianity.

    2)Yaya, to be honest, I do not know which is which from the above attempts at understanding your question. If you were a bit clearer it’d have been a bit easier for me to say what I think could be a response to your question.

    a.If by an atheist you mean a person who does NOT believe in God, or God’s existence, as traditionally understood, I do not know how that would fit with any one of the attempted understandings about your question in (a-c) above. For as far as we can tell Zara Yacob was a believer in God whose life filled up with prayer to God as God whom one would take to be the God of the Bible, at least from the Old Testament, since his prayers were styled after the prayers of David, to whom the book of Psalms is attributed. If David was a believer, a theist (not an atheist), so was Zara Yacob. Therefore, I do not know what you were referring to by an atheist.

    b.Or, if you were wondering whether faith, that was intellectually oriented, that is faith that encourages reasoning and rationality would be against what Christianity teaches, that is one of the theologically and philosophical debated issues but then I do not know how to relate that to atheism in any direct way. I suggested that Zara Yacob seems to belong to a tradition in faith vis-à-vis reason debate that goes by the motto, ‘faith seeking understanding’, and that still does not have anything to do with atheism in any direct way.

    c.One thing I was cautious about Zara Yacob in my review was this: I thought and called him a theist more than a Christian theist. The former is generic to Christianity, Judaism and Islam, while the latter is distinctive of Christianity for these three major religious traditions are not identical about everything they teach. Therefore, I’d continue to speak of Zara Yacob as a theistic philosopher more often than a Christian theistic philosopher; however, it does not follow from this that he was not a Christian. For all Christians are theists but all theists are not Christians because they could embrace Islam or Judaism.

    d.As for your second question, about the role of his student Walda Heywat, I can say something very brief and would like for the writer of the book, Teodros Kiros, to add his own thoughts if possible: I think it’s fair to say that Walda Heywat was not as radical as his teacher though he’s also very much concerned about using human reason and rationality as a believer. Walda Heywat was more of an applied philosopher in the sense that his concern was more about applying what we learn as rational beings and believers to the social issues like raising children, living a virtuous or morally praiseworthy life, etc.

    3)Generally speaking, when we talk about Zara Yacob and Walda Heywat, I think it’d be very fair and reasonable NOT to take their philosophical reflections in the same sense and to the same degree as one would take the works of the patristic and medieval scholastics such as St. Augustine, St. Aquinas, St. Anselm, Boethius, Abelard, John Scotus, William of Ockham, etc., whose theological/philosophical work could be called and has been called as thoroughly and systematically organized body of work and which was among the most sophisticated theological/philosophical work in the history of Western thought. However, it’d not be fair to dismiss the achievements of Zara Yacob and Walda Heywat given the historical context that they lived in and thought about what they did in the environment that was not the most conducive for critical philosophical reflections on religious issues. That is much the same in the present day Ethiopia as well if one is familiar with the attitudes of religious and also non-religious people when it comes to doing philosophy as a believer. Such a myth, questioning a believer’s being a philosopher in every sense of the ideas of a philosopher, still pervades popular imagination as even that of those who’re in academia and otherwise.
    Hope the above clarifies some issues and I look forward to reading Yaya’s response by way of clarification so that I can respond to his questions in a better way, if I’ve any knowledge of what he is raising as a question. I’ll just try my best. Thanks for raising your questions.

    Welcome back Seife!

    I do not have a background about historical debates surrounding Zara Yacob’s work and hence I cannot say much. But one thing I can say: Zara Yacob’s writings, the ones that I’ve read even in English sound very much Ethiopian. But such an argument cannot be a very good one to conclude that Zara Yacob was the author of the Treatise attributed to him. Though I share your conviction I do not think we can argue for a conclusive conclusion, as it were, in the way we share our convictions. Some people can master others’ languages and can and do write as the native speakers. That would invalidate our conviction about Zara Yacob’s authorship and hence my reservation about how to go about establishing the authorship debate by saying such a writing cannot be written unless the writer was the native speaker of this language or that. Hope that is clear.

    Cheers,

    Veritas

  15. Veritas
    June 4, 2007 at 4:25 am

    Hi All

    This is a P.S.:

    1) I just wanted to share the following thought: Since I’m not a Zara Yacob expert I think those who want to raise questions about the book by Teodros Kiros would do well if they address questions that require expert knowledge about Zara Yacob scholarship.

    2) However, having said the above, I’m responsible for what I shared as my own reflection under section IV in the book review. For those reflections and what I shared above, in the post immediately preceding this one and the one that preceded it , I’m responsible for such thoughts that reflect my own take on the subject matter under discussion.

    3) The above is just to say when those in the audience share their reflections and thoughts it’d be better if they indicate who they want to address their questions or concerns etc when the thought/question is about the book and its review and related issues to this subject matter.

    It’s very possible that my take on Zara Yacob’s work and that of Teodros Kiros’ might be different and we might disagree about this or that aspect of Zara Yacob’s philosophy. Such differences or disagreements would simply confirm the saying that goes like this: If two people agree one of them is not a philosopher. That means? Philosophers never agree! But that is life in philosophy though that does not mean every philosopher disagrees with everyone else nor does it mean that all those who disagree are necessarily philosophers! Otherwise, anyone can simply write and say I disagree with what has just been said and therefore I’m a philosopher! I wish life were that simple. But then if life were that simple I very much doubt if I would prefer such a simple life.

    Cheers,

    Veritas

  16. Veritas
    June 4, 2007 at 4:36 am

    PP.S.

    Please add this to the first sentence’s ending:”… with Teodros Kiros in mind and properly addressed to him.”

    I apologize for the above incomplete thought.

    Cheers,

    Veritas

  17. Teodros Kiros
    June 4, 2007 at 2:34 pm

    Two points.
    (1) It is a waste of time, and I wish not to waste my time now. to establish whether Zara Yacob is the author of the Treatsise or not. What I said previously is enough. I have nothing more to say.
    (2) Walda is a social ethicist and an accomdationist who works within the Ethiopian tradition and does not engage tha tradition as critically and as radically as Zara Yocob does.

  18. Veritas
    June 5, 2007 at 5:19 am

    Hello Prof Teodros and Yaya and Seife:

    I hope to hear from Yaya and Seife for your contributions have been important and it’d be great to continue the conversations as we keep sharing our thoughts whenever we can. This is just to say please keep the thoughts coming.

    I just want to raise the following idea for Prof. Teodros Kiros about his short post above, esp., under (1) that says: “(1) It is a waste of time, and I wish not to waste my time now. to establish whether Zara Yacob is the author of the Treatsise or not. What I said previously is enough. I have nothing more to say.”

    I do not know how to take the above statement from the writer of the book that has brought about what we’re discussing here these days. I wonder why Prof. Teodros would think that it’s a waste of time IF there are some among his readers who still have genuine questions about the authorship of the Treatise attributed to Zara Yacob. For example, I’m not in any serious doubt about Zara Yacob being the author of the Treatise and the reason that I’m not in any serious doubt about it is largely because I’ve not seen any serious objections to the idea yet nor have I seen a better alternative to explain who wrote the Treatise that is attributed to Zara Yacob. But that is not an argument if I stop my explanations why Zara Yacob is taken to have been the author of the Treatise. I need to do much, much more to the above assertions. Right?

    Now what if some of us, among the readers of your work, and some future potential readers, find ourselves/themselves with some serious doubts about the authorship of the Treatise that has been attributed to Zara Yacob? I do not think I’d think that I’d waste my time if I face such objections (or even some potential) skeptics since part of the project of working on Zara Yacob scholarship is to provide always better arguments in support of the conclusion that Zara Yacob was the writer of the Treatise. I myself would be happy to see such arguments even for some future, potential objectors or skeptics, so that the project to which you’ve devoted a good deal of your time and energy would continue to receive a convincing case for its truth and that matters immensely, at least, to my mind. After all philosophical conclusions develop and mature in the face of some serious objections and criticisms.

    I hope that Prof. Teodros would continue to engage readers of his book and continue to share more of his thoughts on the Zara Yacob scholarship which is his area of expertise, which I do not have much knowledge about but then would like to learn from him along with others in the audience.

    Cheers,

    Veritas

  19. Yaya
    June 5, 2007 at 8:28 am

    Thanks to Prof. Teodros and Veritas for prompt and rapid resonses.
    I wish a lot more people(Espetially) know about Zara Yakob’s wise thoughts and give him the neccesary credit and place he deserves.May be someone out there(instituations like the Addis Ababa University) think of republishing his works and assist to reach a wider public, without undesetimatin what has been done so far by people like Prof Teodros.

  20. Teodros Kiros
    June 5, 2007 at 2:10 pm

    Again, what more could one say beyond showing as Sumner and I have tried to do, the Ethiopianity of the text eveident in the geography of the reasoning, in the intimate lingustic texture of the sayings, the proverbs, the prose and the poetry of the Geez, peculiar to the Ethiopian thinker, without ever undermining the possibilty of non-Ethiopian thinker doing the same. Sadly, the purported outsiders’ Geez was not sufficently fluent to have possessed the necessary tools of mastery to flow in the text. The other works by the outsider, as Sumner has argued were mediocre. His Geez, in comparison to ZC’s, were unaccetbaly poor, therefore, he could not have possibly been the author of the masterful Treatise. The author of that African text is the extraodinary ZC. I rest my case. Please let us move on in another direction, and begin agreeing and disagreeing with ZC’s text.

  21. Teodros Kiros
    June 5, 2007 at 7:30 pm

    Again, what more could one say beyond showing as Sumner and I have tried to do, the Ethiopianity of the text eveident in the geography of the reasoning, in the intimate lingustic texture of the sayings, the proverbs, the prose and the poetry of the Geez, peculiar to the Ethiopian thinker, without ever undermining the possibilty of a non-Ethiopian thinker doing the same. Sadly, the purported outsiders’ Geez was not sufficently fluent to have possessed the necessary tools of mastery to flow in the text. The other works by the outsider, as Sumner has definitively argued were mediocre. His Geez, in comparison to ZY’s, were unacceptably poor, therefore, he could not have possibly been the author of the masterful Treatise. The author of that African text is the extraodinary ZY. I rest my case.
    Please let us move on in another direction, and begin agreeing and disagreeing with ZY’s text. I do love philosophical argumentation delivered with precision and elegance, but not when the topic is pointless. I suggest that we begin engaging ZY’ claims as I have (a) rightly, (b)inadequately, or (c)subjectively presented them; as to the authorship, it is definitively established that Zara Yacob, the Axumite/ Ethiopian/African/ Black is the author of the text in dispute.

  22. Teodros Kiros
    June 5, 2007 at 7:33 pm

    Again, what more could one say beyond showing as Sumner and I have tried to do, the Ethiopianity of the text evident in the geography of the reasoning, in the intimate lingustic texture of the sayings, the proverbs, the prose and the poetry of the Geez, peculiar to the Ethiopian thinker, without ever undermining the possibilty of a non-Ethiopian thinker doing the same. Sadly, the purported outsiders’ Geez was not sufficently fluent to have possessed the necessary tools of mastery to flow in the text. The other works by the outsider, as Sumner has definitively argued were mediocre. His Geez, in comparison to ZY’s, were unacceptably poor, therefore, he could not have possibly been the author of the masterful Treatise. The author of that African text is the extraodinary ZY. I rest my case.
    Please let us move on in another direction, and begin agreeing and disagreeing with ZY’s text. I do love philosophical argumentation delivered with precision and elegance, but not when the topic is pointless. I suggest that we begin engaging ZY’ claims as I have (a) rightly, (b)inadequately, or (c)subjectively and (d) wrongly presented them; as to the authorship, it is definitively established that Zara Yacob, the Axumite/ Ethiopian/African/ Black is the author of the text in dispute.

  23. Teodros Kiros
    June 7, 2007 at 2:14 pm

    I would like to invite Veritas to share his analytic insights as we critique ZY’s as presented by the author of the Rationality of the Human Heart. The sky is the limit as we start engaging in these important debates on Ethiopian character and Ethiopian habits of the heart.

  24. Veritas
    June 7, 2007 at 4:51 pm

    Hello All:

    As is evident from my silence these couple of days life has kept me increasingly busy. Yes, I’d really like to engage in fruitful conversations on the work of Teodros Kiros and thereby Zara Yacob’s original work.

    Though I’m not in a position to write anything longer at the moment, yes, I look forward to drawing out insightful implications of ZY’s work for our discussion that has been going on for the last three months, exactly three months today.

    ZY’s work has so much to offer about the love of truth which he did with passion and hence we’ve so much to learn from him as to what it means to love truth for its own sake which has tremendous implications for how we should live our lives as human beings personally and in a community.

    When I get a chance to further develop the above ideas I’ll certainly do so. I also look forward to hearing more from the writer of the book that triggered this aspect of discussion on ZY and the pervasive character problems in the Ethiopian society that I started sharing my reflections on.

    Now I look forward to others for them to share their thoughts and l’ll be back when I get a chance. I want to say thank you very, very much to Teodros Kiros for taking his time to participate in this blog discussion in relation to his work which I hope will shed some more light on the subject matter under discussion.

    Cheers,

    Veritas

  25. Teodros Kiros
    June 7, 2007 at 6:35 pm

    I too thank this higly resourceful and skilled philosopher who has stirred my writerly imagination and philosophical curisoity to participate in this blog. To start off let us all examine the following propostion.
    On the whole, Truth speaking is not higly admired in our Ethiopian society, which is another way of saying ZY’ controversial claim that ” all men are liars”, in the carefuuly analyically formatted review by Veritas.

  26. Veritas
    June 7, 2007 at 9:15 pm

    Hi All:

    Those who’ve read the book review will recall that the statement that “all men are liars” is very problematic because of a contradiction or a paradox it generates as follows from footnote two of the review:

    “The statement “all men are liars” is very problematic if it’s taken literally to mean all men are liars. If it’s true that all men are liars, then this very statement that is written or uttered by a man is a lie, and therefore, false, since lies are untrue. That is, if it’s true, then it’s false. On the other hand, if it is false (i.e., if it’s a lie) that all men are liars, then this very statement written or uttered by a man is true. That is, if it it’s false, then it’s true. These both generate contradictions. Such statements, if unqualified, lead into what philosophers and logicians call a Liar Paradox. It’s possible for Zara Yacob to escape this contradiction if he meant that “all men are liars” in a hyperbolic way or as meaning all men have a tendency to tell lies but they do not lie all the time.”

    That is about Zara Yacob and his passion for truth but as we’re trying to draw out implications for our contemporary Ethiopian society, with Zara Yacob’s love for truth, WHY is it the case that many fellow human beings in general and fellow Ethiopians in particular do have a tendency to tell lies more ofthen? It’s obvious, at least to me, that speaking truth is a good and desirable thing and an intrinsically valuable thing and it’s one of the crucial things that human beings ought to consider doing in order to be people of character, to be people of personal integrity

    Such a habit of speaking lies and what lies do to human beings personally and in a community has puzzled me for most of my adult life and that is one of my major reasons to want to do something about it by at least by sharing my thoughts on this blog and also by doing a book project that attempts to show that fundamental societal problems, at least in Ethiopia, could be traced back to fundamental character flaws and most of such character flaws have something crucial to do with our understanding and value and love for truth.

    I hope and believe that Zara Yacob’s legacy will be kept alive if his fellow Ethiopians pursue truth the way he did and the way he would have liked to. One crucial distinction between loving truth is loving truth for its own sake and loving truth for the sake of something else, or loving truth as an end in and of itself and loving truth as a means to an end. If a person loves truth only as a means to an end, and never for its own sake, I’ll argue that such a person has a defective understanding of truth and his love for truth is only instrumental and such a person fails to see the value of truth as a good in and of itself.

    These thoughts are not just of mere academic interest as many would tend to think about talk about truth as abstract and hence irrelevant. I hope that all of us will see the above valuable distinctions about truth as being loved only instrumentally, as a means to an end, and truth being loved for its own sake, as an end in itself. I look forward to developing these thoughts further when I hear some reactions to them from fellow participants.

    Cheers,

    Veritas

  27. Teodros Kiros
    June 8, 2007 at 3:20 pm

    Well done Veritas. Indeed, the distictions that you draw beween instrumental truth, that is speaking truth for the sake of..
    as opposed to intrinsic truth, that is speaking truth for its own sake, is a distinction that is lost to most people; indeed, I myself, did not know this distinction until I became a professional philosopher and discovered Plato’s third book of The Repuplic, where instrumental justice and intrinsic justice are carefully distinguished. It is the same distinctions that I am now applying to the nature of Truth.
    Knowing this difference continues to help me to work on my soul and to examine my flaws as a human being. How different Ethiopian character would be if we taught these distinctions to our children from early on, as we sculpt their personalities. I have sought to adress this issue in my 1999 book, Self-Consruction and The formation of Human values, which I hope Veritas will one day review with his razor sharap mind.

  28. Veritas
    June 8, 2007 at 10:58 pm

    Hello All:

    Thanks a lot to Teodros Kiros for a very encouraging note and it’s good to have him here to continue to share our reflections on the theme issue of our discussion and now in relation to the work of Zara Yacob, whose work as I hope will be a source of inspiration for many Ethiopians.

    Now I want to say a little bit more on the instrumental vs. intrinsic understanding of truth. I want to take some other examples to illustrate my point about truth and the following examples are from those that almost any person can make sense of without any difficulty:

    Let’s take money: now we all know that money has a value. Answering the question what kind of value that money has is would help us see the point that I’d like to make. Money does not have a value in and of itself since money is instrumentally valuable, that means, money is valuable in order to get something that money can get for us; or, put differently, money is a means to an end, an end could be anything that money can buy or help us get with it. For example, as we all know education costs money, a lot of money these days, and by paying money for education people acquire skills or knowledge that money can help them get. Now in this example, money is a means for an end, which is acquiring skills or knowledge.

    Or, let’s take another example: valuing and loving human beings. There are human beings, who value other human beings only for what other human beings can give or would do to them, and that is valuing and loving another human being for the sake of something else, non-human, and that is an example of valuing humans instrumentally. But we all know that all human beings are intrinsically valuable, or ought to be valued and loved for being who they are, that is human beings. If we value and love other human beings ONLY for the sake of what they can and would do to us, as a means rather than an end in themselves, that is, if we do not value them or love them for who they are, that is a defective way of relating to another fellow human being.

    Now to our original point: Loving truth for its own sake and loving truth for the sake of something else or loving truth instrumentally or intrinsically: those who love truth, or for example, speaking truth for the sake of something else, for some other purpose, are like those who love fellow human beings for the sake of what the other human beings can or would do to the other. Those who love truth instrumentally do not love it for what it is, truth or for being truthful. Yes, such people have a tendency to speak lies because truth is not an intrinsically valuable and good and desirable thing in and of itself for such people.

    If a person does not value truth for what it is and the value of truth is only instrumental for that person, one can see the reasoning behind why care about truth while one can get what one wants simply by tell lies? Why care for truth if truth is not something that is good, valuable and desirable in and of itself? If speaking lies can get us what we want to get, why choose to speak the truth? That is the mind-set of those who do not value truth for what it is, for its intrinsic value and such people can have and create excuses for all their actions since for them truth is not the end of the story, truth is not a good thing or truth is not a valuable thing for such people.

    Now to a very brief application: just think about what is happening and has been happening to the Ethiopian society when truth is valued only instrumentally and in the same way when fellow human beings are valued only instrumentally. When truth is valued only instrumentally we see many people having a tendency to speak lies and to be deceptive, being suspicious to the others, and being dishonest and manipulative. Do we, Ethiopians, need examples of such character flaws, problems or vices in the Ethiopian society? I leave the answer to this question to the readers.

    Or just think for a moment how many fellow Ethiopians think and consider other fellow Ethiopians as inferior and good for nothing and think of themselves as superiors. That is just an example of how looking at another fellow human being as a means rather than an end can do to a society. Do we see such things in the Ethiopian society? I leave the answer to this question to the readers.

    Zara Yacob was among few Ethiopians who thought and believed that all human beings are equal based on his conviction that God created human beings equal. He was also far ahead of his time in thinking and believing that women and men are equals, that is not even acceptable to some in contemporary Ethiopia as elsewhere. He hated lies and untruth and loved truth so much that among his life’s passions the passion for truth was a prominent one. Zara Yacob has so much to offer to his posterity, for us, if we’re willing to learn from him.

    Hope that the above is enough to make my point and I look forward to reading what other fellow Ethiopians share.

    Cheers,

    Veritas

  29. Veritas
    June 9, 2007 at 3:56 am

    Hi Tazabi, Daniyot, and Dan:

    I could not help thinking about you guys whenever I think about this blog discussion and hence this note.

    We all were looking forward to the time when the author of the book on Zara Yacob, Teodros Kiros, join us to discuss his book with us and now when he joined us, it felt so strange to see only the two of us share our reflections. Of course, Yaya and Seife have joined us lately and hopefully they will be back to share their ideas.

    I could never figure out how Tazabi, among the most valued participants in this discussion, disappeared from here without saying a word as to why she decided not to be part of this discussion. Dan was sharing his reason for being silent for sometime but we’ve not heard from him in a long time as well. The same is true about Daniyot’s absence from here and my hope is that all of these once faithful participants will be back and engage the author of the book on Zara Yacob and furtherthe discussion in interaction with Zara Yacob’s work as well as Teodros Kiros’.

    I’m just trying to see if one or the other of the once active participants be back and engage whoever is actively participating in the discussion.

    Cheers,

    Veritas

  30. Veritas
    June 9, 2007 at 9:37 pm

    Hi All:

    These last several days I’ve been thinking about something that kept puzzling me that I wanted to share with the audience on this blog. As you, those who’ve been following the theme of discussion that I’ve been part of, know this blog discussion has been mainly on character flaws, the vices that contribute to the multiple societal problems in Ethiopia.

    Part of my thesis has been this: Ethiopia as a society suffers from multiple social or societal ills mainly because of the defective character traits that guide the beliefs and actions of many members of the Ethiopian society. Positive changes in the beliefs and values of Ethiopians, as I’ve been suggesting and arguing for to some extent, is among the key things that we need to in order to deal with the most fundamental problems we face and have been facing as a society. As I’ve reiterated before, many Ethiopians have the habit of lying, being dishonest, self-deceived and manipulative or deceptive, lack openness and hence extremely suspicious of others, full of pride for wrong reasons, that is arrogant, and are unwilling to learn from their mistakes and hence ignorant of many essential things for people to develop and change and flourish. These are some of the thoughts that I’ve shared with the audience on this blog and am here to continue to develop my ideas and discuss these issues with fellow Ethiopians. With such character traits, no wonder we are what and who we are as a society and we will be what we will be and that is just the truth about us.

    Now back to the puzzling things that I set out to share with you: some of you might be familiar with a blog that goes by this title: Save Addis Ababa University. I had chances to read the blog. As an academic myself I thought, when I discovered that blog discussion devoted to the issues in relation to the AAU, that we’d have some opportunity to see something positive come out of such apparently promising discussion. You can read how it ended, as it seems to me that it’s come to an end when there came a challenge to those participants that was serious enough to call into question what they seemed to have been genuinely after. After the challenging comments, one month later, there has not been a single comment from anyone on the last comments that challenged everyone to be real, genuine. Ethiopians who seemed to care a lot about AAU apparently went into hiding. Now you, the readers, can explain why all that promising discussion came to a grinding halt. I think the character traits that I listed above can go a long way in explaining what has happened and why.

    Another example: I discovered a blog called “Beyond Commonsense” that was devoted to promoting atheism by someone whose name I do not need to disclose. The person has a solid academic background from one of the top US schools and when I realized that I wanted to share some thoughts on the blog. The blog would not post my comments and after many attempts I saw one of my comments on the blog. I started sending personal emails to the blogger to see if he’d add my comments to his blog and to start engaging me and others on the topic that interested me a lot. I even emailed him personally to encourage him to engage his readers like me if he really meant to defend his views in favor of atheism and what happened is this: many days later, the blog has either been removed or it’s made inaccessible for its readers. Why would a person announce to the whole world that he wants to promote atheism by saying all kinds of negative things about religion and religious people and refuse to communicate when approached even at his personal email which he himself has provided on his blog to encourage his readers to contact him?
    Readers of this blog’s discussion can see for themselves how difficult it’s for a person to explain away one’s actions when one’s motives and beliefs and values are part of the explanations of one’s actions. That is part of the thesis of my project that I’ve been trying to share with you all.

    The two examples are shared in order to show my readers how deeply embedded are the typical Ethiopians’ habits that I’ve shared with you all along. I gave you two examples today from those who claim and announce to the whole world that they are learned, educated Ethiopians but then their actions betray them and show who they really, truly are: Ethiopians with habits of the mind and heart hat is the fountain of Ethiopia’s decay and paralysis. Isn’t this a tragic state of affairs to think about? I leave the answer to my readers.

    Cheers,

    Veritas

  31. kiros teodros
    June 10, 2007 at 10:38 pm

    I truly share Veritas’ frustrations. I too am wondering why I was invited to participate, and then I am not being treated as an invitee. I can only think of the following possible reasons.
    (a) That my refusal to engage in pointless discussions about the authorship of the Treatise might have angered the participants. For this I aplogize, although it is really my right not to engage in discussions that do not philosophically stimulate me;
    (b) That I stressed the ethnic origins ofthe philosopher , which is only a statement of fact and that this might have infuriated some Ethiopians;
    (c) The fury of (b) might be based on the dislike of the ethnicity of the philosopher and the author;
    (d) That the participants might feel intimidated to participate in a high level discussion by two professioanl philosphers;
    (e) That the participants are busy with their lives, in which case then
    (f) That (a) (b) (c) (d) are simply false and that
    (g) Soon the paricipants are going to flood the blog with critical insights.

  32. Veritas
    June 11, 2007 at 3:40 am

    Hello Teodros:

    Thanks for your note. Yes, my hope is that the point you raised under point (f) were true, i.e., (a-d) were false. My hope then, as usual, is that others join us in the days to come.

    I’ve already shared my take on the possible relationship between the character traits that typically define fellow Ethiopians in light of Zara Yacob’s work and I look forward to hearing reactions to what I’ve shared from the participants.

    Cheers,

    Veritas

  33. Veritas
    June 13, 2007 at 5:17 pm

    Hi All:

    This is not intended to break the long silence on this blog these last few days.

    I just wanted to correct myself, or to do something like that, about one of the posts that I shared with you all about one of the two blogs I thought “have gone out of existence” due, possibly, some lack of seriousness on what the bloggers wanted to do. I’m referring to the blog called, “Beyond Commonsense”, which is now back into life and the blogger also apologized to me for failing to respond to my repeated attempts to contact him, etc. the fact of the matter is that it took him more than two weeks to even acknowledge receipt of my email about the blog mentioned above. But that is no problem now since he’s explained the reasons for his silence.

    Now, after receiving an apology from the above mentioned blogger, I think, its case is a bit different from the other which has failed to respond to the serious challenges issued for the bloggers to deal with. Since I’m trying to understand and also explain the various actions of fellow Ethiopians or whoever by a belief-desire-action model that is my theoretical framework to approach the issues we’ve been dealing with I can’t stop getting puzzled about this action or that be it by a fellow human being and what beliefs, values, thoughts and desires would account for this or that action or actions.

    Back to the participants to share their thoughts if and when you all will.

    Cheers,

    Veritas

  34. incredulous
    June 14, 2007 at 1:35 pm

    The discussion here is truthful but also too serious. Sort of sober. People are silent and unresponsive, I feel, because they can’t bear too much reality. This is not typical of Ethiopia but people of any society.
    You need to lighten the discussion up.

  35. Veritas
    June 14, 2007 at 8:47 pm

    Hi Incredulous:

    Thanks for stopping by when it seemed that nobody would do such a thing these days. I agree with you about your suggestion about this blog discussion being about truth or being truthful yet too serious for some people to feel free and share their ideas. It might do some good if we can lighten up the discussion as you rightly suggested.

    The catch about this suggestion is this, as I think:

    One, maybe I’m not skilled enough-attitudinally– to handle a serious issue that I’ve taken with as much seriousness and also at the same achieve a desirable balance to encourage more participants in this discussion lightening up the way the discussion goes.

    Two, perhaps it’d not be a desirable and helpful thing to lighten up the way this discussion should go for the issues are about as serious as they could get about us, about how to live our lives in a better way etc. Perhaps serious issues need not or should not be deal lightly? Perhaps so or perhaps not so.

    On and off I’ve suggested my take on why this blog discussion on the character problems in the Ethiopian society has been not that popular and as someone who is accustomed to thinking and trying to figure out why this or that thing happens I’d still tend to think that there is some truth about my earlier suggestions that try to explain the lack of a good number of participants here due to the very same issue under discussion: character problems, that itself is explained by the beliefs, values, desires and thoughts of the participants. I could be wrong about such an explanation but why not other dispute it?

    Thanks for sharing your ideas and please keep doing so and you might help lighten up the discussion by sharing your insights and ideas worth adding to what has been shared so far.

    Cheers,

    Veritas

  36. Dan
    June 16, 2007 at 9:54 pm

    Hello Veritas,

    I know it has been a while, but although I’ve been away for a while, insightful as always, I’ve read reveiw, insightful as always, and the other posts followed from the Prof. Theoros and other participants. Before moving on to the issue I would like you to stress on, I would like to state that I haven’t read the book, and any things I say here is in reference to the issues you mentioned in your posts following your review.

    In your post of June 8, you exlained the distinction between instrumental truth and instrinsic truth. I would like to ask you share with us what makes truth intrinsically good and the harm to us personaly and as a sociey if we pursue truth relative to what we could get by doing so? May be if If we clearly know why we should care about truth and benefits of such care, we might start pursuing truth.

  37. Dan
    June 17, 2007 at 2:02 am

    Hello Veritas…

    I am correcting the first sentence of my previous post. I apologize, and I meant the below.

    I know it has been a while since I shared my view here, I’ve read your reveiw, which is insightful by the way, and the other posts by Prof. Theodros and othe participants.

  38. Veritas
    June 17, 2007 at 9:29 pm

    Hi Dan:

    Thanks a lot for coming back to share your thoughts with us. And also, thanks for your question, a very important question at that.
    If I understood you correctly I think what you’re asking is why we should take truth to be intrinsically valuable or good as opposed to its being instrumentally valuable or good. Yes, I agree with you Dan that knowing the reason why it’s better to care about truth being intrinsically good is a good way of starting to value truth for its own sake.

    As I pointed out in my post that you mentioned, the June 8th post, the examples I gave are still helpful for us to think about why truth is intrinsically good as well as instrumentally good though my emphasis and your question is on the intrinsic good of truth to which I want to add the following:

    If you recall from one of my much earlier posts I tried to share something by way of saying that truth is intimately related to reality, to what actually is the case. Or to put it differently, under normal circumstances, human beings prefer true beliefs to false beliefs (i.e., truth to falsehood) and the difference between these two is that the former, true beliefs reflect reality or they match with reality or they correspond to reality whereas the latter, false beliefs fail to reflect reality, or they fail to match or correspond to reality.

    Despite our human tendency to speak lies and at times prefer to lie to others we all, deep down in our beings, know that truth is to be preferred to lies, and correspondingly, a truthful person is better than a liar, or a person with integrity is better than a person who is given to lying and lacking in personal integrity. Even those who speak lies to others, deep down in their hearts, hope that those to whom they are lying would believe their lies as truths! If that is not the case, if the liars do not hope that way, why would they lie in the first place? They PRETEND to speak truth while they’re lying! If the liars know that those to whom they’re lying would know their lies, they would not lie or they’d still claim that they’re speaking truth while lying. I repeat: even liars hope that their lies would be taken for truth.

    Truth is inherently, intrinsically good, valuable and desirable no matter how human beings tend to fail to be truthful. The reason once again is that truth and reality have intimate relationships and falsehood and reality have a mismatch. If one focuses on truth as only instrumentally good, one would not care much whether what one believes and aims to believe and act accordingly is a reflection of what is really the case, what is actually the case.

    For example, let’s take cheating between spouses, husband and wife. If one of them cheats on the other, and if the one who cheats and hence lies to the spouse that he/she is not doing anything unfaithful to his/her spouse would not stop doing such habits that destroy marital relationships, if that person does not take truth and speaking the truth as good and as an end in and of itself. Or, analogously, if a person fails to value what is good and hence desirable in and of itself, that person would continue to seek some OTHER JUSTIFICATION for desiring good and for doing the good and for being a good person.

    Being a truthful person is a good thing and the reason is that such a person embodies, among other things, credibility, trustworthiness, honesty, personal integrity and such morally good and praiseworthy character traits, or virtues of character in and of themselves, such that these things are intrinsically good and desirable. Hence, seeking the truth, speaking the truth, and acting truly in interpersonal relationships are valuable and good things. Now you might recall my suggestion in one of my posts some time ago in which I’ve said that departure from truth and love of truth is a reason for the habit of practicing bad character traits such as lack of truthfulness, dishonesty, and lies and lack of personal integrity, among other things. These latter character traits are inherently destructive and bad and harmful, too, in interpersonal relationships.

    The above are some of the thoughts that one would do well to consider in a discussion of truth being intrinsic and/or instrumental and the consequences of such ideas. Again, if a person cares about truth only instrumentally and also for only pragmatic reasons such a person has no good reason to stop from doing anything that is morally unacceptable for that person’s justification for pursuing truth is only to get what that person wants and cares about. Why would such a person stop lying and deceiving others as long as he/she can get away with such actions? If such a person does not care about truth for its own sake, I think, that person does not have a good reason to stop lying or deceiving others in order to get what he/she wants for truth is only a means to getting things that one wants to.
    Dan, hope that the above thoughts are of some relevance. Now back to you to develop your own thoughts in relation to what we’re discussing here as usual and share with us.

    Cheers,

    Veritas

  39. Dan
    June 19, 2007 at 4:45 am

    Hi Verita,

    Thank you for your thorough reply to my question. It was clear, and has made me seriously think of my own opinions, remarks and sometimes views I share with people arround me as well as the atmosphere I live in.

    I understand it is our responsibility to seek truth and have representations of matters in our mind that resemble with reality, and we should always subject what we hear or read to relevant standards that help us have clear and accurate understanding, and also to be true to ourselves. By that I mean being a truthful person regardles.

    There are two things I want to share.

    One: I think the problem has lived with us for years and years, and sometimes if one eventualy decides to be a truthful and honest person, one might face some undesirable things that would make life unpleasant. He/She might not be able to be as socialite as before or loose close relationships only for being sincere and speak mind. In our society being truthful could be costly in terms personal and social life, the area that should play a larger role in shaping us to value truth. But again, rergardles of the consequence, one has to be truthful and honest, but that sometimes in our case could be disruptive to our relations with others.

    Second: There are too many of us blinded by what we want and need to communicate and we do not even know whether we are lying or telling the truth. I see that from the many blogs, websites and newspapers, and I think the more we are carried away with our objective and agenda , it is more likely that we overlook the elements and the real aspects of what we are dealing with.

    Dan

  40. Veritas
    June 21, 2007 at 5:45 am

    Hi All:

    I’m at the beginning of a very hectic summer season that will take a lot of my time and attention and if you do not see my contribution as before please understand that that is only because I won’t be in a situation that will allow me to contribute here as much as I’d like to. I’ll do my best to do what I can though.

    Please keep sharing your thoughts as I’ll also try my best to read the posts as often as I can.

    Cheers,

    Veritas

  41. June 21, 2007 at 7:12 am

    Dear Sir,
    Firist and foremost, the ideas printed in his writings, are they originally belonging to him? I doubt it….
    what is the motto of his moral & philosophicl teaching? I found him as ordinary person with out special passions to do philosophy and he was failed & not dare to show what is the one truth he supposed to be for all beyond selfish…

    Thank you All!

  42. Veritas
    July 5, 2007 at 2:18 pm

    Hello All:

    Yes, I’ve been away from my computer and also I’ve been increasingly hectic as I’ve been traveling these last couple of weeks or so.

    I can’t engage Shita and Daniyot for now but then I just want to share the following story: I’m writing this note from Hong Kong and my experience of this city has left me speechless and wondering about our own civilization and the possibility of Ethiopia as a nation ever developing like Hong Kong or any other Western civilization. I’m having a hard time imagining Ethiopia’s future in the light of such incredibly massive civilizations. My experience has been very much limited to Ethiopia and the West, esp., the USA, and now adding this Asian civilization/massive development as we try to think about Ethiopia’s future, that is, what Ethiopia will look like in decades or a century or centuries, is a tremendous challenge for it’s almost inconceivable for us to develop this much, ever.

    I’d like to hear some reactions to this rather pessimistic note about Ethiopia’s future if considering other civilizations for the sake of comparing the pace of our own development is permissible for a moment.

    I hope to be back to the discussion once things settle down and I re-start a routine life-style that would allow me to share my contribution.

    Cheers,

    Veritas

  43. Gabriela
    August 8, 2007 at 3:28 pm

    The Ethiopian white picket fence, the fairy tale that my mother told me about that I read in books.When neigbour trusted neighbour.When you leave your doors unlocked.When sex was cherished, and reserved fro matrimony.When holding hands with alo ved one was an adventure, a kiss a fntasy.All that seems to have been lost in the last 20 years.the innocent days are gone.
    Wives sleeping around, husbands doing the same.Al i hear is “this one did unprintable with that one”Dscretion is an art long lost.Multiple partners a badge of honr.Why?
    Is the society more promiscous?Are moral looser than ever?Sex for the sake of it more acceptable than ever?Have good old family values have been eroded, perhabs corroded with all things indecent during the communist years and the folowing years?
    I am wrting this disgusted with the life style I witness-after a 20 years of absence from Ethiopia.I thoght Western society was decadent, ia mfinding decadence rampant here.Bars in every corner.Liquor consumption high.Women selling thier bodies everywhere.Children even.Dirty old men, perhaps with thier wives at home window shooping fro sleazy pleasure, cheap thrills.
    I am truly saddened.I have felt nothing but deeep sorrow, anger during my stay here.Deeply hurt at the condition of my countrymen.Glad to be leaving soon.What a shame.

  44. Helen
    September 2, 2008 at 11:56 am

    wow, this is great.why don’t you keep the discussion?

  45. markus
    October 30, 2008 at 5:42 pm

    no pics! put some!

  1. August 6, 2007 at 10:02 pm

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