Philosophy department forges friendship with Iran


On Thursday, Nov. 16, the philosophy department celebrated the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Philosophy Day. Philosophy students, accompanied by Professor of Philosophy Charles Taliaferro, operated a table in Crossroads where they gave out flyers and buttons with pictures of philosophers on them and awarded candy to anyone who could answer philosophy-related trivia questions.

The philosophy department has celebrated World Philosophy Day since 2003, shortly after the United Nations decreed it to take place on the third Thursday of each November. The idea is that on that day, everyone in the world should actively engage in some form of philosophy. According to UNESCO, the goal of the holiday is to “underline the enduring value of philosophy for the development of human thought, for each culture and for each individual.”

“Faced with the complexity of today’s world, philosophical reflection is above all a call to humility, to take a step back and engage in reasoned dialogue, to build together the solutions to challenges that are beyond our control,” former UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said on the website. “This is the best way to educate enlightened citizens, equipped to fight stupidity and prejudice. The greater the difficulties encountered the greater the need for philosophy to make sense of questions of peace and sustainable development.”

The festivities included collaboration with the philosophy community in Iran. St. Olaf philosophy students exchanged videos with those at the University of Tehran for the second time in recent years. A video of the Philosophy Day celebrations was also sent to and distributed by major Iranian newspaper The Tehran Times.

Flyers handed out for Philosophy Day featured Iranian philosopher Javad Heiran-Nia, Ph.D. of the Islamic Azad University and head of the Mehr News Agency, both in Tehran. The flyer included a greeting from Heiran-Nia with “a message of peace in the Persian Gulf on Philosophy Day.”

The collaboration with Iran was set up by Taliaferro, who has many philosophy contacts in the country. Many of his works have been translated into Farsi. He has appeared on Iranian television and even traveled to the country along with a St. Olaf graduate.

“We celebrate the love of wisdom, the literal meaning of ‘philosophy,’” Taliaferro said. “We hope to accomplish a greater understanding among people on this planet. We have helped build ties between the people of Iran and members of our community, notwithstanding the tensions between our governments.”

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