The Tunisian college of philosophy is born

The school’s programme is to include monthly conferences, meetings with philosophers, lectures on philosophy and presentations of philosophical works, says Professor Mohamed Mahjoub, one of the Tunis College of Philosophy founders.
Sunday 19/05/2019
High hopes. Tunisian Cultural Affairs Minister Mohamed Zine El Abidine (2nd L) attends the inauguration of the Tunis College of Philosophy in Ksar Said Palace in the Tunis suburb of Le Bardo.  (Tunis College of Philosophy)
High hopes. Tunisian Cultural Affairs Minister Mohamed Zine El Abidine (2nd L) attends the inauguration of the Tunis College of Philosophy in Ksar Said Palace in the Tunis suburb of Le Bardo. (Tunis College of Philosophy)

TUNIS - The Tunisian academic and cultural communities have welcomed the Tunis College of Philosophy, which was founded to promote philosophy in Tunisia and to function as a forum for intellectual and cultural exchange of the subject.

The Tunis College for Philosophy, in Ksar Said Palace in the Tunis suburb of Le Bardo, opened at the end of April with a lecture by college President Abdelwahab Bouhdiba, who spoke on “Philosophy and the Crisis of Culture.”

“I think that philosophy in Tunisia has reached an important level of responsibility. It represents a permanent questioning of the mind in a quest for better understanding our mistakes to better prospect the future. My presence to discuss the most crucial issue, that of the crisis of culture, is for me a great pleasure,” Bouhdiba said.

Tunisian Cultural Affairs Minister Mohamed Zine El Abidine said the College of Philosophy would “represent a place of convergence for the philosophical and intellectual efforts made by the Tunisian thinkers and philosophers.”

The school’s programme is to include monthly conferences, meetings with philosophers, lectures on philosophy and presentations of philosophical works. It is also to house a library specialised in philosophy. The Tunis College of Philosophy will offer awards for a philosophy work, best published essay and best doctoral thesis.

The institute’s opening came after a year of consideration among the members of the scientific council for the UNESCO Chair for Philosophy for the Arab world. Professor Mohamed Mahjoub, one of the Tunis College of Philosophy founders, expressed satisfaction at the realisation of a project of academicians.

“During a conference organised by the UNESCO Chair for Philosophy, in which I was one of the organisers, the minister announced the project, which was met with enthusiasm,” he said. “The vision wasn’t clear at the time and a group of us who were participants at the conference began to work on the idea.

“It reflected many of the hopes and dreams that we have been calling for. It was like a dream then. We decided it should be in the form of an institute but we didn’t want it to be like a school or a university. It is more of a forum to address the issues of philosophy.”

Mahjoub said the role of the institution was to bring attention to philosophy because the subject had dwindled during a trend that favours science over the humanities. He said the college would provide a forum to reflect Tunisia’s history of teaching philosophy.

“Philosophy in Tunisia went through two phases,” he said. “The first phase coincided with the building of a new state under (Tunisian President Habib) Bourguiba, which gave importance to the teaching of philosophy. That generation was raised on philosophical thinking and critical eye as they gave importance to the subject of philosophy in schools and was taught by great teachers.

“The second phase, however, marked regression of philosophy’s importance during the 2000s, which can be attributed to the dominance of politics, which sought to minimise the importance and place of philosophy in education. We are still trying to restore the place of philosophy but there is this social trend of thought that thwarts these efforts.”

Mahjoub explained that the project would be an opportunity to restore the importance of philosophy on the academic level only and give it impetus as part of social and cultural life.

“It needs to reach everyone and change the way people see philosophy. There was a generation that was raised on philosophy and another generation that considered philosophy as secondary and socially irrelevant,” Mahjoub said.

Fathi Triki, a member of the founding group of the Tunis College of Philosophy, expressed enthusiasm about the project.

“The Tunis College of Philosophy is a source of pride for the Tunisian thinking and a tribute to the philosophical works that are still fighting against all forms of obscurantism,” he said. “The Tunis College of Philosophy is a space where all the philosophical movements, with no exclusion, can merge. It is also a place where arts, letters, humanities, science and technology can unite in collective participation for national debate around issues of national interest.”

The group who contributed to the college’s establishment included Tunisian philosophers Zeineb Cherni, Hamid Ben Aziza, Mohamed Ali Halouani and Rachida Triki.

The Tunis College of Philosophy seeks to implement a new vision of philosophy by bridging the distance between thinkers and society.

“Philosophy has a long tradition in Tunisia. It dates to Roman times and foundation of Carthage,” Mahjoub said. “This history of Tunisia is rich with philosophical figures such as Saint Augustine, who lived in Carthage, but we need to redefine philosophy. For instance, a thinker like Kheireddine Pacha is a philosopher in the sense he produced thoughts. We can speak of a historical school.”

Mahjoub said he hopes the institution will leave an intellectual mark on Tunisia.

“The Tunisian university produced generations of philosophy teachers and academics but can we talk of a Tunisian school of thought? That is our hope by founding this institute,” he said.

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