With the beginning of the New Year, various clubs I am organizing are up and running. There is a Philosophy Club that meets once a week at the main campus in Ankatso and an English Club that meets twice a week on the main campus as well. So far I have been very impressed with the students’ work in all the clubs, which are basically designed as enrichment for the other course that the students are taking. I must also say that the twenty or so students in my regular American Studies class have been very impressive as well. In the American Studies class, we talk about American culture and values and also compare American culture to Malagasy culture. I find that the students nearly always have insightful things to say and have shown a very high level of English fluency.
I was very impressed with the last meeting of the Philosophy Club. I invited the students to write down in groups the strongest argument they could think of to show that God exists. No easy task, especially when it must be completed in 30 minutes! Many of them came up with versions of inference to the best explanation. In such an argument, some obvious fact is stated and an explanation is offered for the fact. Since the proffered explanation explains the obvious fact stated, we have reason to think that the explanation is true. In these types of arguments for the existence of God, the explanation will always appeal to or depend on the existence of God. Of course, the difficulty lies in showing that the explanation that involves God is the best one on offer. For example, students discussed things like seemingly miraculous recoveries from illnesses. No doubt that doctors have been unable to explain some of these, but this doesn’t mean that there is no medical or natural explanation. Perhaps the doctor just doesn’t know it. In such theological arguments, the trouble is showing that the non-natural explanation—the supernatural explanation that appeals to God—is the best or only one available.
We don't have any revolutionary ideas yet, but being able to talk about such abstract matters is a sure sign of mastery of a language. I am not yet there in my ability to speak Malagasy but am certainly working toward that and hoping to get there one day. But the students in the Philosophy Club are not only really engaging with the material so far but also showing a very high level of mastery. It gives me great joy to have these discussions with them and truly exchange ideas about these matters, inquiry into which is part of what makes us human.
I will also be doing a club at the Philosophy Department, which is in a neighborhood called Faravohitra. (The layout of Tana and all of the neighborhoods is worthy of blog post in its own right, by the way.) They are not studying in English as the students in the Anglophone students department are, so the talks will have to be much more structured, but I am going to give weekly talks and lead discussions on various topics. I hope that we mix Malagasy and English in these discussions.
These clubs are not only great fun but also integral to my own research, as is the work we are doing in my American Studies course. One of my research projects is to write a paper on the Malagasy worldview—the basic philosophical concepts that structure the general worldview here. The ideas and feedback I get back from the participants at these clubs will be invaluable for that work. I look forward to our future discussions.