Ny hevitra tsy azo tsy amin’olombelona

The proverb says that knowledge is not attained without others. This is certainly true, and it is good to be reminded. A paper that I co-authored with two colleagues, Graziella Masindrazana and Zoly Rakotoneira, is now out in print in the South African Journal of Philosophy. You can find it here.


The paper discusses some early philosophical ideas of Siméon Rajaona, perhaps Madagascar’s most famous intellectual. The paper would have been impossible as a singular effort and each of us made it better than it would have been otherwise. So much of my research from my Fulbright depends on others, not just the past thinkers who addressed these questions and my colleagues at the University of Antananarivo who continue to address them, but also all my Malagasy friends who have teaching me about all things Malagasy since I set foot on the island in June of 2007. It would be impossible to list everyone, but so much of my time in Madagascar in Peace Corps and the Fulbright was spent learning. The lessons weren’t always in the classroom. Conversations with street vendors, taxi drivers (especially my old driver and friend, Davidson), and people I met out and about taught me more than those people realize. Without these people, my knowledge of Malagasy culture wouldn’t be the same.

If the paper says anything insightful, it is because of the lucid and bold ideas of Rajaona that we build on. It is said that much of our new knowledge and discovery results from standing on the shoulders of giants. True enough, but in my own case, I think it was not merely giants such as Rajaona that made my research possible. It has been so many others as well. It has been Malagasy people who saw a foreigner trying to understand their culture, their language, and decided to share one of the things they hold most dear. It reminds me of another proverb: Tsy ny varotra no taloha fa ny fihavanana (It was not commerce that was first but friendship). There is nothing more foundational than fihavanana (friendship based on love and mutual affection). To have been taught is a gift. To have been taught by someone whose heart is open and receptive to friendship is an even greater gift.