Mind is not awake without questioning

TEHRAN, Dec. 13 (MNA) – Iranian philosopher Gholam Hossein Ebrahimi Dinani discussed the significance of philosophy for society, politics and the life of common people and stressed the necessity of asking questions for living a rich life.

In keeping with our genial and friendly conversations with the Outstanding Scholars of Philosophy (Chehreh-ye Mandegar), we intended to talk to Gholam Hossein Ebrahimi Dinani about his memories, his school days at the Hojatieh School in Qom, his relationship and association with Toshihiko Izutsu, Henry Corbin and other outstanding philosophers. However, our interview changed direction and we talked about other issues.

Warmheartedly, he persuaded us that we should quit repeating the same words over and over again and discuss new things. Contrary to usual interviews, the interviewee started the conversation. He complained that many journalists follow the same routine all the time and they no longer pay attention to the events happening around the world. They do not ask where the world is heading to and where we stand. He stated that, “there is no doubt that Henry Corbin and Allameh Tabatabayi were great people, but they have been discussed written about a lot. Instead of reminiscing about the past, it is better to talk about what is happening now in the world and ask ourselves, why we are lagging behind in so many aspects.” 

Ebrahimi Dinani was born in Dey 1313/January 1935 in the village of Dinan, a district of Daracheh in Khomeini Shahr, Isfahan. This Iranian philosopher was a student at the Hojatieh School in Qom and classmates and roommates with the current Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenehei. He has been a student of Ayatollah Khomeini, Allameh Tabatabayi and Henry Corbin. He has published numerous works. His last book is called Question of Existence and the Existence of Question (1395/2016).

Dinani does not use mobile phones, emails, etc.  and prefers reading over any other activity. We talked to him about his interests, travels and some of his moral characteristics and asked his opinion on some social issues. The following is the result of our hours-long conversation with this professor of philosophy: 

Q: Well, let’s not get distracted. Let us start with the question that you raised. Why do you think we are lagging behind many countries in so many aspects?   

A: Because we do not think well and we do not read philosophy. Philosophy is related to everything and gives meaning to life. It is related to religion, to economy, to family. It is related to everything. Philosophy tells us what life is. We do not read philosophy. That is why we are lagging behind. My recommendation is that every one – from young children to grownups and old people – read philosophy. 

Q: So you support the new programs that promote philosophy for children? 

A: Yes, if they are administered properly, I support them. In addition to children, I recommend that the young people also read philosophy instead of reading novels. Without the inclusion of philosophy, it is not appropriate to talk about, for instance, history. The people who are frightened by the term philosophy, and think that it is a field of study suitable only for few, do not have analytical minds; they are not used to analyzing issues. They tend to read, see or hear thoughtlessly. They are like a person who does not want to cook stews and only eats fast food. They only want to hear something and leave. They do not want to hear the reasons behind and the process of the analysis. They usually are not capable of thinking. 

Q: Even though you speak so eloquently and articulately and attract a huge audience, sometimes you get angry in meetings or gatherings. Does this mean that you are an irritable person or to put it in a better way, a passionate person? 

A: It seems that it is God’s will that I am an honest person. I am not a hypocrite and I do not lie. Thus, I have a very good relationship with simple and honest people; even if I get beaten by such people, I won’t be upset. But in the face of a hypocrite that does not want to show his true colors, or someone who asks questions but does not listen to the answers, and someone who is careless, I get angry. Carelessness, hypocrisy and arrogance make me angry more than anything else. These things seriously make me aggressive, because I want to interact honestly and in a straightforward manner. If someone is straightforward and honest with me, I will befriend him; however, if someone is dishonest, I will react bitterly and I will leave. 

Q: Asking questions during your meetings to make your opinions clear is among your communication methods. Why do you give your speeches and talk in this manner?

A: It is because I think that dialogue is influential and effective. Understanding results from dialogue and the best way to start a dialogue is to ask questions. If I ask comparative questions, I want my audience to think about each issue separately, compare them and then talk about it. I don’t want them to just add something to what they already have and store it. As long as a question is not asked, an understanding will not follow. One who is not asking a question, has learned by imitation. Such a person, would want to teach others by imitation. Understanding does not follow from imitation. I awaken you by my question; I guide you to ask your question from me. Mind is not awake without questioning; a mind without questions is not a mind. 

Q: Do you treat your children and talk to them in the same way?
A: No, until they ask me something, I will not talk to them like this. 

Q: Do your children study philosophy? 
A: One is studying philosophy in France, but the other one has not studied philosophy. The one that is studying philosophy, has not chosen it because of my insistence or recommendation. 

Q: Do you discuss philosophy with the one who is studying philosophy? 

A: No. They don’t agree with my philosophy at all. Besides, I don’t discuss philosophy at home and in my personal life. I talk about the house, food and everyday issues. Until I am asked, I don’t talk about philosophy and I am almost never asked. Basically, I live my life, I don’t make it philosophical. Philosophy is not bad, but it prevents one from having a life. A philosophical life is a difficult one. 

Q: Has your wife studied philosophy as well?
A: No. 

Q: I think that one of the problems that our philosophers have is that they consider themselves outside social problems and they do not enter the social domain. What is the reason?

A: I tend not to agree with your opinion. Because no philosopher is outside society. Although philosophers do not act directly, they influence the society by their words and their books. A philosopher speaks and writes in a society. It is a society’s problem if the people are not reading what the philosopher writes. Naturally, a philosopher does not directly enter the dispute; he/she acts with writing. If people are not reading a philosopher’s writings, it is their problems, not the philosopher’s. 
Socrates did not write a word, he only walked in the streets and talked to the young and asked people questions. In contrast, Aristotle wrote everything he wanted to say, but he did not enter disputes. Because, a philosopher is not a journalist. A philosopher considers all social problems, big or small and enters the dispute with his/her writings. If no one reads them, it is not the problem of the philosopher. Most people want to have it easy, they want to have fast food. 

In the table of contents of my book Question of Existence and the Existence of Question, issues like truth, goodness and God are mentioned. Are these not social issues? Do people follow goodness or not? Do people claim to be truthful or not? Do people believe in God or not? Do people seek meaning in their lives? I have written about all these and I have published them. However, I cannot force people to read them. 

Q: What I meant was that philosophers do not directly discuss problems. For instance, if the marriage or divorce rate, etc. changes, what should be a philosopher’s stand be?
A: Look, a direct discussion of divorce, is what a sociologist or a legal expert does. I have talked about these issues in my book, though. I put it this way: if a person knows the meaning of life, one is less likely to get a divorce. If one knows the truth and goodness of God, one is less likely to get into problems. In other words, philosophers are everywhere. However, they have their own methods and they deal with problems in a philosophical way. If a philosopher deal with the problems like a sociologist or a biologist, he/she is no longer a philosopher. 

Q: Well, if a government official came to you and asked for help, would you tell him to go and read philosophy? 
A: First of all, one cannot do anything single-handedly. Second, a philosopher cannot do anything on the spur of the moment. When gradually all people read philosophy and start thinking, the problems will start getting solved. However, it is a time-consuming process. A philosopher cannot work unpremeditated. A philosopher does not stage a coup d’état. He/she thinks and works; and yes, thinking takes time. 

Q: In a meeting held on your book, your [academic] life was divided into two parts, the early Dinani and the later Dinani. Do you support this? 
A: Well, everyone has early and later periods in their lives, but I think that I have had a stable identity since my childhood. Therefore, I don’t find myself bound to these kinds of categorizations. Every person changes and evolves. My concerns have changed over the years but my identity has not. If these stages are supposed to be similar to the Wittgensteinian periods, then, I have to say that I have not had early and later periods. I might have evolved over the years, but I have not had complete reversals. I might have arrived at new conclusions, but I do not reject what I wrote and said 50 years ago. 

Q: It seems that recently you have been concentrating on ontological issues and the meaning of existence. Why are you paying so much attention to existence? 
A: I have always been concerned with existence and I have always been mentioning it in my works. However, I am discussing it more in recent years because I think that I understand existence better now and have more developed ideas in this regard. Philosophy is concerned with existence. Nowadays, epistemology is separated from ontology, but it is not brought to attention that epistemology is impossible without ontology. 
How can we talk about epistemology without paying attention to ontology? As long as we do not know existence, epistemology has no meaning. Therefore, epistemology cannot be separated from ontology. First, we have to understand existence, then deal with knowledge. The title of my book, The Question of Existence and the Existence of Question, refers to these two meanings. The existence of question is epistemological and the question of existence is ontological. In other words, the book can also be called ontology and epistemology. 

Q: You have had long discussions with the late Ahmad Fardid. Can you talk about your relationship with him?
A: I was neither his student, nor his classmate. Our relationship started because he was a compassionate person; he used to read my books, and because we had philosophical disagreements, he used to contact me and discuss my philosophy. Our phone calls usually lasted two or three hours. He did not write books, so I could not read and discuss them with him. However, he used to read my books. 
For instance, Fardid was against Mulla Sadra and used to say that he is doubly westernized. We talked about such issues. He also did not give credence to Islamic philosophy and used to say that it is Hellenized. These issues would start our conversations. Nevertheless, he was not my follower, nor was I his. Sometimes, our discussions would turn so bitter that we would hang up the phone. However, we were friends and usually he would call me again. 

Q: In your study sessions, you recommend thinking and distancing oneself from everyday routines. How one can distance oneself from the routines?
A: We have to think and talk about issues that help society. Talking about things like age, eating habits and familial life and kids will not help society. We have to think about the origins of problems. 

Q: Why did you never enter the politics? Many of your peers and classmates have gone into politics. 
A: Because, I don’t understand politics. I don’t want to be trapped in everyday routines. Politics leads to routines. Politics is like a wave that carries one away; but I don’t want to be carried away, I want to be myself. 

Q: You usually start your lectures with poetry. Why? 
A: Because I love poetry. I used to compose poetry for a while, but I gave up. The reason is that Allameh Tabatabyi told me to quit composing poetry, and I did. Nonetheless, I still like poetry. 

Q: Do you read contemporary poets’ works as well?
A: Rarely. I usually read the classics and don’t read modern poetry. 

Q: Besides poetry, are you interested in other artistic fields like cinema and theater? 
A: I like them, but I have not been following them in recent years. The last time I went to cinema was 30 years ago. I watched The Ten Commandments and The Message. I get invitations to plays a lot, but I don’t attend them. Because, I prefer reading over going to cinema and theater. I would spend my time better if I read. Reading books is more intellectually beneficial to me than watching movies. 

Q: How do you like travelling? 
A: I like travelling and I used to travel a lot, however, I am old now and I don’t have the strength for travelling that I used to have. I have been to all countries from Europe to Indonesia and Egypt, except The United States. 

Q: You did not want to go to The United States or the circumstances for travelling were not favorable? 
A: I decided to go once. I went to Turkey to get a visa. There was a conference in an American University and I was invited. In the embassy interview, they asked me a lot of questions. In the end, I inquired why they have been asking me all these questions. They told me that because they did not know me. I told them that it was their problem that they did not know me. One of them said that your government would not permit Americans to visit Iran and get to know people like you. Nevertheless, they knew their own country and the university that sent me the invitation, said I. In the end, after all these discussions, they did not issue a visa for me. In response to this, I said that I really appreciate that you did not give me a visa, because you assisted me in not entering your doomed, evil and unclean country. After that, I never even wanted to go to the U.S. 

Q: When we contacted you to arrange this interview, we found out that you do not use new communication devices and technologies, to the extent that you do not even own a mobile phone and an email account. Is it not difficult to have such a lifestyle in this age of communication? 
A: No, it is not difficult. Because I want to read, reading is more beneficial for me and it does not disrupt me. I don’t have a lot of time to waste on these devices. 

Interview by Sara Faraji, Somaye Rezaei


News Code 130226


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