At UNESCO, the world philosophizes!

20 November 2018

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© UNESCO / P. van Vucht Tijssen

The whole world celebrated World Philosophy Day on 15 November 2018. On this occasion, UNESCO Headquarters opened its doors from 14 November to the night of the 16th, offering nearly 6,500 participants the opportunity to celebrate philosophy through lectures, training workshops, round tables and artistic performances. The event, open to all, gathered philosophy teachers, researchers, young philosophers, schoolchildren and artists from all continents.

"Here is the house of the World and of Philosophy", declared Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO Director-General, during the presentation of the digitized archives of the Collège international de philosophie at UNESCO on 15 November 2018. Quoting Jacques Derrida, Ms Azoulay emphasized the philosophical significance of "traces", which the digitized archives exemplified. And World Philosophy Day left a trace.

A large, varied and intergenerational audience gathered at UNESCO Headquarters testifying to the ambition to liberalize philosophy. A "Philosophical Café" recalled the role of forgotten women in history. A presentation of the issue 4/5 of the International Women Philosophers’ Journal, led by Barbara Cassin, reflected on the status of intellectual women in India, “for even in the higher castes the woman intellectual is not worth the male intellectual".

The liberalization of philosophy has also been achieved through the promotion of youth in the discipline during a virtual dialogue between four young philosophers on social transformations, the artistic creation of a triptych by youth from Quebec, and reflecting on the contribution of philosophy with young children to global peacebuilding. The celebration showed that philosophy is not solely for specialists, rather, it can apply to everyone's life: "Happiness is desiring what you already have” as Marianne Chaillan noted, quoting Saint Augustin, during her lecture on philosophy with Walt Disney and Harry Potter.

Yet philosophy is not a mere acceptance of what is. "Philosophy should always be celebrated for it has many times changed the world”, stressed the British writer Will Self who was one of the 50 lecturers of the Night of Philosophy, directed by Meriam Korichi, from 7pm on 16 November to 7am on the 17th. More than 5,500 people were able to attend 50 philosophical conferences from around the world, along with 12 artistic performances, a Quebec evening, a play on violent extremism, a seminar on the digitized archives of the Collège international de philosophie and four recordings of the France Culture radio show Les Chemins de la Philosophie.

Celebrated every third Thursday of November, World Philosophy Day 2018 celebration was in line with the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In establishing World Philosophy Day in 2005, the UNESCO General Conference stressed the importance of this discipline, especially for young people, highlighting that "philosophy is a discipline that encourages critical and independent thought and is capable of working towards a better understanding of the world and promoting tolerance and peace".

The celebration of World Philosophy Day couldn’t have been such a success without the contributions of many partners: PhiloJeunes, NPP (associated with the UNESCO Chair on the practice of philosophy with children), the Collège international de philosophie, the Institut national de l’audiovisuel, France Culture, the Quebec Representation to UNESCO, the Permanent Delegation of Brazil to UNESCO, the Paris Sorbonne Lettres University, the French National Commission for UNESCO and the International Network of Women Philosophers.