Being is the core of Western philosophy. We see this centrality, for instance, in scholastic philosophy and in existentialism.
Since language mirrors thought, philosophies also reflect the languages on which they are based. When Aristotle wrote his Categories,¹ he was actually reflecting the Greek parts of speech. In general, the structure of sentences in Western languages can be simplified to having a subject and a predicate linked by the verb ‘to be’.
Language is the house of philosophy. If Being is most important in Western philosophies, should it also be the concern of Filipino philosophy? An analogy may clarify the question.
Because temperate countries experience plenty of snow, people there have made it a major part of their culture. Their agricultural practices and way of life have been accommodated to the eventuality of winter. They have words to depict the various states of snow and weather: their homes are designed to cope with snow; they have winter sports and other things connected with a snow culture. In countries with four seasons, languages are tense-oriented. English, for instance, has a dozen tenses.²
On the other hand, Filipinos do not have snow. So, why should they be concerned with snow? Filipinos naturally are more concerned with other meaningful aspects of the weather that affect their lives. Because Filipinos have no snow, they have no original word for it. But they have quite a vocabulary for things like rice in all its states, that is from the seed to its planting, harvesting, and cooking stage. Because the two seasons in the Philippines are basically tag-init (hot season) and tag-ulan (rainy season), tenses in Philippine languages are not stressed.³ We shall return to this point later.
Language therefore mirrors the concerns of life, and consequently mirrors a people’s worldview or philosophy. Hence, Filipino philosophers primarily concerned with Being are like Filipinos concerned with snow!
The epistemological consequence is that English and other Western languages tend to judge things as either/or. A Filipino tends to think both/and, which mentality suits his concern for harmony. He shares this logic with his Asian neighbours.⁴
The either/or mentality leads to universal and cultural imperialism because of its zeal to reduce truth to essences. Truth for its own sake, even at the sacrifice of persons, is the goal of either/or thinking. We can therefore understand why Church history in the West has been marked by wars and persecutions for the sake of orthodoxy.
On the other hand, the both/and mentality leads to respecting pluralism. For the Filipino, truth must not be sacrificed out of respect for other persons, but harmony is a higher value than truth. Truth is not just conformity between the mind and the object.
Comparative Asian philosophy is important because it provides insights into Filipino philosophy. In the metaphor of family resemblance, not all the members of the family look the same because the totality of traits are, so to speak, not in every individual. Thus, Chinese and Indian philosophies are different, but they have a family resemblance.
Taoism, which stresses the harmony of the yin and yang principles, is actually a philosophy of Becoming. The Chinese language, like the Philippine languages, also does not have the verb ‘to be’. Yet, Chinese philosophy can go deep in its speculations.
While Filipino philosophy has some features common to yinyang philosophy, there are also differences.⁵ From the foregoing evidence, we can therefore conclude that the counterpart of Being in Filipino philosophy is Becoming.
We said above that Being is the core of Western philosophy, partly because of the structure of the Western languages. In the history of Western philosophy, ‘in most, though not in all, philosophical systems Being was given prominence while Becoming was placed in an inferior and subordinate role.’⁶ That is why, beginning with Plato, ideas came to be the most important concern: idea was translated to Being. In the history of Western thought, ideas were considered as eternal. Thus, scholastic philosophy was concerned with eternal truths.
If Becoming is a major concern of Filipino philosophy, does this mean a neglect of Being? Before we can answer the question, first a short digression.
The idea of the holy has two dimensions: the transcendent and the immanent. Western thought is concerned with the holy as transcendent, but Filipinos prefer to view the holy as immanent.⁷ Since the model preferred depends upon the culture, those who uphold one should not impose theirs on others.
Likewise, the law has two sides: right and duty. Western thought gives more importance to right because it values the individual more.
On the other hand, the Filipino preference for the immanent over the transcendent, duty over right, also has its counterpart in the preference for Becoming over Being.
Leonardo N. Mercado, ‘On snow and the Filipino mind’, in Synkrētic №1 (Feb. 2022): 99-102.