22.03.2011 - UNESCO Phnom Penh

International Conference on The Role of Philosophy in the Development of South East Asia

The task of humans who are responsible for their world is to orient change along positive paths that improve the status of nature and of humanity itself.

Background notes for participants

Development is a process of change. But change could be both for the better or for the worse. The task of humans who are responsible for their world is to orient change along positive paths that improve the status of nature and of humanity itself. If not all that is technically possible is an improvement, it become necessary to add to other human capabilities a process of understanding human nature and action so that the human actions in the name of “development”, now broadly integrated across civilizations, will be positive and constructive.

This evaluative task is extensive as it touches upon every aspect of the changing world. It is itself multilayered, reaching from mere utilitarian and self-centered advantage to an increasingly deeper sense of the human person, to a broader and more inclusive range of social reality, and to the natural world in which we live and which we shape.

It is the goal of the organizers of the conference, to expand philosophical reflection inside countries, so that countries in Asia and the Pacific will be better able to make the most of their legacy of thought, which itself too often goes unappreciated, despite it immense richness.

One approach is to consider or reconsider this in terms of the classical four causes: efficient, formal, material and final. Unfortunately, some of these dimensions have been omitted in the modern effort to achieve clarity and hence control of one’s destiny. This leaves one without the insight into the quality of life which can be achieved through knowledge of one’s origin or goals. Hence, an integral effort should consider all four causes:

  • efficient cause whereby such characteristics of the source as the Hindu notions of existence (sat), consciousness (cit) and bliss (ananda) or in other cultures unity, truth and the good, -- can indicate essential characteristics of the nature of reality and of realization;
  • formal cause which specifies the nature of things and makes it possible to discriminate what is ultimately enhancing from what is basically destructive;
  • material cause that allows one to take account of the resources which have been the basis of so many wars and to do so in ways that are progressive rather than destructive; and
  • final cause or goal and purpose of the great efforts of humanity as these take on greater global breadth and cohesion.

The aim here is to consider these issues in relation to the South East Asian region, in the context of the history of ideas. This means taking account of the present physical and social situation of the region and especially of the human life and cultures that has been realized in the communities there in the past few thousand years. These multiple cultures and their overall civilization (if the subregion could be defined as one civilizational entity) are important factors in deciding what will be progress and ethical development for the region.

A structure for the program involving plenary sessions in the two mornings includes:

Day One

Philosophy Emerging from Culture

Characteristics of Cambodian philosophy

This will include discussion of how philosophy emerges from culture, lessons from UNESCO's Inter-regional Philosophical Dialogues and Regional Reviews of Teaching of Philosophy in the region, and lessons from previous scholarship on philosophy in Cambodia.

Day Two

New Perspective: Linking Philosophy to Education for Sustainable Development

Ways of philosophers working together in South East Asia

This will discuss how to apply philosophy to Sustainable Development and education, and how philosophers may work together on these themes in the region.

The afternoons will be devoted to parallel sessions to provide more philosophers time for the presentation and discussion of their papers.

The opening session will include statements by representatives of the three sponsoring partners: The Philosophical Association of Cambodia (PAC), The Council for Research in Values and Philosophy (RVP), and UNESCO. In the closing there will be reflections on how to move forward, and on the recommendations.


Professor Chhort Bunthang

General Coordinator of the Conference Organizing Committee

The Philosophical Association of Cambodia (PAC)

Phnom Penh,Cambodia

email: chhort(at)yahoo.com

Isabel González Rojo Social and Human Science focal point

UNESCO Phnom Penh, Cambodia


<- Back to: UNESCO Office in Phnom Penh
Back to top