Books by George F. McLean

Articles by George F. McLean

Lectures by George F. McLean

 

George Francis McLean: Philosophy in the Service of Humanity

from the book "To the Mountain" published by Taiwan Fujen University Press in 2003


George Francis McLean at present holds the titles of Professor Emeritus at the School of Philosophy of The Catholic University of America (CUA), Washington , D.C. , and Director of the Centre for the Study of Culture and Values. Yet this expresses only a small part of who he is. Over the years, Professor McLean has been a scholar and a teacher, but most importantly he has worked to democratize philosophy ­ promoting the research of philosophers coming from many different cultural traditions and publishing the academic work of teams of scholars from countries and regions around the globe in order to enhance the interchange of philosophical insight.

Since 1993, when Professor McLean took early retirement from his teaching position, he has worked full-time promoting global philosophical dialogue and cooperation. He has lectured in dozens of countries, traveling to places where key philosophical and cultural issues are debated. He has helped to bring together professors from many countries and regions in order to create opportunities for dialogue, communication, and cooperation, and to assist in building teams who, through their scholarly work, contribute to answering the vital questions of the day. In addition, each year he invites professors from different countries to participate in ten week seminars in Washington, D.C., on such philosophical issues as “The Relation Between Cultures,” “Freedom and Choice in a Democracy,” “Diversity in Unity,” “Civil Society and Social Reconstruction,” and “Globalization and Identity.

But Professor McLean serves philosophy and philosophers in other ways as well. As the general editor of the publication series “Cultural Heritage and Contemporary Change,” sponsored by the Council for Research in Values and Philosophy (RVP), he helps to bring the work of philosophers from the farthest reaches of the planet into the public eye. Much of this work is published in edited volumes, the result of regional teams working together on themes of common interest. He carefully edits each paper in every volume as he prepares them for publication. Over 180 volumes have been published to date, and in addition to marketing through regular channels, they are distributed free to 350 university libraries throughout the world, particularly to institutions in developing countries. The full text of most of these volumes is also made available on the internet (see www.crvp.org). For Professor McLean, the dividends from the dissemination of ideas are of far greater interest than those from sales.

George F. McLean has devoted not only his mind, heart, and hands but his energy, his financial resources, and virtually every waking hour to this philosophical endeavor. For him philosophy is a vocation, and his support for global dialogue stems from a deep sense of faith, hope, and love.

There are, Professor McLean believes, many philosophical traditions, cultures, and schools that seek the truth. His metaphor for this is that these are many roads that converge in “the holy mountain.” The present volume of essays ­ and other volumes like it, appearing in several languages and in several countries ­ are tokens of the respect and deep appreciation for what George F. McLean has done for the cause of philosophy and to help philosophers of different cultures, languages, and traditions to come “to the mountain.”

 A STRONG SENSE OF FAITH

George F. McLean has a faith which holds that communication and cooperative activity are possible among philosophers from all philosophical traditions ­ and that it is important to enable those of different traditions to bring their contributions “to the table” and thereby (to use another metaphor) to build bridges between very different world views. Some may ask how he came to have such a “faith”?

George Francis McLean was born on 29 June 1929 to a Scottish-Irish Catholic family. His great grandparents on both sides of his family came to the United States from Ireland 150 years ago. He grew up in Lowell , Massachusetts , the earliest developed industrial community in the United States . His grandparents were shopkeepers. His father, Arthur McLean, served as a Lieutenant during the First World War, and afterwards was a clerk at the city post office. His mother, Agnes McLean, was a grammar school teacher.

George F. McLean was the second youngest of five children (three boys and two girls). When he was young he was quiet but, as his sisters say, fond of reading. At the age of eleven, he made up his mind to join what he refers to as his “family” – the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a Catholic missionary community founded by Eugene de Mazenod, a French priest. Its chief mission is to help the poor, the neglected and the abandoned across the world. After high school, McLean went to Newburgh , New York , to begin college.

In 1949 McLean was sent to Rome for studies at the Gregorian University where he remained there for seven years, three years of philosophy and four of theology. This was a mind-opening experience for the young student. At the scholasticate where he lived there were over 100 seminarians from 20 different countries. Living together with so large a group of people with such varied cultural backgrounds provided him with a special opportunity to learn how to understand others and live with them in a harmonious and friendly way. The experience was unique because French was spoken at the residence, Latin was used in the classes, and Italian was the local language. In 1955 McLean was ordained an Oblate priest, and in 1956 he was called back to the United States to pursue a doctorate in philosophy at The Catholic University of America (CUA) in Washington .

In 1958 McLean finished his doctorate with a dissertation on Paul Tillich and began teaching at The Catholic University of America (CUA) as well as at Oblate College . Tillich (1886­1965) was an influential Protestant theologian who broadened the understanding of religion by defining God phenomenologically as a person’s “ultimate concern.” Thus he could see that everyone has some religious commitment and that the mythic quality of religious narratives plays an important role in people’s lives. Tillich’s writings provided McLean with an intellectual bridge from the Catholic tradition to the broader Christian horizon.

In 1960 McLean was asked by the School of Philosophy at CUA to organize a summer workshop for philosophy professors, which he did annually until 1968. In the United States – and throughout the world – the 1960s were a period of great change and instability. In Africa, anti-colonial movements fought for national independence from foreign domination; in Asia, the two major communist powers – the Soviet Union and China – periodically engaged in hostilities with each other; in Europe and North America , people sought equal civil rights and demanded more freedoms. Protest marches and demonstrations took place everywhere, and new movements emerged that challenged existing institutions and traditional life styles.

As this turmoil and these changes continued, many questions arose. What should people do? What means should they use? Could philosophy play an active role in social and cultural change? In order to answer these questions and to help sort out these puzzles, McLean organized the summer workshops thematically, choosing such topics as philosophy and technology, reason and belief, the value of the study of classical philosophy, and ethics at the crossroads. He invited many of the most influential philosophers of the time to lecture in the mornings and form the open discussion with all participants in the afternoons. More than 100 philosophy professors and students, as well as others who were searching for answers, came to Washington to attend the workshop each summer. This work gave McLean experience that later enabled him to play significant roles in a number of professional philosophical organizations.

Because of the success of the workshops, Professor McLean was asked by Professor James A. Weisheipl, O.P., the President of the American Catholic Philosophical Association (ACPA), to serve as its Secretary, a position he held for fifteen years (1965-1980). During these years he enhanced the work of the ACPA by including in its publications a “chronicle” of philosophical events happening around the world, by organizing membership drives, by establishing a placement service for professors seeking employment in philosophy, and by focusing the annual meetings of the ACPA on specific themes and editing and publishing the proceedings.

In 1968 Professor McLean went to Vienna to attend the World Congress of Philosophy. There began his involvement with the work of International Federation of Philosophical Societies (FISP). From 1978 to 1988 McLean served its Board, developing policies for the World Congresses of Philosophy and other philosophical meetings sponsored by FISP. McLean’s contributions to philosophy at the international level increased when, in 1974, Professor H.D. Lewis of King’s College ( London ) and President of the International Society for Metaphysics (ISM), appointed him Secretary of that organization. In the same year he began his service as the Secretary of the World Union of Catholic Philosophical Societies (WUCPS) (with Professor Carlo Giacon of Italy , the Director of the Enciclopedia Filosofica as President). Professor McLean held both of these positions from 1974 to 1998. In the following year, 1975, he participated in founding as the first Secretary of The Inter-university Committee on Research and Policy Studies (ICR) and The Joint-Committee of Catholic Learned Societies and Scholars (CLS).

One of the first steps of Professor McLean’s international activity was his initiation of a series of conferences, beginning in 1976, sponsored by the International Society for Metaphysics. These conferences took place in major centers around the world ­ Shantiniketan ( India ), New York , Jerusalem , Bogota ( Columbia ), Nairobi , and other locales ­ on the themes of the human person, society, and culture. Some of the papers presented at these meetings were later published by the Council for Research in Values and Philosophy in volumes entitled Person and Nature, Person and Society, Person and God, and The Nature of Metaphysical Knowledge. Volumes in preparation include Society and Unity, Society, Truth and Human Rights, Society and the Good, The Metaphysics of Culture, Metaphysics, Culture and Symbols, Metaphysics, Culture and Nature, Metaphysics, Culture and Values, and Metaphysics, Culture and Morality.

In the early 1970s Professor McLean began to work with philosophers in Latin America, especially in the countries along the Andes . A series of colloquia on moral education were held in Mexico , Colombia , Ecuador , Venezuela , Peru , and Brazil . Within a few years this initiative had extended to virtually all the countries of Central and South America .

By the mid 1970s it was clear that the urgent challenge was to bridge the Cold War by elaborating and deepening a shared insight regarding the person and society. As Secretary of the ISM Professor McLean organized joint colloquia with the Academies of Sciences of most countries in Central and Eastern Europe . Their aim was joint philosophical reflection and exchanges with philosophers there.

By the mid 1980s the opening of China called for a similar series of colloquia with the Academies of Sciences in Beijing and Shanghai , and with Peking, Fudan and other universities in China , on such issues as humanization of technology, ethics and economics in Chinese culture, civil society, international relations, etc. The extent and range of this work is reflected in corresponding volumes published: twenty-five from Central and Eastern Europe and another twenty from China .

In 1983 McLean founded The Council for Research in Values and Philosophy (CRVP) as an extension of The International Society for Metaphysics and The World Union of Catholic Philosophical Societies in order to coordinate this work. The objective of the Council is to move beyond ideologies in order to engage deep human concerns, to bridge traditions and cultures, and to seek new horizons for social transformation. It aims to form research teams in order to study the nature, interpretation, and development of cultures; to bring their work to bear on the challenges of contemporary change; to publish and distribute the results of these efforts; and to organize both extended seminars for deeper exploration of these issues and regional conferences for the coordination of their work.

Starting in the early 1980s, through visits, lectures, and regional conferences, Professor McLean has been involved with the work of philosophers at a number of African universities. His initial trip to Africa brought him to some twelve universities. McLean has since made subsequent visits to a total of twenty-two African universities.

As dialogue with the Islamic world has become more pressing, McLean has also focused on work with Islamic scholars. After extended preparation in Cairo in the early 90s he has organized conferences in countries in which Islam is a major force, lecturing in Egypt, Mali, Senegal, Morocco, Tunisia, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, and several Central Asian countries, as well as teaching courses in Qom, Iran.

Throughout all this activity Professor McLean’s sense of faith underlies his work. The initiatives undertaken by the World Union and by the ISM ­ and, more recently, the special work of the RVP ­ are tangible results of that faith. He describes the goals of the RVP as being to assist scholars in understanding and appreciating their own cultures and the values that shape their aspirations and motivate their actions; to help philosophers understand other cultures and develop a positive yet critical appreciation of them; and to build cooperation among peoples by overcoming tensions and promoting peace and cooperation on a global scale.

Professor McLean believes that culture reflects the spiritual foundation of human life, and hence that spiritual cultivation gives birth to social progress. A community develops its distinctive character through its history by formulating its values and virtues; it is through its patterns of social life that freedom is developed and exercised. By culture McLean means the spirit of a people and its ability to act creatively in shaping all dimensions of life ­ material and spiritual, economic and political, artistic and scientific. This forms a whole life, characterized by unity, truth, goodness, and beauty as keys to the meaning and values of the life of the people. “Culture is a renewal, a reliving of origins in an attitude of profound appreciation. This leads us beyond self and other, beyond identity and diversity, in order to comprehend both.” There is here a sense of faith in human potentiality based on its transcendent source and goal. In this light the role of philosophy is, therefore, to help people carry their tradition is forward a “the living faith of the dead” (Pelikan), applying their respective cultural heritages to facing the challenges of change in our day.

 A POSITIVE SENSE OF HOPE

 The last century witnessed enormous human tragedies and spectacular human achievements: cold and hot world wars, the holocaust, confrontations of ideologies, dramatic social changes, the astonishing development of science and technology, and the communications revolution that accompanied this development. These affected virtually every aspect of everyday life. Philosophy understood as the way of searching for universal truths and deepening human meaning and values has also undergone change. The Cold War split the world into antagonistic camps. For many years there was no real dialogue, communication, or exchange, only isolation or confrontation between philosophers of East and West. In certain countries philosophy was employed merely as a tool to serve certain ideologies; in others it was reduced to a narrow and specialized subject so that philosophy for some philosophers became merely a pragmatic and analytical tool having little to do with the search for the meaning of life.

In the midst of these challenges and divisions, Professor McLean’s work has long exhibited a sense of hope, for he recognizes the universality of the search for meaning in all cultures and traditions. This is what has commonly been described as a metaphysical view.

He insists that metaphysics and philosophy in general should not be separated from life experience, and that philosophers should actively engage in what is going on in the world. Once, in Asuncion , Paraguay a professor told him that people there were not interested in metaphysics but were passionately concerned with the effect of modernization upon their culture and values. But this indeed was metaphysics, not as determined separately and then applied to reality, but as emerging from the challenges of life and the human responses.

Professor McLean is a metaphysician of this genre. From his studies in India he was able to see how his Christian understanding of the loving relations of the Trinity expressed the transcendental principles of the true, the good, and the beautiful. He believes that the meaning of life is to look for the true, to act for the good, and to enjoy the beautiful. Far from being uniquely Christian values, he found in the Hindu concepts of sat (existence), cit (consciousness), and ananda (bliss) a corresponding understanding of how particular actions and persons can be seen through the One as the manifestations of Brahman, thereby contributing to living in a way that is truly just, good, and meaningful.

In 1999, on the threshold of a new century and a new millennium, Professor McLean published a series of lectures given in Lahore , Pakistan , entitled Ways to God: Personal and Social at the Turn of the Millennia. This book systematically traced the metaphysics of being from totem, myth and ritual, through the Greek and Judeo-Christian systematic philosophy, to Islamic mystical and existential understanding. In Persons, Peoples and Cultures in a Global Age: Metaphysical Bases for Peace between Civilizations (published by the RVP in 2004), Professor McLean entered more deeply into being (esse) by searching for the metaphysical foundations of the person through the themes of culture, relation, and gift .

His sense of hope in overcoming division and in promoting exchange can be seen in his efforts to build bridges among philosophers, particularly including those from the “East.” After seeing the initiative of Professor Janusz Kuczynski of Poland in founding the journal Dialogue and Universalism, at the World Congress of Philosophy in Varna , Bulgaria , in 1973, Professor McLean invited him to the ISM conference in India and was invited in turn to Warsaw in 1976 in order to explore the possibility of exchange and dialogue with Polish philosophers. After a year’s planning, the first meeting was held in Munich in 1978 with eight philosophers from Poland and eight from Western Europe and North America ­ one of the earliest encounters between philosophers from both East and West. A second meeting was held the following year in Bellagio , Italy .

During his 1976 visit to Poland Professor McLean went also to Krakow to take part in a meeting of Polish Catholic philosophers organized by then-Cardinal Karol Wojtyla (later Pope John Paul II), and spent a week with him in Krakow. In 1978 Professor McLean, as the Secretary of the World Union of Catholic Philo­sophical Societ­ies, returned to Krakow to convoke with Cardinal Wojtyla a meet­ing of 50 Catho­lic philoso­phers from Poland together with an equal number of from other countries. The Cardinal was in Rome electing John Paul I.

In 1976 Professor McLean went also to Moscow to meet members of the Institute of Philosophy of the Russian Academy of Sciences and Professor Vadim S. Semenov, Editor of the main Russian philosophical review Philosophical Studies. This led to contacts with other Russian philosophers and, later, to colloquia with them and philosophers from other Academies of Sciences, including those of Hungary , Bulgaria , Czechoslovakia , Georgia , and Lithuania .

In 1978 he visited Romania . Professor Ion Bansoiu recalls that one day he saw a foreigner who seemed lost along a street near the University of Bucharest . Bansoiu went over and asked what was he looking for. Professor McLean told him that he was looking for the Philosophy Department of the University. Since Bansoiu was a philosophy professor at the University, he took him to the Department office. Cooperation with philosophers in Romania thus began and the first eight volumes from the Eastern European Academies were printed by Professor Bansoiu’s Paideia Press in Bucharest .

This work has gone through three stages: (1) Retrospective: retrieving insights from the rich resources of the tradition of the region; (2) Constructive: building democratic societies based on the cultural resources discovered in the first stage; and (3) global: enabling scholars to address the many challenges involved in moving into closer relations with the European Union and with the international community in general. The retrospective research resulted in the publication of eight volumes on such issues as the philosophy of the person; solidarity and cultural creativity; tradition and the challenge of Czech political culture; language, values, and the Slovak nation; national identity as an issue of knowledge and morality; and personal freedom and national resurgence. A further fourteen have appeared that discuss such issues as: national, cultural and ethnic identities: harmony beyond conflict; models of identity in post-communist societies; interests and values; the spirit of venture in a time of change; values and education in Romania today; Lithuanian philosophy: persons and ideas, etc.

The building of relations in Central and Eastern Europe has been repeated in China . McLean had wished to visit the People’s Republic of China from the early 1970s. However, the country was then in the middle of the Cultural Revolution and had severed connections with the outside world. Only in the 1980s, after the Chinese government initiated economic reforms and an open-door policy, were there possibilities for the Chinese to visit other countries and for foreigners to enter China . In Hawaii in 1986 Professor McLean met Professor Tang Yijie of Peking University , and together they planned annual meetings which would be held alternately in and around China . In 1987 a first colloquium with Chinese philosophers, on the theme of “Man and Nature,” was held at Peking University . In 1988, at the World Congress of Philosophy in Brighton , England , Professor McLean met Professor Wang Miaoyang of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences and invited him to meet in Leuven , Belgium . Since then there has been continuous cooperation with the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. In 1991, while in Shanghai , McLean visited Fudan University and met Professor Liu Fangtong and other professors. Thus began a series of annual conferences there.

In 1999 Professor McLean invited eleven Chinese philosophers to visit six universities in India , in order to come to know better the Hindu roots of Chinese Buddhism. And in 2001 McLean invited seven foreign professors to come to China to participate in twelve colloquia held at universities and academies across China . There the focus of the discussion was: How philosophy can contribute to the process of social transformation? What role should philosophers play in helping people face the many challenges of the modern and postmodern world?

These and subsequent colloquia have involved understanding and examining Chinese society and discussing ways of responding to contemporary change. The discussions have focused upon: the human person and society; Chinese cultural traditions and modernization; the humanization of technology and Chinese culture; beyond modernization: Chinese roots for global awareness; economic ethics and Chinese culture; civil society in a Chinese context; and the Chinese cultural impact on its international relations.

In order to honor his efforts in bringing Chinese philosophy into closer contact with the outside world, Professor McLean was made an Advisory Professor at Fudan University, Shanghai in 1994, an Advisory Researcher at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences in 1998, and an Advisory Professor at Jiaotong University, Xian, in 2000. The Chinese philosophers who know Professor McLean refer to him as a “sage,” a term of the highest respect for intellectuals in China .

 AN OPEN SENSE OF LOVE

Kant says that to love is to do good. Love also involves an openness to, and a respect for, others that requires a willingness to listen to others and to hear them on their own terms. This reflects faith and hope and requires that we look closely at reality ­ at what is hidden as well as what is open to all ­ and to be willing to share both the joys and struggles of life. This unity of faith, hope, and love is characteristic of religion, which Professor McLean believes lies at the root of all cultures. Indeed, he writes in Faith, Reason, and Philosophy: Lectures at the al-Azhar, Qum, Tehran , Lahore and Beijing that “reason in its first and basic philosophical articulations was religious.”

As an intellectual discipline philosophy helps us to look at reality from a critical distance, to provide rational analysis, and to express what we see in conceptual terms. But love for others requires us to read between the lines ­ to see the shift of human awareness from the horizontal to the vertical, from the object to the subject, from the material to the spiritual, and from the quantitative to the qualitative. This shift provides an opportunity for all peoples and all cultures actively to pursue self-realization, self-consciousness, and self-perfection. Philosophy as reason implies theory, rationality, and abstraction; the love that is reflected in religion draws on lived experience, shows openness, and allows intimacy. The two complement and enhance, rather than contradicting and weakening one another.

Professor McLean often refers to the image from the book of Isaiah (27:13) in the Hebrew Scriptures in which the peoples of the world come from all directions and converge upon the Holy Mountain . Each brings its own special contribution to the whole, shines with its own beauty, so that together all manifest more fully the goodness of the Absolute source and goal.

Professor McLean’s sense of love is evident in his efforts to reach out from his own cultural tradition and professional training. Inspired, as we have seen, by the insights of Paul Tillich, in 1969 he went to the Radhakrishnan Institute for Advanced Study in Philosophy at the University of Madras, India, for his first sabbatical. There he studied the Hindu classics with Professor T.M.P. Mahadevan (1911­1983) and Professor R. Balasubramanian. At that time the research of the Institute was especially focused upon the Advaita philosophy of Sankara. Professor McLean followed its graduate program in Indian philosophy and was fascinated by the richness of Hindu philosophy and religion ­ a richness which enabled him to understand his own philosophy more deeply and clearly. Because he loved Indian intellectual life so much, Professor McLean returned there for his second sabbatical in 1977, including three months in Darjeeling reading successively through the Upanisads, Vedanta Sutras and Gita with their main commentaries. Since then Professor McLean has often returned to India to organize colloquia and give lectures. In order to honor his contribution to Indian philosophical life, the Indian Council for Philosophical Research designated him as their Annual Lecturer for 2004, and invited him to give a set of lectures in six universities across the sub-continent.

During his first sabbatical McLean also spent a semester in Paris with Doyen Paul Riceour, who gave him entrée to all the classes and libraries of the Paris university system. These experiences in Madras and Paris led McLean to establish, beginning in 1984, a program that mirrored his own intellectual opportunities, namely, annual ten-week seminars held at CUA in Washington . This invites some ten professors from as many different countries, provides basic room and board, and designates them as CUA Visiting Research Scholars, thereby making possible use of the libraries in the Washington area including the Library of Congress. The seminar participants meet for intensive discussion twice weekly and are encouraged to attend lectures and courses related to their research interests. In order to promote active involvement by local university faculty members he founded The Center for the Study of Culture and Values at The Catholic University in 2000.

The work in Asia has extended beyond India and mainland China . He has been a frequent visitor to Taiwan where, together with Professors Tran Van Doan and Vincent Shen, he has promoted work on the interface between traditional Chinese and Christian philosophy. He has jointly organized conferences in Japan in connection with the Institute of Professors Tomonobu Imamichi and Noriko Hashimoto, and in the Philippines with Professor Manny Dy. More recently, this work has extended to Vietnam , Cambodia and Thailand , as well as to Indonesia and Malaysia .

Professor McLean sees Islamic thought as having much to contribute in the development of the present world. In order to understand the dynamic involved, he went to Cairo in 1991 and 1992 to study Islamic philosophy and religion at The Institute for Oriental Studies with Professor G. Anawati. There he lectured at the al-Azhar University , the world’s oldest university and center for Islamic learning.

In 1998 his last doctoral candidate Musa S. Dibadj invited him to participate in a conference in Tehran . The following year he returned to Tehran to attend the first international conference on Mulla Sadra. There he was invited to give a public lecture at Mofid University in Qom , the holy city for Shiite Muslims and the major center in Iran for training Muslim clerics, being probably the first non-Muslim to do so in Qom . The following year he spent a month at Mofid University , teaching, lecturing and helping to organize the international meeting on human rights held in Tehran the following year.

After the former Soviet Republics in Central Asia established their independence in 1991, McLean began to work with philosophers from that region as well. In 1994 with the help of Professor Vadim S. Semenov he visited Tashkent , Uzbekistan and discussed plans for future cooperation with Professor Said Shermukhamedov. Professor McLean later returned to Tashkent to teach at a summer school, which led to his invitation to Professor Victoriya Levinskaya to participate in the annual seminar in Washington . Subsequent visits to Uzbekistan in 1999 and 2002 led to the publication of one of the first volumes in English written by Uzbek philosophers.

At the same time he worked systematically through the other former Soviet Republics giving lectures, participating in colloquia, and organizing meetings. These include Turkmenistan (in 1997), where he spent two and a half months; Kazakstan (in 1997, 1998, and 2002); Georgia (in 1999 and 2001); Kyrgystan (in 1998 and 2002), and the Ukraine (in 1997, 1999, and 2001). In 2003 McLean was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the Academy of Sciences of Kazakhstan in recognition of his contributions to philosophical development in Central Asia .

If Kant is right in saying that to love is to do good, then Professor McLean has shown a love that complements his intellectual commitment to help philosophers throughout the world to engage in their own philosophical work. The author of over a dozen books, and editor of some 70 others, Professor McLean has strong philosophical views. Characteristically, however, he lets others speak first, and the influence of their traditions and cultures is evident in his own work. These influences are many: the Thomistic philosophy and Catholic tradition in which he was first educated; the work of Paul Tillich, which provided intellectual tools to engage other traditions constructively; the critique of modernity of Martin Heidegger; the study of the philosophies and religions of India, Asia and Islam; and, of course, the contacts with philosophers from different regions and cultures. But what most of all underlies Professor McLean’s approach to his work, his concern to bring scholars into dialogue, and his optimism concerning the future, is hermeneutics. As this seeks to uncover and interpret what is hidden, it also requires humility from the enquirer, openness to different cultural traditions, and recognition that no interpretation is closed or final.

As we might expect, then, among Professor McLean’s recent publications are volumes on Hermeneutics, Tradition and Contemporary Change (lectures in Chennai/Madras, India ); Hermeneutics, Faith, and Relations between Cultures (lectures in Qom , Iran ); and Hermeneutics for a Global Age (lectures in Shanghai and Hanoi ). In these works he traces “the nature of hermeneutics and the history of its development from a science to a life process,” argues “how an hermeneutic perspective can enable us better to understand the nature and formation of the cultural tradition in which we stand and the role of that tradition in the reading of our sacred texts,” and reflects on “how such an understanding can be transformative in contemporary social life and engage in faithful dialogue with the many cultures and civilizations of the world.” The hermeneutic method thus provides an intellectual tool to pursue what Professor McLean also knows through his sense of love ­ that doing philosophy requires listening to others and letting their voices be heard.

 CONCLUSION

 In order to honor George Francis McLean for his friendship, his contributions to scholarship, and for his tireless support of philosophy and philosophers from around the world, his colleagues and friends offer him this token of their appreciation and respect on the occasion of his 75th birthday on June 29, 2004.

At the end of any meeting, colloquium, or gathering, he asks “Where do we go from here?” With his deep sense of faith, hope and love, he has devoted himself for decades to serving society through promoting ideas that may serve to bridge cultures and traditions.

Someone once asked Professor McLean what his motives were for traveling to places where philosophy was considered by many in the West to be less developed, and where the social and intellectual situation were sometimes difficult. His response was that philosophy is not a “top down” activity; it is not something to be done in isolation or by a single individual. It comes from the grassroots, from reflection by peoples upon their everyday lives, and the culture in which they live. Each people has its own way of living and searching for the meaning of life. Yet they also need a window both to let in new light and new air, and to let their own unique contribution be shared by those outside. Plato gives us in the Republic the allegory of the cave. Only those who climb out of the cave ­ painstakingly, passionately, and consistently ­ will come to see the light, the truth, and the Absolute. Philosophy, then, is the exercise of freedom, but equally it obliges one to reenter the cave in order to help.

Dr. Martin Luther King, the great leader of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, also wrote his doctoral dissertation on Paul Tillich. Professor McLean likes to quote King’s famous speech “I Have a Dream.” We will end this brief introduction with the last part of that speech for its words capture McLean ’s global commitments and his philosophical vision:

 With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to go to jail together, knowing that we will be free one day. This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning...

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York .

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California .

But not only that.

Let freedom ring from the Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi , from every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and hamlet, from every state and city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children ­ black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Catholics and Protestants ­ will be able to join hands and to sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last, free at last; thank God Almighty, we are free at last.”

 

Last Revised 24-Aug-08 05:35 PM.