Charles Mercieca, Ph.D.

    In our earthly community, human relations vary from one group to another and from one country to another. They are generally built on cultural ties, religious connotations, and a variety of other factors. When we study history we are mostly learning about the story of human actions. Such actions reveal the philosophy of people from every walk of life and profession.

Nature of Philosophy

    In view of this, we may safely conclude that if we know history we know the philosophy of those that formed it. On the other hand, if we know the philosophy of people we may predict with virtual certainty their actions. Philosophy deals with four basic questions: (a) What is real? (b) What is true? (c) What is good? (d) What is beautiful? Needless to say, there are as many different answers to these questions as there are people, since no two human beings are identically the same in their thinking and ways of doing things.

    Just as in astrology people are classified into twelve groups, in philosophy we view people oriented toward one of six major areas, which may be enlisted as follows: Idealism as provided by Plato, Realism as perceived by Aristotle, Scholasticism as explained by Thomas Aquinas, Pragmatism as furnished by John Dewey, Existentialism as advocated by Jean Paul Sartre, and Spacism which refers to the space age philosophy as initiated by Werner von Braun.

    In brief, Idealism views reality as a world of ideas since human actions are the result of ideas. Realism views reality as a world of things, which are perceived by the senses. Scholasticism views reality as a world of reason since quite often we have to make distinctions especially in things that look identical. Pragmatism views reality as a world of experience since without it we may often make mistakes. Existentialism views reality as individual existence since everything happens to be very unique. Spacism views reality as a world of humans since they can do whatever crosses their mind.

    The first three philosophies are viewed as objective because everything is a parte rei the same regardless of the changes of time. However, the last three ones are perceived as subjective because reality is viewed in the eye of the beholder more nor less. In fact, in pragmatism reality is assumed to correspond to the views of the majority. In existentialism reality is believed to be the conception of each individual independently. In spacism, which is the philosophy of the space age era, reality is identified with the identical feeling or judgment of all humans without exception.

Philosophy of Retaliation

    We may now proceed to talk about the three major philosophies that have influenced human beings profoundly. The first of these philosophies leans toward existentialism. It is found dominant in the Old Testament which may be described also as the “eye for an eye and the tooth for a tooth philosophy.” It is a mode of thinking based on getting even with others, doing to them the same as they did to you, nothing more and nothing less. This philosophy seems to have been dominant in a number of ways over the centuries.

    In some countries, one may come across people with an arm amputated simply because one was caught stealing something. Among other nations, this has been noticed nowadays in some countries like Libya. When you inflict pain on someone, that same pain will be inflicted on you afterwards. Should you destroy the property of others, your property soon afterwards will be destroyed as well. The history of the world tends to abide with episodes of this nature, which enables us understand, in some way, the nature of evil better.

    Although many adherents to the Old Testament viewed the “eye for an eye and the tooth for a tooth” philosophy as justifiable, there were many who questioned the justification of such a philosophy. In the sphere of morality we always have to make a distinction between something that went wrong accidentally and something that went wrong through a carefully planned evil intent. Although in the latter case a punishment may be deemed necessary, in the first case we should exercise caution.

    However, because people by nature tend to be impatient in some way or another, there is always the possibility of abuse or inconsideration in the process of retaliation. This involved philosophy does not give us much opportunity to exercise self-control that may lead to healing and to happiness afterwards. Besides, as ascetical writers tell us, we cannot heal an evil that happens to us by another evil that we may promptly commit by way of counteraction. Thus, we are now in a position to comprehend the nature of this philosophy of retaliation.

    Some of the greatest religious leaders of all time, from Buddha and Lao Tze down to Jesus all the way to Mahatma Gandhi and beyond, told us clearly that we tend to be treated in life same way as we treat others. There is everything to gain in doing good for our neighbor and nothing to lose. In fact, in the New Testament the Master Teacher of Nazareth has changed radically the philosophy of retaliation into a philosophy of conciliation, which proved to be highly beneficial for everyone involved and concerned.

Philosophy of Reconciliation

    This philosophy of reconciliation leans toward scholasticism, known also as the philosophy of reason. Thomas Aquinas said that we may solve all problems simply through the usage of common sense. But then he added saying that common sense was very uncommon, not easy to find. Those who use this philosophy in life tend to be righteous and beneficial. Jesus said to the Pharisees with crystal clarity that the God they preached was not the God He knew. It explains why He often called them hypocrites. He also compared them to white tombs that are clean from the outside but stink badly from the inside.

    This Master Teacher of Nazareth added saying: “You speak of a God that advocates the eye for an eye and the tooth for a tooth, a God of hatred and revenge. The God I know is a God of love and mercy that when you strike him on the face He will not only refrain from retaliating but He rather turns his face to let you strike him on the other cheek.” The philosophy of reconciliation exhorts us to return hatred and revenge with love and compassion, to replace grudges with forgiveness.

    If one were to destroy my property I would, in return, make sure that his property is protected. Those that adopt belligerent approaches should be counteracted with friendly and helpful means. We should always remember the good deeds we receive from others with gratitude, while we should forgive and, if possible, forget their offences. After all, this is the way God deals with all of us. No matter how many times we offend him and keep grudges against his children, He always exercises kindness and forgiveness toward us.

    The proverb which says that one catches more flies with honey, applies perfectly well when it comes to healing and reconciliation. When Jesus exhorted us to do to others what we would like others to do to us, apparently He knew very well what He was saying. By nature, regardless as to whether or not we are good or bad, we always yearn for others to do beneficial things to us and to treat us with respect. A careful study of history reveals that here is the line that divides the politicians from the statesmen.

    Politicians, on the whole, tend to approach national and international problems by resorting to threats, punishments in forms of sanctions, and the like. They tend to divide segments of the population into opposite factions. This is instigated on motto of “divide and conquer.” They also work for the interests of some to the exclusion of others. This has always created suspicion and mistrust. On the other hand, statesmen seek to solve differences through healthy dialogues and wise diplomacy that is proven to be beneficial to all parties involved.

Philosophy of Devastation

    The philosophy of devastation is the third philosophy that is being presented in this write-up. It may be viewed as an extreme extension of the first the philosophy of retaliation, which is based on the “eye for an eye and the tooth for a tooth” philosophy. It also leans toward existentialism in principle. This philosophy could best be described as “one hundred eyes for one eye and one hundred teeth for one tooth,” a philosophy that, by its very nature disseminates successfully enmity, hatred, revenge and assured disaster.

    This is, in essence, the philosophy of tyranny, which may stem from a dictator or a group of political figures that put themselves above the law, regardless of whether or not such a law constitutes the Divine Positive Law, the Natural Law, the Ecclesiastical Law, or the Civic Law. At the individual level, among those who are using this philosophy of tyranny are: Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe who grabbed power in 1980 and would not release it by all means, and Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, who assumed power in 1989, has been accused by the International Criminal Court of serious crimes against humanity.

    Among other tyrants we find Kim Jong-Il of North Korea, who came to power in 1994, imprisoned hundreds of thousands of people including children in camps, and Than Shwe of Burma, known also as Myanmar, who climbed to power in 1992, has been accused of depriving citizens from the vital needs of life, as well as Isayas Afewerki of Eritrea, who moved into power in 1991, has abolished elections for “three or four decades” to rule the nation assuredly for life. Such dictators practice the philosophy of devastation with their own people where the punishments they inflict are totally out of proportion.

    Ironically, we do have a couple of nations, that are officially viewed as democratic and where elections are held periodically, which have practiced in the open the philosophy of devastation, that is, the “one hundred eyes for one eye and the one hundred teeth for one tooth.” These are the United States and Israel who believe that they can solve all problems with other nations through weapons of mass destruction and the waging of never-ending wars.

    Since actions speak louder than words, we may illustrate this by some tangible evidence. When the United Nations advocated the abolition of all nuclear weapons and landmines, the United States and Israel were the only two nations that objected. They were also against the implementation of a global program of disarmament and arms control. Besides, these two nations continue to pour endless billions of dollars for the manufacture and indiscriminate sales of weapons and the endless promotion of wars.

Armed to Annihilate

    The United States has 747 military bases spread around the world with warships sailing through every ocean. There are more US military bases in the world than those of all the nations of the entire planet combined. Moreover, the United States gives Israel more military aid than it gives to all the other so called friendly nations of the entire world together. No wonder why the United States is in such a financial crisis and the American people are beginning to suffer considerably from anxiety and uncertainly about their future.

    In 2001 a handful of young men carrying a few knives and some cheap ammunition destroyed the twin towers of New York and killed some 3,000 innocent people. The USA reacted by invading Iraq killing over one million innocent Iraqis, besides causing the death of over 4,000 young Americans. This is the philosophy of devastation, the one hundred eyes for one eye and the one hundred teeth for one tooth. Israel practices the philosophy of devastation in an eminent way. For every Israeli or house the Palestinians destroy, the Israelis would kill one hundred Palestinians and destroy one hundred houses.

    Not only so, but the West Bank, which is supposedly to be a Palestinian land, is all occupied by the Israelis and the whole territory is decimated where Palestinians are isolated from each other. No wonder why Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa accused Israel of imposing apartheid that was worse than the one in South Africa. Even former US President Jimmy Carter spoke in one of his books of this shamefully imposed segregation of Palestinians from each other.

    In conclusion, three of the major philosophies in human relations that developed and that have affected human lives deeply and radically are: (a) the philosophy of retaliation consisting in the eye for an eye and the tooth for a tooth, (b) the philosophy of reconciliation consisting in the solution of differences through healthy dialogues that demonstrate mutual concern in the best interest of all those involved, and (c) the philosophy of devastation that relies on  the one hundred eyes for one eye and the one hundred teeth for one tooth, which endangers human life continuously and unnecessarily.


Charles Mercieca, Ph.D.
-President, International Association of Educators for World Peace – Dedicated to United Nations Goals of Peace Education, Environmental Protection, Human Rights & Disarmament
-Professor Emeritus, Alabama A&M University


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 25 Mar 2009.

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