What should be the single priority for the new South African government? In his Sunday Times column (3 May 2009), Mac Maharaj invited readers to answer this question, following Peter Bruce’s observation that a government that tries to fix everything achieves nothing. “Let us… find some common purpose, which is the first step to success.”
But because any choice refers to a prior and more fundamental commitment – to the criteria by which we choose – it seems to me that clarity of purpose is at least as necessary as common purpose. What we believe the government’s priority should be depends on how we understand its purpose, and this in turn will shape the way it functions and is evaluated.
It’s become terribly unfashionable to be “judgemental”, but the fact of the matter is that life calls for judgement, all the time. So we should learn to do it well. For me, this is the purpose of philosophical practice: to study and understand what’s going on in the world and in oneself, in order to respond appropriately and skilfully. In short, to learn to judge wisely. Our current “interesting times” are ripe for philosophical enquiry.
Here in South Africa, the national executive of the African National Congress (ANC) last month “recalled” state president Thabo Mbeki after high court judge Chris Nicholson found him responsible for political interference in the national prosecuting authority. We now face a continuing circus of power plays by leading members of the party and government. What are we supposed to think? What’s really going on? Who and what are we to believe, or trust? Judgement is called for.