by Zion Yuson

19 OCTOBER 2020 – The Fellows Night of September 2020 given last September 26 was special for many reasons, one of these being that it was the first time the Fellows’ Night happened in collaboration with the Back to the Basics course. One of the topics covered in Back to the Basics is depth, and with this month’s UFN being about our freedom in quarantine, the collaboration between the two events was fitting. 

The speaker for the month was Dr. Daniel Bernardus, a liberal arts professor based in Amsterdam. As an academic, Dr. Bernardus takes particular interest in philosophy- specifically, philosophical anthropology – though he graduated with a degree in biology, and even has a PhD in mathematical modelling of biology. He was willing to lend us his time to talk about some topics from a book he wrote entitled Freedom in Quarantine, which he co-authored with the late Spanish philosopher, Leonardo Polo. 

Dr. Bernardus emphasized on what it meant to be human, especially now in the midst of the global pandemic, where most of us find ourselves living in quarantine. He mentioned that this is very important now because some people may be low in spirits, and so, the talk’s purpose was to uplift the participants by allowing them to realize the freedoms that we do have in this reality in which we may feel that we are stuck and constrained. 

During the talk, Dr. Bernardus cited the work of Leonardo Polo in his book “Radical y la Libertad”, as well as the novel “Win Win Win.” The talk was mainly a discussion on the three roots of a human being and their consequences for the many fields of thought. Dr. Bernardus thus discussed the Modern root, the Classical root, and the Christian root of the human being and their consequences on our knowledge, freedom, ethics, motivation, and mentality. 

The main point of the modern root is that the product of human activity is what is truly important. It also states that we are human because we produce things. This modern root would then emphasize on production, creativity, and innovation as very important human activities. 

The classical root, on the other hand, has its focus not so much on the product, but more on the act. From a classical point of view, the important thing to achieve is actuality, or living up to the timeless truths that we’re capable of achieving. When we try our best to live our best lives by building our character and living in virtue, we go closer to achieving actuality. It is a challenge of course, but at the same time, it is also a clear target that we can achieve together with our friends, hence the saying “real friends help each other live virtuous lives.” 

Lastly, in the Christian root, the main focus is not the product, nor the act, but the person as a whole. We as humans are able to go beyond ourselves, and this is one of the ideas that Christian philosophy would like to point out. We are reminded that as humans, we possess a certain uniqueness and an inherent dignity, and these things are what propel us to transcendence towards things beyond ourselves. 

Following the discussion on the three roots of the human being, Dr. Daniel then split the group of attendees into breakout rooms wherein they had to discuss how these three roots help us to live our freedom in the current situation and the importance of those roots for us as leaders. The groups were given ten minutes to discuss among themselves and presented a short summary of of their discussions afterwards. 

Following the short discussion, Dr. Bernardus gave a synthesis of the three roots and some important tips on how to apply what we learned from the talk to our daily lives. Modern philosophy highlights how production is a fundamental human endeavor for which freedom, creativity, and innovation are important. Classical philosophy helps us realize how we are human beings capable of truths about ourselves that are unchangeable, and that we are able to live up to those truths by building habits that help us become what we truly are. And lastly, Christian philosophy reminds us that as human beings, we are persons with God-given gifts that we can use to go beyond ourselves and build stronger relationships with others and with our Creator. 

In this time of quarantine, our freedom to produce and do things may have been limited. However, we must be aware that we still have other freedoms and these are the freedom to build good and healthy habits, and the freedom to build strong personal relationships with others and with God. 

Paying attention to the Classical root requires further reflection though, and we can always ask ourselves and others questions such as what are the important things that we need to focus on and ponder, or what books can help us improve as humans. Dr. Bernardus also pointed out that the relationships we have with others and with God will not happen by themselves. In order to pay attention to the Christian root, we could always think how and where to work on our relationships with others and with God. This current pandemic situation calls for an appreciation for the freedoms which we do have, and when we do appreciate these freedoms, we may also better appreciate new ways of thinking about many other issues in life. 

For Further reading: Freedom in Quarantine by Dr. Daniel Bernardus

A group photo of the attendees of the webinar, with Dr. Bernardus (leftmost corner on the top row)

NOTA BENE: The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and the speakers mentioned in the article, and not necessarily to the Foundation.