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University of Balamand > Spotlights > Dr. Giuseppe Tassone

Dr. Tassone among other participants in a recent conference on citizenship
in the Arab World organized at the University

Dr. Giuseppe Tassone 
Fighting for Modernity and the Concept of Progress

Assistant Professor Giuseppe Tassone, born and raised in a village high in the mountains of southern Italy, describes himself as a passionate philosopher and a modernity enthusiast. However, little in his childhood presaged those views in adulthood.

He has happy memories from childhood and recalls them with warmth. As a child, Dr. Tassone played with his friends in the forest right by his house, and  they identified themselves with Native Americans being invaded and attacked by the ‘civilized’ Europeans. Every day, they would reproduce the battle in the forest, forming groups of miniature battle men, and with handmade weapons they would fight against the evil conqueror.
“I was a very wild boy in the forest. It is all about nature and tough life. We did not have toys. This was a poor village. We made our own toys from wood mainly… at the time of winter, we had to make our own sledges from wood and make skiing tracks. The village for me is a symbol of freedom and unconstrained instinctual life.”
At age 11 he left his birthplace to study in a boarding school, Convitto Principe di Piemonte, Anagni. He chose to study in the Classical section, where he took Latin for seven years, Ancient Greek for five years, along with Italian and Ancient Greek Literature, History, Art and Philosophy. After being exposed to philosophy, it drew him in.

“I have always had a knack for arguing. I am inclined to want to refute other people’s arguments, expose their logical fallacies.” He explains philosophy as “reading a novel, it tricks your mind in a way, and it makes you think of what the world might be rather than what it is.”

He says he has always felt that “this world is horrible” and feels the need to escape. Sadly, he bemoans, “you cannot escape from this world,” so he decided to invest his intellectual resources into visualizing a better world. “I do not see philosophy as a mere abstract speculation, it’s a reflective instrument for change in the world, making it a better place. I was always dreaming of a radical change”.
Dr. Tassone’s parents did not want him to study philosophy, and since he needed the economic support to do it, he tried getting a grant from a Catholic university in Milan. He took an entrance exam, and, to his own surprise, passed and was accepted on a scholarship. 

“It was highly competitive. Although I was raised as a Catholic, I am an atheist… after one week I left. It was an awful place, because I immediately had to expose my beliefs.” He used to get confronted about his views on the existence of God everywhere he went. It made the stay there unbearable.”

His parents, says Dr. Tassone, have “a typical bourgeois mentality, where especially boys were expected to be lawyers, doctors, or engineers.” So he decided to go for his parents’ least favorite profession on that list, engineering.
He went to Pisa to pursue his degree, but from day one he did not feel very optimistic. His first class was Mathematical Analysis, which was followed by Technical Design. “I spent half an hour there having no clue what was going on, felt terribly bored as well. Halfway through I stood up and left.” He then tried Computer Science, and three months into it, he realized that he was just wasting his time, so he called his father and told him that he was coming back home.
And so he was back where he started, in the house of his parents not knowing what should he do with his life. A few months in and he decided to confront his parents with a decision that lead the course of his life. He told them, “I am going to university to study Philosophy, or I will just go find a job somewhere.”
His parents agreed, reluctantly, and assured him that he would be unemployed once he graduated, and told him that they were willing to support him only until graduation. So he pursued his dream, and studied Philosophy in the beautiful Renaissance city of Florence, where he graduated from Universita degli Studi di Firenze, or, simply, the University of Florence. Afterwards, he received a PhD degree in Political Philosophy from the University of York, England. “When I went for the PhD in England my parents still supported me financially.”
Dr. Giuseppe Tassone has achieved his dream of dedicating his life to philosophy, and has joined the faculty at the University of Balamand. He has been teaching a course on modernity. For a while, he wasn’t too satisfied with the content of the curriculum, but recently faculty members have been given more autonomy and independence in contributing to the course. Therefore, the course has been redesigned and is now “replaced by a new Cultural Studies Program, a change that goes a long way towards meeting my expectations.’

Dr. Tassone says he tries as much as possible to bring out the main notion of modernity in his course, the concept of progress. “The main idea of modernity, highly contested even within the Enlightenment itself, is that history proceeds along a linear trajectory, that the course of history is such that things get better and better.” Dr. Tassone wrote his PhD dissertation on the philosophy of history and the notion of linear time, and his current topic of research is also on modernity. 

“In the past we had some giants like Aristotle, Plato, Michelangelo. The modern subtext implies that we are superior to them because we are standing on the shoulders of those giants and we see further than them. And then future generations that will come later will also benefit from what happened before them. This is the standard view of progress that enlightenment thinkers put forward, a view which was questioned and came under scrutiny towards the end of the 19th century and after the Second World War when the promises of the enlightenment turned out to be mere illusions.

“In other terms, people realized that all that which was promised: the human progress, freedom, and perpetual peace, had not been delivered.” 

In one of the texts of a course, explains Dr. Tassone, Brecht makes Galileo say that “science is involved in two battles: the battle for knowledge, for more discoveries, for truth; and the battle for the milk, that is, the battle to eradicate poverty and alleviate human suffering. 

“Now, we have won battle one, the battle for knowledge. Knowledge has consistently advanced over the past few centuries and made some important breakthroughs. But the battle for the milk has been lost again and again, says Brecht’s Galileo.
“Unfortunately, the trouble is that, when science is reduced to knowledge for knowledge’s sake, it becomes crippled, and from an instrument in the service of humanity, aimed at lightening the burden of human existence, it turns into an instrument of human self-destruction, as Hiroshima and Nagasaki unequivocally proved. A crippled and devalued science, enlisted to the service of state powers rather than humanity, translates today into a form of progress away from humanity. It creates technologies that enslave rather than liberate men, and that can even destroy the whole planet. ” 

Modernity is an ambivalent concept. But, for Dr. Tassone, it is more than just an idea. With all of its contradictions, it is an unfinished project that humanity should fight for, for its own sake.

By Anastacia Zaytseva
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