Graduate Spotlight: Eric Nyaga – For the love of wisdom


Eric spent 2020, the year best remembered for the intimidating fear over the unknown, and lonely lockdowns, in the company of philosophers who have greatly influenced the world today; from those of the ancient period – Socrates, Plato and Aristotle – to the modern philosophers – Descartes, Kant, Hobbes. Like all other students, his studies transitioned into the virtual world, and he weathered through the intense pressure of the year. In the years to follow, he became comfortable with subject areas such as metaphysics, anthropology, African philosophy, logic and ethics.

He chose a road – the Master of Applied Philosophy and Ethics – that, in comparison to other courses, is not often travelled in the country. To understand his choice, one needs to take a look into his history, and hear his somewhat unique story.

He first encountered philosophy in a seminary in Nairobi, a place that became for him, a period of discernment for the vocation that now fits into his life like a glove.  The public policy analyst and a lecturer, with passionate views on academic freedom shares the origin of love for wisdom.

Why did you join MAPE? It’s not the most common choice for a master’s degree course.

I had a background in philosophy, which I needed to bolster. A close friend raised my curiosity about it, put me in touch with Dr. Branya who settled that curiosity well.  The choice was wise since MAPE is a course that helps you to grow holistically as it integrates human, intellectual and even physical formation. It empowers you to with the right tools for this journey of life.

You said you had a background in philosophy. When did you first encounter the subject?

I went to Queen of Apostles high school and after I completed form four, I had the desire to go to the seminary to study to become a priest.  I did this with an open mind knowing that those in the seminary more often than not have a call to the priesthood but there are also those who have a call to the family. The two – marriage and priesthood are both social sacraments of the church and have a level of commitment that is expected. They all face the same realities and challenges of life; pain and suffering is common to all of us. Our vocations help us to respond to life, in the different realities that all of us face. In the case of family, there is a lot of commitment – a responsibility to raise our children well. Because in those children emerge priests, lawyers, doctors, engineers….

What did you discern during your period in the seminary?

After finishing my philosophy degree, I was asked by the diocese to go ahead and study Theology, which I did and completed. I also did a lot of pastoral work, but I felt it was not my thing, that I needed to continue building my empire here on earth (laughs heartily). I talked to the Bishop at that time and told him to give me time to think about my becoming a priest. He had no problem with it and granted me a few years to think it through.

It’s important to give freedom to people when it comes to making lifelong choices. The best priest is a person who pursues priesthood and freely becomes a priest. We need priests who are responsible, who know what the priesthood entails, who will be available to celebrate sacraments for the Christians, transform people by way of faith and reason and lead the community to the eternal abode of God. Being an open-minded person helps you ascertain where you belong as a person.

When the time elapsed, I strongly felt I should continue with my journey out of the seminary.

How do people react when you tell them you were once in a seminary?

People enter into seminary and leave their communities, who send them off with blessings, with a lot of expectations. When the community sees you, they see you a priest in you already, and yet, you’ve not even finished philosophy! Such people may not understand what a vocation to priesthood entails. We need to enlighten our communities to understand that when a person enters the seminary, it’s for a period of discernment.

So many factors contribute to a seminarian in Africa. Some are in the seminary because the only successful person they saw growing up was a priest driving a big car; so they become a priest without really understanding what it means to be one. There are politicians in the seminary; let them go out and pursue politics. Others can make very good fathers; let them go and start families.

In my case, when the Cardinal gave me time to think, I met a beautiful person and got married. We now have a son.

What was your MAPE experience?

One thing that benefited me in the course of my studies is meeting people with different ideologies, and backgrounds from politicians, lawyers, to journalists. Our discussions were learning moments because when these ideas meet the refined ideas of philosophers, growth emerges. Philosophy gives you a conducive environment, where you can sift through ideas, pick those that are useful and contribute to the change that will transform society. But we also know that if we choose to develop negative ideologies, the impact of our ideas ripples down and does damage to society.

Is integrating philosophy into one’s life difficult?

Philosophy is not easy; it needs a dedicated mind. To make a contribution to critical thought, one needs to think with the masters of philosophy, who in every epoch have contributed greatly, and how they build and contradict each other. Once you appreciate how different philosophers think, you see the impact they’ve had in influencing their societies.

Unfortunately, in our setup, there’s a mistaken view that relegates philosophy to religious circles. Our education curriculum doesn’t integrate it so it leaves it to very few people who pursue it out of their own volition. Yet, we should have greater home grown philosophers who can use our African traditions to make the world a better place for future generations.

Majority of problems experienced today in Kenya from external and internal pressure – corruption, scientism, reductivism, determinism – can be solved by applying philosophy. Those who lack the intellectual, moral, spiritual and financial means to alleviate deeply felt human problems can only turn to senseless ideologies for an answer to fill the lacuna.

What was the what was your thesis on?

I looked at the effect of psychological distance on care of environment. Right now, the whole world is brainstorming about climate change. Due to the repercussions in some areas of the world, the issue is more urgent than it is here in Kenya.  We may not as yet be struggling as much but the reality is approaching us, as seen in Northern parts of Kenya, and the water levels our lakes.

We therefore need to lower the psychological distance by creating awareness on climate change to everyone in the country. Climate change effects could be worse than the Covid 19 pandemic reality if we don’t mitigate its effects going forward. It will have diverse effects on the human person, the family, and on ethics. The lower this distance is, the less the impact because all will be putting in effort in their own way to mitigate the effects. 

What next after MAPE?

I believe in continuous learning which broadens perspectives in life. I would not wish to be in a situation where I am not gaining knowledge because in my profession, people look to me to equip them with knowledge and to share skills with them. I also revel in awakening people from their dogmatic slumber. So, I’m looking forward to enroll for a PhD in the near future.

This article written by Wambui Gachari.

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