Wednesday, October 08, 2014

DID SOCRATES TELL THE TRUTH?


DID SOCRATES TELL THE TRUTH? D. R. Khashaba ta ge alêthê ethelô eipein. Symposium, 199a. In Plato’s Symposium a company of friends are at a dinner celebrating Agathon’s first victory as a tragic poet. They agree that, for entertainment, they will take turns at making a speech in praise of the love god Eros. Plato first gives the speeches of five who spoke before Socrates. When it is Socrates’ turn to speak, he demurs. He has agreed to participate in the belief that “the right thing was to speak the truth about the subject proposed for panegyric, whatever it might be.” But, from the speeches made thus far, it appears “that the proper method is to ascribe to the subject of the panegyric all the loftiest and loveliest qualities, whether it actually possesses them or not.” He protests that he cannot do that . He affirms, “I am quite willing to tell the truth in my own style.” (Symposium, 198b-199b, tr. W. Hamilton). So did Socrates tell the truth? What truth did he speak? As in the Meno Socrates, to affirm the priority of ideas born in the mind to all knowledge and all understanding, relates tales told by ancient priests and priestesses, so here he gives us the prophetic teaching of the wise Diotima. Diotima offers no argument but an insight clothed in a meaningful vision, in the light of which the mysteries of being obtain intelligibility. At 199d Socrates, beginning his brief preliminary argument with Agathon, asks whether love is of something or of nothing. He hastens to remove a possible confusion, since the Greek einai tinos could, following its common usage, readily be taken to be asking about the parentage of Eros. In explaining that the question is not about the parentage of Eros but about the object of love, Socrates lifts the discussion from the plane of mythology to the plane of conceptual thinking. We are concerned with love not as a god nor as an entity but as a relationship and as a power. Though Further on Socrates resorts to myth, it is no longer naïve myth dogmatically purporting to report fact, but symbolic myth clothing ineffable meaning in the garb of a ‘noble lie’ that does not conceal or deceive but intimates. Diotima tells us that the drive of love is towards procreation in beauty. esti gar touto tokos en kalôi kai kata to soma kai kata tên psuchên (206b). Here we have Diotima’s oracular proclamation, the central principle and the springboard for the vision of the ascent to the Form of Beauty. This is the sum and substance of all intelligent creativity. All art, all philosophy, all deeds of love, are tokos en kalôi and in all such creativity we live in the eternity of creative intelligence. Love, Diotima tells us, does not desire to possess beauty or the good or anything else. Love is an outflow, a divine urge to give, to create. Love, as what is ultimately real, is simply creativity, creative intelligence or intelligent creativity. Everything else that lays claim to the name ‘reality’ is an impostor, a sham, an empty shadow. Diotima then takes us on a celestial pilgrimage to the sanctuary of the Form of Beauty. It is the same pilgrim’s progress delineated in an oracular passage in the Republic (490a-b) where the journey of the true philosophical nature also culminates in tokos en kalôi when “she grasps the essence of every reality by that in her soul to which it is becoming – namely, what is akin – to grasp that, approaching and mingling with what has true being, gives birth to reason and reality; enjoys knowledge and true life”. In these words the Republic passage clearly depicts hê kuêsis kai hê genesis (the conception and giving birth) of the philosophic spirit. Indeed, the metaphors of Symposium 206d-e can be translated phrase by phrase into the abstractions of Republic 490a-b. Love in Diotima’s teaching is the Principle of Creativity working through all becoming to affirm the being of the real in the transience of vanishing existents. At any rate this is what it is in my philosophy of Creative Eternity. Did Socrates tell the truth? Did Socrates’ Diotima tell the truth? A genuine philosopher must always be poor, wanting, never in possession of knowledge. That is the deeper import of Plato’s phrase; to porizomenon aei hupekrei. A philosopher never reaches a resting place in her or his pilgrimage to the sanctuary of Holy Sophia but, philosophizing throughout life, philosophôn dia pantos tou biou,she or he lives in the eternity of creative becoming, realized in the ceaseless vanishing of transient existents. Every answer to a philosophical question, if the answer is genuinely philosophical, engenders a new question. Did Socrates tell the truth? He didn’t and he couldn’t. I will say something that I know sounds outrageous. The concept of truth is foreign to philosophy. It has no place and no function in philosophy. Truth relates to the empirical and the objective and philosophy proper has nothing to do with the empirical and the objective. Let me make another equally outrageous statement. Reasoning is not the major or a major tool of philosophizing but is a plaything of philosophers. In making these statements I am not trying to be or to sound paradoxical. I mean my words to be taken literally and seriously. The vision of Diotima is creatively oracular and “does not rest on reasoning at all” (as Kenneth Dover comments in his edition of the Symoisium, 1980, p.144). Reasoning yields nothing but a gossamer tissue that, as the Parmenides shows and as Kant’s Antinomies of Pure Reason demonstrate, must be dialectically demolished if we are to appreciate what meaning is housed in them. It is in the process of raising rational structures only to demolish them dialectically that we enjoy philosophical enlightenment. The halfway house of established truth is a mortuary. The proper embodiment of living, dynamic phronêsis is nothing but that fecund aporia, that restless aspiration to express the ineffable in ever-crumbling structures of ideal formulations. That is the pregnant state the dialogues of Plato leave us in. The great gift of Socrates, conveyed to us in Plato’s works, is not any truth but is philosophical ignorance, enlightened ignorance, the only wisdom, as Socrates affirmed, possible to and proper to a human being. Did Socrates tell the truth? What truth could he speak? Socrates neither did nor could tell the truth, nor was he concerned to tell any truth in the commonly accepted sense of truth. Dear reader, bear with me. What I say may sound shockingly outrageous, but in the end, I hope, you will not only find that what I say makes sense, but also that my approach is the only way that leads safely through between the Scylla of dogma and the Charybdis of condemning all properly philosophical thinking as nonsense to be consigned to Hume’s flames. Cairo, October 8, 2014.

Friday, August 08, 2014

METAPHYSICAL REALITY


My latest book (almost certainly my last), Metaphysical Reality, has just come out. The book challenges mainstream views on the nature and function of philosophy. To regain for philosophy her rightful vital role in human life we have to go back to Socrates and Plato. Socrates saw that philosophy has nothing to do with the investigation of the natural world, her sole concern being to make us look inwards to examine our ideas, ideals, and values to understand ourselves. Plato knew that the insight given us by philosophy into our inner reality cannot be encapsulated in definitive formulations but has to be conveyed in ever-renewed parables, metaphors, and myths. Philosophy is more akin to poetry than to science. A genuine philosopher does not seek to attain any objective knowledge or final truth but to philosophize and to live philosophically. This is a collection of philosophical papers, beginning with three major essays: “Plato’s Examination of Knowledge”, “Whitehead’s Real World”, and “Russell’s Dilemma”, followed by some twenty short pieces, all turning round or touching on the question “What is real?” In fact the book is something of a supplement to Quest of Reality (2013). Its primary aim is not so much to answer the question “What is real?” as to render the question alive, urgent, biting, since our matter-of-fact acquiescence in the common notion of reality swamps us in unreality. The author does not ask the reader to accept the views offered in these essays but to enter into dialogue with these views to develop her or his own position, for the true worth of a philosophical work is to prod the reader to philosophize.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

WHAT IS REAL?


WHAT IS REAL? What is real? For Plato that was the central question of philosophy. The whole of his philosophy can be read as his answer to that question. His answer was based on the Socratic distinction between the intelligible and the perceptible. For Socrates the intelligible – the ideas engendered in and by the mind – was all that mattered. The intelligible gave meaning to all things in the perceptible world and gave human life what meaning and what value human life has. Plato transformed the Socratic moral vision into a metaphysical vision. For Plato the intelligible, the world of ideas, is all that is real. Mutable, fleeting things in the perceptible world have no reality in themselves. They have no being apart from the being lent them by the intelligible ideas. This was the original vision of Parmenides, but it was Plato who worked it into a coherent, consistent whole. Our mainstream philosophy still finds it difficult to absorb that vision. Cairo, 10 July, 2014.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

THE PTOBLEM OF RELIGION


THE PROBLEM OF RELIGION Believers do not want to see the fact that religion is a human phenomenon that should be studied objectively to understand its origin, its development, and its function in their proper historical perspective. On the other hand, unbelievers are not keen to acknowledge the significance of religion as a human phenomenon, disclosing yearnings, aspirations, and ideals that have produced and shaped the most valuable traits and aspects of human culture. Thus while the greater number of humans live under the bondage of superstition and dogmatic beliefs that set groups of humans in opposition to each other, spreading hatred and enmity and leading to violence and bloodshed, the greater number of the supposedly enlightened remainder of humankind live under the no less pernicious captivity of a materialistic philosophy of life that enslaves them to the follies of consumerism and competitiveness and sensualism. which in their turn set human groups in opposition to each other and lead to inequality and injustice in the relations between human communities and again yield conflict and misery and bloodshed. What our ailing humanity badly needs is understanding. We need to understand what good religion has for humankind and we need to understand what evil religion has inflicted and continues to inflict on humankind. Cairo, 5 July, 2014.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

THE INTELLIGIBLE AND THE PERCEPTIBLE


THE INTELLIGIBLE AND THE PERCEPTIBLE The most crucial and most ignored single sentence in the whole of philosophical literature from its Ionian beginnings to the present day is a sentence of n more than fourteen words that Plato quietly slips in at Phaedo 79a: thômen oun boulei, ephê, duo eidê tôn ontôn, to men horaton, to de aides; Literally: “Do you want us then, he said, to lay down two kinds of being, the one visible, the other invisible?” Setting the sentence free of its dramatic and circumstantial dressings, we can express the core in these words: Let us distinguish two kinds of being, the perceptible and the intelligible. This sentence advances the ground principle of what I would call philosophy proper; it sets apart what is real for the philosopher from the unreality we commonly call reality. It defines the boundaries between philosophical and scientific thinking. All of Plato’s works can be seen as an exposition and an elucidation of this one sentence. All of my writings are an attempt to awaken us to the profound meaning of this sentence that has been buried under heaps and mountains of learning — to awaken us to the Socratic insight that all our vaunted knowledge and our vaunted science are ignorance, to make us realize that unless we acknowledge our philosophical ignorance, then the more objective knowledge we possess, the farther away are we from the wisdom that alone can infuse meaning and value in human life. Cairo, 2 July, 2014

Friday, June 27, 2014

THE VALUE OF PHILOSOPHICAL ARGUMENT


THE VALUE OF PHILOSOPHICAL ARGUMENT [1] As I recall, Whitehead somewhere says that, in reviewing a mathematical work, the reviewer concentrates on the first half-page because it is there that the assumptions are set out from which the rest follows consistently if the author is a competent mathematician. [2] This applies to any work in which there is an extended argument. The argument in Plato’s Phaedo starts with the definition of death as the separation of soul and body. The assumption that the soul and the body are two separate and separable entities is the error that makes of the argument or series of arguments for the immortality of the soul a sham. Does that make the Phaedo, or, specifically, the argument for immortality of the soul worthless? Not at all. In the course of aegument the concept of the soul is transformed and enriched and the concept of immortality itself is raised from the plane of temporality to the plane of eternity. The most precious gift of Socrates’ philosophy – transmitted to us in Plato’s dialogues and particularly in the Phaedo – is the concept of the soul as the plane of spirituality, where reason is no more a tool for practical living but a creative principle that makes of a human being a god. When Socrates at the close of the argument says, “Wherefore, I say, let a man be of good cheer about his soul, who … has sought after the pleasures of knowledge; and has arrayed the soul … in her own proper jewels, temperance, and justice, and courage, and nobility, and truth” — the true import of these words transcends the confines of spaciality and temporality: the valuable revelation inhering in these words relates not to a time to come but to the eternity we realize here and now in a life of intelligent creativity. Pundits who, when examining the Phaedo, exert themselves to find fault with the argument, are splitting, thrashing, and pounding the husk and ignoring the rich kernel. [3] In the same way, Plato argues at length in the Phaedo in support of the doctrine of anamnêsis, knowledge as recollection. As I see it, Socrates emphasized the distinction between the intelligible and the perceptible. That was the ground principle of his philosophy. To him the intelligible realm was what gave us our humanity, and the intelligible was wholly generated in the mind and by the mind. Perhaps it was Plato who extended that, affirming that it was the intelligible that gave meaning to the things of the outer world. Plato shared with Socrates the insight that the intelligible comes from within, from the mind. But while Socrates seems to have accepted that simply, since he was solely concerned with the moral question, with what gave meaning and value to human life, Plato puzzled about it. He mythologized. He found in the Pythagorean or Orphic doctrine of palingenesis a mythological answer to the puzzle. But the core value of the myth is in giving expression to the insight that all knowledge, all understanding, all meaning comes from the mind and only from the mind. In the Theaetetus, in place of the myth of anamnêsis, we have the metaphor of maieusis. This does not indicate any change in Plato’s position. But the metaphor perhaps has the merit of focusing plainly on the essential insight. [-] Cairo, 27 June, 2014.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

INSIGHT ENVELOPED IN ERROR AND FALSITY


If we wanted to exemplify how the profoundest philosophical insight can be – or rather cannot but be – enveloped in error and falsity, we could not find a more telling example than that breathtaking, soaring passage in Plato’s Phaedo, 66b-67b, which expands and expounds the dictum stated earlier, that a genuine philosopher practises dying and death. The founders of Christianity embraced the error and the falsity and turned the life-affirming philosophy of the Sermon on the Mount into the life-denying outlook of Augustine. The insight, developed further in the epistemological-metaphysical core of the Republic, remains largely ignored and at best only partly understood by philosophers. – D. R. Khashaba – June 16, 2014.

WHY 2+1=3 IS NONSENSE

WHY 2+1=3 IS NONSENSE The formula 2+1=3 has one and only one true sense, and that one sense is purely formal and totally arbitrary. 2+1=3 simply says that 3 is the number that follows 2 in the series of numbers. Beyond that the formula does not have any content. The moment we presume to give it any content it becomes contaminated with falsity. You may say that 2 units and 1 unit make 3 units, but that goes only if you are speaking of the bare notion of unit which is destitute of any content. To say that 2 sheep and 1 cow make 3 is sheer nonsense, because your 3 then is not 3 of anything definable. Even “2 sheep and 1 sheep make 3” is nonsense because no two sheep are completely identical and so once again your 3 is not 3 of anything definable; it is 3 of nothing. Surely we can work with the formula; the genius that gave it us gave it us to work with not to find meaning in. Socrates said that you do not make 2 by adding 1 to 1 nor by dividing the 1 into 2. The only way to make two is by the Two, by the idea of Twoness. That is so simple that pundits have been puzzling on it for twenty-five centuries and have not yet comprehended it. A hundred years ago Wittgenstein discovered the vacuity of logic and logical symbolism but Analytical Philosophers continue to delude themselves into thinking that they can reach true factual conclusions by pure logic. – D. R. Khashaba – June 18, 2014.