Tuesday, October 21, 2014

DID JESUS READ PLATO? a phantasy


DID JESUS READ PLATO? a phantasy D. R. Khashaba Did Jesus read Plato? This is not very likely but it is not impossible. Palestine was under Roman rule. Greek was the official language for the Roman Empire then and continued to be so for some more time. All of the Roman officials read Greek and some of them were immersed in Greek literature. All Hebrews of some rank must have known at least enough Greek to commune with the Roman officials. The odd one here and there may have mastered Greek and read Homer and Sophocles and Plato. What I have written in these lines stands to reason and is in harmony with historical records. What follows is purely imaginary. * * * The boy Jesus passes by the house of a Roman official. Through the open window he hears the Roman reading a Greek text, then translating, sentence by sentence, into Aramaic for the benefit of a companion. The boy makes a habit of loitering by the Roman official’s open window. One day he listens, intrigued, to the Roman reading a Greek text, translating sentence by sentence, then again repeating the Aramaic translation continuously. He listens attentively: Soc. Are we to say that we are never intentionally to do wrong, or that in one way we ought and in another way we ought not to do wrong, or is doing wrong always evil and dishonorable, as I was just now saying, and as has been already acknowledged by us? Are all our former admissions which were made within a few days to be thrown away? And have we, at our age, been earnestly discoursing with one another all our life long only to discover that we are no better than children? Or are we to rest assured, in spite of the opinion of the many, and in spite of consequences whether better or worse, of the truth of what was then said, that injustice is always an evil and dishonour to him who acts unjustly? Shall we affirm that? Cr. Yes. Soc. Then we must do no wrong? Cr. Certainly not. Soc. Nor when injured injure in return, as the many imagine; for we must injure no one at all? Cr. Clearly not. Soc. Again, Crito, may we do evil? Cr. Surely not, Socrates. Soc. And what of doing evil in return for evil, which is the morality of the many-is that just or not? Cr. Not just. Soc. For doing evil to another is the same as injuring him? Cr. Very true. Soc. Then we ought not to retaliate or render evil for evil to anyone, whatever evil we may have suffered from him. [Plato, Crito. tr. Jowett.] On another occasion Jesus hears the Roman translating into Aramaic a text affirming that it is better to suffer wrong than to perpetrate wrong. [Plato, Gprgias.] The words fill Jesus with a marvellous elation. The words sink deep into the boy’s soul, strike root, and bear fruit, until one day as a young man he sits on a rock with a gathering of peasants crouched on the ground before him, and a curious Pharisee standing aside, and the young man speaks: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Many hear the words and wonder what they may mean. But the words sink deep into the heart of one or two. A few decades later someone writes the words in what has come to us as the Gospel according to Matthew. But Matthew, or the one that Matthew followed was too clever to stop there. He collected some more clever sayings filled with fire and brimstone and appended them to yhe words of Jesus. * * * Cairo, 20 October 2014.

Monday, October 20, 2014

DOES PHILOSOPHY HAVE A FUTURE?


DOES PHILOSOPHY HAVE A FUTURE? D. R. Khashaba Does philosophy have a future? The answer naturally depends on what we mean by philosophy. Of course our colleges and university faculties will continue to teach ‘philosophy’ and give degrees and doctorates in ‘philosophy’ and academicians will continue to publish learned tomes on the philosophy of mind, the philosophy of history, the philosophy of this and that. All of this is very good as far as it goes and may give us food for thought and the best of it may contribute to the spread of enlightenment. But, begging your pardon, all of this is not what I mean by philosophy. Philosophy properly speaking had its seed sown in Ionia on the western shores of Asia Minor sometime around the sixth century BC. Of course there had been much profound wisdom and much learning in Egypt, in Mesopotamia, in Persia, and elsewhere. But there was a difference. The Greek speculations were freed from all attachment to vital need or practical utility. It was sheer curiosity, sheer wonder; it was, strictly speaking’ all child play. Moreover, and this is most important, it acknowledged no authority, no judgment but that of the philosopher’s own inner light. In this too it was childlike. But, once again begging your pardon, I would say that this, original and wonderful as it was, is not what I – obstinate I – take to be philosophy pure and simple. The pre-Socratics, audacious and free as they were, were still concerned with the world outside us, the world enveloping us, a concern that was inherited by science as its rightful realm. Philosophy came of age when Socrates in the fifth century BC said: I know nothing. All of Socrates’ predecessors wanted to know. Socrates renounced the desire, the urge, to know. Let others, he said, find out how things come about and perish, what things are like, how things are related. All of that is good and useful as far as it goes, and we all know we are indebted to such inquiries into things for all we revel in of technical and technological achievements, and for all the knowledge and power that may make humans live comfortably and happily, or, more likely, bring humanity to its final doom. Socrates was not concerned with any of that. Socrates did not seek to know. Socrates sought to understand himself, to understand his inner reality. It was then that Philosophia sprang forth from the forehead of Socrates as Athena sprang forth from the forehead of Zeus. Plato was the only, and still is the only, thinker who grasped that fully. He then found that the understanding Socrates sought cannot be confined in any definite formulation of thought or words. It can only be intimated in parable, metaphor, and myth. Plato has been telling us that in dialogue after dialogue but we persist in being blind to his message and continue to be deluded by Aristotle’s distorted interpretation of Plato. Aristotle was a great scientist but he was not a philosopher. Philosophers, deluded by Aristotle, continued to seek knowledge and certainty. The result was that they reached neither knowledge nor certainty nor understanding. Consequently the erudite tomes of our ‘philosophers’ are fit for nothing but Hume’s flames. So, does philosophy have a future? The work done in colleges and university faculties may have its uses, but it is not philosophy. Today we find the best philosophy in literature, in fiction, poetry, drama, and in the arts, and perhaps now and then in the work of an obscure non-academic philosopher whose work is hardly noticed by anyone. So, does philosophy have a future? I have been trying to give my answer in the above lines. But I do not give my answer for you to accept. A philosophical question can only be answered by everyone by oneself and for oneself. So, dear reader, in what I have been saying I was not giving you an answer but a question to puzzle out for yourself. That is all what a genuine philosophy can do and has to do. Cairo, 17 October, 2014.

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