Monday, July 10, 2017

SOUL SEMANTICS

SOUL

SOUL SEMANTICS

D. R. Khashaba

I am unhappy with the current usage of the terms Dualism and Monism. The tern ‘dualism’ derives from Descartes’s division of all things into two separate substances, an extended substance (matter) and a thinking substance (mind, soul). Materialists who hold that the extended substance is all there is were referred to as Monists, implying that there is no such thing as mind. Advocates of the reality of the mind fell into the trap and called themselves Dualists. This was unwise. The moment you take mind for a separate substance you have opened the gates to the materialist hordes. They can easily show that mind does not satisfy any of the criteria of objective existence. Ergo there is no mind.

A defensible Idealism must maintain that there is no mind without objective content and there is no matter without subjective support. In our daily life and equally in our scientific studies we deal with objects of which we can only observe the outer husk. This suits science perfectly. But all the objects in the world outside us that we deal with in our practical life and in our scientific studies have no meaning in themselves. They only obtain meaning from the patterns in which the mind clothes them. (Plato’s forms, Kant’s concepts of the Understanding). This, as I said, suits science perfectly. Science owes its astounding achievements to this limitation, namely, that it has to do with the outside of things. Yet a philosopher wonders: these objects that only have borrowed meaning thanks to the mind, how can they have being at all. Philosophers advance various scenarios to solve the puzzle: Spinoza’s one substance where natura naturata is inseperable of natura naturans; Leibniz’ monads; Berkeley making all things percepts in the mind of God; Schopenhauer making all things representations of the universal Will — these are examples of the philosophers’ ‘justification’ of the bare existence of things.

In all my writings I abstain from using the term ‘dualism’. I hold that only what is whole is real; to understand anyting we have to see it as a whole. Pace Plato, I am not a body and a soul: I am one integral person. Since I am a particular, determinate being, I am not a perfect whole; my being depends on things outside my person. On the physical plane I am a physical object subject to the laws of physics. On the biological plane I am an animal sharing the characteristics of a rat or a sheep. On the intellectual plane I am a thinking, problem-solving creature, characteristics which I share with a chimpanzee or a squirrel. But then I have being on the spiritual (metaphysical) plane: on this plane I am a moral, creative person, characteristics which, to my knowledge, I share only with other human beings. I do not say that on this plane I have a soul (mind); on this plane I am my soul, I am my mind.

Thus to the question: Do you have a soul (mind)? I answer: No, I do not have a soul because a soul is not a thing to be had in the sense of possessed.

Let us take an example that is easier to comprehend. I can see; I have the power of sight. If you ask me: Do you have sight? I will answer, No, for sight is not a thing that can be possessed and entered into the log of my possessions; but I am a seeing creature, I exercise the power of sight.

Similarly, if you ask me: Do you have a soul (mind)? I answer: No, since a soul is not the kind of thing to be possessed, but I have being on the metaphysical plane. On the metaphysical plane I love, I rejoice, I enjoy beauty, I create philosophical views. When the materialist (empiricist, positivist, physicalist) says to me: You don’t have a soul, I reply: My good sir, what you say is perhaps truer than you know, but what you mean by what you are saying is grossly erroneous. I do not have a soul: I am my soul; my soul is my inner reality and the whole of my worth. My soul is I on the metaphysical plane.

D. R. Khashaba

Posted to https://philosophia937.wordpress.com and http://khashaba.blogspot.com

SOUL – MIND – DUALISM – MONISM – METAPHYSICS

Friday, June 30, 2017

THE WORLD SOUL


THE WORLD SOUL

on the soul and on the limits of philosophical discourse

D. R. Khashaba

In the Phaedrus Plato presents a nice ‘proof’ of the eternity of the soul (245c-246a). It is rewarding to consider this proof from more than one standpoint. I quote this crucial passage in full, in Harold North Fowler’s translation in the Loeb Classical Library edition:

“Every soul is immortal. For that which is ever moving is immortal; but that which moves something else or is moved by something else, when it ceases to move, ceases to live. Only that which moves itself, since it does not leave itself, never ceases to move, and this is also the source and beginning of motion for all other things which have motion. But the\beginning is ungenerated. For everything that is generated must be generated from a beginning, but the beginning is not generated from anything ; for if the beginning were generated from anything, it would not be generated from a beginning. And since it is ungenerated, it must be also indestructible; for if the beginning were destroyed, it could never be generated from anything nor anything else from it, since all things must be generated from a beginning. Thus that which moves itself must be the beginning of motion. And this can be neither destroyed nor generated, otherwise all the heavens and all generation must fall in ruin and stop and never again have any source of motion or origin. But since that which is moved by itself has been seen to be immortal, one who says that this self-motion is the essence and the very idea of the soul, will not be disgraced. For every body which derives motion from without is soulless, but that which has its motion within itself has a soul, since that is the nature of the soul; but if this is true, that that which moves itself is nothing else than the soul, then the soul would necessarily be ungenerated and immortal” (245c-246a, tr. Fowler).

First a preliminary remark: Plato says that every soul is immortal, athanatos, but the whole passage makes better sense if we take the term athanatos to signify eternity rather than personal survival.

In the first place let us note that this whole passage cannot apply to the individual soul, since no living being – and indeed no particular finite being – is strictly self-contained, self-sufficient, complete in itself. The human soul is only relatively autonomous. Its activity is always conditioned – not determined but conditioned – by what is outside of it. Even human creativity – moral and artistic – is grounded in the particular individual personality. When we speak of the spontaneity of moral or creative acts we mean no more than that the act is not determined by what is external to the individual personality. Thus when Plato says that “self-motion is the essence and the very idea of the soul” that can only apply to the World Soul. This harmonizes with the representation of the world in the Timaeus as a single living organism.

Indeed we have in this passage the gist of Aristotle’s notion of the First Mover. Aristotle however corrupts the idea when he sees the First Mover as independent of the World, separate from the World, moving the World from outside the World. The First Mover thus becomes a particular entity that calls for an explanation, for a cause of its being external to its being.

Plato says that “that which moves itself is nothing else than the soul”. In this sense the soul is what is ultimately real and what is ultimately real is nothing else than activity. Plato does not say this in explicit terms but it harmonizes with his seeing all that is real in any sense is nothing other than dunamis, activity (Sophist, 247e).

Hence in my philosophy I say that what is ultimately real is not to be conceived as a being but as activity, not as a creator but as creativity, not as a creative intelligence but as intelligent creativity, which I name Creative Eternity.

I said we have to consider the passage from more than one standpoint. I will now take it up from a different angle: What does the ‘proof’ actually prove?

So what does Plato’s nice proof prove? If we are speaking about establishing the existence of an objective sate of affairs, then neither Plato’s argument here or elsewhere nor any properly philosophical discourse does or can establish anything relating to the actual world outside the human mind. In the above-quoted passage Plato is simply unfolding what for him soul means, and in doing so enriches our cultural heritage with a creative notion which opens up for us a new field of intelligibility. (See my Plato’s Universe of Discourse.)

The whole of philosophy proper is an exploration of ideas. The mind works with ideas, in ideas, through ideas, to widen our scope of intelligibility’ The world for us is dumb, there is no meaning in the world. The mind casts patterns of intelligible ideas on the world, and lo! the world is meaningful! All meaning we find in the world has been put in the world by the human mind: so says Socrates; so says Kant.

Towards the end of the Phaedrus Plato hurls his famous dictum saying that “he who thinks that he has left behind him any art in writing, and he who receives it in the belief that anyrhing in writing will be clear and certain, would be an utterly simple person …” (245c-d. tr. Fowler).And as if Plato feared this may not be taken seriously enough, he goes on reiterating and emphasizing it in the strongest terms over the following two pages,

But Plato in fact wrongs himself by understating his case in confining the interdiction to written discourse. The ailment is not in the written words but in the language embodying the thought and in the thought that necessarily has to be conveyed in determinate formulations of speech. No definite philosophical statement is ever “clear and certain” for all purposes and in all contexts.

When Plato speaks of the living discourse imprinted in the soul, he is referring to genuine philosophical discourse that does not end in or lead to a dogmatic formulation but enlightens and enriches the soul in the course of the discussion. A philosophical statement is only meaningful (‘true’) within the context of a particular universe of discourse. The philosophical venture is a journey whose reward is not the end sought or attained but the journey itself.

To be consistent with Plato’s whole position, what he says in thePhaedrus must be taken in conjunction with what he says in the Republic where the Form of the Good as the ultimate Reality can only be spoken of in metaphor and simile and where we are enjoined to destroy the hypotheses underlying our philosophical stance; and also in conjunction with the Parmenides Where the Eleatic sage gives us a practical demonstration of the dialectic undermining of hypotheses as applied to his own theses. He explicitly says that this is what he proposes to do. Yet our scholrs find the dialogue puzzling.

In the Phaedrus itself what do we have? Apart from the concluding remarks about writing, we have nothing but poetic flights of imagination and playful mythologizing, but such playful mythologizing that gives us wings to soar into the realm of celestial Realities. And where is that realm located? Nowhere but in our mind. The beginning and end of philosophizing is an exploration of our mind, our inner reality.

D. R. Khashaba

June 30, 2017

Posted to https://philosophia937.wordpress.com and http://khashaba.blogspot.com

Saturday, June 17, 2017

WHEN ARE WE FREE?


WHEN ARE WE FREE?

A different approach to the Free Will problem

D. R. Khashaba

Scores of learned books and papers have been written on the so-called ‘free will problem’. Thus the erudite create problems where there are none, keeping themselves busy with intractable logical puzzles. The whole mess is a bundle of confusions and sophisticated nonsense. Outside academic circles no one ever suspects the existence of such a problem.

The pseudo-problem of free will arose from the fiction of determinism – the earlier theological determinism and the modern physical or causal determinism – and is compounded by the confusion of free will with freedom of choice. The term ‘free will’ in itself is a pitfall for there is no such thing as a Will that wills; there is only willing, as Thomas Hobbes rightly saw (Leviathan, Part I., chap.VI). (I append a note on the so-called logical determinism.)

Let us leave theological determinism to theologians to crack their heads on since it clearly arises from the fiction of an omnipotent and omniscient God. Next let me dispose of causal determinism in a few words. Causal determinism is a scientific theory. Scientific theories are either (1) descriptions of observed phenomenal regularities, or (2) interpretations of phenomenal happenings. In either category the theory must be of a high level of generality and is necessarily transitory, subject to revision at any time. The so-called Laws of Nature can never be of perfect accuracy or absolute certainty. There is always room for novelty and for surprises. But even if the theory of causal determinism were flawless, the problem would be how to reconcile that with our unquestionable experience of free activity, not the other way round. Scientists would have to correct their account to allow for freedom of action rather than philosophers having to find excuses for defying the so-called Laws of Nature.

The confusion of free will with freedom of choice is responsible for most of the quandaries involved in the putative problem. Choice is a consequence of our imperfection. We have to exercise choice because we are imperfect being in an imperfect world. Choice is always determined by antecedents but those antecedents include our beliefs, principles, values, and ideals, and even our tastes and whims. Thus while choice is always necessarily determined it is in full agreement with our autonomy. For good or for ill, my choice is the choice of the person I am. The dubieties and nuances of the experience of choice are grit for the psychological mill, not for the philosopher.

When we act spontaneously without premeditation, even in simple banal acts, we are free. When I take up my cup of coffee it is not because neurons in my brain make a certain motion but because I want (‘will’) a sip of coffee. When I turn a corner and see my granddaughter coming from the opposite direction and I open my arms and embrace her I act freely: whatever the accompaniments of cells, glands, and neurons in my body may be, that is not the cause of my action; the cause is my love of her.

The problem of human freedom is a moral problem not a logical puzzle. When we are clear in our mind about our values, priorities, and principles, as Socrates would say, or when we have adequate ideas, as Spinoza has it, then we are free moral agents. This is the gist of the grossly misunderstood and much maligned ‘intellectualism’ of Socrates. In the spontaneity of moral acts and of intelligent creativity (in poetry, art, philosophy) we are at the highest level of human freedom.

There is nothing problematic in all of this. There is of course the moral problem: Why are we most of the time enthralled by fake values, false aims, foolish desires? Why are even the best of us only by fits and starts rational human beings? This is the problem true philosophers wrestle with. Socrates was all his life trying to help people clear the confusions, obscurities, entanglements, and falsehoods in their mnds, to help them be free and live and act as rational human beings who know that all their value and worth is in having a healthy soul. It is ignorance, as Socrates well knew, that denies us freedom, not causal determinism.

D. R. Khashaba

June 17, 20`7

APPENDIX: Professor Kevin Timpe delineates logical determinism thus:

“Logical determinism builds off the law of excluded middle and holds that propositions about what agents will do in the future already have a truth value. For instance, the proposition ‘Allison will take the dog for a walk next Thursday’ is already true or false. Assume that it is true. Since token propositions cannot change in truth value over time, it was true a million years ago that Allison would walk her dog next Thursday.” (Kevin Timpe, “Free Will”, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

This is so blatantly absurd that only learned scholars can take it seriously. To have a truth value a proposition has to relate to an actually extant state of affairs. Propositions about the future do not relate to an objective state of affairs. Aristotle rightly said that propositions about the future are neither true nor false. I will not waste more time discussing such nonsense.

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Sunday, May 14, 2017

THE APPLE


THE APPLE

a whimsical tale

D. R. Khashaba

In the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve lived happily.

Until Eve came holding in her palm a roundish object that looked appealing and appetizing.

She stretched out her hand to Adam.

He looked questioningly.

“Apple”, she said.

“Apple?”, he repeated.

There was another question in his eyes.

“Apple tree”, she said.

“Tree?”, he repeated.

The chief god overheard them.

“O hell!”, he exclaimed. “They have invented language. Next they will invent thought and become like one of us. I will drive them out of Eden; let them eat their bread with the sweat of their brow. That will keep them from thinking and becoming equal to us.”

Ever since humans have been torn between the demands of bread and the demands of thought.

D. R. Khashaba

May 14. 2017

Posted to https://philosophia937.wordpress.com and http://khashaba.blogspot.com

Saturday, May 13, 2017

MY MODE OF PHILOSOPHY


MY MODE OF PHILOSOPHY

D. R. Khashaba

My use of the word ‘philosophy’ (like my special use of the word ‘reality’) has been a cause of friction with my philosopher friends.

Over millennia the word philosophy has been used in a wide range of meanings. I have no quarrel with any of those usages. But when people assume that, because I call myself a philosopher, I have to do the kinds of philosophy others are doing, I protest since I have the right to limit myself to my kind of philosophy provided I state clearly what I mean by that. But first we have to clear some hurdles.

When people speak of research in the rapidly developing area of Information Technology or the so-called Artificial Intelligence as philosophy, I have a reservation. Why? Such research develops techniques, ways of doing things and achieving certain results. But that research and those techniques cannot in themselves judge whether all of that is good or bad. We dogmatically assume that all ‘progress’ is good, but that assumption is just that: an assumption. It is the business of philosophy in the traditional sense to consider the questions of right and wrong, good and bad. Call your research philosophy if that pleases you, but that does not make your research qualified to deal with the traditional philosophical questions about right and wrong, good and bad. That lies outside your jurisdiction and beyond your capacity.

When people call the examination of ways and means for managing human society philosophy, once again I have a reservation. The use of the word philosophy here suggests that the examination of the practical problems of human organization and management should or can proceed purely by means if reasoning. Social and political problems are about the means to certain ends. The problems of means can only be resolved empirically by trial and error, constant adjustment and re-adjustment involving multiple compromises. But the ends to be aimed at cannot be determined by such means; they also cannot be determined by pure reason in the strict sense of inferential logical deduction from premises.

Humanity, now more than ever, is badly in need of sane, enlightened thinking — in need of understanding the true worth of the human person and appreciating the values that give meaning and value to human life. These have been known to enlightened spirits from the earliest times. But the overwhelming majority of humans are enthralled by false values. In our present-day world, half the world population is enslaved by consumerism and competitiveness and the other half by superstition. The true values need no re-discovery; they need to be disseminated, vitalized, and impressed on the multitudes drowned in materialism and in superstition. There is no way for doing this overnight. It can only be done slowly by artists, poets, and philosophers in one of the many senses of the word philosophy. Whether this task can be achieved before the greed and stupidity of world political leaders lead to the total and final destruction of the human race — that is an open question.

What about my kind of philosophy? I have been engaged in the humble, limited, stringently confined task of re-affirming and spreading those old values. I have been stressing that our true worth and value is in our inner reality which Socrates referred to as that in us which is benefited by doing what is right and is harmed by doing what is wrong.

To place all the emphasis on this I have insisted on relieving philosophy of two burdens that, in my view, have hindered philosophy from doing its proper work: (1) the burden of seeking or claiming to yield factual knowledge about things outside the human mind and (2) the burden of reaching or producing demonstrable truth. Philosophy neither should nor can nor has ever been able to do either of these. My kind of philosophy probes the ideas, ideals, and values within our minds and gives them expression in parable, metaphor, and myth.

For all the other activities bearing the name philosophy I have neither capacity nor desire.

Perhaps it is not out of place to say here that I do not write learned dissertations but philosophical essays. A philosophical essay is a free excursion of reflective thought.

D. R. Khashaba

May 13, 2017

N.B: I first titled this paper “My Kind of Philosophy”. When I came to save the document Windows discovered I had another paper under that title. That was written on August 25, 2016. The reader may look it up.

Posted to https://philosophia937.wordpress.com and http://khashaba.blogspot.com

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

UNHOAXING THE HOAX


UNHOAXING THE HOAX

D. R. Khashaba

`

Last week I posted to my blog a paper titled “Plato’s Greatest Hoax”. I have come to realize that I had badly botched it. My best philosopher friends completely missed what I had meant to convey. That was perhaps partly because I had digressed over such a wide range that the special object of the paper was eclipsed by the profusion of marginally related matter. But basically the misunderstanding is more deeply rooted; for understanding, at all levels, is never a passive reception but a creative interpretation. What I say has its specific meaning in the complexity of my intellectual setup; in the reader’s mind it receives new meaning in the context of the complexity of the reader’s intellectual setup. This second, more deeply-seated ‘allonoia’ (if I may venture to coin a neologism) is irremediable. The simpler misunderstanding due to the writer’s fault I thought I might partly remedy by offering the following revised and much reduced version. I will be indebted to whomever may care to look at this corrected version.

2

After the execution of Socrates, Plato left Athens and spent several years moving around. The duration of his voluntary exile is differently assessed by different scholars; but that it was years rather than months is undisputed. He must have been mulling what to do with his life. He had been profoundly influenced by the character, life, thought, and ideals of Socrates and he felt it his duty and his mission to preserve all that.

Plato knew that to the last Socrates maintained that he had no philosophical system capable of being taught and learned. When at his trial he declared that it was his mission to teach philosophy and virtue, he made it clear that he did that by questioning people, seeking to make them examine themselves and correct their evaluations and their priorities. Behind that was the conviction voiced by Socrates when he said that daily to converse about virtue is the best life for a human being.

That life-philosophy, the philosophy of the philosophical life, could not be encapsulated in a formula of word or thought; neither was it capable of proof or logical demonstration. Neither Callicles in the Gorgias nor Thrasymachus in Republic (Bk.I) could be convinced by Socrates of the superiority of the life of virtue and philosophy. Philosophical insight is not something to be conveyed in set words but is a fire kindled through the converse of minds.

3

Plato was a born poet and had attempted drama in his early youth. He now started writing dramatic pieces to keep alive the memory of Socrates and do homage to “the best, and wisest, and most righteous man”. No more than Aeschylus or Sophocles would Plato use drama to propagate positive doctrine. In his dramatic pieces the arguments themselves are among the dramatis personae; they have their role in the drama. The end of a Platonic dialogue is not a conclusion established argumentatively but a total impression created artistically.

Naturally every piece would aim at specific effects and not one piece of Plato’s works serves a single purpose solely. For instance, the twoHippias pieces make fun of the bombastic sophist. In the Hippias Minor, whose paradox puzzles erudite scholars, the paradox is the crux of the drama. It comes with a hidden proviso: intentionally ( hekôn) doing what is bad – if that were possible – would be better than doing what is bad unintentionally (akôn). But that is not possible. Thus in the Crito, when Crito says that the polloi can inflict the greatest harm, Socrates says, “Would that the polloi could inflict the greatest harm, for they would then be capable of doing the greatest good” (44d). For Socrates-Plato virtue and wisdom are as inseparable as they are for Spinoza for whom only one with adequate ideas acts; with inadequate ideas one is simply driven hither and thither.

The dramatic genius of Plato needs no showing. In the opening part of the Crito you can touch the quivering vocal chords of the good old man, choked with anxiety and grief. The Protagoras is a masterpiece of character portraiture, not only of Protagoras but of all the participants. The Apology and the Crito stand apart as perhaps the only dialogues that are to be taken at face value (which is not the same as taking them for factual accounts: dramatic truth is deeper than fact).

4

The Phaedo is clearly a multi-purpose dialogue. In the Phaedo Plato sings the praise of the philosophical life, offers a paean for the divinity of the soul, and in a passage queerly neglected by scholars (95e-102a), defines the nature and scope of philosophical thinking. Along with all that we have a chain of arguments for the immortality of the soul in the sense of personal survival.

Throughout the dialogue Plato indicates unmistakably (through the words and moods of the persona of the drama) that none of the arguments for immortality is conclusive. That has no bearing on the factual question whether Socrates or Plato – either of them or both of them – personally believed or did not believe in personal survival. The point is simply that Plato knew that such a position cannot be established purely by reasoning. The whole tissue of argument had its place in the drama portraying the heroic martyrdom of Socrates. Plato could not have meant that the arguments, as such, be taken for proofs, any more than Shakespeare meant Hamlet’s words – “in that sleep of death what dreams may come” – to be taken for a credo.

We go astray when we find in Plato’s works doctrine or theory. Plato gives us insights to share and problems to ponder. In the drama of Lessing or Ibsen you don’t seek edification but provocation. Let me be provocative. In over twenty-five centuries perhaps only three kin souls understood Plato: Plotinus, Giordano Bruno, and Shelley.

5

At the risk of once again defeating my own purpose by confusing the central issue of my paper, let me take up one of the points examined in the earlier paper.

At 97b Plato makes Socrates say:

“Nor do I yet admit to myself that I know the cause of the becoming of one, nor, in short, do I know of anything else through what it becomes or perishes or is, according to (the physical) method of inquiry, but I concoct for myself my own method, for that other I will in no way approach” (97b).

Further on we read:

“ I will try to show you the kind of cause I fashioned for myself, going back to what I have so often been dinning and taking my start from that, laying down there is a beautiful in itself and a good and a large and all other such, which if you grant me and agree such things be, I hope from these causes to show and discover that the soul is deathless.” (100b)

Underneath these words lurks the ambiguity in the terms aitia (cause) and gignesthai (become). In the authentic Socratic sense, the idea is the ‘cause’ of a thing ‘becoming what it is for us’, i.e., acquiring its meaning for us. The cause of a thing becoming what it is in itself is the physical cause that Socrates shuns. The ‘kind of cause’ Socrates concocted for himself is the principle of genuine philosophical thinking. This involves the renouncement of investigation into things”: such investigation into things gives us knowledge about how things appear to be but does not give us philosophical understanding. This latter only comes from the examination of pure ideas in the mind. (79c-d)

I cannot believe that the Plato who wrote that profoundly insightful ‘autobiographical’ passage (95e ff.) could have been unclear about this. Yet in what is called ‘the final argument’ he lets this dual ambiguity permit investigation into pure ideas to have objective jurisdiction. This runs counter to Socrates’ complete separation of investigation into things (en ergois) and investigation into ideas (en logoid). This is reminiscent of Kant’s permitting Practical Reason to reach conclusions that the Transcendental System places beyond the reach of Pure Reason.

What are we to make of this? I suggest this was an inner hoax within the wider hoax of passing the arguments for genuine arguments advanced in earnest. I further suggest that Plato wanted the reader to detect the hoax and gave direct and indirect clues to help in this. The direct clues are the repeated avowals of inconclusiveness, The indirect clues are the contradictions involved. This unhoaxes the hoax.

Tuchêi agathêi!

D. R. Khashaba

May 10, 2017

Posted to https://philosophia937.wordpress.com and http://khashaba.blogspot.com

Thursday, May 04, 2017

PLATO'S GREATEST HOAX


PLATO’S GREATEST HOAX

D. R. Khashaba

I

INTRODUCTION

After the execution of Socrates, Plato left Athens and spent several years moving around. The duration of his voluntary exile is differently assessed by different scholars; but that it was years rather than months is undisputed. He must have been mulling what to do with his life. He had been profoundly influenced by the character, life, thought, and ideals of Socrates and he felt it his duty and his mission to preserve all that.

Plato knew that to the last Socrates maintained that he had no philosophy to teach. When at his trial Socrates declared that it was his mission to teach philosophy and virtue, he made it clear in the sequel that he did that by questioning people, seeking to make them examine themselves and correct their evaluations and their priorities. And even if Plato had not yet definitely articulated the thought in the words of Phaedrus 275c-d, yet he was already convinced that philosophical insight is not something to be conveyed in set words but is a fire kindled through the converse of minds. (See Protagoras, 347c-348a, Phaedrus, 274b-278e, Epistle VII., 341b-345a.)

Plato was a born poet and it is said that he had attempted drama in his early youth. He now started writing dramatic pieces to keep alive the memory of Socrates and do homage to “the best, and wisest, and most righteous man”. No more than Aeschylus or Sophocles would Plato use drama to propagate positive doctrine. In his dramatic pieces the arguments themselves are among the dramatis personae; they have their role in the drama. The end of a Platonic dialogue is not a conclusion established argumentatively but a total impression created artistically, a vision.

Naturally every piece would aim at specific effects and not one piece of Plato’s works serves solely a single purpose. The two Hippias pieces make fun of the bombastic sophist. In the Hippias Minor whose paradox puzzles erudite scholars the paradox is the crux of the drama. It has a hidden proviso: intentionally (hekôn) doing what is bad – if that were possible – would be better than doing what is bad unintentionally (akôn). In the Crito, when Crito says that the many can inflict the greatest harm, Socrates says, “Would that the many could inflict the greatest harm, for they would then be capable of doing the greatest good” (44d). For Socrates-Plato capability, knowledge, virtue are inseparable. As Spinoza was to say, only one with adequate ideas acts; with inadequate ideas one is simply driven hither and thither.

The dramatic genius of Plato needs no showing. In the opening part of the Crito you can touch the quivering vocal chords of the good old man, choked with anxiety and grief. The Protagoras is a masterpiece of character portraiture, not only of Protagoras but of all the participating individuals. I wonder why no literary critic has made a full study of Plato’s works as sheer drama.

The Apology and the Crito stand apart as perhaps the only dialogues that are to be taken at face value, (which is not the same as taking them for factual accounts: dramatic truth is deeper than fact). I could take up the dialogues one by one to show that argument is the element of least import in them. If, as I approach my ninetieth birthday, I could reasonably count on having two more years or so, I would set on doing that as my last work. But now I will be content with demonstrating my point by going through the Phaedo.

The Phaedo is clearly a multi-purpose dialogue. In the first place it was to immortalize the heroic martyrdom of Socrates. This provides the narrative framework. Along the way it ranges over five fields. (1) The Socratic conception of the intelligible realm. (2) Praise for the philosophic life as the best life for a human being. (3) Integrally connected with this, affirmation of the divinity of the soul. (4) In the ‘autobiographical’ passage (95e-102a), curiously neglected by all scholars, we have the Socratic-Platonic definition of the nature and scope of philosophical thinking. (5) Then we have the argument for immortality which I designate as the great hoax. We will take up these five threads one by one in this order. In what follows I have made use of Chapter Five, “The Meaning of the Phaedo”, of my Plato: An Interpretation (2005), I confess that this paper has been partly a cut-and-paste job.

II

THE INTELLIGIBLE REALM

Socrates was convinced that we are human only inasmuch as we live in a world formed by the ideas and ideals that are born in the mind. This was the basis of the Socratic distinction between the intelligible and the perceptible realms and this insight was the first foundation of the Socratic-Platonic vision.

The perceptible we find all around us in the world; the intelligible – to noêton – we do not 'find' anywhere, we bring it to birth in our mind. It is with this inner world that Socrates was wholly concerned, for Socrates saw that, for good or for ill, when we act as human beings, our action is governed by ideas, ideals, values, and aims formed in and by the mind.

This is the basis of Plato’s notion of Forms. The Forms are simply the intelligible ideas. Things in themselves have no meaning and no reality for us. Things themselves do not give us knowledge. All knowledge, all understanding, comes from the mind. In things outside us there is no permanence; they have no character. (For further elucidation of this, see section V below.)

This is the gist of Plato’s grossly misunderstood and much maligned ‘Theory of Forms, and reluctantly I permit myself to digress here to address for the nth time this prevalent misunderstanding..

Tomes have been written debating Plato’s ‘Theory of Forms’. I adamantly insist that Plato had no such theory. The notion of the intelligible ideas is not a theory but a creative idea. Plato tentatively tried various metaphors for relating the ‘forms’ to the perceptible objects: participation, inherence, communion, repliction. Each of these metaphors, if affirmed positively and definitively, would be a ‘theory’; and it is these provisional theories that Plato makes Parmenides blast in the first part of the Parmenides.

An aspect of the supposed ‘Theory of Forms’ is said to be the assertion of the ‘separate existence’ of the Forms, a misunderstanding initiated by Aristotle. The chôrismos affirmed by Socrates and Plato is the separation of the intelligible and the perceptible. Plato sings the praise of the ideal Forms in winged words and in the Phaedrus gives us the myth of the celestial abode of the Forms. But Socrates in the elenctic discourses finds all ‘forms’ merging together and in the end they are found to be one with Sophia, nous, phronêsis. Plato regularly speaks of the antitheses of the moral forms in the same vein as of the moral forms. In the first part of the Parmenides Socrates’ hesitation to admit forms of hair and dirt is blamed on his immature age. In the Sophist the ‘Friends of the Forms’ are taken to task for thinking “that change, life, soul, understanding have no place in that which is perfectly real — that it has neither life nor thought, but stands immutable in solemn aloofness, devoid of intelligence" (248e-249a, tr. Cornford.) How can all this be compatible with a ‘theory’ that gives Forms a ‘separate existence’? Above all, would not the ‘separate existence’ of the intelligible negate the distinction between the intelligible and the perceptible?

III

THE PHILOSOPHICAL LIFE

Early in the dialogue Socrates says that a true philosopher makes of his whole life an exercise in dying and being dead (64a). Not only is a philosopher least concerned with things of the body but she or he also find the body an impediment in the contemplation of the mind. Where does the soul (mind) come into contact with reality? When it tries to examine anything through the body it is led into error. It is in reasoning that it approaches what is real. It reasons best when it gives up dependence on the body and reaches out for true being. The philosopher's soul (mind) therefore shuns the body and seeks to be in itself. Now, we say there is such a thing as justice, and beauty, and goodness. But we never perceived any such thing with our senses. It is when we examine these in thought that we come closest to knowing them. (65b-66a)

But when the soul (mind) reflects all by itself and in itself it moves into that which is pure and constant, and then it rests from wandering, being in communion with what is real and constant. (79d)

Such is the philosophical life. When Socrates said at his trial that daily to converse about virtue is the greatest good for a human being (38a), he was instituting the ideal of the philosophical life. This is the life of active, creative intelligence that is the proper aretê (excellence, virtue) of a human being, that Plato variously calls Sophia, nous, phronêsis and identifies with alêtheia (reality) because it is there and only there that we are in communion with reality and ourselves attain reality.

IV

THE DIVINITY (ETERNITY) OF THE SOUL

What is commonly referred to as the ‘affinity argument’ (76d-84b) is of much more import and value than being one in a series of arguments for immortality. It is in a class by itself and is farther removed from having the semblance or pretense of being a logical argument. It is more openly poetical and emotional. In ascribing to the philosophical life and the intelligible realities with which it is concerned all the characteristics of divinity it amounts to a proclamation of the divinity of the soul.

Socrates says: If beauty and goodness and all such realities have being, and if we discover these within ourselves, then our soul must have been prior to our birth. (76d-e)Though Socrates here is ostensibly referring to temporal priority, yet beneath this we have the essental union of the reality of the intelligible ideas and the reality of the soul (mind), kai ei mê tauta, oude tade (76e). Socrates identifies the soul with the intelligible realm, or more particularly, with the principle of intelligence. At the core of this insight we find not the idea of temporal continuity but that of supra-temporal eternity. This is a creatively original metaphysical notion.

The philosophical soul is divine in being eternal in the only metaphysically cogent sense of eternity — not as endless extension of time or infinity of time but as the principle of creative activity that transcends temporality in metaphysical reality. The philosophical soul lives not in the fleeting world of shadows but has its being on the plane of divine creative intelligence.

The full import of this comes out in the account ‘Diotima’ gives in the Symposium of the lover’s ascent to the vision of Beauty and is also given succinctly in a prophetic passage in the Republic:

“ … a true philosophical nature aspires to reality (to on), does not tarry by the many particulars that are supposed to be, but goes forth with no blunting and no slackening of her desire, until she grasps the essence of all reality by that in her soul to which it is becoming to grasp that (that is, what is akin), approaching and mingling with what has true being, gives birth to reason and reality; enjoys knowledge and true life and is nourished, and then has relief of her birth pangs …” (490a-b).

V

THE NATURE AND SCOPE OF PHILOSOPHICAL THINKING

After Socrates had presented the affinity argument, both Simmias and Cebes advanced objections. Simmias’s objection and Socrates’ answer are not particularly relevant to this paper. (See the section “Harmony” in Chapter Five of Plato: An Interpretation.) In answer to Cebes’s objection Socrates says: “The whole question of the cause of generation and corruption will have to be examined.” Then he adds, “I'm going to relate to you my own experience about these” (95e-96a). When he does, it turns out that that experience led him to renounce all search for physical causes. He was convinced that no investigation of things outside the mind can answer any of the questions that concerned him as a philosopher. We will return to this crucial point further on but at the very outset we find something that calls for pause.

Socrates says, “When I was young I was tremendously keen on that kind of wisdom which they call investigation of nature ( tês sophias hên de kalousi peri phuseôs historian)” (96a). This is in flat contradiction to what we have in the Apology where Socrates emphatically denies ever engaging in or being interested in physical investigation (19c). What are we to make of this? My own conjecture is that Plato invents this early interest and the whole story of Anaxagoras’s book to dramatize Socrates’ firm renouncement of physical investigation. (That of course does not mean that Socrates did not read Anaxagoras’s book.) Be that as it may. What is indubitable is that we have in the sequel the clear radical separation of physical (scientific, empirical) knowledge on the one hand and philosophical understanding on the other hand.

Socrates exemplifies this radical difference. He is seated in prison on his prison bed. Scientific investigation, giving an account of his position and posture, will give us detailed descriptions of his bones and joints and sinews and neurons. But all of that will not explain why he remains there when his friends were prepared to arrange for his escape. Only his notions of what is right and righteous can make us understand that. (98b-99a)

This is a distinction that both our scientists and our philosophers have chosen to ignore. No investigation into things outside the mind can answer an ultimate ‘What’ question or an ultimate ‘Why’ question. On the other hand, no investigation into pure ideas can give us any factual knowledge about how things are in the natural world. Among modern philosophers only Kant saw this clearly. This is the gist of the principle of philosophical ignorance. Socrates sums this by saying: edoxe de moi chrênai eis tous logous kataphugonta en ekeinois skopein tôn ontôn tên alêtheian (99e). I give this crucial sentence in the original because it is highly liable to corruption in translation. He says he thought he should have recourse to ideas to search in them the — let me say, the reality of what is real, tôn ontôn tên alêtheian, because it would be at best confusing to speak of ‘the truth of things’.

Earlier at 96c-d he explains why he renounced investigation into things. “I was so completely blinded by these studies … I forgot what I had formerly believed I knew … about the cause of man's growth. For I had thought previously that it was plain to everyone that man grows through eating and drinking; for when, from the food he eats, flesh is added to his flesh and bones to his bones, and in the same way the appropriate thing is added to each of his other parts, then the small bulk becomes greater and the small man large” (96c-d, tr. Fowler).

The explanation given of a human being’s growth sounds naïve, but it is of the nature of all scientific explanation. No amount of sophistication will change that nature. Modern science will give us a detailed description of the development of a human child from a fertilized ovum, DNA and all, or may go beyond that to the first appearance of a living organism. Similarly, science may give us a detailed account of the coming into being and passing away of a galaxy from Bang to Whimper. We deceive ourselves if we think that explains anything or makes us understand anything. (See “Stephen Hawking’s Bad Metaphysics”.) The credo of our modern religion is “Knowledge is power”. Yes, science gives us power to manipulate nature and probably eventually to wipe out the human race. But those who speak of science explaining things or giving us understanding simply do not have the notion of true understanding. Macbeth killed his king. The most comprehensive account of every neuron in Macbeth’s brain will not make us understand why he did it. Shakespeare bares Macbeth’s ambition and vainglory ans we understand why.

Then comes a profoundly meaningful passage that our scholars and professional philosophers have found it hard to appreciate:

“By Zeus, so far am I from thinking that I know the cause of such things, that I will not even admit that when somebody puts one beside one, that either the one to which the addition was made has become two, or that the one added and that to which it was added, by the placing of the one beside the other have become two, for I find it strange that when each of them was separate from the other, each was one and they were not then two, but when they approached each other, this was the cause for them to become two, the togetherness of being placed beisde each other. Neither if somebody splits one, can I yet be convinced that this again – the splitting – has been the cause of the becoming of the two, this being the opposite of what was then the cause of becoming two, for then it was the bringing them together and placing each beside each, now it is the taking away and separating each from each. …” (96e-97b).

This is the core of the notion of the intelligible idea ( idea, eidos). Let us imagine a man who has just had a terrible shock and as a result has suffered total amnesia. There are trees around him; to him they are just blots of colour, if they are even that. It is only when a tree is singled out and named a tree that it becomes a tree for him. Ideas are not found in things nor do they have any existence in the world outside us. Two sticks lying side by side are just a stick and a stick. It is only when a creative mind creates the idea of the series of numbers and the ideas of the members of the series that the stick and stick become two for us.

It is here (at 100c-d) that Socrates voices the insight “It is by Beauty that all that is beautiful is beautiful” — an insight that was to be re-affirmed by Plotinus ln saying that only a soul made beautiful can appreciate beauty.

It is the ideas created by the mind and having no being other than in the mind that give meaning to all things. The simplest perception iinvolves an idea. A mere sensation is not a perception. (This is the cornerstone of Kant’s transcendental system.) Hence Socrates further on says:

“You would loudly affirm that you do not know how else a thing becomes (what it is) than by participation in the proper reality of whatever it participates in, metaschon tês idias ousias hekastou hou an metaschêi, and that in such cases you do not have any other cause of the becoming of 'two' but participation in twoness, and that it is necessary for that which is to become two to participate in this, and for that which is to become one to participate in oneness” (101b-c).

VI

THE HOAX

In quoting the passage at 96e-97b above I cut out the last sentence because that is quite another story. The passage concludes:

“Nor do I yet admit to myself that I know the cause of the becoming of one, nor, in short, do I know of anything else through what it becomes or perishes or is, according to this method of inquiry, but I concoct for myself my own method, for that other I will in no way approach” (97b).

This is amplified further on where we read:

“What I am saying is this, nothing new, but what I have always both earlier and in the present discussion never ceased to say. I will try to show you the kind of cause I fashioned for myself, going back to what I have so often been dinning and taking my start from that, laying down there is a beautiful in itself and a good and a large and all other such, which if you grant me and agree such things be, I hope from these causes to show and discover that the soul is deathless.” (100b)

Here we have the very heart of the hoax. Plato here plays on the ambiguity in the terms aitia (cause) and gignesthai (become). In the authentic Socratic sense, the idea is the ‘cause’ of a thing ‘becoming what it is for us’. The cause of a thing becoming what it is in itself is the physical cause that Socrates abstains from looking for. The ‘kind of cause’ Socrates concocted for himself is the principle of genuine philosophical thimking. This involves the renouncement of investigation into things, as giving no understanding, and confining philosophical inquiry to the investigation of ideas, which alone gives answers to genuinely philosophical questions. But Plato by what, if it were not irreverent, we might call a sleight of hand, turns it into a method “to show and discover that the soul is deathless”. We will see what this is worth when we come to consider ‘the final argument’ for immortality.

In the first place, how could Plato make Socrates argue with so much assurance for the survival of the soul, when in the Apology he had made him distinctly express agnosticism on the question? (40c ff.) In Socrates’ Prision Journal (2006), “Day Twenty-Nine”, I reversed the positions of Cebes and Simmias on the one side and Socrates on the other side, making the two young men argue for survival and Socrates checking them.

At 97b Socrates says plainly that he can no longer say that he knows the cause of anything coming into being or perishing or continuing to be. Does this not amount to a repudiation of all the ostensible arguments in the Phaedo? It tells us plainly that all the speculation earlier in the dialogue about the cyclical character of genesis and about reminiscence and the like, all that was mere play. Plato certainly wanted his readers to examine and criticize such arguments. Plato often – to work his readers' minds or as part of the dramatic ploy – purposely planted the faults and inconsistencies that scholars ‘discover’ in the dialogues.

The gist of Socrates’ ‘autobiographical’ account is that, as a philosopher, he is not concerned with the outside world. How can that be compatible with any serious consideration of life in another world external to us? Socrates’ conception of the nature of philosophical thinking makes any knowledge of the external world beyond the reach of pure reason. This was, strictly, Kant’s position. This was also the ground for Wittgenstein’s insistence that we can make no statement about the World — a position that Bertrand Russell failed to grasp because Russell as a confirmed Empiricist and Pluralist could not entertain the conception of the metaphysical Whole. (See Russell’s My Philosophical Development, 1959, p.86, quoted in “The Wittgenstein Enigma”, The Sphinx and the Phoenix, 2009.)

The Phaedo comprises four arguments for the immortality of the soul: the cyclical argument, the argument from reminiscence, the argument from affinity, and the fourth argument, commonly regarded as the principal argument. At no point does Plato claim or give the impression that any of the proofs is conclusive or sufficient. Throughout the dialogue we have broad hints that the arguments are not to be taken seriously. Simmias and Cebes persistently raise objections and ask for reassurance. The final word on the whole tissue of the arguments of the Phaedo is given by Simmias in 107a-b: "I can't help still having in my own mind some disbelief about what has been said”, to which Socrates responds approvingly and adds, "also our first hypotheses, even if you find them acceptable, nevertheless need to be examined more closely” (107b). This is in harmony with Plato’s insistence in the Republic that dialectic must always undermine the assumptions (hypotheses) of any philosophical statement. (533e)

After what I have been saying above it would be sheer mockery for me to examine the Phaedo arguments in detail. After all, our learned scholars have completely and repeatedly shredded to pieces not only these arguments but all of Plato’s arguments and so-called doctrines and theories. I have already taken up the affinity argument separately as an integral aspect of Plato’s hymn of praise for the philosophical life. For the cyclical argument and the argument from reminiscence the general remarks above and the general comments on argument and proof below suffice. Of the ‘final argument’ for the sake of which the special hoax in the concluding part of Socrates’ ‘autobiography’ was purposely planted, let me say this: When the method of argument from hypotheses comes to be applied it turns out to be little more than playing with words, and even if the conclusion – “the soul is dearhless” – is admitted, what ‘soul’ does the argument address? Only the soul as the principle of life. Thus the conclusion, if admitted, applies to the meanest bug in the same measure as to Socrates, but that signifies nothing about the survival of personality. It would be blasphemous to suppose that Plato could be blind to this. At no point could Plato be in earnest about the arguments or expect them to provide proof. The whole tissue of arguments, culminating in the ‘final argument’, is the substance of the hoax.

The crucial notion of the intelligible as opposed to the perceptible realm, the vision of the philosophical life and of the divinity of the soul, as of the conception of the nature and scope of philosophical thinking are all advanced without argument (in the narrower sense of the term) and without proof. You can take it as a rule: where Plato argues most strenuously and advances proofs and demonstrations, there he is least in earnest.

The whole series of arguments for immortality begins by defining death as the separation and release of body from soul and of soul from body (64c). This assumes the conception of a human being as made up of two separable (not simply distinguishable) elements (79b.) All four arguments for immortality in the Phaedo rest on this assumption and become untenable once it is questioned.

For Plato, at the metaphysical plane of thinking, alêtheia, psuchê, nous, phronêsis are not distinct but are one and the same thing. Despite all we hear about a soul separate or separable from the body, in the profoundest Socratic-Platonic insight the soul is simply the principle of intelligence, creative intelligence. Critics will tell me I am creating my own Plato, a fictitious Plato: they would be right. Everyone of us has his own Plato. If my Plato looks very different from the Plato of erudition or from the Plato of Arostotle, so much the better. I do not pretend to be a historian or an exegete. The Plato I portray is the Plato that inspires my philosophy.

Platonism is not a philosophical system or a theory, but a vision, a vision that can not and need not be proved or demonstrated but is oracularly proclaimed, a prophecy announced in poetry and myth. The ground of the Platonic vision is that the intelligible is the real, or, as Parmenides had put it, intelligibility and reality are one and the same thing. The vision is not arrived at by reasoning but is itself the ground of philosophical reasoning.

Only dead abstractions call for proof and are amenable to proof. Genuine philosophy creatively brings to birth visions clothed in myths that breathe life into the shadows of the phenomenal world.

D. R. Khashaba

May 4, 2017

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