Thursday, November 06, 2014


ORTEGA ON LOVE Reflections inspired by José Ortega y Gasset’s On Love …Aspects of a Single Theme D. R. Khashaba Prefatory note: Having just been re-reading Plato’s Symposium for the nth time, there fell into my hands by some happy chance José Ortega y Gasset’s remarkable little book On Love … Aspects of a Single Theme. The following are notes I jotted down as I was reading. All quotations below are from Toby Talbot’s translation and page numbers refer to the 1967 edition by Jonathan Cape Ltd, London. I have arranged my notes under the relevant chapter headings and numbered them consecutively. FEATURES OF LOVE 1 José Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955) reduces various theories of love to species of confusion. This is the error of thinking that there can be one true theory of anything. Like all abstractions, love is a nebulous idea which can be worked by different thinkers into different forms each of which may give us some insight into the thing, but none of which can claim to be definitive. 2 Ortega says that “love is a flow, a stream of spiritual matter, a fluid which flows continually like a fountain” (p. 14). This is beautiful and insightful except that I find the word ‘matter’ here jarring and likewise the metaphor of a ‘fluid’. So captivated is the modern mind by the objective outlook that Ortega thinks it necessary that the flow must be a flow of something, just as physicists at one time thought that light waves must have an ether to move in. The modern mind is so overwhelmed by the empiricist outlook that it cannot grasp that the wave itself is all the substance we need and that ultimately the real is not a thing, not an entity, not even in the most emaciated sense of the word, but an activity. If we speak of love as an emanation or a radiation, or whatever other metaphor we choose, we have to grasp that the emanation is not an emanation from something or of something; the emanation by itself and in itself is all the cause and all the substance, is what is real. Unless we grasp that, we are not thinking metaphysically. Thus for Plato what is ultimately real is the Form of the Good which transcends all being and all understanding and gives what is – to on – its being, and gives the intelligible its intelligibility. In the Sophist Plato defines what is real simply as dunamis, which I render ‘activity’ rather than ‘power’. LOVE IN STENDHAL 3 Ortega gives a perceptive diagnosis of the main fault, one might say disease, of the ideology of the nineteenth century. “The normal is explained by the abnormal, the superior by the inferior” (p. 22). This is the reductionism that persisted throughout the twentieth century and continues to bedevil contemporary philosophy. A little earlier in the same paragraph Ortega writes that “Taine wishes to convince us that normal perception is merely a continuous, connected hallucination” (p. 21). Plato would have offered a defence of that position on the lines of his defence of Protagoras’s “Man the Measure” in the Theaetetus, and would have found in it the same fault. We do not find the true nature of things in the reports of perception but in the mind that examines the reports. 4 Ortega has a remarkable passage (pp.34-35) which, had I read it earlier, I would have quoted somewhere in support of my view that we only understand a thing when we have placed it within an intelligible whole. The passage closes with these words: “What we call genius is only the magnificent power which some men possess of piercing a portion of that imaginative fog and discovering beyond it a new authentic bit of reality, quivering in sheer nakedness” (p. 35). My only reservation is that I do not see that as a bit of reality we discover out there, but a reality, an intelligibility, our mind confers on the primal fog out there. We never really pierce or penetrate that fog. That fog is Kant’s phenomenal world which in itself is meaningless and only has what meaning is given it by our understanding (taking ‘understanding’ here in Kant’s sense). (Of course this does not militate against the view advocated by Ortega against Stendhal, that the lover finds perfection – albeit sometimes mistakenly – in the beloved. In interpersonal relationships we are not confined to the phenomenal sphere, but are living on the noumenal plane, and the perfection found by the lover in the beloved is not a thing existing objectively but is a reality experienced. I will not amplify on this here. I only wanted to point out that my reservation about Ortega’s view does not relate to his criticism of Stendhal’s theory of love but to the implied theory of perception.) 5 When a lover, a philosopher, a poet, struck by theia mania (divine madness), finds her or his “psychic forces” converging “to act upon one single point”, I cannot agree with Ortega that that “gives a false aspect of superlative intensity to his [or her] existence” (p. 44). I would endorse the statement without reservation if the words “a false aspect of” were dropped. 6 Balzac, Ortega writes, “winds up a business conversation by saying: ‘Well, let us return to reality! Let us talk about César Birotteau.’ (p. 45). Balzac was not mistaken. The fictional character has metaphysical reality as against the evanescent non-reality of worldly things. 7 Ortega opposes mysticism to theology and sides heavily with theology. I find myself completely opposed to him in this. Here I will quote a long passage, because the point deserves close attention. “I think that any theology transmits to us much more of God, greater insights and ideas about divinity, than the combined ecstasies of all the mystics; because, instead of approaching the ecstatic sceptically, we must take the mystic at his word, accept what he brings us from his transcendental immersions, and see if what he offers us is worth while. The truth is that, after we accompany him on his sublime voyage, what he succeeds in communicating to us is a thing of little consequence. I think that the European soul is approaching a new experience of God and new inquiries into that most important of all realities” (p. 52). I would have gladly welcomed this last statement as good news, but Ortega spoils it by going on to say, “I doubt very much, however, if the enrichment of our ideas about divine matters will emerge from the mystics’ subterranean roads rather than from the luminous paths of discursive thought. Theology – not ecstasy!” This is radically opposed to my position. The “luminous paths of discursive thought” are impostors, they give us sham truths about a ‘reality’ that is confessedly beyond our reach, while the ‘divine madness’ of the mystic, the poet, the philosopher, lead us to the ineffable reality of our inner being that can only be conveyed in the metaphors of the mystic, the images of the poet, the conceptual structures of the philosopher which confess themselves no more than suggestive myths. There is more insight in a single passage of Giordano Bruno than in the whole of the Summa Theologica or in the plethora of modern theologians who are vainly trying to picture an unknown and unknowable objectively existent God. Ortega obviously believes in such a God. 8 Ortega makes a careful but quite unsympathetic study of mysticism, a study from outside, equally so with his study of “falling in love”. He says, “The joy in the ‘state of grace’, wherever it appears, depends upon being outside of the world and of oneself” (p. 59). On the contrary, I would say, outside the world and very much inside oneself. I suppose Ortega never understood Plato’s dictum: a philosopher practises dying. 9 Ortega’s distinction between the concentric and the epicentric mind is better seen as distinguishing not the female and the male, as Ortega holds, but two types of human character represented in both females and males, if not equally at any rate without a significant predominance in the one or the other gender. The concentric mind is contemplative, the epicentric mind is empirical. The first sees the one in the many, is integrative; the second is pluralistic and atomistic. I would say that Plato definitely had a concentric mind; Aristotle had an epicentric mind. Among moderns we have A. N. Whitehead as against Bertrand Russell. THE ROLE OF CHOICE IN LOVE 10 In “The Role of Choice in Love” Ortega has led himself into a pathless jungle. To theorize about the hidden depths of the human character is vain. Poets and novelists, not psychologists, are the ones that give us glimpses into those depths. Ortega states that “To say that man is rational and free is, I think, a statement very close to being false. We actually do possess reason and freedom: but both powers form only a tenuous film which envelops our being, the interior of which is neither rational nor free” (p. 72). When he says this he is negating philosophy and religion at its best. It is only in that “tenuous film” that we are human beings. It is the role of philosophy, in common with art and literature, to sustain and fortify that “tenuous film”. As for the psychological approach, I think my suggestion (introduced in more than one of my writings) that we see a human being as made up of various planes of being would be more fruitful than current psychological theories. 11 “Probably, there is only one other theme”, Ortega writes, “more inward than love: that which may be called metaphysical sentiment, or the essential, ultimate and basic impression which we have of the universe” (p. 74). I love that. I have been saying that a human being becomes whole in the idea of the Whole. I only wish that ‘sentiment’ were truly “ultimate and basic”. Most people live without it and seem not to miss it. Or it may be that in most people it is smothered early in childhood and that the endless, restless striving by most people for they know not what, that common existential Angst, is just their blind groping for this Whole that makes us whole. And would it not be better to say that this ‘metaphysical sentiment’ is not “one other theme” (beside love) but is one with the need for love, or rather that the need for love is just one mode of the ‘metaphysical sentiment’? The insight of Diotima (Plato’s Symposium) is unsurpassable. 12 A parenthetical remark of Ortega’s confirms what I have been harping on in all my writings, that ideas created by the mind govern all our lives. He writes between parentheses: “No one can estimate the penetration of concepts of ancient philosophy into the ranks of western civilization. The most uneducated man uses words and concepts from Plato, Aristotle and the Stoics” (p. 79). Ideas created by the mind – concepts that have no being but in the mind – constitute our culture and our culture is the ambience in which we have our characteristically human life, or, if we are permitted a loftier phrase, our spiritual life. 13 The word ‘choice’ as used by Ortega is not quite apt. ‘Selection’ would have fitted his purpose better. I don’t know what Spanish word Ortega used and the unhappy choice of ‘choice’ may be due to the translator. TOWARDS A PSYCHOLOGY OF THE INTERESTING MAN 14 In my opinion all such studies are basically flawed. As they stand they may give food for reflection, but to think that in pursuing such a study we can end up with a ‘science’ is as futile as Leibniz’ dream of a ‘universal characteristic’, a dream which the founders of logical symbolism took seriously until the wiser of them discovered it was a mirage. I still think that for psychological insight no formal psychology can vie with fiction, poetry, drama, or the cinema, for the simple reason that these allude, suggest, intimate, but never claim or attempt to inform, to give factual knowledge. In suggesting they make it possible for as much as there is in us of inner reality to commune with the inner reality of the other. Even when that other is fictional, the communion and the experience are real, since even when the other is ‘real’ we commune mot with what is but with what our minds assume there is. 15 On page 140 Ortega says, “In order to see an object it is necessary to be detached from it.” This would be so if the word ‘see’ is given its primary sense, but Ortega clearly means it to mean ‘know’. The whole paragraph in which this sentence occurs exemplifies the confusions and errors of the empirical approach. All of my books have campaigned against these confusions and errors and I do not want to digress into this at this point. 16 Ortega writes: “… our concepts and generalizations never concur with reality” (p. 141). This is what I assert in speaking of the necessary and inescapable fluidity of language. It is strange that while no reasonable person has any doubt about this in general, only Socrates came to the necessary conclusion that we can never understand any word philosophically by defining the word in terms extraneous to it. We only understand a word in the self-evidence of the idea within the mind. Throughout some twenty-five millennia only Wittgenstein half-glimpsed this after passing through the vale of abject scepticism. I purposely speak of defining a word for understanding it philosophically: formal and ad hoc definitions for scientific, juristic, and practical purposes are another matter; they do not give understanding; they are simply working tools. Broad theoretical propositions are essentially transitory; once we think of them as final or definitive we are engrossed in error and sunk into deadly stagnation. 17 Philosophical understanding – I have said this again and again and do not hesitate to say it once more – is not a condition or state of being but is an ongoing activity, it is a mode of life. Philosophy is philosophizing, is the experience of intelligent creativity, the life of creative intelligence. Therefore it is nonsensical to try to hold the philosophy of this or that philosopher in a compendium. The only way to understand a philosopher is to accompany her or him on their lifelong pilgrimage to the fount of all reality and to share with them the insight that that fount is nowhere but within us. 18 Ortega suggests that “love is not an instinct but rather a creation” (p. 147). I endorse that wholeheartedly. It is implied in my affirming that we are human in as much as we live in an ideal – spiritual – world of our own creation. Of course there is such a thing as ‘instinctive love’, but in a human being even the love of a mother for her new-born baby is a sentiment shot through and through with cultural values. Ortega was referring to erotic love – the primary theme of his book – and there too his remark is perceptive and true. 19 In endnote 5 to “Towards a Psychology of the Interesting Man” Ortega places himself among those who oppose “the empirical tradition, according to which every thing happens by chance and without any unified form” (p. 157). I have more than once referred to Ortega’s empirical approach. I do not retract that. Ortega may not share the Empiricists’ atomistic pluralism which sees no unity in the plurality but he does share their objectivism which seeks reality and understanding in what there is. 20 So Ortega has given us an interesting, an enlightening, book on love. He has explored ideas and sentiments. In following his explorations we explore our own minds. That is what all good philosophy does and all that any philosophy can do. But has he come to any final conclusions? No. I resist a temptation to say more. I would only be repeating what I repeatedly said before. Cairo, 6 November 2014.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


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? 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? 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


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? 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 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.