Tuesday, February 02, 2016

A NOTE ON CONSCIENCE


A NOTE ON CONSCIENCE

D. R. Khashaba

[In a paper lately posted to my blog (“The Futility of Ethical Theory”) I wrote: “Conscience is another name for the moral sense. I prefer ‘moral sense since it is less open to the vagaries of occult interpretations.” It occurred to me to append a note on “conscience”. The following lines are just cursory thoughts that I may develop some other time.]

Conscience or moral sense, like the sense of beauty, is a sensibility that flowers under auspicious circumstances. It is natural in the sense that like a seed it sprouts from within in a favourable environment. Like a seed or young shoot it can be maimed, can be smothered, can be dried up.

Rather than asking whether the moral sense (conscience) is innate or acquired we should ask whether it is intrinsic or extrinsic. I would say that the moral sense flowers from within the person; we may say it is the personality of the person, it is the basic value one identifies oneself with; we may call that one’s integrity. (This usage widens the sense of the term so that ‘integrity’ no longer denotes an absolute moral value. Let us stick to the term personality.) One’s personality would then be what one will fight for and die for. That determines for everyone what is right and what is wrong, for we can define the moral sense as an inner firm conviction that there is right and wrong. One who does not have this inner criterion, inner standard, distinguishing right from wrong has no moral sense, has no ‘personality’ as defined here. Thus I would say that the moral sense unfolds within a person; it is not ‘innate’ but ‘inborn’. Specific rules and regulations are acquired but may be fully assimilated to the personality and would then assume the character of absolute values for the person concerned.

Individuals may be characterized with various levels of conscientiousness, but even a person with a normally ‘low morality’ will willingly sacrifice her or his life to defend one’s honour or defend another person.

‘Bad conscience’, the feeling of sin or guilt, comes when one infringes a maxim or value conventionally acknowledged but not fully assimilated. Macbeth was normally loyal to his king; had that loyalty been fully integrated in his personality he would not have succumbed to the temptation of assassinating the king and usurping the kingdom. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth had enough ‘morality’ to feel that what they did was wrong but that ‘morality’ was not so fully integrated with their personality as to make them resist the temptation.

When the ‘emotions’ rather than ‘reason’ determine choice, the choice, whether a good one or a bad one, is not a moral choice. When Plato says that reason should control the passions he is not referring to moral will or moral action. Where choice is relevant we are on the amoral plane. We should only speak of morality where there is spontaneity. I am here only apparently contradicting what I said in the preceding paragraph. Here I am using ‘morality’ in a stricter sense.

What has been censured as Socrates’ ‘intellectualism’ comes from the fact that when he asserted that to know what is right ensures that one would do what is right – this is the gist of identifying epistêmê and aretê – he was thinking of a fully rational person. Socrates’ personality was so fully integrated – we have ample evidence in his life and death for that – that he assumed that all persons, once enlightened, could be fully rational. Sadly, as I have repeatedly asserted elsewhere, the best of us are only rational by fits and starts. When we are at our best we cannot fail to do what we know is right. Shelley’s Prometheus curses Zeus, but when he is reminded of it by Mother Earth he says: “It doth repent me: words are quick and vain: Grief for a while is blind, and so was mine. I wish no living thing to suffer pain.”

Cairo, February 2, 2016.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

THE FUTILITY OF ETHICAL THEORY


THE FUTILITY OF ETHICAL THEORY

THE FUTILITY OF ETHICAL THEORY

D. R. Khashaba

PREFATORY

This paper was originally intended as an examination of the limits of ethical theory but turned into a rambling excursion into moral philosophy and ethics. Hence its rather amorphous character. I take my start from two propositions: (1) Moral pronouncements are not demonstrable rational judgments. (2) Moral pronouncements are not verifiable empirical statements.

To elucidate and justify these two propositions I will begin with an outline of Socrates’ philosophical outlook, which I see as an insightful rationale of all moral philosophy. I will also give a partial account of Plato’s philosophical outlook aimed particularly at clearing certain prevalent distortions and misunderstandings of Plato’s work. I will then say something about the nature of theory in general and then see where all that leaves ethical theory.

SOCRATES’ PHILOSOPHY

Socrates’ philosophical outlook is grounded in the insight that human beings live, strictly speaking, in a world of their own creation, a world of ideas and ideals. That is what characterizes us as humans, distinct from all other animal species. All our conscious action is governed by ideas, aims, beliefs, evaluations, true or false, good or corrupt. As such our whole worth is in the mind or soul that is the home and fount of those ideas and ideals. Our wellbeing is in a healthy soul (mind, psuchê, nous). All so-called particular goods are means to some end. The final end is the understanding or wisdom that is the character of a wholesome soul or mind. (See for example the didactic conversations with the lad Clinias in the Euthydemus.)That is the special excellence of a human being, the specific human virtue, aretê, the peculiar human function, dunamis. The soul prospers by doing what is morally right and is harmed by doing what is morally wrong. (Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray is a striking allegory of this moral insight.)

Socrates distinguished the ideas that are born in the mind and are to be found nowhere but in the mind from the things in the outer world. The former are intelligible; the latter are perceptible. Plato, extending the distinction beyond the moral sphere, referred to the intelligible ideas by the term eidos (form) or idea (not to be confused with the English ‘idea’, at any rate not in the Lockean or Humean sense). In his youthful exuberance Plato sang the praises of the Forms; in the Phaedo he overemphasized their immutability and permanence; in the Phaedrus he gave them a celestial home; in the Meno he tells a tale told ‘by priests and priestesses’ affirming that the forms come with the soul from another world. All of this is sheer poetry. In the first part of the Parmenides he shows that the ‘separateness’ of the intelligible forms cannot be maintained. In the Sophist he shows the error of ascribing to the forms absolute immutability and permanence. Like all things intelligible and perceptible their reality is none other than their activity, dunamis. Aristotle took Plato’s poetical flights too literally and burdened all subsequent philosophy with the fiction of Platonic eternal forms existing separately in a world of their own. Plato in the Symposium represents the ascent to the vision of absolute Beauty as a journey of the soul, wholly within the soul (201a ff.). In the Republic the highest philosophical insight is attained when the philosopher strives to grasp that which truly is by that in her or him which is most akin to what truly is (490a). It is not my intention to give here a full account of Plato’s philosophy, but I had to touch on this aspect since certain ethical theorists speak of an eternal world of truths or values existing separately. They have every right to their theory but it is wrong to ascribe it to Plato. Plato has been misunderstood and his philosophy grossly distorted because he is read as a theorist whereas he is fundamentally a poet. I have been harping on this in all my writings and will not further amplify on it here.

MORALS ARATIONAL

Ethical terms are creations of the mind, are ideal creations, are creative insights. The question of the subjectivity or objectivity of moral ideals and principles is enveloped in multiple confusions of thought and language, confusions compounded by the prevalent empirical identification of the real with the objective. Once this view is embraced it is impossible to find any reality in moral ideals and values or any ultimate ground for them. We can only (1) on the one hand give a descriptive account – historical, anthropological, etc. – of the rise of specific rules and regulations, and/or (2) on the other hand find objective justifications – hedonistic, utilitarian, theological – for such rules and regulations. All such empirical derivations and all such justifications are extra-moral, irrelevant to the essence of morality.

It denigrates morality to say that our moral sentiments are grounded in emotion. When Socrates says we should never return harm for harm (the Crito, tne Gorgias) that amounts to the creation of a moral ideal. Living up to the ideal flowers in an emotional state yet the emotion is not the cause or ground of the ideal but the issue of the ideal.

Plato in the Sophist likens the ever-raging war between materialists and idealists to the mythological battle of the Gods and the Giants (245e-246e). Socrates in the Crito says that those who hold and those who reject the maxim that it is never right to harm anyone can have no common ground (49c-d). But let us foolishly attempt the hopeless task. We idealists say that the ‘reality’ of the physical world is a sham. Heraclitus saw that all things in the natural world are in flux: they never are but are always becoming, as Plato puts it. Real are the Logos and the unfathomable soul. Plato saw that the immutable, fleeting external world is a shadow. This is not to deny the ‘existence’ of the outer world as another prevalent misunderstanding of Plato has it. When the idealist says the external world is an illusion this is the philosopher’s version of “vanity of vanities, all is vanity”. For Plato the ideas in the mind and the mind itself are what is real. Kierkegaard said that Truth is subjectivity. Subjectivity, I say, is our inner reality, is all the reality we know, and is the fount of all that is real for us.

The historical-anthropological fact that moral values and rules have arisen in time and vary from time to time and from location to location is commonly taken to show that moral values and moral judgments are relative. Specific evaluations and specific rulings are certainly the product of particular time and particular place. And as I said earlier tribal, social, civil rules are not essentially moral. But when the moral sense takes over, when a tribesman cares for a wounded fellow-tribesman not only because the ethos of the tribe requires it but because, regardless of the conventional requirement, his heart goes out for the wounded person, then the act is a moral act and has absolute moral value. When Shelley’s Prometheus cries out, “It doth repent me … I wish no living thing to suffer pain” he at once attains a moral and a metaphysical status far above Zeus and far, far above Yahweh. The moral value is a subjective reality and subjective reality is metaphysical reality. In my philosophy metaphysical reality does not ‘exist’; it is not an objective actuality: this is what Plato variously terms alêtheia, to on, ho estin, ousia. It is not an entity, and that is what makes the notion of metaphysical reality difficult to grasp — it is not an entity but pure act, it is Plato’s phronêsis, or, in my terminology, it is intelligent creativity.

Metaphysical realities and moral realities do not ‘exist’ in a ‘spirit-like’ domain in a world beyond this world; they are real in the metaphysical reality of the subjective, they are eternal, not in extended time in this world or in another world, but in the momentary transcendence of the subject. This is the paradox that only the poets understand. In intelligent creativity, in deeds of love and in philosophical, poetical, and artistic creativity we are eternal not everlastingly but fleetingly. Poets and mystics have known this; among philosophers perhaps only Plato and Plotinus grasped it.

Moral values and principles issue from the integrity of the moral sense. Kant called this the moral will. In “Reasoning in Kant’s Ethical Works (in Plato’s Universe of Discourse, 2015) I wrote: “When Kant says that nothing is good absolutely but a good will and Socrates teaches that the only intrinsically good thing is a healthy soul, on the outside these seem to be different positions, but I see in them the same insight.” (The reader will notice that I often collate seemingly divergent philosophical positions. No one is truly philosophical if she or he does not see the unity of all genuine philosophical insight.)

Socrates nowhere says why we should act morally. He says that by doing what is morally right something in us (call it our soul or our inner reality) flourishes and by doing wrong it sickens. I say that it is improper even to call this a justification of morality. To justify morality is to negate morality. So what does it amount to? That Socrates finds his whole worth and value and meaning in, as he puts it, following reason; but when we try to find what following reason involves for Socrates, we find it exhausted in doing what makes our soul healthy and shunning what harms our soul. The arguments of the Socratic investigations are invariably circular: virtue is found to be wisdom (epistêmê) and wisdom is found to be virtue. That is the whole of morality: to find our good in a wholesome soul, or naively put, to find our good in being good. It is to elect a mode of life. This can be given various thought articulations. Kant says the only absolutely good thing is a good will. This says no more than that it is good to be good. When we seek to find a reason for goodness outside the goodness, whether the reason be divine will or utility, we infringe the autonomy of morality and it is no longer morality but self-seeking. This is the insight underlying Socrates’ pregnant question in the Euthyphro: “Is piety loved by the gods because it is piety, or is it piety because it is loved by the gods?” (10a).

In the Gorgias Socrates maintains that it is better to suffer wrong than to inflict wrong. Callicles lampoons him. In Book One of the Republic he leads Polemarchus to admit that it is never right to harm anyone. Thrasymachus angrily calls this nonsense. In either case Socrates argues at length but cannot win over his opponent. A moral judgment cannot be inferred rationally nor demonstrated logically. In “Reasoning in Kant’s Ethical Works”, already cited above, I affirm that Kant’s arguments in both the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785) and in the Critique of Practical Reason (1787) “prove nothing and serve no purpose. They are, to say the least, redundant.” Kant in the end grounds the Ideas of Pure Reason or Postulates of Practical Reason in faith, faith not justified by Pure Reason but ‘required’ by Practical Reason.

The role of reason in motivating moral action is secondary or ancillary. It only comes in where there is occasion for weighing alternatives or deliberating consequences. (In “Free Will as Creativity” – included in The Sphinx and the Phoenix, 2009 – I insist that confusing free will with choice vitiates the discussion of the problem.) But the moral act itself is arational, is unreasoned. Specific moral maxims can be rationally justified within the framework of accepted values or principles. If I oppose abortion or euthanasia on the ground of the sanctity of life, my maxim is reasoned, but the principle of the sanctity of life itself is arational. You cannot by reasoning convince one who rejects it. Judgments and controversies relating to such question should not properly even be referred to as ethical; they are practical issues: juristic, legalistic, political, etc.

MORALS NON-EMPURICAL

Psychology does not explain morality. Any ‘motives’ for ‘acting morally’ empty the act of all morality. The moral act is essentially autonomous and spontaneous. This is the significance of Kant’s Categorical Imperative which simply affirms and emphasizes the autonomy of the moral act. When the ‘imperative’ comes from outside the moral will it negates morality. The Mosaic Commandments have nothing to do with morality. They are social regulations necessary for the existence of any cohesive group. In the most primitive of tribes rules are observed to preserve peace and ensure cooperation. Such rules in and by themselves are not moral, but the orderly and peaceful milieu they foster is conducive to the flourishing of moral sentiment: amity, loyalty, caring. A mother’s care for her newborn babe is instinctive, but in a normal human mother it develops or fortifies a truly moral sentiment of love.

To my mind no view is more shallow than crude hedonism. That pleasure is the main drive for human action does not stand even to empirical examination, unless we so loosen the connotation of ‘pleasure’ to make it apply to equanimity or contented satisfaction at having reached one’s goal. Ask any athlete or any politician, not to say any scientist or poet or artist. With the exception of principled ascetics, we all welcome pleasure when it comes. Certain individuals may be addicted to certain types of pleasure. Such persons are diseased; in Aristotle’s wise phrase, they call for medication rather than edification; but even in their case pleasure may not be all they live for. If we want to specify the most fundamental drive of human action I think we can find no better than affirmation of self. The most mean may find that in rapaciousness; better characters may find it in ‘success’, in various achievements; the noblest characters find it in outgoing giving, in creative activity. Plato in the Symposium says that all living things desire immortality (Diotima’s speech), but where do they find immortality? At the lowest level in procreation; at a higher level in creativity. Goethe works the salvation of Faust by making him build bridges for the benefit of others. Achilles dies to affirm his ethos. The essence of it all is life-affirmation, for life itself is nothing but that, affirmation of life. Thus self-affirmation is not to be equated with selfishness, for the difference between the meanest and the noblest character lies in the expanse of the self. Altruism is not opposed to selfhood: it is essentially expansion of self. Egotism is constriction of self.

Human beings are not naturally selfish. Every one of us is necessarily self-centred, but sympathy and fellow-feeling are not only natural in humans but are also evident in many brutes. (I do mean sympathy and fellow-feeling in the brutes as in humans and not merely solidarity or gregariousness.) What brings out the manifestations of culpable selfishness are the complications of social life and the false values of competitiveness, pride, privilege, and the like. These false values and the pressures of ill-organized society corrupt us and blind us to the other. The only cure for this is the Socratic scrutiny of our ideas and ideals, our goals and values.

The differentiation between the worldly and the other-worldly attitude or mode of life is not fundamental. Except when it is based on a theological dogma that literally advocates giving up ‘worldly goods’ in expectation of reward in a future world, which at once makes it an unmoral position, except in that case worldliness and unworldliness or other-worldliness is a matter of temperament and personal choice. This is another area where Plato has been grossly misunderstood. The dictum that a philosopher practises death simply intimates that a genuine philosopher finds reality and value not in the things of the outer world but in the treasures of the soul. Jesus of Nazareth was not ascetic. Socrates was not an ascetic. He has even been charged with crude hedonism, which is a sample of the folly of unimaginative erudition. But I will not here digress into questions I have dealt with amply elsewhere.

Any exterior explanation or justification of a moral act makes it amoral. This is the gist of Kant’s much maligned insistence that only acts done from duty are moral. Kant’s formulation is unfortunate. Besides having given rise to much misunderstanding, it leaves out spontaneous acts of pure love. But the point of Kant’s dictum is to emphasize the essential autonomy of the moral act.

It is not practically possible to have a universally valid test for judging whether a particular act or even a particular maxim or rule is moral or amoral. For instance the rule “Do unto others what you would they do unto you” can be regarded as amoral if it is taken to aim at ensuring the effective working of inter-personal relations, but if it is meant to enjoin placing oneself in the place of the other and taking into account the feelings as well as the interests of the other, then I would see it as a moral maxim. Thus ‘normative ethics’, developing or articulating a set or system of rules can be mostly amoral. The laws enacted by the state can only be and should always be amoral, as it is not for the state to delve into the morals of individuals. Only a theocratic state presumes the right to doing that, and in so doing undermines morality.

Plato in the Phaedo condemns all ‘popular virtue’ as an exchange of pleasure for pleasure, pain for pain, fear for fear. The only proper exchange is of all things for wisdom (phronêsis). Only in the company of wisdom do we have true courage and temperance and justice. (Phaedo, 69a f.) This spells out the Socratic insight into the unity of all virtue and the identity of virtue with finding our proper good in a wholesome intelligent soul.

Of the special ‘Christian’ virtues – faith, hope, and charity – only ‘charity’ can be seen as a moral virtue; ‘faith’ and ‘hope’ as intended in Christian theology are requirements for salvation; as such they are maxims of expediency denuded of moral sense. Expediency is the carcass of morality. Outside the theological domain it is only with much explication and qualification that faith and hope can be admitted as virtues in the normal sense of the term.

Applied ethics is only practicable within an established system of commonly accepted values and principles. Its rulings are not moral judgments but empirical deductions. In deciding individual cases in issues of ‘applied ethics’ we face not only the conflict of various moral outlooks, but even within the scope of a commonly embraced moral outlook we may face the clash of different moral maxims or values. If we were living in a perfect world there would be no such clash or conflict, but we are living in a world drenched through and through with imperfection. In such a world we often encounter problem-issues that are not open to any clear-cut application of principle. It is in these cases that a morally alive person has tragically to bear the onus of appealing to her or his conscience, taking the plunge, and committing what for the moment seems to her or him the lesser wrong. (Conscience is another name for the moral sense. I prefer ‘moral sense since it is less open to the vagaries of occult interpretations.

THEORY

What is a theory? A theory of Language for instance or of Truth? Such a theory erects a conceptual structure to shed intelligibility and lend coherence to a phenomenon or an experiential state. The conceptual structure, as an externally imposed pattern, can never exhaust the strictly endless manifestations of the phenomenon or encompass the unfathomable depths of the experience. To conceptualize is to create abstractions and distinctions: every abstraction and every distinction imposes an ad hoc workable fiction and comes loaded with intrinsic imperfection. Thus all theory falsifies its object and no theory can claim to be definitively true. Witness the literally endless squabbles and clashes of our erudite scholars over conflicting theories. They quarrel instead of acknowledging that each theory is an artificial representation from a particular viewpoint. In the field of physical theory, Wittgenstein brings this out lucidly in Proposition 6.341 of the Tractatus, which is too long to quote in full here.

ETHICS

We have to make a clear distinction between moral philosophy and ethics. A human being’s moral philosophy reflects the kind of life she or he lives, the kind of person she or he is or is supposed to be, whether by deliberate choice or by passively submitting to convention and the prevailing mores. Socrates and Plato had a moral philosophy yet neither of them had an ethical theory. Using the term loosely we may say that they had ethics but not ethical theories. Spinoza named his magnum opus Ethics but in substance that great book presents a moral vision but not an ethical theory. Kant had a noble moral philosophy but a botched theory of ethics that only serves to befog and disfigure his fine moral vision. (Using the term ethics loosely to cover moral philosophy is not conducive to clear thinking and should be avoided.)

There are two categories of ethical theory. The first poses the question: How does morality come about? The second asks: Why should we be moral? The ‘how’ question is empirical, it can be approached historically, anthropologically, sociologically, pedagogically, etc., and with each approach we can have enlightening accounts, that can however never be exhaustive or definitive, and in all cases they do not reveal or touch on the essence of morality. In other words, this is a scientific question which, like all natural investigation, has the prospect of endless but never final development. The first category of ethics is of a scientific nature yet it is not a unified science but a potentially proliferating group of scientific disciplines. Let me leave it at that.

The ‘why’question which is not open to empirical investigation is strictly unanswerable. Thus the second category of ethics is misguided when it thinks it can arrive at a rationally explicative theory. The moral sense, once we attain to it, is a metaphysical reality, and like all reality is an unfathomable mystery. We cannot explain it. Goodness, like Beauty, like Being, is unexplainable. Before these ultimate mysteries we can only stand in awe and intimate their reality in myth and parable and song. Shakespeare’s Tragedies, Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound, Coleridge’s Rime o f the Ancient Mariner, are as good intimations of moral reality as any philosophical exposition.

As if the abstractedness of traditional ethical theory is not remote enough from the realities of life, philosophers today indulge in metaethics, theorizing the theory of ethics at one more remove from reality. The questions of ‘metaethics’, when meaningful and not merely empty jabbering with vacuous abstractions, are the normal questions of traditional ethical theory. What is called ‘normative ethics’ is only meaningful within an accepted moral outlook. It simply elucidates and explicates implications and consequences on the ground of that given outlook. A Hedonist and a Stoic have no common ground; any discussion between them is like one between a Chinese and a Spaniard neither of them speaking the language of the other. ‘Applied ethics’ is only a further particularization of ‘normative ethics’; it unfolds implications and consequences in specified areas or in relation to definite practical problems on the ground of an accepted morality. That is why controversies in the field of bioethics for instance can never be settled by reasoning. Debates about political issues also cannot be settled by rational argument. In all practical conflicts and clashes the only sane approach is for the different parties to be willing to be open to the outlook of the other and to compromise.

CONCLUSION

By all means let our scholars theorize about morality and call their theorizing ethical theory or metaethics. All that is good intellectual exercise. But it should be clear to us that none of that catches the essence of morality. We go to the heart of morality not in any theory but in the simple pronouncements of Socrates, of Gautama the Buddha, of the Sermon on the Mount, in the works of inspired poets and dramatists and novelists, in Beethoven’s symphonies and sonatas, for the reality of moral experience is unfathomable, incomprehensible, inexhaustible, and will always be intimated anew in deeds of love and in works of creative intelligence.

January 31, 2016.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

THE LIMITS OF REASONING


THE LIMITS OF REASONING

as exemplified in Book One of the Republic

D. R. Khashaba

Reasoning is never self-sfficing or self-contained. Reasoning is a chain the first link of which dangles in bottomless darkness. It can never contain its ultimate ground since it has necessarily to start from a given.

In the early elenctic dialogues of Plato the search begins for the ‘what’ of this or that and never, not in a single instance, reaches a satisfactory conclusion. Were it not for the blinding authority of Aristotle this should have been enough to convince us that the Socratic elenchus was not a search for definitions,. The purpose of the Socratic examinations, as I have been repeating ad nauseam in my writings, was to show that in vain do we seek the essence or the meaning of an idea outside the idea, that being accessible only in the self-evidence of the idea in the mind.

Book One of the Republic, as every student of philosophy knows, is written in the manner of the early elenctic dialogues, so much so that it has been suggested that it was originally one of that early group. Be that as it may, I think that Plato in opening the Republic with that inconclusive search for the meaning of justice (dikaosunê) meant to say that the meaning of justice, or rather the answer to the question what manner of life we should live, which question Socrates twice in the course of the discussion indicates is what is at the bottom of the quest (344e, 352d) — that that meaning and that answer cannot be disclosed by argument, cannot be reached by reasoning, but must be beheld in a model, a model created by the mind within the mind, which is to say in a vision of the mind. It is instructive to follow the argument of Book One of the Republic to see how it displays the limits and the boundary of reason and reasoning. In Ch. 7 of Plato: An Interpretation (2oo5) I gave a detailed account of the argument of Book One. The following is a more sketchy survey limited to the purpose of this essay.)

Socrates having attended the festival of the goddess Bendis at the Piraeus is on his way back to the city with Glaucon son of Ariston when they are stopped by Polemarchus son of Cephalus and friends who insist Socrates should join them at Cephalus’ home. Once there Socrates engages in conversation with the old man, eventually leading to Socrates’ questioning the old man’s implied conception of justice as consisting in giving back what one has received from another (331c). The old man has to go attend to the sacrifices and his son, Polemarchus, takes over and supports the questioned definition by a quotation from Simonides. The examination – which we need not follow in detail here – proceeds in the manner of the elenctic discourses up to the point where Polemarchus has to admit that it is never just to harm anyone (335e).

At this point Thrasymachus can no longer let “this nonsense” pass unchallenged. For him justice is the advantage of the stronger (338c). Socrates says he has to learn what Thrasymachus means by that. Scrutinizing the statement Socrates brings out the contradictions inherent in it. Thrasymachus modifies his position. Earlier he had admitted that the stronger, the ruler, is fallible and may make laws that are disadvantageous to him but which the ruled mevertheless have to obey. Now he says that, precisely speaking, only one who infallibly decrees what is best for himself is a true ruler (341a). Socrates now introduces the analogy of the physician, the pilot, etc., who are true rulers in their respective spheres and who serve the interest of the ruled and not their own (342e). Thrasymachus who had been abusive before now becomes obnoxiously insulting (343a). In a long harangue he extols injustice and deprecates justice and then makes to leave. Socrates detains him saying that what they are discussing is no small matter but turns on what life is best for a human being. This is crucial for what I wish to convey in this essay but I withhold my comment till we have completed the survey,

Socrates proposes to examine Thrasymachus’ contention that perfect injustice is a more rewarding way of life than perfect justice (348b). Thrasymachus insists on classing injustice as a virtue and justice as a vice which rules out any argument on the basis of conventionally accepted values. Socrates again resorts to analogy to show that the just is akin to the wise and good and the unjust to the ignorant and bad. Thrasymachus declares that he is not satisfied, He rightly sees that the argument is pointless and he would only continue to answer Socrates’ questions just to satisfy those present. Socrates argues that injustice in a city or community breeds discord and ends in failure. Even a band of robbers must have justice among its members if they are to carry on with their robbery successfully. This is the insight expressed by A. N. Whitehead in saying “The fact of the instability of evil is the moral order of the world.” Socrates leads to the idea that injustice in the unjust individual has the same disruptive and destructive effect that it has in a city or community (352a).

Socrates then argues – with Thrasymachus only perfunctorily going along – that the peculiar virtue or excellence of a thing is the proper function of that thing; that justice is the virtue of the soul; that the just man will have a good life (352d-354a). Ask any of our worthy scholars who are shredding Plato’s dialogues to tatters and she or he will tell you that Socrates’ argument is flawed at every point. Socrates concludes by confessing that at the end of the whole discussion he has gained no knowledge. He ascribes that to having wrongly pursued the question whether justice is beneficial or not before understanding what justice is (354a-c).

Socrates could never have convinced Thrasymachus any more than he could convince Callicles in the Gorgias. They could never come to an agreement because they start from different grounds. Socrates could help Polemarchus clear some of the confusions, entanglements, and false beliefs with which he starts because Polemarchus tacitly shared certain values with Socrates. In the metaphysical core of the Republic (from 472a in Book Five to the end of Book Seven) Plato tells us that philosophical insight is attained in the process of striving to grasp that which truly is by that in us which is akin to that which is (490a). Again he tells us that the insight thus attained cannot be expressed in any definite formulation of thought or language; that it can only be intimated in myth and parable. He further tells us that the grounds of any definite formulation of thought have to be destroyed by dialectic (533c). I have been explicating and emphasizing this in all my writings including my most recently published Plato’s Universe of Discourse (2015, e-book).

To sum up let me reproduce these disjointed sentences picked up from Ch. 7 of Plato: An Interpretation: “That it is never right to harm anyone cannot be proved; it can only be proclaimed as an ideal, and is only embraced by one who equates his proper excellence and perfection, his spiritual health, with moral goodness.” “As an ideal, it can neither be proved nor disproved. It can only be shown to agree or to disagree with the form of perfection we elect for ourselves.” “Socrates does not argue against Thrasymachus, does not refute the thesis of Thrasymachus, but presents his own ideal in place of the other's.” “In philosophical discourse – call it reasoning if you will, provided you be wary of narrowing the meaning of the word – we are not concerned with proof but with the creation of a vision.”

All reasoning starts from an unexamined postulate, which subsequently must be examined and when examined is necessarily found to be riddled with contradictions. Philosophical insight is not a truth arrived at by reasoning but is a vision oracularly proclaimed.

Friedrich Hölderlin has prophetically said, “Poetry … is the beginning and the end of philosophical knowledge. Like Minerva from the head of Jupiter, philosophy springs from the poetry of an eternal, divine state of being. And so in philosophy, too, the irreconcilable finally converges again in the mysterious spring of poetry" (Hyperion, translated by Willard R. Trask, adapted by David Schwarz). Hölderlin, voicing the inward vision of a poet, expressed perfectly the Platonic insight into the true nature of philosophy, outstripping all professional philosophers before Kant and after Kant.

Cairo, January 23, 2016.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

NOTES ON PRESOCRATIC PHILOSOPHERS


NOTES ON PRESOCRATIC PHILOSOPHERS

D. R. Khashaba

I am reading A Presocratics Reader, second ed., edited by Patricia Curd, trsnslation by Richard D. McKirahan and Patricia Curd (2011). The following notes are not comments but peripheral thoughts that occur to me while reading. All quotations are from the second edition of the book. (Exceptionally, the last note is a direct comment on Curd’s text.)

The first Ionian thinkers appear to have posed scientific questions. They sought knowledge about the natural world, but we can never know what metaphysical yearnings for the Whole, what incipient visions of the All, were mixed in their physical speculations. Perhaps Anaximander’s thinking was more metaphysically oriented than the thinking of either Thales or Anaximenes. Heraclitus who saw the evanescence of all things in the natural world found permanence in a principle, the Logos, and reality in the inner secret of our being, the psuchê. This insight came to full fruition in Socrates-Plato. After Plato, the best philosophers have been interpreters of Plato; the others have been either confusing philosophy with science or have been scientists mistaking themselves or being mistaken by others for philosophers.

What we know about the earliest philosophers is pieced together mostly from disjointed fragments and whatever meaning we surmise in those scraps can only be highly conjectural. But we are more likely to underrate than to overvalue what has come down to us. When Aristotle says: “From what is related about him, it seems that Thales too held that the soul is something productive of motion, if indeed he said that the lodestone has soul, because it moves iron”, our modern positivism-ridden mentality will dismiss that as a sample of pre-scientific thinking. Our modern thinkers fail to see in it the philosophical insight that finds ‘uncaused’ motion unintelligible . Motion without a mover is a very useful scientific fiction, but when we are expected to accept that as self-explanatory we must demur if we care to preserve our sanity and our rationality.

Perhaps we may reasonably say that Anaximander was the first metaphysician. While Thales and Anaximenes were cosmogonists thinking about the primary stuff of all things, Anaximander in the idea of the apeiron was introducing the metaphysical idea of the All. In speaking of justice and retribution as first principles he realized that the ultimate source of all things, the archê, cannot be simple but must have inherent difference. After Anaximander, we have to go to Heraclitus and Parmenides to find the metaphysical idea taken up once more. In Plato the metaphysical and the cosmological are clearly distinguished and separated. After Plato there is no justification or excuse for confusing or mixing these two radically distinct approaches. But unfortunately the confusing and the mixing are still rife in philosophical thinking. Anaximander’s thinking was also maturely metaphysical when he said that motion is eternal. In vain do we seek the origin of the world in something outsuse the world. This absurdity which is excusable in the most primitive myths curiously survives in monotheistic religions. Greek polytheism (perhaps in common with other polytheisms) made the gods arise from a more primordial source, such as chaos or Heaven and Earth as eternally existing.

The word god or gods as found in pre-Socratic texts (as indeed in any philosophical context) is misleading and must be employed with great caution. Thales says all things are full of gods, which indicates the metaphysical insight that all natural processes are only intelligible as intelligent activity. It is the same insight affirmed in Plato’s finding all things ultimately to be nothing but dunamis (activity). Xenophanes spoke of a non-anthropomorphic god who controls the cosmos by thought. Neither Thales nor Xenophanes was referring to the gods of the Olympus nor to anything resembling Yahweh any more than Spinoza did. Whether Xenophanes thought of god as within the world or outside the world there is in any case no indication that he thought of god as the creator of the world. He denied any communication from god or the gods to human beings, which excludes any revelation or revealed religion.

The Milesian thinkers had all noted that all things change and pass into one another. Heraclitus emphasized this, making it into a metaphysical principle: the whole of the natural world is in flux; nothing in nature is permanent, stable, or constant. To call such things real is a mockery, as Plato was to affirm. Heraclitus saw reality in the logos that governs the flux and in the psuchê that comprehends the logos. He anticipates Parmenides in affirming the unity and the eternity of the All: “This kosmos, the same for all, none of gods nor humans made, but it was always and is and shall be: an ever-living fire, kindled in measures and extinguished in measures” (tr. Patricia Curd). In affirming the unity of opposites and in his paradoxical statements, Heraclitus brings out the relativity of all determinate statements.

Plato revered Parmenides. He found in him the metaphysical idea of the Whole, the idea of metaphysical reality. Like all Greek thinkers, Parmenides rejects authority in the sphere of knowledge, insisting on the autonomy of thought: in his poem the goddess, while declaring all things to the young man, enjoins him to examine the arguments she gives for himself. This is what distinguishes Greek philosophical thinking from the traditional wisdom of, say, Egyptian, Babylonian, or Hebrew sages and prophets. Parmenides anticipates Plato in dividing human knowledge into knowledge proper concerning principles, the fruit of reason, and opinion relating to perceptible things. Thus in the first section of his poem he speaks of the One; in that area what is thought and what is real are one. The second section deals with the multiple changeable actualities of the perceptible world. This corresponds to Plato’s distinction between alêtheia, attained when the mind reflects in itself and by itself (phronêsis), and doxa or pistis, which is all we can obtain when dealing with the perceptible world. (This is the gist of the ‘divided line’ in the Republic.) It is very difficult for the modern mind to grasp that this is still strictly true of our most advanced natural sciences. In the Sophist Plato, in correcting his own youthful over-emphasis on the permanence and unchangeability of the Forms, remedies the negativity of Parmenides’ conception of the One, which renders the actual world completely unthinkable. Unless we see the real as activity, dunamis, and not as either a thing or an abstract idea, the existence of the actual world becomes absolutely unexplainable. The cosmological account in the doxa section of Parmenides’ poem, like all theories and doctrines relating to the natural world, including our most advanced scientific theories, is a myth that is only justified in so far as it ‘saves the appearances’, that is, in making actual states of affairs intelligible. Philosophical doctrines are likewise myths, but there is a difference. Strictly philosophical doctrines have no actual facts to conform to: their value resides exclusively in their coherence, in their intelligibility: they are not mutually exclusive; we can enjoy diverse visions, diverse portrayals of the subjective realm. Also in the Republic Plato loosens the forbidding exclusivity of Parmenides’ two paths, the path of what-is that is knowable and the path of what-is-not that is ubknowable and unspeakable, for Plato finds the object of opinion to share of being and not-being. — Plato’s emphasis on the dialectical polarity of the One and the Many as ground principles in philosophical thinking is a reconciliation and transcendence of the opposition of the real One and the Unreal Many in Parmenides.

Zeno of Elea bared the fictionality of the concepts of space and time and of infinite divisibility. The paradoxes he devised exploit the inherent contradictoriness of these concepts. Modern philosophers and logicians introduce clever but essentially specious arguments for evading the paradoxes rather than admitting the inherent paradoxicality of all our working concepts. The Socratic elenchus shows clearly that all determinate comcepts inescapably have imperfection in the principle of their formulation. This is the insight that Plato universalizes when he insists that the ground of all determinate formulations of thought must be demolished by dialectic. Zrno’s argument against multiplicity is the same as Bradkey’s argument in the first part of Appearance and Reality. Indeed it is the insight behind all metaphysical idealism and pantheism; I wanted to mention monism here, but unfortunately the term monism has been corrupted by empiricists, making it amount to a denial of soul, mimd, spiritual reality, or metaphysical reality. Aristotle’s criticisms of Zeno’s arguments are beside the point, since Zeno’s intention was not to prove anything positively but to show the contradictoriness of common concepts.

Some early negative impression – whence I do not know – made me expect little of Empedocles. Simultaneously with A Presocratics Reader I happen to be reading Hölderlin’s Hyperion (English translation, edited by Eric L. Santner) and am intrigued to read in the Chronology: “Toward the end of the summer Hölderlin begins plans for a tragedy based on the life and death of the philosopher Empedocles, who, Hölderlin writes, was ‘a sworn enemy of all one-sided existence and thus ... dissatisfied ... even in truly pleasant conditions simply because they are particular conditions.’” I have always seen the transience of all particular determinate things as a basic metaphysical insight. I will now read the Empedocles section of the Reader with heightened interest. — The notion of Love and Strife as ultimate principles fits in with the Heraclitian “ever-living fire, kindled in measures and extinguished in measures”. If all things are constantly perishing and constantly coming to be, and if this process is not a blind tumbling of Lucretian atoms, we need to see the whole process as a rhythm, an ebb and flow, a dialectic polarity. This is the insight underlying the Hindu opposition of Vishnu and Shiva, or the Egyptuan Osiris perpetually destroyed by Set and revived by Isis and in the process giving birth to Horus. — Empedocles seems to have been averse to all bloodshed: “No altar was drenched with the unspeakable slaughter of bulls, / but this was the greatest abomination among humans, / to tear out life and devour the noble limbs” (tr. Richard McKirahan). (Possibly he was here describing the reign of Love.) In another fragment we read: “… whenever anyone pollutes his own dear limbs with the sin of bloodshed”. — “For know that all things possess thought and a portion of intelligence.” This apparently supports the view that no being bereft of intelligence is intelligible, but we are not justified in attaching a definite interpretation to the words.

Anaxagoras was a cosmogonist in the tradition of the Milesian school. The role of nous (mind) in his system was nothing new. All of his predecessors, implicitly or explicitly, saw mind in the origin of things. It seems that there were no ‘materialists’ among early Greek thinkers. (Protagoras questioned the existence of gods but that is not the same as denying primal intelligence.) Socrates’ disappointment with the book of Anaxagoras is understandable. It is true that (in what seems to be the longest connected fragment we have) we read that “Nous has control over all things that have soul, both the larger and the smaller. And Nous controlled the whole revolution, so that it started to revolve in the beginning” (tr. Patricia Curd), but then we hear of nothing but separations and mixtures, of the dense and the rare, of the warm and the cold, and the like. This was not the mind Socrates was interested in: he wanted the mind to order human life, to determine purposes and goals and ideals. — Anaxagoras was more of a scientist than a philosopher. He sought rational explanations for natural phenomena: the light of the moon is derived from the sun; a rainbow is the reflection of the sun in the clouds; the egg-white is birds’ milk. I cannot detect in him the metaphysical yearning for the All, for the Reality beyond all existents. His cosmos is simply the objective sum-total of all things, in which nous is just a physical moving force.

It seems that materialism as understood by the moderns was unknown to any Greek thinkers up to at least the end o the fourth century BC. Diogenes of Apollonia who is said to have adopted “material monism” argues that air, his single basic stuff, is intelligent and divine. Leucippus is said to have written a book on Mind. Sextus Empiricus tells us that, like Plato, “Democritus supposed that only the intelligible things are true (or, ‘real’)” ( A Presocratics Reader, p.114). This is a testimony to the sanity of the Greeks in classical times as against our moderns who are content with a, strictly speaking, mindless and senseless world.

In her prefatory note to the section on Gorgias Patricia Curd describes Gorgias’ On Nature, or, On What Is Not as “a fascinating response to (or parody of?) Eleatic metaphysics”. She says further: “This essay, written in the 440s and so contemporary with Melissus, influenced later philosophers, including Plato” (p.148). With all due respect for Professor Curd’s scholarship, I find the suggestion that Plato was influenced by this piece preposterous. From all we know of Gorgias, he had no interest in or taste for metaphysical questions. In this bizarre piece Gorgias was probably mimicking or lampooning the Eleatics, perhaps Melissus in particular. Plato in the Sophist examined the notion of not-being (what is not) sanely, profoundly, and plainly, and what he says there is fully congruous with his treatment of reality and unreality in the Republic. If chronology permitted it, I would have said that Gorgias was in part parodying Plato’s Parmenides. That Gorgias would have failed to understand that dialogue would not be surprising, seeing that scholars throughout twenty-four centuries have been riddled by it although, in my opinion, its message is simple and clearly spelled out in the dialogue itself. But it is highly unlikely that Gorgias lived long enough to read the Parmenides. I have written repeatedly on the Parmenides and will not expand on the subject here.

Cairo, December 29, 2015.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

MY PHILOSOPHY - I


MY PHILOSOPHY - i

D. R. Khashaba

[I hsve been wrestling with the idea of a new book. I don’t know if I will ever finish it. I thought of writing it in instalments to be posted on my blog. One day I may collect and arrange these papers for publication as a book.]

Eimi . (( am.) The beginning and end of all philosophy is contained in this little word. Descartes needlessly said “I think, therefore I am”. My inner being is the one thing that I know immediately and indubitably. Other than this all is interpretation, from the simplest sensation to the latest findings of astrophysics. That green leaf before me is only a green leaf for me when my mind picks it up as a green leaf. That the sun will rise tomorrow is a bundle of interpretations woven together.

I imagine that when I was born I found myself swimming in an ocean of colours and sounds that were not yet for me colours or sounds. (Strictly, there was yet no I to find and no self to be found.) Gradually the nebula of colours and sounds began to settle down into distinct things. In time a collection of those distinct things formed a relatively permanent central group that I separated as myself as distinct from my varying surroundings. Those things, the more permanent and the for-me-less-permanent, were given names and acquired meaning for me.

Meaning? That is a whole unfathomable world in a word. When human beings created language they created meaning. The birth of language proper – not merely gesturing or signalling by voice or motion, but the naming of things and actions – is the birth of conceptual thought. The creative mind that first named a thing initiated the world of thought. The world of thought is the specifically human world. As human beings, in our special character as human beings, we live in a world of thought.

The profound insight in Plato’s notion of forms or ideas escapes us just because it is so simple, so basic, so pervasive. Nothing has meaning for us, nothing is for our mind, except through an idea that is totally distinct from the thing. Locke spoke of ideas that came to us through the senses; Hume named these impressions to distinguish them from ideas proper; but these elemental impressions in themselves, apart from a receptive mind, are completely dumb. Nothing is for the mind, nothing id for me, unless my mind give it credence, investing it in a form of the mind’s own creation. We latter-day humans, inheritors of so much thought, are taught the words, but unless the mind ensconce the word in a form creatively flashed by the mind the word remains a dumb tap on the eardrum. Watch the amazement and the glee in the eyes of a twelve-month old child picking up the meaning of a new word.

Thoughts, represented by linguistic forms – words and structures – form the intelligible world in which we have our being as human beings. From the silliest urchin to Stephen Hawking every one of us lives in a private cosmos of thought; from the saintliest soul to the most abominable murderer we all live in worlds of ideas, values, purposes, and ideals, worthy and unworthy. Apart from my biological functions, my instinctive motions, my involuntary reflexes, and habitual acts that have become automatic, everything I do is completely governed by thoughts. I am not speaking of organized thinking, reasoning, or problem solving, but of what is more basic. I love, I hate, I retaliate, I forgive, all in obedience to thoughts, evaluations, principles in my mind.

But these worlds I live in, the private world of thought and the common external world which in its turn only has meaning for me, only has being for me, in virtue of the intelligible forms in which I clothe all things, are all bereft of permanence and bereft of certainty. The world of thought has its being in that I think it, and the being of the external world is an impenetrable mystery. All I know of the external world are fictions projected by the mind on the world. The most advanced physical and astrophysical theories are forms that lend intelligibility to the ultimately unintelligible world. The only thing that I know certainly and immediately is my inner reality out of which all these thoughts, all these interpretations flow; that inner reality I call my mind or my subjectivity; it is not a thing; it is not anywhere and it is not in time; it is purely and simply this creative activity, this spontaneous outflow of thoughts and deeds.

What I have written above will sound enigmatic and meaningless to minds conditioned by the modern positivist outlook to ignore our inner reality. What I have written can only be understood in the light of all I have been writing from my first book onwards and in the light of what I hope to write in the following papers.

Cairo, December 24, 2015.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

THE MIND OF A FLY


THE MIND OF A FLY

D. R. Khashaba

Neuroscientists will stop at nothing in their Holy Grail chase of the mind. Now we are told that neuroscientists have found a way to read the mind of a fly (The Independent, December 17, 2015). Even if we allow that the fly has a mind, how do you read that mind by observing changes in the colouring of neurons? The mind, dear sirs, is not a thing, not an object that can be observed objectively.

My mind is not the mutations that take place in my brain or in any part of my body. My mind is the experience I live, the thoughts and feelings that I subjectively experience, and that can neither be observed, nor exhausted, nor explained by any objective methodology, however sophisticated.

I will readily allow that the fly has a mind, but its mind is the experience of the pulse of life in the fly, and only an individual living fly can know the mind of that individual fly.

The brain of Einstein was extracted and preserved: have scientists found the mind of Einstein in that brain? Suppose scientists re-activate that brain, make it work and even come up with new theories, all that the scientists can then observe are chemical and physical motions, but not the active, creative mind giving birth to those theories.

Dear neuroscientists, be sure you will never reach the mind by your empirical methods and approach. You are doing good work, brilliant, marvellous work, but let us call things by their name. You are researching the brain, not the mind. What harm? When we believe you are dealing with the mind we negate the being of the mind. With due apologies to immortal Shakespeare, there is a lot in a name: a mind is not a mind by any other name.

Cairo, December 17, 2015.

Friday, December 11, 2015

A NOTE ON KARL JASPERS


A NOTE ON KARL JASPERS

D. R. Khashaba

I have been reading Karl Jaspers’ Way to Wisdom, translated by Ralph Manheim, and was pleasantly surprised to find him expressing views that I have been advancing from my first book onwards. I venture to say that among modern philosophers Karl Jaspers alone, in my opinion, had a clear conception of the nature of philosophy proper. I cull the following sentences from Ch. 1, “What is Philosophy?”

“For the scientific-minded, the worst aspect of philosophy is that it produces no universally valid results; it provides nothing that we can know and thus possess.”

“The certainty to which [philosophy] aspires … is an inner certainty in which a man's whole being participates.”

“The circuitous paths travelled by specialists in philosophy have meaning only if they lead man to an awareness of being and of his place in it.”(Where Jaspers speaks of ‘being’ I speak of ‘reality’.)

“… the essence of philosophy is not the possession of truth but the search for truth … Philosophy means to be on the way. Its questions are more essential than its answers, and every answer becomes a new question. … But this on-the-wayness … contains within it the possibility of … perfection. This perfection never resides in formulable knowledge, in dogmas and articles of faith, but in a historical consummation of man's essence in which being itself is revealed. To apprehend this reality in man's actual situation is the aim of philosophical endeavour.”

“Every philosophy defines itself by its realization. We can determine the nature of philosophy only by actually experiencing it. …Only by thus experiencing philosophy for ourselves can we understand previously formulated philosophical thought.”

“Philosophy is the principle of concentration through which man becomes himself, by partaking of reality.”

“… its conscious elaboration is never complete, must forever be undertaken anew and must at all times be approached as a living whole.”

All of this agrees completely with what I have been advocating in all my writings and all of it is consistent with Jaspers’ insightful reading of Plato. In Appendix II, “On Reading Philosophy”, Jaspers writes: “Plato achieved the clearest communication of his thoughts, but he communicated them in such a way that the mystery of philosophical endeavour becomes speech while remaining always present as mystery. … Plato achieved the summit beyond which, it would seem, man cannot pass in his thinking. … He has always been misunderstood, for he has no doctrine that can be learned and his teachings must always be acquired anew.”

But regrettably that exhausts the area of our agreement. I find myself in substantial disagreement with Jaspers on two major points:

(1) Jaspers sees a very close connection between philosophy and science. He speaks of philosophy as “a method of inquiry”. I insist that philosophy and science are radically distinct and must be strictly kept separate. Jaspers says that philosophy’s “relevance is limited to a special sphere of the knowable.” On the contrary, I say that philosophy is concerned with what can never be the subject of knowledge. To underline the distinction between science and philosophy I say that while science yields objective knowledge, philosophy, and philosophy alone, gives understanding.

(2) Jaspers believes in a transcendent God. I insist that we can have no factual knowledge or rational assurance about the world outside us. The notion of God is a precious element of human culture but it must be acknowledged as a creation of the human mind, whose whole reality is in the mind. In Ch. 2, “Sources of Philosophy”, Jaspers says that “the mind in itself is empty, dependent on what is put into it”, and again that “… the independent mind is barren, lacking all content.” To my mind this does away with all philosophy. It is the glory of humanity, and probably its bane, that we create the content of the mind.

On these two points, but especially on the second point, my position is diametrically opposed to that of Jaspers. Further on in the second chapter he says, “In ultimate situations man either perceives nothingness or senses true being in spite of and above all ephemeral worldly existence. Even despair, by the very fact that it is possible in the world, points beyond the world.” For me, the true being (reality) philosophy leads us to is our own inner reality.

The chasm between Jaspers’ position and mine comes out clearly when he goes on to say, “Or, differently formulated, man seeks redemption. Redemption is offered by the great, universal religions of redemption. They are characterized by an objective guarantee of the truth and reality of redemption. Their road leads to an act of individual conversion. This philosophy cannot provide.” For me, philosophy goes as far as we have a right to go. For enlightened human beings philosophy must supersede religion — not negate religion as materialism and scientism do, but absorb the essence of pure religion, discarding all dogmatism and superstition.

Jaspers acknowledged that Kant refuted all theoretical proofs of the existence of God but follows him in nevertheless holding on to the belief in a transcendent God. Jaspers is more consistent but less rational than Kant: more consistent because he – so far as I can see – gives up all hope of proof, taking refuge in revelation, and that is where he is less rational than Kant who remains within the scope of reason though his reasoning at this point is flawed.

All post-Kantian German philosophers betrayed Kant. They all engaged in dogmatic metaphysics. But in this they were in a way following Kant himself, for Kant was the first to betray his transcendental system when he manoeuvred to keep his belief in God and personal survival. Kant was not justified in this. One may either discard reason and believe in divine revelation or consider the notion of God a creation of the human mind, a myth, albeit a myth which, acknowledged for a myth, forms a most precious contribution to human culture.

It was not my intention in this note to discuss Jaspers’ philosophy, but only to point out the remarkable agreement I found between Jaspers’ conception of philosophy and the views I have been advocating. I was drawn to comment on the points where my position differs radically from Jaspers’ but will not go further into this here.

Cairo, December 11, 2015.