Monday, February 12, 2018

GOD AND I


GOD AND I

D. R. Khashaba

God and I have had a lifelong unstable and uneven relationship. More than once I have described my philosophy as a continued wrestling with God, though along its extended course God has not remained the same but has undergone a radical transformation.

As a child I was taught that the world has been made by a mighty being, all-knowing and all-powerful. The term ‘created’ was introduced at a later stage along with a mass of dogmatic teachings originating, as I in time learned, from a book referred to collectively (in Arabic) as the Holy Book although it consists of two groups of assorted books – the Old Testament and the New Testament – differing widely in content and tone. Though, impelled by a number of abhorrent tales especially in the Old Testament, I shed off most of the dogmatic teachings in my early teens, the concept of a mighty being out there who created the world and continues to oversee and to rule the world — this concept hanged on somewhat longer.

When I began to philosophize – before I knew there was such a thing as philosophy – two questions ignited the aporia, the painful unrest that is the origin of all philosophy, possessed my mind, one after the other. The first question was moral. World War II was raging with the news of killing and destruction pouring in day and night. I found it puzzling that humans were so stupid as not to know that peace and goodwill would bring them gains far exceeding anything they can obtain by slaughtering one another.

The second question was metaphysical. How did this world come about? Indeed how could there be anything at all? How could anything that is not perfect, that does not have the self-sufficiency of perfect being, be? As soon as the question presented itself to my mind in this form, the concept of a God outside the world, creating the world out of nothing, was seen to be evidently absurd, for the being of God was itself problematic, as problematic as the being of any particular thing in the world.

Somehow I formed for myself the view that the origin of all being, the ultimately real, must be good and intelligent. What was the nature of that ultimate reality? When I posed the question to myself in that form I was convinced that the origin of all things must be Will. Will, I saw, is of its own nature purposive. Will is thus affirmative of being and as such is good, is Love. That good and intelligent Will displaced the god of my childhood.

I had reached that far before I began to read philosophy. As far as I can remember my earliest philosophy schooling was in the Encyclopedia Britannica Eleventh Edition. I read the articles about the major philosophers and about the main philosophy departments and themes. Then, as I remember, I discovered Plato and was captivated. Also at a very early stage (late teens to early twenties) I had the good fortune of reading Spinoza’s Ethics, Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, Bradley’s Appearance and Reality. Spinoza’s Pantheism fitted well with the convictions I came with.

In Plato’s early dialogues I found the answer, in principle, to the moral question. I saw that Socrates found that what constituted our specific character as human beings was that our action was governed by ideas, ideals, purposes, formed in and by the mind. Our good is in the wholesomeness of our mind (soul, nous, psuchê) and our misery is in the unwholesomeness of our mind. The early and middle dialogues also gave me my epistemology. All knowledge and all understanding come from the ideas born in and by the mind.

In the Republic I found everything. In the Form of the Good I found confirmation for my conception of ultimate Reality as intelligent and good and creative. But I also learned that while that conception is the vision of Reality that satisfies our mind, there are two most important qualifications. (1) That vision and the insight that gives birth to that vision cannot be captured by any formulation of language or thought and that is why any such formulation can be nothing but a myth intimating the insight. The various conceptions of ultimate Reality produced by different philosophers can be nothing but myths intimating the various philosophers’ vision of Reality. (2) We find our vision of Reality in our mind and nowhere but in our mind. The vision of Reality we offer is nothing but our insight into our own inner Reality.

Where does that leave God? We have no access to any reality other than our own inner reality. No empirical experience and no reasoning can give us access to any reality other than our own reality. Therefore I do not say that my vision of ultimate Reality is true of the actual world nor do I say that it is a true representation of God. If my vision of ultimate Reality is equated with my vision of God, then that God is nowhere but in my mind.

Hence I say that all philosophers, with the sole exception of Plato, are deluded when they maintain that their visions are true of the actual world. What is the use of philosophy then? Our struggle with the insistent, persistent questionings about the All and the Whole is what gives us our wholeness and integrity. Our wrestling with the idea of God is what gives us the god within us.

I wrestled for a lifetime with God to find at last that the only God I know of certainly and lucidly is the God I create for myself within myself.

D. R. Khashaba

February 12, 2018

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Saturday, February 10, 2018

BRAIN AND MIND


BRAIN AND MIND

D. R. Khashaba

Neurologists and neuroscientists are constantly announcing some new advance or some new discovery in their field of study. As far as it goes that is all right and all for the good. But underneath the legitimate pride and jubilation there is always the hardly veiled promise that we are on the verge of explaining the mind away, of doing away with this trouble-maker that refuses to submit to the scientific methods of examination and verification.

Let me first bluntly state, for the nth time, my conviction. Even when we have amply shown that all thought, all emotion, all feeling, down to the minutest flicker of the mind, is bedded in the brain and is shown to takes its rise in and from the brain, even then we will not have done away with the mystery of the mind. Again, even when we make an intelligent machine that is self-conscious, even when we make a robot that has emotions and can speak of its own ego — even then we cannot say that we have understood the mystery of the mind.

To my mind, all being is two-sided, is bidimensional, is subject and object at once, is eternal noumenon and evanescent phenomenon. We cannot be immediately aware of both subject and object at once except in one place, within ourselves. But I cannot conceive anything existing as sheer object. All things outside ourselves can only be known to us as objects, but I find an object existing all by itself to be unintelligible: being essentially transient, evanescent, it cannot support itself. Of course I cannot imagine how mind is connected to a stone, but my mind tells me that without mind a stone cannot exist. Thus for Spinoza the world, all nature, is natura naturata inseperable of natura naturans.

You might say, what is the point of all this? If we can only know all things, including ourselves, as objects objectively studied by the methods of science, why bother about the unknowable subject/ My brief answer is that all our values, all that we treasure, all that constitutes our specifically human character, is in the subjective realm: even all science has no abode, no fount, other than the mind. Science studies all objects objectively, but science itself, as an intelligent activity, has no place but the mind: physics, mathematics, biology, even proud IT, where would all that be without the human mind?

When we forget about the mind and be immersed in the gifts of the mind – science and the conveniences and facilities of our material civilization – we are rewarded with the ailments of our present day: consumerism, competetiveness, greed, animosity, overproduction coupled with poverty and hunger within and without. I apologize to the reader for this gloomy ending which I tried to put in as few words as possible.

D. R. Khashaba

February 10, 2018

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Monday, February 05, 2018

EVIL


EVIL

D. R. Khashaba

I do not see evil as a philosophical problem. Evil is a human product, a disease brought about by the species proudly parading the banner ‘Homo sapoens’and has to be treated by humans.

Evil can be seen as a theoretical probkem only in the context of transcendent theism. On the hypothesis that the world has been created and is ruled by an all-knowing and all-powerful God the existence of evil is an insuperable challenge defying all theologies and all theodicies. The stale argument that to have freewill humans had to be capable of perpetrating wrong is a sham. In the first place, human freedom is best realized not in choice but in the spontaneity of deeds of love and creative activity. Secondly, choice need not be between good and bad; it can be between alternatives that are equally god but mutually exclusive. The alternative to sitting at my desk writing a philosophical essay need not be going to a brothel but going to a concert.

Leaving theologies and theodicies behind, what is evil? Death is not an evil but an ontological necessity, for whatever comes into being as a finite existent has to pass away. Pain is a biological function, not an evil; and although once, under excruciating pain I thought that such pain must be accounted evil, when the pain abated I knew that that passing thought was a misjudgment. I am convinced that only pain willfully inflicted by a human being on a living thing is evil.

But alas! our world is full and overfull of that one inexcusable evil. It is not only that there are the carnages committed by (1) those whose minds have been captivated by superstitions, and (2) those whose minds have been corrupted by various misfortunes in their life experiences, but, leaving aside the acts of terrorism fuelled by superstitions (of religion, of nationalism, etc.) and the atrocities committed by diseased minds — apart from that, our world is full of injustice: (1) advanced countries are usurping the less advanced countries, and (2) within the advanced countries a rich and powerful minority is usurping the poor and powerless majority. As long as these injustices are rampant it is almost impossible for normal individuals to be morally wholesome. In an unjust and insane worrld order even the best of us are tarnished.

When I started to write this paper I had intended to speak of the ordinary sins of us ordinary individuals and to propose that they are all, as Socrates maintained, due to ignorance and to exonerate Socrates’ moral philosophy of the charge of ‘intellectualism’. But I have already done this in my earlier writings and may revert to the subject again in a future paper.

D. R. Khashaba

February 5, 2018

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Friday, February 02, 2018

KNOWING AND UNDERSTANDING


KNOWING AND UNDERSTANDING

D. R. Khashaba

Throughout my writings I have stressed the need for a radical distinction between knowledge and understanding, a distinction which, I maintain, is clearly made and emphasized by Plato.

In common usage the terms ‘know’ and ‘understand’ overlap and are often used interchangeably. For Empiricists there can be no such distinction since for them all cognition is objective and of the objective while understanding, to my mind, is essentially subjective. Thus for all who speak of a metaphysical reality or a metaphysical plane of being the distinction is crucial even if it is not reflected in their terminology. After all, it is notorious that Plato was the worst offender against terminological uniformity. The problem is further complicated by Kant’s ‘concepts of the understanding’ which correspond to the Platonic Forms that lend intelligibility to the dumb ‘givennesses’ of experience. The nearest thing in Kant to the realm of understanding (as in the terminology I adopt) are the Ideals of Pure Reason.

It occurred to me to further clarify that distinction – primarily in my own mind – by running through some specific examples.

What do I know? In Plato’s dialogues whenever there is question about someone having or not having knowledge of this or that it is implied that he could only have that knowledge if (1) he had found out for himself, or (2) he was taught by another. I think that this exhaustively covers the sources of knowledge: we have knowledge (1) from personal experience, and (2) we have reported knowledge.

I know that the sun comes up every morning and goes down at the end of the day. I have seen this happening day after day. Then I was taught that it is not the sun that journeys daily from one horizon to the other, but it is the earth that rotates facing the sun in one region of the globe after another. Empiricists say that this ‘explains’ the sun’s apparent movement. Does it? Does it make me understand why the earth rotates? Early astronomers, whether they adopted a heliocentric or a geocentric theory, only described what happens. They did not say or know why the earth rotates or why it revolves around the sun. Newton ascribed the movements of the earth and the other planets to gravity but confessed he had no idea what gravity was. Einstein ascribed these movements to the curvature of space but no one can even imagine that curvature. That is true of all scientific knowledge. It enables us to calculate, to anticipate, to manipulate natural phenomena but does not explain, does not make us understand, anything. That is knowledge: knowledge is that and nothing but that.

What about understanding? Let me first state my position bluntly. All understanding is subjective; in other words, all unserstanding is cooked in the mind by the mind. When a stranger helps my ninety-year-old bones and near-blind eyes to cross the street, I understand that as an act of kindness, not as the operation of glands and neurons in the stranger. When I read: “Surprised by joy—impatient as the Wind / I turned to share the transport—Oh! with whom / But Thee, long buried in the silent Tomb” (Wordsworth) — when I read these words I understand the pathos, the joy wrapped in grief, the tender love for the departed; I understand the experience that dictated the words because my mind infuses the words with feelings emanating from experiences similar to the poet’s experience.

Thus understanding, being an outpouring by the mind of meaningfulness and intelligibility on what it receives has the sufficiency of its self-evidence in subjective intelligence. Hence the outcome of genuine philosophical creativity, like inspired poetry, needs no exterior evidence or demonstration and is not arrived at by inferential reasoning but is the gift of insight into the reality of the philosopher’s owm mind.

D. R. Khashaba

February 2, 2018

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Wednesday, January 24, 2018

WHY PHILOSOPHERS DIFFER


WHY PHILOSOPHERS DIFFER

D. R. Khashaba

Why is it that philosophy, unlike science, does not have a commonly agreed body of thought or doctrine to show for its continued efforts over some twenty-six centuries?

In my view the answer is quite simple: philosophy is not required to vie with science in yielding positive knowledge about the objective world, nor is it required to vie with mathematics in attaining demonstrable propositions. Unfortunately philosophers themselves have not been generally clear on this in their own minds. The failure of philosophers to grasp and acknowledge this is responsible for much muddled thinking and for the ignominy that has been the near-universal fate of philosophy.

Philosophy and science are two distinctly separate activities relating to two radically different realms of being. To underline and emphasize this distinction I draw a corresponding radical distinction between knowledge, which I assign totally to science, and understanding, which solely and totally pertains to philosophy.

Let me give an illustration. Seed laid in moist soil germinates, sprouts, grows, yields fruit. Let us clear our minds of all that we have learned about this process. Let us imagine humans with no inherited knowledge whatsoever, imagine them observing this miracle for the first time. There is no necessary connection between one stage of this process and the next. It is all just completely separate happenings, we cannot even justifiably say ‘following one another’. Ask Hume. It is all a mystery, or better said, a number of disparate mysteries. Then the mind of a genius among humans produces the idea ‘growth’ and lo! the unrelated mysteries fall together to form an intelligible whole. This is understanding.

Then people learn to plant seeds and in time there grows the body of knowledge we have today in botany books and the inherited know-how of agriculturists. We fancy that this body of knowledge gives us understanding of the mystery. The most exhaustive account of the observed happenings does not make us understand how and why a seed becomes a tree bearing fruit. For us, drowned in knowledge, this is difficult to grasp. The idea ‘growth’ also does not explain the mystery but it gives us the peace of being possessed of an intrinsically coherent whole — permit me to say, a metaphysical whole.

The ‘Laws of Nature’ formulated by scientists are generalizations of observed regularities in the natural phenomena. They do not explain those phenomena even though scientists in general commonly claim that they do. We need to realize that science neither can nor is required to explain or make us understand happenings in nature. The loose use of the terms ‘explain’ and ‘understand’ makes this important point difficult to grasp but it is necessary that we be clear about it.

On all levels all understanding is a creation of the human mind, from simple perception to metaphysical insight. “The mind is its own place, and in itself” creates meanings, values, realities, intelligible worlds. Milton’s words extend farther, higher, deeper than he intended.

A philosopher does not reach her or his position by reasoning but the travail of wrestling with the philosopher’s own inner realty is rewarded with insights that, in Plato’s words “suddenly, lik e light flashing forth when a fire is kindled, it is born in the soul and straightway nourishes itself” (Epistle VII, 341c-d, tr. Glenn R. Morrow). The philosopher gathers the insights as a lover gathers roses in a bouquet for the beloved. The unity of a philosopher’s thought is not primarily rational or logical but aesthetic, like the unity of a fine mosaic.

What is a philosopher’s valuable and durable contribution to the common treasury of human culture? Not a theory, not a doctrine, and decidedly not positive knowledge about the world. A philosopher, in wrestling with the mysteries of Life and Being, continuing the creative work of the mind, creates magic garbs of thought that lend character and meaning to the neutral stuff of life and the world, thus rendering that stuff intelligible. A particular philosopher’s special collection of such creative notions constitutes that philosopher’s universe of discourse, which becomes part of the cultural heritage of humanity. In Plato’s Universe of Discourse I tried to identify Plato’s collection of such creative notions.

Philosophers are creators of special universes of discourse. When we attempt to reconcile two different philosophies, each expressing its proper universe of discourse, the outcome is more likely to be a confused jumble than a meaningful reconciliation. Each universe of discourse is unique, standing in its own right.

A philosopher’s universe of discourse, constituting her or his Weltanschauung is whole and unique. To assess it or interpret it in terms of a different philosopher’s universe of discourse produces an incoherent muddle.

Hitherto philosophers have tended to adopt the absurd stance of assuming that there can only be one ‘true’ philosophy, all the others being at best approximations, failed exertions to reach the one ‘true philosophy’. So long as this attitude ruled, and it still mainly rules, if not openly and explicitly then as a thinly veiled assumption — so long as that attitude ruled, philosophy was understandably open to mockery and ridicule. And that attitude will inevitably rule so long as it is held that philosophy, like science, aims at attaining ‘true knowledge’. Unless we realize and are convinced that we are all equally ignorant, and that all ultimate questions relate to ultimate mysteries that will always be beyond our ken — unless and until we see that clearly, we shall continue to dwell in the Cave of Plato’s Allegory.

We have no ‘true knowledge’ of the world: this is so without qualification. In science the most up-to-date ‘explanatory theory’ that ‘saves the appearances’ is maintained until we have a better representation, but it is all fiction from beginning to end.

A commonly agreed body of philosophic thought would have nothing to do with philosophy; it would amount to the death of philosophy. When philosophy is not the wrestling of a human mind with the unknown and unknowable it ceases to be philosophy; it turns into dogmatic superstition. To philosophize the philosopher must be fully aware that she or he knows nothing and can never know anything. All our boasted ‘knowledge’ is tinsel and shadow. When the condition of knowing nothing, confessing that one knows nothing, and resigning to the conviction that one can never know anything — when that condition is fulfilled, then one’s philosophizing would be a daring challenge to the unknown and unknowable. The philosopher confronts the unknown and unknowable ultimate realities saying: Be damned! I will create my own understandable world.

Every philosopher creates her or his more or less consistent, more or less intelligible reality. Every philosopher creates her or his understandable world for herself or himself in the first place, to give herself or himself respite from the irksome sense of being plunged in an un-understandable world, but thereafter everybody is welcome to roam that private world and participate in the peace it affords.

Do philosophers then deceive themselves and live in a big lie? Put it that way if you wish, but when the lie is known for a lie it loses its sting.

Dear Reader, if you have the stamina to go through what follows, you will find nothing but sheer madness, but it is that madness that is the sum of wisdom.

The ultimate mysteries of Being, Mind, Life, Becoming can never be solved, resolved, or explained. Science cannot approach these mysteries since they cannot be objectified so as to make them accessible to measurement and empirical experimentation. Nor can philosophers explain these mysteries. Yet philosophers create understandable myths in terms of which the world is intelligibly portrayed — I am trying to speak the ineffable: this is where mystics escape unto Unreason, Nothingness, Cloud of Unknowing — let me say: in terms of which we are enabled to make our peace with the mystery. For where do we meet face to face with the mysteries of Being, Mind, Life, Becoming? It is in our own internal reality. Hence we mythologize to give expression to our insight into our own internal reality. Hence I insist that the way to understanding ourselves and understanding reality is the realization and the confession of our ignorance. Philosophers have to confess and to declare that their mythical representation of our internal reality is not knowledge, is not truth.

Parmenides said: tauto gar esti noein te kai einai, “it is one and the same thing to be intelligible and to be”, or we might put it this way: “intelligence and reality are one and the same”. This is the credo of all genuine philosophy, from Plato through Spinoza to Hegel. But I find fault with philosophers when they affirm that this is true of the actual world. Philosophers legislate for themselves; they have no right, no competence, to legislate for Reality outside the human mind. Of all philosophers hitherto (apart from mystics and the old sages of China and India) only Plato saw this clearly and affirmed it explicitly. At the apex of the philosophical ascent, the end of the philosophical travail, Plato finds the Form of the Good about which we can only speak in myth and parable.

The one Reality that we know immediately and indubitably is our subjective inner reality. All the rest is flux, shadow, transient phenomena. That is why I insist on the principle of philosophical ignorance: the confession of our ignorance is the gateway to – not knowledge – but understanding — understanding of what?, of the one reality we know, our inner reality represented in intrinsically coherent myths.

That is why, dear Reader, philosophers must, should, differ, intimating their insights into the one Reality in various prophetic dreams, exactly like poets, for philosophers are indeed poets.

Dear Reader, I know that what I have been saying in this essay is hard to absorb, for I am condensing in these few lines what I have been expounding in numerous books and essays over more than two decades.

D. R. Khashaba

January 24, 2018

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Monday, January 15, 2018

UNDERSTANDING OTHERS


UNDERSTANDING OTHERS

D. R. Khashaba

“The more I think about language, the more it amazes me that people ever understand each other.” Gödel

THE MORAL SPHERE

The phrase ‘understanding others’ can be taken in either of two distinct senses; (1) the moral sense; (2) the semantic or epistemic sense.

In the moral sphere ‘understanding others’ relates to the aptitude of human individuals to appreciate the feelings, motives, aims, and interests of their fellow humsns. All normal, wholesome human individuals have a measure of this faculty. Many species of non-human animals show empathy with other members of their own species and sometimes with members of other species.

No aggregation of humans – family, tribe, society, etc. – can function and survive without a minimal measure of fellow-understanding. But individuals differ widely in their gift of understanding others. Practically all tension and strife within human groups – families, societies, countries, and even between one country and another – are fuelled by failure of understanding the other.

Persons endowed with a generous share of this gift may, outwardly, be unfortunate; they may be fated to give more than they receive; but inwardly they are abundantly rich, even their sorrows are precious.

When we hear about atrocities committed by deformed and depraved characters – rape and slaughter and torture – we tend to feel that such characters deserve the severest of penalties but in fact they have their punishment in the very deed; inwardly they are putrid and miserable. Of course society has to curb their evil to protect its members, but no punishment imposed on them can equal the death-in-life they bring upon themselves. Oscar Wilde presented an apt metaphor in The Picture of Dorian Gray.

THE EPISTEMIC SPHERE

Coming to the epistemic sphere, let me start by making a shockingly paradoxical assertion. Strictly speaking, no one ever can understand an other one. The phrase ‘understanding others’ which in the moral sphere can be given a meaningful and vital sense, in the epistemic sphere is strictly nonsensical. The understanding is not a neutral vacant receptacle into which ready-made meanings can be fed from the outside as a warehouse receives ready-made products from the outside. Locke’s basic error – which was to breed much nonsense when the Empiricists naively took it literally, was to assume that the mind passively received what was imported into it from outside. The apt metaphor for the mind is not the warehouse nor the blank slate, but the living body which processes what it receives from the outside and fashions it and integrates it into its own organs and activities.

Strictly, the mind does not understand the other but understands its own interpretation of what it gets from the other. This is true on all levels of interaction between the sensate individual and the individual’s surroundings. What we take to be simple perception is an actively fashioned interpretation of the dumb sensuous inflow. On all levels all understanding is active, creative interpretation.

Apart from empy formalities and trivial sayings that are spoken almost unconsciously, every sentence issues from the speaker’s subjective world, drenched in associations and emotive hues, trailing undertones and overtones of its own; it is received in a different subjective world to be clothed in different associations and overtones and undertones. ‘To understand the other’ is a fiction, an empty shell. We do not, we cannot, understand what is spoken to us. What reaches our understanding is our interpretation of what is spoken to us. Hence the misunderstandings and failures to understand when the subjective worlds of speaker and auditor are wide apart.

Moreover, language, any language, is basically a skeletal system of generalities. For every individual and for every group of people the skeleton is fleshed out by living experience. But the words of any living language have to remain fluid to fit the nuances and peculiarities of concrete instances, no two of which are perfectly identical. Hence Leibniz’ dream of a ‘universal characteristic’ remains an unattainable dream. Its putative realization in the system of Symbolic Logic, like its predecessor the system of numbers, gains universality and fixity at the cost of barrenness. When it borrows actual content from outside the formal system the outcome is necessarily an approximation. Scientists generally slur this truth but two great thinkers of the twentieth century saw it clearly. Wittgenstein concluded that Logic is empty, “says nothing” and Einstein insightfully said: “As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain, as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”

D. R. Khashaba

January 15, 2018

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Friday, January 12, 2018

LIMITS OF EPISTEMOLOGY


LIMITS OF EPISTEMOLGY

D. R. Khashaba

Epistemology is a misnomer. It is not a logos (science, theory) of Knowledge but of the paraphernalia of Knowledge. Knowledge herself is a goddess that does not admit humans to her holy of holies. Nothing can explain how we know anything, how we understand, how we are conscious, how we have a mind: all of that is one and the same mystery, which in turn is one with the ultimate mystery of Reality.

The academic discipline of Epistemology is, strictly speaking, a science since its subject matter is the actual or potential objective products of knowledge and the actual or potential instances of acquiring knowledge. It has numerous branches, each branch including several sub-disciplines. Scholarly work in this field will continue indefinitely since its subject matter can never be exhausted. All of that is a good, valuable addition to our treasury of mathemata, but it can never so much as approach the core of the mystery of knowledge because that is one with the mystery of the mind, which in turn is one with the ultimate mystery of Reality. (I will not apologize for saying it over and over again.)

Plato permitted himself several ventures into the theory of knowing. In the Meno and the Phaedrus he initiated three such ventures. (1) He defined knowledge as true opinion accompanied by a rational account (logos). In the Theaetetus this same definition was considered and found unsatisfactory. (2) He introduced the method of hypotheses which was further developed in the Phaedo. Its application in the ‘final argument’ for the immortality of the soul was confessed, along with the other arguments, to be non-conclusive. Moreover in the Republic (533c) we are told that the hypotheses underlying any philosophical statement must be demolished by dialectic. (3) In Phaedrus, 264-266 he outlined the method of collection and division. He experimented with this method in the late dialogues, Sophist, Statesman. Philebus, modifying the method as he went on, till in the Philebus it is no longer recognizable as the method described in the Phaedrus. Clearly all of this is far removed from the insight into the mystery of epistêmê shown in winged passages in the Phaedo (79d), the Symposium (210e-212a), and that oracular gem in Republic (490a-b). The Divided Line in the Republic (509d-511e) ranges the planes of cognition, ascending from sensuous perception to philosophical understanding. — When it comes to definite doctrines, determinate theories, we find Plato revising himself, contradicting himself, what he affirms in a given context he rejects in another context, to the delight of erudite scholars who revel in discovering such contradictions and inconsistencies.

All of the above-noted thought-sallies of Plato were adventures on the outskirts of knowledge, but Plato was not deluded into thinking that he had an answer to the question What is knowledge? In the same dialogue, the Meno, where he was proposing the definition of knowledge as true opinion accompanied by a logos and advancing the method of hypotheses, in that same dialogue he introduced the doctrine of anamnesis, acknowledging that knowledge is a mystery beyond our ken.

ANNEX – a fragment

The mystifying onar anti oneiratos (dream for a dream’) in Theaetatus 201d-292c, though Socrates presents it as an oddity, is amenable to a Platonic interpretation amounting to this: Every explanation is composed of unexplained elements; all reasoning rests on unreasoned grounds; when we come to explain those unexplained grounds we advance fresh ‘given’ stepping stones. The building blocks of all epistêmê have to be elements taken in good faith. The premises of the Aristotelian syllogism are, strictly speaking, dogmara. In the method of hypotheses introduced by Plato in the Meno and further developed in the Phaedo the ground hypothesis must not be questioned; when questioned it has to be supported by a more basic hypothesis taken in good faith. All of this is strictly in harmony with (1) the Socratic elenchus where the Form examined remains undefined, finally intelligible in its own self-evidence in the intelligence that gave it birth in the first place; (2) Plato’s insistence in the Republic that the grounds of any philosophical statement be destroyed by dialectic (Republic, 533c); (3) Socrates’ resorting – when asked to elucidate the Form of the Good – to thr simile of the sun. All of this is part and parcel of the Socratic principle of philosophical ignorance — the wisest among humans is he who, like Socrates, understands that he knows nothing. All knowledge, human knowledge in its entirety, is a cobweb woven of the substance of dreams. The only understanding that is not vain conceit is that indicated by the Delphic oracle: gnôthi seauton.

D. R. Khashaba

January 11, 2018

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