Sunday, May 14, 2017

THE APPLE


THE APPLE

a whimsical tale

D. R. Khashaba

In the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve lived happily.

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

She stretched out her hand to Adam.

He looked questioningly.

“Apple”, she said.

“Apple?”, he repeated.

There was another question in his eyes.

“Apple tree”, she said.

“Tree?”, he repeated.

The chief god overheard them.

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

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

D. R. Khashaba

May 14. 2017

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

Saturday, May 13, 2017

MY MODE OF PHILOSOPHY


MY MODE OF PHILOSOPHY

D. R. Khashaba

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

D. R. Khashaba

May 13, 2017

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

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

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

UNHOAXING THE HOAX


UNHOAXING THE HOAX

D. R. Khashaba

`

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

2

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

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

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

3

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

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

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

4

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

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

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

5

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

At 97b Plato makes Socrates say:

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

Further on we read:

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

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

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

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

Tuchêi agathêi!

D. R. Khashaba

May 10, 2017

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

Thursday, May 04, 2017

PLATO'S GREATEST HOAX


PLATO’S GREATEST HOAX

D. R. Khashaba

I

INTRODUCTION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

II

THE INTELLIGIBLE REALM

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

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

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

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

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

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

III

THE PHILOSOPHICAL LIFE

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

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

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

IV

THE DIVINITY (ETERNITY) OF THE SOUL

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

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

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

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

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

V

THE NATURE AND SCOPE OF PHILOSOPHICAL THINKING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VI

THE HOAX

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

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

This is amplified further on where we read:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

D. R. Khashaba

May 4, 2017

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

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

SUBJECTIVE REALITY


SUBJECTIVE REALITY

D. R. Khashaba

Sympathetic readers of my writings have been put off by my use of the terms ‘real’ and ‘reality’ and though I have repeatedly stated that my choice of term may have been unfortunate and though I have repeatedly explained my special usage of the term and insisted that readers take the term in the special sense I give it, all that has not removed the misunderstandings and difficulties. So here once more I will try to clarify my position.

In ordinary usage what is ‘real’ is what is out there, what exists, what is actual, what is physical, what is objective, what can be empirically verified. I do not question the existence, the actuality, the objectivity, etc., of all that. But you have a plethora of words for that one thing. I need one special word to apply uniquely to what is opposed to that: what is in here, what is subjective, what is meaningful in itself without depending on or having reference to anything outside the mind. So give me the one word ‘real’ and I leave you all the others, primarily ‘exist’ and ‘existence’. And I do not deny you the use of the term ‘real’ in the common connotation. But when we are discussing metaphysics, and particularly in connection with my philosophy, let us be clear which ‘real’ we are referring to.

What I term ‘real’ is, in Platonic language, the intelligible as opposed to the perceptible, and I hasten to assure you that when I say that the intelligible is real I definitely do not mean that it is out there or that it exists in the ordinary sense of the word. I scrupulously avoid the use of the terms ‘exist’ and ‘existence’ in relation to metaphysical reality. With Socrates-Plato I assert that Justice, Loyalty, and even mathematical Equality are nowhere in the natural world.

Why, you may ask, insist on the word ‘real’? Why not simply speak of the subject and subjectivity? I have two reasons why I insist on using the term in this special sense which is causing me so much trouble.

The first reason is axiological. We need to emphasize that all life and all value are in the intelligible realm. The natural world, apart from our ideals and values and dreams is as nothing. The galaxies are not more worthy of the title ‘real’ than my joy or grief or a baby’s glee. However I will not amplify on this thought here.

The second reason is metaphysical. When we come to consider our notion of ultimate Reality, I find that what is ultimately real cannot be a thing or an object or even an agent or creator. To my mind, all that exists is necessarily determined by what it is not, depends on what is other than it, and is necessarily transient, evanescent. What is real I conceive as the activity, the creativity, that brings about all the perpetually vanishing existents. This ultimate Reality I say does not exist since it is never a determinate something. It is the Act, not something that acts, but the sheer activity. All the determinate things it brings forth, in the very act of coming into being are passing away; what is lasting, eternal, is the creativity, not a substantive creator.

Kierkegaard says: Truth is subjectivity. I say, the real is the subjective; it is real inasmuch as it does not exist; and the subject is the unique reality we have cognizance of.

I have been expounding these thoughts in many books and papers, particularly in Quest of Reality, Metaphysical Reality, and Creative Eternity: A Metaphysical Myth. Here I am merely clarifying a terminological confusion.

D. R. Khashaba

April 19, 2017

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

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY?


WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY?

D. R. Khashaba

I

Philosophy has always meant different things to different people. Since the close of the nineteenth century the term has been applied to studies that neither Plato nor Aristotle would have found related to what either of them meant by philosophy.

There is nothing wrong of course with there being numerous diverse fields of thought with distinct methods and objects and objectives. But things go wrong when discipline A, misled by a community of name, finds fault with discipline B because it does not apply A’s methods or adopt its object and objectives. In science, for instance, it would be wrong for physicists to think that, because the ultimate constituents of living cells are such as physics studies, physics tells us all we need to know about living cells. In the case of the diverse disciplines claiming the title ‘philosophy’ (now wildly proliferating) this fault is rampant and is highly damaging. Philosophies modeled on empirical science have actually anathematized as nonsense. But the diversity of types of philosophical thinking is not a modern phenomenon.

II

In China and in India, in Mesopotamia and in Egypt, in Persia and among the Hebrews there was wisdom. But philosophy started in Ionia in the north-eastern corner of the Mediterranean. Philosophy is first distinguished by being private; every philosopher thought for himself, pursuing questions that irked her or him, seeking solely to satisfy her or his own mind, claiming no authority and demanding no following.

The questions that the earliest philosophers sought answers for were diverse and varied and hence from the very start there were different types of philosophical pursuits. The first Milesian thinkers, Thales and Anaximander and Anaximenes seem to have puzzled about the ultimate constituents of all things and how the world has come to be as we find it. Xenophanes debunked the common vulgar notions about the gods. Heraclitus and Parmenides were interested in questions that have come to be designated metaphysical. Socrates looked into the ideas, ideals, values, and aims that govern human life and asked what life is best for a human being to live. Socrates’ philosophy was thus a philosophy of life and for life.

Plato, profoundly impressed by the character and moral stance of Socrates, was simultaneously deeply immersed in the questions that had engaged Heraclitus and Parmenides: What is real? What is ultimate Reality? Fusing Socrates’ moral interests with his metaphysical questionings, Plato developed a vision uf the philosophical life as the ideal life for a human being, involving a vision of ultimate Reality, and implying a distinctive view of the nature of philosophical thinking. This Platonic philosophy has sadly been misunderstood and ignored. In particular, learned scholarship has been guilty of making a travesty of it.

Let us stay a while with these two last-mentioned great thinkers. It is strictly impossible to draw a clear line between the thought of Socrates and the thought of Plato, but for the purposes of exposition it is unavoidable and perhaps not unhelpful to make a conjectural separation.

III

At his trial Socrates declares : “…while I have life and strength I shall never cease from the practice and teaching of philosophy” (Jowett’s wording). How did he ‘teach philosophy’? By interrogating, questioning, examining, and cross-examining all he met. It is of vital importance to grasp the significance of this.

Socrates saw that we owe our distinctive human nature to our life and actions being governed by ideas, ideals, values, purposes all bred in the mind and having no being outside the mind. When these ideas, values, and purposes are confused, muddled, and entangled we go in life fumbling in the dark, not knowing what we are or what we are doing. This is the insight that Spinoza, twenty-two centuries later, was to express by saying that when we act on inadequate ideas we are not free. On the other hand, to be clear about our ideas, values, and purposes is to enjoy the proper virtue, the special excellence of a human being. That distinctive excellence, that proper virtue of a human being, Socrates referred to as that within us which is benefited by doing what is right and harmed by doing what is wrong. For short it may be named psuchê (soul) or nous (mind, reason). Consequently he held that, if life is not worth living with a diseased body, it is much less so with a diseased soul (Crito, 46b ff.).

Thus Socrates was exclusively concerned with the mind and the things of the mind. In the Phaedrus when Phaedrus asks him if he believes the popular legend of Boreas carrying Orithuia away, Socrates says:

“… I have no time for such things; and the reason, my friend, is this. I am still unable, as the Delphic inscription orders, to know myself; and it really seems to me ridiculous to look into other things before I have understood that. … I look … into my own self: Am I a beast more complicated and savage than Typhon, or am I a tamer, simpler animal with a share in a divine and gentle nature?” (229e-230a, tr. Alexander Nehamas and Paul Woodruff)

Those things of the mind that were Socrates’ sole concern are intelligible as opposed to the perceptible things reported to us by our senses of the outer world including our body. In the Phaedo there is a most important passage of some half-a-dozen pages (95e-102a) that is strangely overlooked by professional philosophers and learned scholars. Responding to a difficulty raised by Cebes in the argument, Socrates says, “The whole question of the cause of generation and corruption will have to be examined.” He proceeds to give an account of his youthful wrestlinlings with the question. It turns out that in the end he had to renounce all search for physical causes which, he found, cannot answer any of the questions that concerned him as a philosophers. The answers to these and all the understanding we need for the guidance of human life are to be found within our own minds, in the ideas engendered in and by our minds. Socrates exemplifies the difference between physical ‘explanation’ and philosophic explanation: he is seated on his prison bed; the scientist will account for his posture by giving an account of his bones and muscles and sinews; the philosopher will say that he is there because his principles dictate that he remain in prison and sustain execution rather than escape as his friends urged him to do (98b-99b). This is the whole difference between scientific and philosophic investigation. The former always tells us how things are or come to be but never what or why things are. Ignorance of this radical distinction is responsible for all the needless wrangling between scientists and philosophers.

Socrates explains another profound aspect of philosophic understanding. He says that he had previously thought “it was obvious to anybody that men grew through eating and drinking, for food adds flesh to flesh and bones to bones” and so on (96c-d, tr. G.M.A. Grube) but he was no longer satisfied with that kind of explanation. He now thought that only the idea of Growth gives us understanding of growth. Our philosophers and erudite scholars find this hard to grasp but it is essential for understanding of the whole Socratic-Platonic position. Let us imagine Adam in the Garden of Eden. There are trees everywhere; these are accepted as they are without difficulty. But a young shoot draws his attention. The next day he looks at it and it seems not to have changed. But in a few days there is something puzzling about it; it is the same and yet not the same. Then it flashes in his minf: it has grown; this is growth.

Socrates elucidates further. He will no longer allow himself “to say that where one is added to one either the one to which it is added or the one that is added becomes two” (95e-97a, tr. G.M.A. Grube) but will only hold that the two is two or becomes two by the idea Two. The human mind created the number series and only then did things become numbered. The savage may have the idea One and the idea Two but not the idea Three: To her or him three, seven, twenty are all equally just ‘many’.

This is the gist of what has come to be known as the Platonic Forms. The world presents us through our senses with impressions that in themselves mean nothing. It is only when the mind clothes the impression in a Form that the dumb impression becomes a meaningful sensation for us. Kant was to re-discover this: It is the gist of his Copernican revolution.

Socrates sums up the outcome of his search for causes. When he found that he could not find answers to his philosophical questions by investigating outer things, he gave up all such investigations and turned to seeking understanding by examining the ideas in the mind (99d-100a). This is the crucial separation of objective (scientific) investigation and subjective (philosophical) speculation that Socrates insisted on and that both scientists and philosophers have failed to heed with damaging consequences.

IV

The Socratic separation of the intelligible and the perceptible was the foundation of Plato’s theoretical thinking. In the Phaedo (which may be seen as the epitome of Plato’s philosophical position) ‘Socrates’ introduces the idea that a philosopher lives not for the things of the body but for the things of the mind or soul, such as the ideals of justice and temperance and beauty. Such ideas, the idea of justice for instance, is the ousia of whose being philosophers give account in discourse (78d). He then simply suggests that we posit two kinds of being, the one visible, the other invisible (79a). This is the cornerstone of the whole of Plato’s epistemology, ontology, and axiology.

At his trial Socrates says that “it is the greatest good for a human being daily to converse of virtue” and that “the unexamined life is not a life for a human being” (Apology, 38a). That indeed sums up the Socratic-Platonic conception of the philosophic life. We read in the Phaedo:

“When the soul (mind) all by itself reflects, it moves into that which is pure, always is, deathless, and constant, and being of a like nature to that, remains with that always, whenever it is possible for it to be by itself, and then it rests from wandering, and in the company of that, is constant, being in communion with such; and it is this state that is called intelligence (phronêsis)” (79d).

Philosophy, purely and simply, is the act of philosophizing, of examining one’s mind or another’s mind. Philosophical insight is the luminescence of this active creative self-examination, not any result thereof. The philosophical life is the constant exercise of creative intelligence.

In the Republic, in the seminal central part (472a-541b) that scholars see as a mere digression, we read that “the philosopher reaches out for the whole and the all, aspires to behold all time and all being” (486a). But this must not be misunderstood. The whole of the philosophic endeavour is summed up by Plato in a prophetic passage that I have quoted many times before and will quote again:

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

This is oracular and is to be understood as an oracle is to be understood: The whole of the philosophical journey begins and ends in the mind in the same way as the ascent to the Form of absolute Beauty described in the Symposium, and the reality attained, the reality the philosopher communes with, is the reality of the philosopher’s own mind, and just as in the Symposium the lover attaining the vision of Beauty will give birth not to images but to true virtue (212a) so here the philosopher communing with her or his inner reality gives birth to reason and reality.

Further on in the Republic when Socrates is asked about the highest wisdom he answers that it is the Form of the Good (505). When he is pressed to give an account of the Form of the Good, Socrates gives an allegory representing the sun as the offspring of the Good and as the sun is the source of light and sight but is itself more than light and sight, so the Good is the source of mind and the intelligible, giving the things known their reality and giving the knowing mind the power of knowing, but is itself beyond mind and the intelligible (508e-509a). For Plato no philosophic insight can be conveyed in a definite formulation of word or thought. The philosophic insight is an illumination engendered in the process of philosophizing and can only be represented in myth and parable. That is the reason why Plato insists that the grounds of any philosophic statement must regularly be destroyed by dialectic (533c). This also explains what he tells us emphatically in the Phaedrus:

“He who thinks, then, that he has left behind him any art in writing, and he who receives it in the belief that anything in writing will be clear and certain, would be an utterly simple person …” (278c-d, tr. Fowler).

Consistently with this Plato did not write any systematic philosophical work. He wrote dramatic pieces that have to be read as drama, not to seek any truth or extract any doctrine from what is said in them, but to engage in dialogue with the speakers, think along with them, and above all think for oneself. We read a Platonic dialogue not to learn anything from it but to philosophize for ourselves. This is how we pay due homage to Plato.

V

Above, particularly in sections III and IV I have tried to delineate one type of philosophy, the one I have been promoting in all my writings, that I usually refer to as philosophy proper and have otherwise designated prophetic or oracular philosophy. In this concluding section let me outline the special version I have developed for myself.

Following Socrates I hold that philosophy has nothing to do with the actual outer world. That is the domain of objective science. Science studies, or rather interprets, the appearances of things. It can neither know the true nature of things nor why they are there. That is strictly true of all scientific knowledge: all scientific concepts and theories are creations of the mind, conceptual patterns in which the mute phenomena acquire meaning and being.

Philosophy looks into the mind and the ideas in the mind. Following Plato I say that these ideas are realities as opposed to the flux of external existents: they are all that we know of reality; more strictly speaking, our active, creative mind is the one and only reality of which we have immediate, direct, and indubitable cognizance. In probing our mind we have insight of our inner reality, That reality, that insight, is strictly ineffable. It is of the nature of mystic experience and, like all mystic experience, cannot be given any definitive expressions. Hence philosophers can only convey their insights in oracular visions and myths. Plato’s profoundest insights are to be found in the vision of the celestial abode of the Forms (Phaedrus), in the fable within a fable of Diotima’s account of the ascent to the Form of Beauty, in the Form of the Good which cannot be spoken of, in the notion of Procreation in Beauty, in the myth of Reminiscence, in the ‘likely tale’ of the Timaeus, in innumerable poetic flights throughout the dialogues.

The philosopher, as Plato says in the Republic, “reaches out for the whole and the all, aspires to behold all time and all being”. I believe that every sound human nature experiences this longing to belong to the All, this yearning that Shelley symbolizes in “The desire of the moth for the star, / Of the night for the morrow, / The devotion to something afar / From the sphere of our sorrow” . This longing for the All, breeding the idea of the All, gives a human being wholeness, integrity. It is the source and fount of all philosoph9c concepts of ultimate Reality, from Parmenides’s One to Plato’s Form of the Good to Spinoza’s Deus sive Natura. But we have to acknowledge (1) that it is our idea, of our own creation; (2) that all representations of it are necessarily mythical, (It is foolish of philosophers to quarrel about which representation is ‘true’.)

For a long time I sought a formula to cover all becoming until I saw at last that Becoming, like Being and like Mind, is an ultimate mystery; that reality is a perpetual becoming, a constant creativity, that indeed I cannot conceive of ultimate Reality except as (a) intelligent, (b) whole, and (c) creative. Hence I say that ultimate Reality is creative intelligence or intelligent creativity: I prefer this latter designation since I cannot conceive of ultimate Reality as an existent thing or entity but as sheer creativity. It is not an intelligent creator but intelligent creativity; it is the creativity, the act not the acting agent, that is the reality. I name it Creative Eternity. It is a difficult notion because it flies in the face of common modes of thought and language. But I feel it is the notion that mystics have long intimated when they spoke of their profoundest experience as Nothingness, Dark Night, and the kike.

If the metaphysical idea of Reality as the whole and the ultimate is an emanation of our mind as our inner reality it also gives us assurance of and insight into that inner reality of ours.

That is the alpha and omega of all philosophy worthy of the name.

D. R. Khashaba

April 11, 2017

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

Monday, April 03, 2017

CONSCIOUSNESS UNEXPLAINED


CONSCIOUSNESS UNEXPLAINED

D. R. Khashaba

Scientists and scientifically minded philosophers have been wrangling with the intractable problem of consciousness — intractable because, in my opinion, it is a pseudo-problem that neither scientists nor philosophers are justified in raising in the first place. I have dealt with the problem frequently and extensively and thought I had no need to revert to it again, but I have been reading a rich major article by Joshua Rothman titled “Dennett’s Science of the Soul” http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/03/27/daniel-dennetts-science-of-the-soul

The following disjointed notes are thoughts evoked by the article. I give my notes as I wrote them down while reading, with the minimum of editing. They necessarily leave much unsaid. Everything in double quotes (“”) below is from Rothman’s article..

1.

We human beings are aware of having a ‘within’, a subjective being, that we think “the rest of the material world lacks”. Do we know this? Science is not given to know the inside of things and philosophers may speculate but can never demonstrate or be certain since it is not in the nature of philosophical thinking to reach any factual knowledge. That is the insight Socrates expressed plainly (Phaedo, 95e-102a) but which we have been ignoring to our detriment.

2.

We read: “How would you know whether an octopus is conscious? It interacts with you, responds to its environment, and evidently pursues goals, but a nonconscious robot could also do those things.” Here two problems are juxtaposed, not to say confused. Does an octopus have consciousness? The simple answer is: we can never know. But is the octopus a nonconscious robot as Descartes said all animals were automata? All I can say is that I am confident a little kitten has initiative, it frolics freely; a robot will only imitate it if programmed to do so.

3.

Consciousness cannot be a scientific concept. A scientific concept is a token for observed phenomena — time, gravity, evolution, growth, decay. In itself the concept is a fiction: it represents a particular interpretation of the phenomena. The phenomenal appearances (pardon the pleonasm) of consciousness are not consciousness. Consciousness is the reality behind the phenomena: my invisible person is the reality behind my phenomenal appearances.

4.

“In the nineteenth century, scientists and philosophers couldn’t figure out how nonliving things became living. … Only over time did they discover that life was the product of diverse physical systems that, together, created something that appeared magical.” First, we deceive ourselves when we think we understand how “diverse physical systems … created something”. We ‘know’ but do not ‘understand’ how a seed becomes a sprout. Second, I have said this before but will repeat it: When we lose our innocent puzzlement at the magic of life, we have not grown wiser but have become blunted.

5.

If scientists will say that they are only concerned with the question how it is that it comes about that we have feelings and thoughts and intentions and that that is all they seek and all they know, there would be no quarrel between science and philosophy. Call our feelings and our intentions, our loves and our revulsions, call them effervescences or epiphenomena or illusions or what you will; they remain what is importat to us, what constitutes our characteristically human life; and these are, or should be the sole concern of philosophers as they are the whole concern of poets and novelists and musicians. Suppose I were to have a coma and in that coma to have continuous lucid dreams (happy and unhappy) and that were to continue until I finally die: which would be the life I lived, the life of my vegetating body or the dreams I lived through in my ‘illusory’ consciousness? So is the quarrel after all a quarrel about words? No, it is about which is more valuable, our ‘too, too solid flesh’ or our vanishing dreams.

6.

What is a whole? It is not the sum of its parts; it is a reality over and above the total parts. That is metaphysical reality, reality on the metaphysical plane. Hence, what reductionists call ‘illusion’ I call metaphysical reality, reality on the metaphysical plane.

7.

We are told that the ‘creation’ of Homo sapiens required “billions of years of irreplaceable design work”—performed by natural selection. How? The sensible answer is: We don’t know. Scientists insist that we know. Which, to my mind, is not simply to be content with our ignorance but to congratulate ourselves on our ignorance. This is what Socrates called the greatest amathia.

8.

The hard problem is not really hard since it is not really a problem at all. It only looks like a ‘hard problem’ because we seek to ‘solve’ a non-existent problem and on top of that go about it in the wrong way.

9.

The difference between my computer and me is not that my processes are accompanied by an effervescence called consciousness and the computer’s processes lack this accompaniment. The difference is that I initiate my processes. It is our creativity, our originative power, that makes us human. However smart a computer gets, it cannot deviate from what its programmer has instilled in it. And even if a computer should acquire subjectivity, we will never understand that subjectivity by studying its mechanism and its processes.

10.

Soon, it is said, a computer “may have meaningful conversations with you”. Conversations that sooner or later get insipid because they will be completely predictable. You enjoy playing chess with a computer only because the possible moves of the chess pieces are practically unlimited.

11.

Is there mind in all things? To assert that would be to say something of the actual world and – with Socrates and with Kant – I maintain that philosophy (pure reason) can say nothing of the actual world. But I think I am within my rights to say that I cannot find things intelligible without conceiving of ultimate reality as intelligent and of intelligence as inherent of all things.

12.

The long and the short of the problem is this: There is really no problem. We humans have an outside and an inside. The outside is physical. The inside is — what better word can we find than ‘metaphysical’? The means for studying the outside are inapplicable to the inside. Apply all the criteria of objective existence to consciousness and the return is: Nothing is there. But that nothing – and I insist it is no ‘thing’ – is what interests me as a philosopher and is all that is of value in human life. It is wrong of philosophers to say that the mind exists, because that hands it over to the scientists, and the scientists, examining it, find nothing. The cause of the quandary is that the philosophers mistakenly assume that what is real must somehow BE, and the notion of being is ambiguous and deceptive. It is assumed that what is real must be ‘something’ and that creates all the contradictions and all the perplexities of metaphysics. To resolve these difficulties I maintain that what is ultimately real is not a thing, not an entity, but is sheer creativity, intelligent creativity: I hesitate even to call it creative intelligence because that somehow reifies it: it is the creativity that is the reality. Further, I do not say that that tells us anything about the world or the universe: I say only that is how I find things intelligible. (What I am saying here sounds enigmatic: it only becomes cogent in the context of my total metaphysical outlook.)

13.

There is nothing wrong with ‘materialism’ — that is the ground material of all objective science: I even have no objection to saying that that is all there is. What I strongly object to is to think that that is what is real. Plato did not deny the actual existence of visible things, but he maintained that it is the intelligible (as opposed to the visible) that is real. I call my philosophy a version of Platonism.

14.

Dennett challenges Chalmers to name “a kind of experiment that would get at ‘first-personal data,’ or ‘experiences”. That’s just it! Empiricists think that only what can be verified experimentally is ‘real’. Subjectivity cannot be objectified. Once you objectify it, it is no longer subjective. Kant tried in vain to objectify the transcendental unity of apperception. (Let me add here that I acknowledge all that Dennett expounds positively. He only goes wrong when he thinks that scientific research and learning can answer philosophical questions. Dennett – a very great lovable man as Rothman pictures him – thinks like a scientist. Philosophical questions are strictly meaningless to him.)

15.

Grant me that my feelings, my ideals, my aims matter most and I will grant you that they are all products of physical processes, but I maintain that your physical bodies and processes (1) in themselves are fleeting shadows; (2) in themselves have no meaning; all the meaning you attach to them is conferred on them by your concepts and theoretical assumptions. On the other hand my feelings and values are real in themselves and meaningful in themselves. My mind and the workings of my mind are what I know immediately and indubitably and they are what I live for and live by.

16.

Rothman writes: “I couldn’t understand how neurons—even billions of neurons—could generate the experience of being me.” That we will never understand. Science does not, can not, give understanding. Science can never tell us what things are but only how things work. (Again the opposition of ‘knowledge’ and ‘understanding’ has meaning only in the context of my philosophy and my special terminology.)

17.

Cases of brain damage have no relevance to my position. It is as if a person relapsed to a lower stage of evolution. An individual might lose or might never develop the powers of conceptual thinking peculiar to humans. When we die we revert to the plane of physical being. What remains of us is then totally encompassed by physics and chemistry. That does not mean that Life is nothing but the physical constituents of the body. My position is that philosophy is solely concerned with the realm of ideas and values that constitute our proper human being. This realm has nothing to do with science and science as science has nothing to do with it.

18.

The ‘hard problem’ is a delusion generated by scientists meddling in philosophical questions and by philosophers venturing into the realm of factual knowledge.

19.

Our trouble, scientists and philosophers alike, is that we fail to confess our ignorance. The methods of science can show us how things work and how they turn into this or that, but can never tell us what things ultimately are or why they are. Philosophical reflection gives us insight into our inner reality and gives us a clearer understanding of our ideas and purposes, but can never give us any factual knowledge about things outside ‘us’, and that includes our bodies and brains. And we are not given to mix these two radically distinct modes of ‘knowing’ or to relate them in any way. Any attempt to do that plunges us into the fathomless labyrinth of illusory problems like that of the ‘hard problem of consciousness’.

2o.

The soul is just what is other than body. Descartes led modern thought into its gravest error by his doctrine of two substances. Mind is what is not substance; we might say it is the transcendent unity of the body, the reality over and above the actuality of the body. And I hasten to say that what I am saying is a myth, because we in fact do not know; the mind, understanding, intelligence, is an ultimate mystery, and of ultimate mysteries we can only speak in myth, as Plato spoke of the Form of the Good only in myth and parable

21.

To speak of “the reality of the material mind” to me sounds like speaking of the squaredness of the rectangular circle!

D. R. Khashaba

April 3, 2017

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