Tuesday, March 27, 2007

"Creating the World"

“Creating the World”
I wrote the following lines commenting on Professor Colin McGinn’s review of The Human Touch: Our Part in the Creation of a Universe by Michael Frayn, in the Washington Post, March 25, 2007, and intended to post it there, but failed to have it posted.

My first reaction upon looking at the headlines of the present review was to feel delighted that Michael Frayn seems to have adopted an approach that I – an independent philosopher sunk in deep obscurity – have been trying to advance. I found it no wonder that this hopefully clear-sighted approach should come from a non-professional philosopher.

The starting point of my philosophical position as expounded in all of my books and published essays has been that what properly characterizes humankind is that humans live in an intelligible world of their own making, meaning by that not only the world of ideals and values which are a creation of the human mind, but also the conceptual and even the perceptual representations which confer intelligibility on the dumb givennesses of the phenomenal sphere. In all of my writings I presented this as an interpretation of the Socratic-Platonic heritage which, sadly, has been partly obliterated and grossly misrepresented in mainstream academic philosophy. (That was the reason behind naming my website Back-to-Socrates.) Of all modern philosophers, I maintain, it was Kant who came nearest to rediscovering the Socratic-Platonic insight (even though Kant accepted without question the traditional misrepresentation of Platonism). It might be that Frayn’s position is a fresh development of the Kantian transcendental philosophy.

I have not yet seen Frayn’s book and therefore cannot tell what measure of justice there is in Professor McGinn’s unfavourable assessment. It may be that Frayn had an insight which, through lack of fundamental philosophic discipline, he failed to expound adequately. I can well agree with McGinn that it was ominous for Frayn to seek support for his view in quantum theory. One other position that I have been advocating in opposition to conventional and mainstream philosophy is the need for a radical separation between science and philosophy. Again this is a position that I claim to derive from Socrates who turned his back to physical investigation and was concerned solely with the ideas and ideals bred in the mind and by the mind; and again I find support for this position in Kant’s distinction between the empirical use of the understanding and the transcendental use of pure reason.

It would be absurd of me to comment on Professor McGinn’s detailed criticism, but I suspect that Professor McGinn might have found the book more meaningful had he been prepared to approach it with a greater measure of sympathy. I find support for this suspicion in McGinn’s summary dismissal of Berkeley’s philosophy as a fallacy. Berkeley took Locke’s presuppositions to their logical conclusion in one direction just as Hume was to take the same presuppositions to their logical conclusion in another direction. It is simplistic to suppose that Berkeley could have “reasoned that objects had to be ideas, since no one can conceive of an object without having an idea of it.”

Professor McGinn apparently confounds idealism, subjectivism, and solipsism. The tone of the final two paragraphs suggests to me that there must have been more lack of imagination on the part of the critic than lack of discretion on the part of the criticized author.

D. R. Khashaba
March 2007


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