Wednesday, March 11, 2009




I have to warn the reader that my comment is strictly idiotic. If the reader is not willing to bear with my idiocy let her or him not read one more word.

I find many phrases in Professor Cebrian’s review disturbing from the point of view of one who pursues philosophy not as a profession but as a personal mania. A philosopher philosophizes because s/he is haunted by nagging questions about reality and the meaning of life which to think about is constant irritation and to forget about is moral death. How sad it is that philosophy is no longer that holy madness but a respectable trade neatly parcelled out in distinct disciplines and sub-disciplines so that Professor Cebrian can find the book reviewed “intended mostly for other philosophers and students of philosophy” and would not necessarily “appeal to students in classics”.

I have no intention of belittling the value of the work done in the specialized disciplines of philosophy and classics departments. But the situation in the study of philosophy is as if professors of English Literature were to think that their academic work took the place of original, creative poetry and drama and fiction.

Professor Cebrian does not state it expressly, but one clearly senses that he finds it a fault that Professor Boeri’s “analysis is focused on primary texts.” Again I must say that I have nothing against engaging secondary literature and filling a book or article with citations of scholars “in the body of the text or in the footnotes”. But when an author explicitly announces it as his purpose to enter into “a critical dialogue with the ancient philosophers”, are we not to permit him to do that? (Personally, I prefer to speak of a creative dialogue rather than a critical dialogue.) How much engagement with secondary literature do you find in Hume or the daunting Kant or even Whitehead? I cannot help sensing the same note of disapproval in Professor Cebrian’s closing sentence: “The book remains a personal interpretation of some aspects of Plato’s, Aristotle’s and Stoic philosophies.” To me that makes it all the more a genuine work of philosophy.

D. R. Khashaba
Cairo, Egypt

Saturday, March 07, 2009



“Let Us Philosophize: Second Revised Edition,” by D.R. Khashaba. ISBN 978–1-60264–232–4. 272 pages. $14.95.

This is a revised edition of a book that first appeared in 1998. The author has since published three other books, yet “Let Us Philosophize” remained the one that gives the author’s philosophy as an integrative whole. It presents a philosophy developed over a lifetime, in which questions about ultimate reality, knowledge, and values are interrelated in a coherent system. This is an approach frowned upon by most present-day academic and professional philosophers. The book indeed seeks to challenge the dominant analytic approach which has reduced philosophy to specialized disciplines and techniques which cannot approach the ultimate questions that originally gave rise to philosophy. Only by audaciously daring to philosophize ‘in the grand manner’ can philosophy once more be meaningfully relevant to life and human needs. However, in raising ultimate questions, the author does not pretend to offer acceptable solutions or ‘true’ answers. A philosophy that professes to offer truth on a platter is worse than worthless. This book seeks to provoke readers to question themselves and question the world and to venture on the soul-searching travail necessary for understanding their own mind and building up their own philosophy.

"Plato: An Interpretation" by D.R. Khashaba. ISBN 978-1-58939-721-7. $15.95. Softcover. 320 Pages.

Our understanding of Plato and our understanding of the nature of philosophy are two sides of a coin. The dominant academic conception of the nature of philosophical thinking vitiates both our understanding of philosophy and our interpretation of Plato. Plato gave us the profoundest truths about ourselves and about Reality in winged myths. Our learned scholars turn the myths into silly dogmata, into transparently erroneous doctrines, and all is lost: the inspirational core, the inspired insight, is dissipated when its housing shell of myth is shattered.
No one is entitled to claim a monopoly on understanding Plato's 'true' meaning, and I certainly make no claim. I neither pretend nor intend to arrive at what Plato thought or taught. Plato has left us some thirty pieces of verbal composition, which he created for his own amusement. I enter into living dialogue with the living Plato and offer the understanding I come out with for myself from that dialogue, not claiming any authority or veracity for my interpretation. I do what Plotinus did; I draw from the flowing founts of Plato to water my own garden and offer my version of Platoism for what it may be worth intrinsically.

"Socrates' Prison Journal" by D.R. Khashaba. ISBN 1-58939-848-3. Softcover. $13.95. 220 pages.

Socrates spent thirty days in prison awaiting execution. The author makes Socrates keep a prison journal in which he seeks to sum up the meaning of his life and his life's work. In imaginative reminiscences, meditations and fictional conversations Socrates discusses aspects of his philosophy, clears up misunderstandings and answers objections - misunderstandings and objections that are as rife today as they were among Socrates' contemporaries and immediate followers.
With Aspasia, the beautiful and gifted wife of Pericles, Socrates discusses Protagoras' agnostic stance regarding the existence of the gods. Repeatedly he voices his hopes and his fears about what might become of his philosophy in the hands of Plato. In a prophetic dream Socrates even discusses with Aristotle the latter's criticisms of Socrates' moral philosophy. In conversations with Diotima of Mantinea the author creatively develops aspects of Socrates' and Plato's philosophy.
The notes appended to the journal explain for the benefit of the lay reader biographical and historical allusions and expand somewhat upon certain issues. An Appendix deals with Plato's account of the last moments of Socrates, which has been questioned by some scholars. Within its fictional framework, the book offers a philosophy addressing the human situation in the twenty-first century.

"Hypatia's Lover" by D. R. Khashaba. ISBN #1-58939-973-0, softcover, $13.95.

This is a fictionalized account of the last days of Hypatia’s life, leading to her brutal murder during Lent, 415 AD. The fictional love story is treated allusively, in very light touches, mostly through fleeting recollections evoked by incidents in the sad love stories of two of her students. The tragic tale is followed by a collection of imaginary excerpts from lectures and speeches of Hypatia. In the story line the author has not tampered with any known facts. The philosophy presented in the imaginary lectures and speeches is confessedly the author’s own. This is rendered pardonable and necessary by the fact that, thanks to the Church, Hypatia’s philosophical works have been completely lost to us. If the moving portrayal of Hypatia’s tragedy is met with ire in some quarters, the author offers no apology and has no regret. Hypatia’s atrocious slaughter is a sore wound in the human conscience that must be kept smarting if it is not to fester and poison the whole human body.

"The Sphinx and the Phoenix," by D. R. Khashaba. ISBN 978-1-60264-309-3, $15.95, softcover. 376 pages.

This is a collection of philosophical essays, gropings for light in the dark den of life, so why the Sphinx and the Phoenix? To philosophize is to question everything, to subject all things to What? And to Why? There you have the Sphinx. What about the Phoenix? Philosophy is concerned with the ultimate mysteries of being, understanding, and value. In seeking to represent the ultimate and the absolute in finite and determinate formulations of thought, philosophy can only speak in allegory, metaphor, and myth and must constantly, as Plato insisted, destroy its own foundational postulates. True philosophy must burn in the fire of dialectic that from the ashes, Phoenix-like, new intelligible worlds may arise bringing with them enlightenment and insight. The essays range widely from the nature of philosophical thinking to the problem of free will, from Kant and Plato to Wittgenstein and Russell, from the objectivity of values to a critique of religion, from the creationism-evolutionism controversy to the brain-mind riddle, and together they reflect an integrative philosophy that the author characterizes as an original version of Platonism.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009


Comment on “Born believers: How your brain creates God” by Michael Brooks, New Scientist, 04 February 2009.

I will indulge my inveterate habit of reacting to what I sense (rightly or wrongly) to be assumptions underlying the title of a piece of writing and then proceed to comment on the argument of the writer as I read on.

Mr Michael Brooks heads his article with the title “Born believers: How your brain creates God”. My first reaction is to ask: Is it our brain or our mind that creates God? Perhaps Mr Brooks sees no difference between the alternatives or possibly he may find the mind version of the question meaningless. But I contend that there is all the difference between a brain-created God and a mind-created God. I maintain that a brain, as brain, bereft of all mind-created ideas, may at best produce a sensation, a feeling, a vague urge, but not any thought. I restrain myself from peregrinating further: I have not yet read a word of what Mr Brooks has written beyond the title.

The first two paragraphs of the article confirm my suspicion that Mr Brooks fails to distinguish mind and brain. We are told that “human beings have a natural inclination for religious belief” and then that our brains “effortlessly conjure up an imaginary world of spirits, gods and monsters” and then again that “our minds are finely tuned to believe in gods”. So apparently ‘human beings’, ‘brains’, and ‘minds’ are for Mr Brooks interchangeable terms: I think this does not make for clear thinking.

I detect another possible confusion behind the statement, “Religious ideas are common to all cultures”. Religious sentiment is ubiquitous and ideas are commonly attached to the sentiments, but the ideas themselves are not commonly shared. The Buddha was deeply religious but he did not believe in any god or gods.

Since my position, though far-removed from being monotheist or supportive of any established religion, is directly opposed to that of Mr Brooks, let me state it bluntly. I believe it is not for science to deal with religious belief or religious ideas. When scientists speak of our “religious beliefs” being “hard-wired”, I cannot help feeling that scientists are in as deep a befuddled state of mind as the worst of theologians. Both parties juggle with empty words that they think mean something. (Just as economists were fooling themselves and fooling all of us with their mystifying jargon until their illusionary edifices crumbled in their hands.)

The mind – not the brain – poses questions; that is the nature of the mind, not the brain; and the mind produces answers, good or bad, to its questions, because that gives it satisfaction, not because it makes for survival. It is the task of the mind, in its philosophical capacity, to examine those answers, to show them to be reasonable or unreasonable, not to show experimentally that they are “hard-wired” and therefore to be rejected, which is both meaningless and inconsequent. Indeed, if it is our brains that produce belief in God, then that would be as good an argument for the claim that belief is implanted in us by God as for the assertion that it is engendered in us by evolution. It is science tampering with what is not its business that gives support to Creationists and Intelligent-Design propagandists. Only pure philosophy is competent to show what ideas are rational and what irrational. Reductionist scientists, determined to do away with the mind, leave us at the mercy of the mindless.

I will not comment on all the arguments presented and all the experiments reported in Mr Brooks’ article. All of these are open to diverse interpretations and all controversy around such questions is futile. My concern is with the fundamental approach involved. Science can tell us how a given phenomenon comes about, but it cannot speak of the meaning or the value of the phenomenon. Early in his article Mr Brooks says that religious ideas “like language and music, … seem to be part of what it is to be human.” I could say that I wholeheartedly endorse that, but I know that what I mean by these words would be very different from what I assume the words mean for Mr Brooks. What I mean is that our dreams, our myths, our fantasies, as well as our most abstract mathematical and astrophysical theoretical constructions are what constitutes our special character as human beings and are what is most worthwhile in us: and all of that is mind, and all of that is our spiritual dimension. It has no being apart from our brain but it is not our brain. Brain is for science to examine and to study; mind and the spiritual realm it encompasses is for philosophy to examine and to study, and I maintain that any mixing of these two harms both science and philosophy.

Let me assure all concerned that if “atheism will always be a hard sell” that will only be so when atheism is packaged with reductionist empiricism. Let people be assured that their inner life – the soul if I dare use the anathema word – is what is real and is what is truly worthwhile in them, and they can do without a transcendent God. God as pure idea, the God within them, will be enough for them. That is what I meant when I said at the beginning that a mind-created God is a very different thing from a brain-created God.

D. R. Khashaba
Cairo, Egypt, 04 March 2009.