Thursday, November 14, 2013


D. R. Khashaba


Creativity, it has been said, is unrelated to morality. Like every general statement, this is a mixture of truth and falsehood. What would be asserted to be true in it is obvious. Anyone can recount endless instances in illustration. It is the untruth in the statement that is harder to uncover.

To uncover the core of genuine truth hidden under the veneer of delusive truth, let us first try to be clear about what we mean by 'creativity' and what we mean by 'morality'.

To explain what I understand by 'creativity' I distinguish between two modes of what is commonly known as intelligence. There is intelligence as the power of thought involved in problem-solving and in inventiveness. This is of immeasurable practical importance and we all know that its exercise can issue in good or in evil; perhaps more often in evil than in good. Marginally, let me say that here, even when thought issues in evil, the evil is evil from the perspective of a world-view that aims at higher or more comprehensive good, but from the point of view of the doer, the deed must aim at some 'good' narrowly conceived. (This is the gist of Socrates' argument in the Protagoras against the notion of akrasia.) The other mode of intelligence (and this is what, in my opinion, is properly to be named intelligence) is not fundamentally related to thinking: it is a feeling for life and beauty and the experiences that enrich and beautify life.

What are we to understand by 'morality'? Again let us distinguish between two things. We all know that there are codes of morality which are forged in the course of time and which in greater or lesser measure differ from society to society and from generation to generation. We know that some precepts incorporated in these codes are simply bad. Whether there is or there is not a quintessence that can be extracted from these varied and varying codes is a question we need not delve into here. Then there is the morality we all know in ourselves when we lend a helping hand, when we risk our life to snatch a little child from the way of a speeding car, when we feel disgust at the meanness of one who takes advantage of the weakness of a contestant. Let us call this spontaneous morality.

In my view, genuine creativity issues from intelligence as feeling for life and beauty wedded to spontaneous morality. But our human life is never simple and the best of us humans are shrouded in confusions, filled with conflicting aims and purposes, burdened by divergent interests, driven by unreconciled ideals and values.


The phrase I began with at the top of this essay I had picked up from a note in - - introducing a review article by Seamus Perry: http. Following an inveterate habit of mine, I jotted down the above reflections before looking at the article. I will now read Seamus Perry's article and see if I have anything to add.

The article reviews The Vampire Family: Passion, Envy and the Curse of Byron by Andrew McConnell. The reviewer and the book reviewed have much to say on the misery both Shelley and Byron caused the unfortunate women who came their way. This raises a problem. We might ask: Is an immoral artist's work necessarily immoral?

It is only very rarely that anyone of us human beings is a simple, well-integrated personality. If you ever meet with a simple, well-integrated personality, that will most probably not be a person of genius or renown or rank but a simple woman or man leading a simple life. Indeed, an integrated personality is just what a good human being strives all her or his life to achieve, and the best of us only falteringly and intermittently approach that goal. But the happy ones among us sinful human beings know that within us there is something good that we seek to be true to. And it is that inner good that is the fount of the creativity of the genuine poet or artist.

When Shelley makes Prometheus cry in agony, "It doth repent me … I wish no living thing to suffer pain", he must have been voicing a deeply-experienced personal agony.

Reverting to the statement with which we began, I affirm that creativity and morality are two sides of the same coin and that good art can only be in harmony with good morals. An "immoral" artist leads the life influenced and formed by her or his upbringing, circumstances, experiences, sufferings, pressures, and whatnot; but her or his art springs from a deeper fount.

Seamus Perry does well when, at the end of his review, he sums up the failings of Shelly and Byron as "a sequence of human ineptitudes, some well meant and more motivated by misplaced principle than by cruelty."

Cairo, 14 November 2013.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


D. R. Khashaba


I have written repeatedly, extensively, seriously on the reality of the soul and the reality of the mind. Few have heeded what I have been saying. Let me try this whimsical approach. If it fails to convince you, it may not fail to amuse you.

A scientist is perfectly right when she/he says that in all their investigations they have never met with a soul. But they are wrong when they go on to conclude that there is no soul.

I am. I know perfectly well what I mean when I say "I am", and every human being can say "I am" and know perfectly well what she/he means. But no scientist can find "I", neither my "I", nor her/his "I", nor anybody else's "I".

Descartes said, "Je pense, donc je suis". That is needlessly roundabout. He should have said, "Je suis parce que je suis". My I is the one indubitable, incontestable, ineradicable truth and reality that I know.

In truth I cannot say to anyone "You are", intending the same thing as when I say "I am". "You are", with all due respect to grammarians, is not a sentence, is not, strictly, a meaningful statement. It requires completion. "You are this entity that I see and hear and have dealings with." To me you are you. I acknowledge that you have your "I" as I have my "I", but I can never know your "I". On ethical grounds I respect your "I". On philosophical grounds I affirm your "I". But as a scientist (supposing I am a scientist) I cannot find your "I".

Why? My "I" is my inwardness. Your "I" is your inwardness. The creed and first principle of science is "outwardness", or, in the language of science, objectivity. Science is subject to the command "Thou shalt not turn thy eye inwards lest thou lose thyself!"

The "I" that science cannot find has been called soul, mind, psuchê, nous, atman — what's in a name? It is our reality, our whole reality and our whole worth.

In "Where Is I?" (an examination of Gilbert Ryle's "Courses of Action or the Uncatchableness of Mental Acts"), I opened the concluding section with these words: "Today, neuroscientists and philosophers of mind are like a child standing before a mirror, perplexedly saying, 'Here is my nose, here are my eyes, here are my arms, … but where is I?'"

Cairo, 12 November 2013.

Monday, November 11, 2013


D. R. Khashaba


Has there been progress in humanity during, let us say, the last three millennia? Of course it all depends on what we mean by progress and what we mean by humanity. So if you don't find yourself in agreement with what I will be saying, let us not quarrel, for we will be speaking about different things. In any case, I will not attempt to give a direct or definite answer to the question but will be, as it were, reconnoitring around its terms.

First, why the last three millennia? Because this is the period for which we have good records and that we can confidently compare with our condition in the present time.

Let us take an average man (to introduce women at this point would complicate the issue), living in one of the advanced countries of our present-day world, under fairly fortunate conditions, and ask, is the quality of life of such a man better than the quality of life of say, an Egyptian man living in one of the more peaceful and fairly prosperous periods of Egyptian history? Taking as criteria family life, filial and parental love, brotherly and sisterly sentiment, neighbourly goodwill, opportunities for enjoyment of beauty and the exercise of free thought, I do not think we can say that the one is superior to the other. (Taking shorter successive periods of time there will be found ups and downs; this only clouds the larger issue.)

Admittedly there has been advance in the treatment of disease, but perhaps this has been offset by the appearance of new ailments, and the harm that we have been inflicting on our natural environment probably has its toll. Can anyone confidently assert that the average present-day European or American citizen is more healthy than, or equally healthy with, the average Hellene in the millennium preceding the Christian era?

As recently as two-hundred years ago there was slavery all over the advanced and half-advanced countries. Here we can say we have taken a step forward. But only a hundred years ago the condition of the working class in England was, almost certainly, more pitiable than the average condition of slaves in classical Greece or Rome. More telling, present-day conditions in large populations in many parts of the world are miserable, and we cannot honestly say that this is unrelated to the economic system ruling in the advanced countries.

The poverty, suffering, and misery of very large sectors of humankind is a disgrace for present-day humanity. I do not claim to have knowledge of ancient conditions worldwide, but I will venture to suggest that the ancient world could be divided into, on the one hand, the centres of old civilizations, such as China, India, Persia, Egypt, Greece, etc., and, on the other hand, peoples who remained in primitive or near-primitive conditions. In the civilized countries, apart from slaves, people lived fairly well. In the more primitive areas people lived in tribes or clans leading a fairly satisfactory life.

In one respect I would assert that there has definitely been progress. The idea of a common humanity has been advancing and spreading at a very slow pace. Today most of us acknowledge it in theory. Our political leaders pay it lip-service. Yet in practice the policies of the advanced and half-advanced countries are self-centred, selfish and discriminatory; and on the level of individuals, only a Mother Teresa or a Gandhi or a Schweitzer have seen all humans as simply that, humans; most of us need an effort to regard humankind as a family.

One might ask: What about the stupendous advance in science and technology? All of that may have been necessary to make it possible for the seven billion members of the human race to subsist on our tiny planet. All of that may have made certain things easier for us. It may also have made our life more complicated and, at least in certain ways, more burdensome and less lively. I think we would be deceiving ourselves if we said it has improved the quality of human life.

I would gladly trade my life for the life of a simple Athenian contemporary of Sophocles.

Cairo, 10 November 2013.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013


D. R. Khashaba


There are two problems covered by the rubric "problem of evil", two problems which are quite distinct. Merging these two problems together causes endless confusion. The first concerns the evil encountered in human life, and though it is this that we properly call evil, I would say that we do not face a philosophical problem here. The problem is practical; it is serious, grievous, ponderous, but there is nothing mysterious about it. Human evil stems from ignorance, from stupidity, from needless clashes of interests and evaluations. These sources of evil can and must be addressed by patient and persistent efforts by women and men of goodwill. The task calls for Herculean power and Promethean endurance, but it can and must be undertaken, for if we say it is unfeasible we might as well call for the collective suicide of the human race. [In "The Mystery and the Riddle" (included in The Sphinx and the Phoenix, 2009, and also available on my blog) I offered some reflections, mainly on evil in human life.]

The second problem we may designate as the metaphysical problem of evil. But before we delve into that, let us clear out some points. Is there evil in the universe, in the world, in nature? In nature we meet with catastrophes: earthquakes, storms, tsunamis, famines, epidemics. In nature we find animals devouring other animals; indeed, all life lives on other life; worst of all, we find the imperfection of the human race that causes what we referred to as evil properly so called.

At this juncture we need to tread carefully and try to see things clearly. In the first place, earthquakes, storms, volcanoes, are adjustments in the state of nature. They are only catastrophes for human beings; in themselves they are no more evil than a sneeze. Then, animals preying on animals, this is tragic (I will revert to the tragic further on) but if there is no intention to hurt, this too may be seen as a mode of natural adjustment. We destroy viruses and do not see that as evil. The deer devoured by the tiger suffers pain for a while and dies: the pain is tragic, the loss of life is tragic, but this is a natural necessity. I will come back later on to the notion of metaphysical necessity, though not necessarily under that name.

Lt us once more put off the main metaphysical problem for a while to clear out a special version of the problem which we may call the theological problem of evil. If we suppose that the world has been created by an omnipotent and omniscient Creator we have need to ask: Why has It (the Creator) permitted so much pain and suffering, so much misery and sorrow, in the world? If we presume the Creator to be omniscient and omnipotent there is no way that we can exonerate It of all that: the evil would be evil in the will of the Creator. Zarathustrianism supposed there are two original powers ruling over the world, one good and one evil. This would be a possible theoretical way out. But in any case, the notion of a power or powers making or controlling the world from outside it is necessarily riddled with insurmountable difficulties.

If we reject the idea of a transcendent creator or of a power or powers controlling the world from outside of it, we are faced with Being as an ultimate mystery for which we cannot even ask for a cause. To ask how Being came about or why there is being rather than no-being – either of these questions is meaningless, it cannot be answered because, strictly, it cannot be formulated as a meaningful question.

We are faced with Being. But sheer blank Being, the Being of Aristotle after it has been abstracted to a completely bloodless, lifeless, motionless, colourless, strictly stale, sterile, barren no-thing cannot be the source of our teeming, tumultuous, restless world. To be the source of the world we know, ultimate Being must be conceived as fertile, procreative, in a word, creative. But we see that all that is created passes away. Being cannot have actual presence except be in ephemeral, transient beings that pass away as they come to be. That ultimate Being that we find in all the things that come to be and pass away but cannot be reduced to any particular being – that Being I call Reality and the beings that come to be and pass away I call existents.

So I conceive ultimate Being (Reality) as creative, or, more correctly, as creativity, that only has existence in finite, particular, vanishing actualities. Thus we have these first two ultimate principles, the Principle of Creativity and the Principle of Transience. But the ephemeral, vanishing actualities cannot be conceived to have being except under some Form that gives them unity and ideal (conceptual) permanence. These are the Forms of Plato. And this gives us our third metaphysical principle, the Principle of Integrity. Hence I say that we can only conceive ultimate Reality – a Reality that we can think of as the fount and origin of our world – as multi-dimensional.

What bearing has this on the problem of evil? First, on the plane of the universe, if all actual, finite existence is necessarily transient, then all existence is tragic. We are born to die. A song is sung, begins and ends, and its perfection is only realized in its completion. Death is tragic and sad, but it is not evil; life has meaning in its completion in a process the beginning of which is pregnant with the end. In Creative Reality there is tragedy but no evil: creativity is a perpetual affirmation of value. Borrowing the language of Christian theology we may say that Existence is the original sin that must be atoned for by perpetual death.

On the plane of human life, in creativity, in love, in generosity and sympathy and noble sacrifice, in the creativity of art and the creativity of thought, human life is good and shares in the eternity of ultimate Reality. This is the Platonic ascension to the Form of the Good and this is human freedom as seen by Spinoza.

But in the life of the human race there are conflicts, struggle and enmity, hatred and selfishness and greed: all of this is evil; and there is pain and suffering wilfully inflicted, and this is the most grievous evil. Socrates and Spinoza, the Buddha and the Stoics, all of them summed all of this as ignorance.

As far as we know, a human being is the only animal that thinks conceptually, or is the only animal that has taken conceptual thinking to a high level. Conceptual thinking enabled human beings to solve practical problems, to anticipate happenings, take advantage of observed regular occurrences in nature, invent tools, plan and organize, build civilizations, arrive at all the technological wizardry we are drowned in. At this point I have to remark marginally that I make a clear distinction between our conceptual thinking and the intelligence that is an essential aspect of creativity and also make a distinction between, on the one hand, the inventiveness resulting from conceptual thinking, and, on the other hand, what we may call creativity on the spiritual plane, in which I include moral acts as well as works of art and creative thought.

When conceptual thinking enabled human beings to break loose of the immediate present, it led them to have hopes and dreams and desires, and to create for themselves goals and values; they formed such notions as justice and loyalty and honour; they came to desire non-present goods; to dream of finery and luxury and riches; to crave power and mastery. These desires and attachments got jumbled, intertwined, entangled, confused and obscured, and the dream-world of one human being conflicted and clashed with the dream-worlds of other human beings. In short, human beings became too clever for their own good. They have come to have more cleverness than understanding. Now it is the task, the urgent task, of all intelligent women and men of goodwill to work to reverse this sad state of affairs and lead human beings to have more understanding than cunning. The task is urgent because human beings, now over-crowded on their tiny planet, foolishly quarrelling and fighting, shortsightedly devastating the natural environment that gave them sustenance and gave them power, are rapidly and almost irreversibly hurtling towards self-destruction. The gravest danger to human beings – despite all their cleverness and their vaunted technological wizardry – is stupidity. Unless we have more understanding than cunning, we are doomed.

To sum up: No omniscient and omnipotent God is responsible for the world. To look up to such a God to save us is to deliver ourselves to our inevitable fate. In the universe, all existence is tragic, but there is no evil. In human life the evil is in the thoughts we have created in the first place to serve our purposes but then turned into monsters lording it over us. We have to realize that we can only save ourselves if we live in peace and harmony with our fellow human beings and with nature, and that true happiness for a human being is in good deeds, in love and generosity and sympathy and friendliness, and that the richest treasure for a human being is in creative activity, in producing beautiful works of art and thought. This is what Plato called giving birth in beauty.

In what I am saying here, if not in the theoretical matter, at any rate in the practical part, there is nothing new or original. This is what all moral teachers, from ancient Egyptian sages through Jesus of Nazareth to Gandhi and Schweitzer have been saying. But few of us can remove themselves for a while from the din and hubbub of our too-busy life to see the plain truth. It is the duty of all intelligent persons to spread the word: Human beings, be good or be annihilated!

Cairo, 4 November 2013.