Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Monday, January 27, 2014
Friday, January 17, 2014
Tuesday, January 14, 2014
UNIVERSE OF DISCOURSE:
a concept and a term we badly need
D. R. Khashaba
Lewis Mumford in The Condition of Man (1944) uses the term 'idolum'. In the short Glossary appended to the book he defines it thus:
"IDOLUM. This term was first used in The Story of Utopias (1922) at about the same time Mr. Walter Lippmann coined the expression 'pseudo-environment' for a similar fact. By idolum I do not mean either an idea or an idol: neither a concept nor a fetich nor an ideology. By idolum I indicate the existence of an ideological 'field,' which unites and polarizes, as it were, a number of related images, symbol, ideas, and even artifacts. Idolum is close to the German term Weltbild when taken in its literal sense: a picture of the world, that is, the world experienced in and through culture, that people carry in their minds. I prefer it to the term pseudo-environment because as such an idolum is neithr fictitious nor false: it is simply the dominant mental environment of a particular culture, containing both permanently verifiable experiences and temporarily acceptable illusions." (Lewis Mumford, The Condition of Man, 1944, Glossary.)
This is similar to a key concept that I have – in complete unawareness of either Mumford's or Lippman's term – been emphasizing in my writings under the term "universe of discourse". Let me try to explain what I mean by this vital notion, and I hope the verbosity of this explanation may be excused because I feel it is necessary to make the idea as clear as possible.
From the start I insisted that for Socrates what characterizes human beings as such is that they live in a world of ideas and ideals that arise in the mind and that have no being except in the mind: desires, expectations, fears, anticipated pleasures and pains, socially or communally sanctioned values. A brute is moved by present pleasure, present pain, present desire, present dread, but only a human being is moved by ambition or vengeance or anticipated danger. A human being kills and dies for honour or for loyalty, things which have no being outside the human mind. A dog will fight another dog for a bone, but having its own bone it will not envy a neighbouring dog its bigger bone. Human beings have these 'ideal' motives because they alone live in that intelligible realm that Socrates clearly and radically distinguished from the perceptible realm. Living in an intelligible realm that has no being outside the human mind is what characterizes human beings as such. That is the keystone of Socrates' and Plato's philosophy and of my version of Platonism. A person's or a community's particular intelligible realm is what I call that particular person's or community's universe of discourse.
Permit me to reproduce here a few excerpts from some of my writings illustrating my usage of this expression:
"Our language is our fate. Language shapes reality, the only reality we are capable of apprehending. In language we form our universe of discourse, and that universe defines the limits of intelligibility for us. We can discard our language and adopt another – mathematical, physical, mythical, what you will –, our understanding would still be drawing breath and getting its lifeblood from an ideal universe of discourse." (Let Us Philosophize, second ed., 2008, Ch. VII, "Knowledge of the World".)
"… a philosophy creates a universe of discourse which brings into being a domain of intelligibility in which the mind can have its proper life as active, creative intelligence." (Plato: An Interpretation. 2005, Introduction.)
"A word has meaning for each mind only in the particular universe of discourse which is the life of that mind." (Plato: An Interpretation ,2005, Ch. VII, "The Argument of the Republic".)
"Our ideas constitute the intelligible world we live in. Any system of ideas constitutes a particular universe of discourse. When Socrates says, 'I would rather suffer wrong than do wrong', this statement is neither analytic nor verifiable. It is creative; it gives us a meaningful world in which we live on a new plane of being. ("Philosophy as Prophecy", The Sphinx and the Phoenix, 2009.)
Mumford's phrase "the world experienced in and through culture, that people carry in their minds" sums the notion succinctly. Mumford prefers 'idolum' to Lippmann's 'psudo-emvironment'. I do not find 'idolum' satisfactory. Lippmann's 'pseudo-enironment' would be closer to what is needed if altered to 'virtual environment'. But I still prefer my 'universe of discourse'.
The culture "that people carry in their minds" is a person's or a people's private reality; it determines what reality the outer things have for that person or that people. And that, in Plato's philosophy and in my philosophy, is all the reality there is. All else is either dumb sensation – Kant's blind intuitions without concepts – or it is a mental construct that Whitehead castigated in his treatment of the Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness.
A universe of discourse is the world in which we live our characteristically hunan life. It is the only world with which philosophy proper is concerned. Science and the methods of objective science are designed for dealing with the outer world, the phenomenal world; they have no applicability in the intelligible world, which is the proper donmain of philosophy. The confounding of science and philosophy, harmful to both, is an error that I have been combating in all my writings.
Cairo, Egypt, 14 January 2014.
Saturday, January 04, 2014
A MARGINAL NOTE ON PLATO'S REPUBLIC
Not one of the dialogues of Plato has one sole purpose or one sole theme, not even the Apology or the Crito. As a Rembrandt portrait is as much a study of personality as a study of the aesthetic interplay of light and shade, so in a dialogue of Plato the drama and the thought work not side by side but each in and through each.
In "The Argument of the Republic" (Chapter VII of Plato: An Interpretation, 2005) I downplayed the political character of the Republic in reaction to the position of scholars who see nothing in the Republic but a political treatise. They comment on the book and criticize it as if they were discussing the electoral programme of a US presidential candidate. They show not a whit of historical sense. They do not take into consideration that while Plato's moral and metaphysical philosophy is the fruit of his insight, his politics is the product of his time and historical circumstances. Lewis Mumford in The Condition of Man (1944), Ch. I, Sect. 4, gives an insightful and judicious critique that any serious reader will find amply rewarding.
My own position was and is that whatever may have been Plato's motive or overriding interest in composing the Republic, we have in its central part, the profoiundest and maturest expression of Plato's philosophy and the quintessence of all philosophy. These seventy-odd pages, from 472 in Book V to the end of Book VII, are the lasting gift of Plato's inspiration yo humanity.
Friday, January 03, 2014
WHO IS A PHILOSOPHER?
D. R. Khashaba
Who is a philosopher? Or better: What is a philosopher? The 'Who' question can be answered in the silly manner of Hippias when Socrates asks him: "What is beauty?" and he answers: "A beautiful girl is beauty." The question looks deceptively simple. To appreciate to what profound depths it can draw us we have only to consider that the core of the greatest philosophy book ever written, Plato's Republic, was no more than an attempt to answer that question. (See Plato: An Interpretation, 2005, Ch.VII, "The Argument of the Republic".) Somewhere in Let Us Philosophize, 1998, 2008, I have said that the whole body of a philosopher's work is that particular philosopher's answer to the question: What is philosophy?
On a naïve plane we may say that we have two different classes that claim the title "philosopher". In the first class a philosopher is one who has studied the works of the great thinkers of the past and who may teach the gist of those works in a school or a university. Properly we should say that she or he has studied the history of philosophy and teaches the history of philosophy.
In the second class a philosopher is one who has been haunted by the questions that have irked human beings about the nature and meaning and purpose of the world and of life ever since they acquired the faculty of reflective thinking. She or he has then searched within her or his own soul (mind) for answers to those questions. When a person thinks that she or he has found the answer to the question that person is no longer a philosopher or that question was not a properly philosophical question in the first place. A philosophical question can never be answered but can only be and should only be endlessly explored. That endless exploration is the proper life of the soul (mind). Voltaire's dictum, Aimer et penser: c'est la véritable vie des esprits,
is just but to understand it properly we have to realize that 'aimer' and 'penser' are one thing for a truly living soul (mind).
In the present state of things, members of the second class are rarely found in academic circles. They are mostly independent philosophers. They may or may not write books or essays that are commonly classified as works of philosophy. They may express the outflow of their inner explorations in poetry or fiction or in music. Those are the fortunate ones and they are the ones that constantly enrich human culture and help humans preserve their humanity. The less fortunate – truly unfortunate – ones that can only express themselves in the language of abstract conceptual thinking live and die unrecognized. The fruits of their explorations are not allowed to reach the mainstream of human culture.
I am reading one of the most insightful works of the twentieth century, Lewis Mumford's The Condition of Man. I pick up this sentence from the Introduction: "We must capture once more the sense of what it is to be a man: we must fashion a fresh way of life, which will give to every man a new value and meaning in his daily activities." What has the whole of our present academic philosophy, the whole body of our analytical philosophy, to contribute to this task that is still desperately needed? Nothing, absolutely nothing.
I began this essay in a reflective mood. I ended in a mood of barely suppressed anger. Let me give my anger vent. There is no greater killer of true philosophy than academic philosophy and there is no greater enemy of independent philosophy than the peer-review system of philosophical journals.
Sixth-October City, Egypt,
3rd January, 2014.