Friday, June 27, 2014


THE VALUE OF PHILOSOPHICAL ARGUMENT [1] As I recall, Whitehead somewhere says that, in reviewing a mathematical work, the reviewer concentrates on the first half-page because it is there that the assumptions are set out from which the rest follows consistently if the author is a competent mathematician. [2] This applies to any work in which there is an extended argument. The argument in Plato’s Phaedo starts with the definition of death as the separation of soul and body. The assumption that the soul and the body are two separate and separable entities is the error that makes of the argument or series of arguments for the immortality of the soul a sham. Does that make the Phaedo, or, specifically, the argument for immortality of the soul worthless? Not at all. In the course of aegument the concept of the soul is transformed and enriched and the concept of immortality itself is raised from the plane of temporality to the plane of eternity. The most precious gift of Socrates’ philosophy – transmitted to us in Plato’s dialogues and particularly in the Phaedo – is the concept of the soul as the plane of spirituality, where reason is no more a tool for practical living but a creative principle that makes of a human being a god. When Socrates at the close of the argument says, “Wherefore, I say, let a man be of good cheer about his soul, who … has sought after the pleasures of knowledge; and has arrayed the soul … in her own proper jewels, temperance, and justice, and courage, and nobility, and truth” — the true import of these words transcends the confines of spaciality and temporality: the valuable revelation inhering in these words relates not to a time to come but to the eternity we realize here and now in a life of intelligent creativity. Pundits who, when examining the Phaedo, exert themselves to find fault with the argument, are splitting, thrashing, and pounding the husk and ignoring the rich kernel. [3] In the same way, Plato argues at length in the Phaedo in support of the doctrine of anamnêsis, knowledge as recollection. As I see it, Socrates emphasized the distinction between the intelligible and the perceptible. That was the ground principle of his philosophy. To him the intelligible realm was what gave us our humanity, and the intelligible was wholly generated in the mind and by the mind. Perhaps it was Plato who extended that, affirming that it was the intelligible that gave meaning to the things of the outer world. Plato shared with Socrates the insight that the intelligible comes from within, from the mind. But while Socrates seems to have accepted that simply, since he was solely concerned with the moral question, with what gave meaning and value to human life, Plato puzzled about it. He mythologized. He found in the Pythagorean or Orphic doctrine of palingenesis a mythological answer to the puzzle. But the core value of the myth is in giving expression to the insight that all knowledge, all understanding, all meaning comes from the mind and only from the mind. In the Theaetetus, in place of the myth of anamnêsis, we have the metaphor of maieusis. This does not indicate any change in Plato’s position. But the metaphor perhaps has the merit of focusing plainly on the essential insight. [-] Cairo, 27 June, 2014.


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