THE INTELLIGIBLE AND THE PERCEPTIBLE
The most crucial and most ignored single sentence in the whole of philosophical literature from its Ionian beginnings to the present day is a sentence of n more than fourteen words that Plato quietly slips in at Phaedo 79a:
thômen oun boulei, ephê, duo eidê tôn ontôn, to men horaton, to de aides;
Literally: “Do you want us then, he said, to lay down two kinds of being, the one visible, the other invisible?” Setting the sentence free of its dramatic and circumstantial dressings, we can express the core in these words: Let us distinguish two kinds of being, the perceptible and the intelligible.
This sentence advances the ground principle of what I would call philosophy proper; it sets apart what is real for the philosopher from the unreality we commonly call reality. It defines the boundaries between philosophical and scientific thinking. All of Plato’s works can be seen as an exposition and an elucidation of this one sentence. All of my writings are an attempt to awaken us to the profound meaning of this sentence that has been buried under heaps and mountains of learning — to awaken us to the Socratic insight that all our vaunted knowledge and our vaunted science are ignorance, to make us realize that unless we acknowledge our philosophical ignorance, then the more objective knowledge we possess, the farther away are we from the wisdom that alone can infuse meaning and value in human life.
Cairo, 2 July, 2014