THE ROOT OF ALL PHILOSOPHICAL QUANDARIES
THE ROOT OF ALL PHILOSOPHICAL QUANDARIES
D. R. Khashaba
A philosopher knows nothing. We find it hard to absorb what Socrates said at his trial. We take it as ‘in a manner of speaking]. NO. It must be taken quite seriously. Only he who, like Socrates, is aware that he knows nothing is a philosopher.
Socrates relates how he questioned politicians, poets, and others who were thought wise and found them wanting. He then questioned artisans and craftsmen. He found these knew many useful things but lacked wisdom. If our present-day physicists, chemists, neurologists, IT wizards were available for his examination, he would have said of them the very same thing: they know many useful things but are wanting in wisdom. Our professional philosophers and erudite scholars he would have found, I am afraid, far worse than the rest.
A philosopher knows nothing. Is philosophy then worthless? No. A true philosopher has within him the most precious of all things, the one reality we know or can ever know, this very stirring, nagging urge to understand. That thirst, that crazy aspiration for understanding, is the only reality of which we have immediate and indubitable awareness. All else is shadow, all else is maya, including our body, including our brain.
That creative urge, that quest for understanding is our inner reality, is our whole reality. Socrates called it that within us which thrives by doing what is right and suffers by doing what is wrong. Plato called it psuchê or nous. Let us call it our creative intelligence.
Now, as all things outside that inner reality are hemmed by negation, kneaded with nothingness, transient, ephemeral, evanescent, always flowing, so also all formulated thought is tainted with falsity. As all things come into being bearing the seeds of their corruption so the most astute reasoning comes riddled with contradictoriness. Thus Plato tells us in the Republic that all hypotheses must be destroyed by dialectic, and in the Parmenides gives us a practical demonstration.
What is the bearing of this? That all theoretical thinking is necessarily flawed. In vain do we seek to formulate a true theory of anything. That is against the nature of things.
A philosopher seeks to form a theory of, say, perception. He can never take for his starting point an isolated perception, a perception pure and simple, because all things are interconnected, all things are interdependent. A philosopher wanting to examine perception lifts up what he takes for a perception from the totality of experience which reflects the continuum which is the world. So his very first step is drenched in falsity.
All philosophical investigation begins from some inchoate unity taken to be a whole. For there are no real wholes within the world; the only real whole is the All, and the only good model of a whole is our inner reality. Then, to think, to theorize, the philosopher breaks up his assumed whole by drawing distinctions between assumed parts of the whole. The distinctions are always necessarily arbitrary, adding falsity to falsity. That is how different philosophers form different theories of putatively the same thing. And that is why no philosophical investigation will ever be found fully satisfactory or free from fault. I will not argue for this point; the history of philosophy and the present philosophical scene provide ample evidence.
Is all philosophical investigation then and all theory useless? Not at all. In philosophizing we exercise our creative intelligence; we imaginatively create notions and formulations that are intrinsically intelligible. This is the life of intelligence. But we should never deem our creations absolutely true or final or exhaustive. Not truth but intelligibility and intrinsic coherence are the mark and merit of a philosophical statement.
It is the quest itself that is the true end of philosophizing. It is the thirst for understanding that is the life of the soul. May that thirst never be quenched!
Cairo, September 20, 2015.