NOTES ON PLATO - V
NOTES ON PLAYO – V
D. R. Khashaba
16. Analytical philosophers think they can extort the meaning of a statement by torturing every word on the rack. They do not understand that the meaning of a statement is in its transcendent wholeness and in the irreducible nuances of the living words. They do not understand Plato’s prophetic pronouncement “ho men gar sunoptikos dialektikos, ho de mê ou” (Republic, 537c). They did not learn from Wittgenstein anything other than to mimic his futile ramblings in his later writings. They take the words of Socrates out of their dramatic contexts and treat them as if they occurred in an academic dissertation, squeezed dry of all imagination and all wit. In the Charmides you cannot take a statement addressed to Critias in the same spirit as one addressed to the boy Charmides. Neither can you, in the Euthydemus, apply the same criteria to things said to Dionysodorus as to things said to Clinias. In the Gorgias there is a difference even between the dialogue with Polus and that with Callicles. Yet our scholars think all that comes their way grist for their analytical mills.
17. Gareth B. Matthews (“Socratic Ignorance”) says: “The subsequent history of philosophy has shown how maddeningly difficult it is to arrive at a satisfactory analysis of any philosophically interesting concept” (p.106). Not difficult, rather utterly impossible. For practical purposes (scientific, juristic, technical) we can have ad hoc definitions and transitory explanations. Following Plato, I say that philosophy does not give a final account (definition, analysis or explanation) of anything, but ever explores the mysteries of the mind: in the process of exploration (a) we exercise creative intelligence and live as intelligent beings; and (2) enjoy the only understanding that is given us to enjoy. This is what I call philosophical insight. As Plato insisted, philosophical insight cannot be encapsulated in any determinate formulation of thought. It can only be intimated in myth and parable. Philosophers who try to formulate definitive philosophies are ploughing the sand and our learned scholars are not even participating in the ploughing but are standing apart compiling statistics about the ploughed sands.
18. Matthews poses the question: “If Socrates does not know what piety or bravery or temperance is, … how can he know of any token persons or actions that they are pious, brave, or temperate?” Further on he quotes Hugh Benson’s formulation of what he calls “the Priority of Definitional Knowledge”: “If A fails to know what F-ness is, then A fails to know, for any x, that x is F.” Our learned scholars go on creating puzzles and dilemmas where there are none. Nothing in thought is given us, as Plato would put it, eilikrinôs (simply, unmixwd). For Socrates the intelligible ideas (Forms) come from the mind, are born in the mind. This is the insight behind the myth of reminiscence. It is by the idea of Beauty that we see things beautiful, by the idea Two that we see two objects as two. The most rapacious of human beings has an inkling of the idea of Justice, but the idea, even in the minds of the best of us, is befogged and entangled with other ideas. In the elenchus Socrates helps his interlocutor to see things somewhat more clearly. protests too much’. We are all in the dark but not without a glimmer of light.
19. Socrates spoke of the worst kind of ignorance, thinking one knows what one does not know. Analytical scholars (I can’t call them philosophers) make that worst ignorance pardonable. Their hubris is far worse: they shred meaningful speech and display the shreds as inconsistencies and fallacies and pride themselves on their shrewedness.
20. Under “The Aporetic Reading” (pp.109-110) Matthews finds a way out of the dilemma created by the assumption of “the Priority of Definitional Knowledge”, but he is still busy with the trumped up problem and we have already lost sight of any sense in the notion of Socratic ignorance. That is the reward of our analytical acumen.
21. All the attempts of modern and contemporary philosophers to solve the riddle of Knowledge have come to nothing. Gareth B. Matthews admits that much (p.112). With Plato I say that phronêsis (intelligence) and alêtheia (reality) are one and the same ultimate mystery. We have immediate awareness of that ultimate mystery, that ultimate reality, in exercising our creative intelligence in philosophical exploration. That intelligence that is the one reality of which we have immediate awareness is our own inner reality. That reality is ineffable, it can never be comprehended in a definitive articulation of thought or words. It can only be intimated in myth, myth that has to confess itself myth. That is Plato’s Form of the Good, beyond Being and beyond Intelligence, breeding all being and all intelligence. Unless we absorb this insight of Plato’s we will continue plodding round and round in vacuous theoretical circles.
I apologize for the angry tone of these notes, especially of the present batch, but analytical philosophers are not only blinding us to what is precious in Plato, but are also doing away with all genuine philosophy,
Cairo, October 10, 2015.