Thursday, October 15, 2015



D. R. Khashaba

22. Plato opens up to us the glories of the spiritual life and our learned scholars are happily picking holes in the heavenly vision turned into a systematic theory that Plato would not own as his.

23. Deborah K. W. Modrak (“Plato: A Theory of Perception or a Nod to Sensation?”) writes: “Both cosmic order and deliberate action can, Socrates argues, [in Phaedo, 96a-99d] only be adequately explained by an appeal to teleological causes” (p.135). This is not quite accurate. Socrates maintains that deliberate action can only be explained teleologically: this is the ground of his much maligned ‘intellectualism’. As for cosmic order, it was a youthful fond dream of his to find a teleological explanation for it, but he realized that physical investigation cannot give us that, and when we say with Plato in the Timaeus that the Demiurge formed the world because, being good, It wanted all things to be as like It as possible (29d-e), we have to confess, as Plato does, that that is no more than a ‘likely tale’ that lends intelligibility to the riddle of the world. Socrates’ renunnciation of physical investigation constitutes a radical separation of science that cannot reach any answers to philosophical questions and philosophy that can produce no factual knowledge about the world. I have said this repeatedly but find it necessary to say it again because neither our philosophers nor our scientists have grasped it.

24. Modrak follows the lines I quoted above by saying: “At no point in this critique does Socrates challenge the veracity of sense-perception or empirically based beliefs.” Again this is just but requires amplification. Contrary to a common misconception, neither Socrates nor Plato denies or ignores the actuality of the perceptual realm. But the perceptual, for Plato, even when illumined with ideas (forms) does not rise above the level of opinion ( doxa). The perceptible world, although the source of much illusion and delusion, is not itself an illusion; although never constant but always flowing, ever vanishing, and although it is the height of ignorance to take it for what is real, it is yet not nothing. To that extent Plato is a ‘materialist’: he is aware that we are immersed in a world that is and is not.

25. I had to fight a strong temptation to drop the rest of the papers in this Companion to Plato, but Modrak’s is the second essay (after Kahn’s “Plato on Recollection”) that engages directly with Plato’s text rather than picking on peripheral accidentals to subject them to analytical inanities.

Cairo, October 15, 2015.


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