NOTES ON PLATO - VII
NOTES ON PLATO – VII
D. R. Khashaba
26. Michael Ferejohn speaks of “the comparative assessment of different and competing analyses [of knowledge]” in modern epistemology. That, as far as it goes may be a good philosophical discipline, but it becomes not only pointless but also positively injurious if it does not have for its starting ground a clear recognition of the ultimate mystery of intelligence. Mind, consciousness, intelligence, name it as you will, is a reality we stand before in awe and must acknowledge that there is no explaining, empirical or philosophical, of how it comes about. We can explore that reality to the end of time and come up with sophisticated theories about it, but the mystery remains, and if we think that our theories explain it we deceive ourselves. Shouldn’t modern philosophers ask themselves why despite all their researches and their analyses no theory is found to be finally satisfactory? — Ferejohn understands nothing of Plato. I am passing on to the next paper. — I’m also dropping Terry Penner’s “The Forms and the Sciences in Socrates and Plato” which at first I thought promising. — I’m jumping to the fifteenth contribution, David Sedley’s “Plato on Language”: this should be hard to corrupt: let us see. No use! Try Michael J. White’s “Plato and Mathematics”.
27. I sampled and dropped several papers. I now go to “Platonic Religion” by Mark L. McPherran. McPherran speaks of “Plato’s conception of a singular God who is the source of order and goodness in the cosmos” (p.244). That would be the Form of the Good rather than the Demiurge of the Timaeus. Perhaps like Giordano Bruno Plato found that with our constrained human understanding we cannot avoid thinking of God on two planes, the common and the philosophical.
28. McPherran says that Plato took “the success of the methods of the mathematicians of his day … to overcome the limitations of Socrates elenctic method” (p.246). I think this misreads Plato who never abandoned the Socratic principle of ignorance. Plato did not entertain the illusion that reasoning can yield definite knowledge about ultimate Reality or realities. Hence he could not have a positive theology. McPherran finds that Plato was also influenced by “the aim at human-initiated divine status (especially immortality) as expressed by some of the newer, post-Hesiodic religious forms that had entered into Greece. Consequently, his philosophical theology offered the un-Socratic hope of an afterlife of intimate Form-contemplation in the realm of divinity” (p.245-7). It is true that the middle dialogues show that Plato was lured by the mystic religions and by the dream of an afterlife, but I believe that Plato did not allow all that to cloud his philosophical vision. In the Phaedo he makes Socrates argue for immortality, but he does not pretend that any of the ‘proofs’ were conclusive. The Phaedrus celestial realm of the Forms is sheer poetry and the ‘doctrine’ of Reminiscence is a mythical dressing for the Socratic insight that all knowledge comes from the mind. The eschatological myths (Gorgias, Phaedo, Republic) may indicate that Plato clung to the hope of personal survival, but they are not part of an articulate theology. I cannot accept McPherran’s interpretation of self-knowledge “on Plato’s scheme” (p.247). The ‘divinity/eternity’ of the soul is, in my interpretation, completely compatible with the principle of philosophical ignorance and with the rejection of immortality as personal survival. In my version of Platonism the God of philosophy is the God within us, a God we create to give meaning to the meaningless world in which we are immersed.
29. In page 246 McPherran had affirmed that for Socrates “piety is understood to be that part of justice that is a service of humans to gods, assisting the gods … in their primary task to produce their most beautiful product”, and in page 247 argues that in Plato’s scheme “there is little room for Socratic piety, since now the central task of human existence becomes less a matter of assisting gods and more a matter of becoming as much like them as one can”. That piety is to be understood as assisting the gods was one of the suggestions proposed in the Euthyphro and found unacceptable by Socrates. It is odd that McPherran takes it as a firm tenet of Socrates and bases on it his argument for distancing Plato’s position from that of Socrates.
30. Under “Plato’s Polis Religion” McPherran abandons the historical approach with which he began and slides into the analytical mode with all its distortions and misconceptions and misuse of logic. Plato’s assertion that God (or the gods) being good do no evil and is therefore not the source (cause) of all things is turned from a prophetic pronouncement into a flawed syllogism. I will not be drawn further into commenting on analytical foibles. I will try to run through the rest of the paper but will only comment if there is something worthwhile to say. Our erudite analytical scholars turn out to be worse than the worst kind of theologians.
Cairo, October 16, 2015.