Thursday, November 12, 2015



D. R. Khashaba

Some time ago I reported a conversation that took place in Hades as it came to me. But lately an akolouthos of Hermes gave me a more detailed account of Plato receiving David Hume on his arrival at Hades’ abode, and in return for a favour I nad shown him has been regaling me from time to time with reports of goings on past and goings on present in the realms of the departed. I will make a record of these reports here, but let me begin by giving the fuller account of what took place when Hume first arrived there.


When David Hume arrived in the underworld and stood before the judges Radamanthus, Minos and Aiakos he was unanimously voted to go to the upper regions but while Aiakos was inclined to send him to the grove of Democritus, Minos thought that, despite appearances, he properly belonged to the grove of Socrates, and Radamanthus ruled thus, and Hermes conducted him to the Gnôthi Sauton portal. As soon as he entered Plato welcomed him and had with him the conversation I reported earlier before taking him to Socrates’ favourite haunt.

There was a small group gathered around Socrates, seated or reclining on the lush grass. Hume’s attention was first attracted by two fair nymphs, one on either side of Socrates. Plato caught Hume’s glance. “Those are”, he explained, “Aspasia of Athens, to the left, and Hypatia of Alexandria, to the right.” Next Hume’s eye rested on a face that somehow looked familiar to him. “You should recognize him”, Plato said. “that’s George Berkeley. I am confident you will soon smooth out your philosophical differences.”

As they approached Socrates said, “Welcome, friend; we have been expecting you.” Plato said, “I am to blame for keeping him a while. We had an interesting discussion and agreed that those who are responsible for giving Philosophy a bad name are her foolish friends who claimed for her territories beyond her rightful domain.” “It’s curious”, said Socrates, “how mortals persevere in error. I told them plainly that Philosophy has nothing to do with the physical world and my friend Plato told them, though in parable, that Philosophy does not seek and cannot offer the certainty proper to geometry or number what they now call mathematics, usurping the word we used for all that can be taught and learned. Philosophy begins – and never ends – in the injunction of the Delphic oracle: know yourself.”

“May I ask”, Hume interposed, “why you intoned the phrase ‘and never ends’ with such emphasis.” Socrates turned with a sly wink to Hypatia who spoke: “In seeking to know ourselves we explore our inner reality, a reality that is as inexhaustible as it is ineffable. In exploring our reality we both live intelligently and live the life of intelligence.” Socrates smiled saying, “Hypatia speaks as enigmatically as my friend Diotima. Diotima once said to me: theôn oudeis philosophei oud’ epithumei sophos genesthai, esti gar. oud’ ei tis allos sophos, ou philosophei (no god philosophizes or desires to become wise; he already is; nor does anyone else who is wise philosophize). Now this surely has to be taken with more than a grain of salt. It would be straightforwardly true if philosophy or wisdom were a fixed asset, as businessmen say, to be possessed once and for all. But philosophy, as Plato has been teaching, is never a definite body of knowledge, but is the activity of philosophizing, or as Hypatia says, is the constant exercise of creative intelligence.” “And that”, said Aspasia, “ is the philosophical life.”

After a pause Aspasia resumed: “But sometimes I wonder, is it only by philosophizing that a human being can live a good life? I have known simple individuals who lived at peace with themselves and with everybody around them, who were tender and loving not only towards their fellow human beings but also towards all living things, filled with happiness when they do a good deed, contentedly enjoying doing whatever they have to do.” “Yes”, said Plato, “there are such persons who are by nature so happily attuned that they cannot but do what is right. But we have to take account of two considerations. First, most of us need to be constantly examining our motives and impulses, scrutinizing our judgments snd convictions, clearing the muddles and confusions of our opinions. Secondly, (and this especially concerns us who busy ourselves with philosophy and philosophizing) human beings, whose distinctive characteristic is reason, fall short of their proper excellence if their mode of life and their doings are not founded on reasoned principles.”

A lively tune sounded; they all stood up abs began dancing to the music.

Cairo, November 11, 2o15.


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