Wednesday, August 17, 2016



D. R. Khashaba

I am despairing of having my philosophy understood by present-day students of philosophy. They expect me to do science. I do philosophy and a philosophy of a kind that has as little to do with science as music has to do with engineering or as poetry has to do with medicine.

Even a highly sympathetic reader finds fault with my affirming that we never will know what life or death are. In response he writes:

“In a formal sense life is a “mechanism”, that allows a mechanical systems of molecules to become self-preserving by using energy from the environment. This is how Schroedinger put it and how most biologists see it today.” (Hubertus Fremerey in private correspondence.)

I have no doubt that is very good science. But I doggedly insist that it does not answer the naïve question “What is life?” In the same way if I ask “What is joy?” you can give me a learned account of glands and secretions and chemical reactions and neural emissions. A person who has never experienced joy can research those processes, write a doctoral thesis, even win a Nobel prize without knowing what joy is. Only a person who has experienced the surge of feeling at hearing the Freude of Beethoven’s Ninth or who has experienced joy at seeing his child emerging safe from between the rubble of an exploded building — only such a person knows what joy is and to such a person (1) the learned scientific answer is irrelevant; (2) the question “Whatis joy?” cannot be answered in any formula of words.

To the modern, scientifically oriented mind, ‘knowledge’ has one meaning: it is objective scientific knowledge. That is why in my writings I insist on two things: (1) keeping science and philosophy completely separate as dealing with questions radically different in nature; (2) using the word ‘knowledge’ only for objective knowledge and the word ‘understanding’ only for subjective experience (I would have said ‘intuition’ if the word had not been hackneyed).

I am afraid that with the spreading dominance of science nobody will any more understand what philosophy is about. In another century (if humankind survives) even the Chinese, Indians and Japanese will no longer understand their own great heritage of wisdom.

AN AFTERTHOUGHT: Where I live, in Egypt and the whole Arab world, it is not a case of science wiping off philosophy but of superstition wiping off all ratiomality.

August 17, 2016.

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