D. R. Khashaba
Every animal in its life and death lives out its nature, its innate character, and fulfills its destiny. Basically this is true of the human anima. But in the case of human beings there is a complication, for human beings, in addition to their animal nature, have an acquired character. We owe that to the power of reflection, of conceptual thinking, in virtue of which we can have non-natural aims and purposes, values and ideals, fears and hopes and ambitions. This brings about a plane of being inaccessible, as far as we know, to our animal kin.
Thus human beings, over and above their animal nature, have what we may call an over-nature. A human individual, however unsophisticated, simple, and naïve, necessarily must have a set of values, aims, and purposes that determine her or his special character. Positively or negatively, an individual lives out that special character, that over-nature, constituted by her or his special set of evaluations, aims, and purposes.
Accordingly, a human being willy nilly must have a morality and will live in conformity with that morality and will die for that morality. A Hulagu Khan or a Buddha, a serial-killer or a saint, all live out their special morality and none of them can convince the others of the error of their ways. Socrates was ridiculed by Callicles (Gorgias) and by Thrasymachus (Republic) and all his arguments could not convince either of them that it is never right to harm another and that to suffer injustice is to be preferred to committing injustice.
Thus far we have been on the plane of nature even with the addition of the over-nature peculiar to humans thanks to their power of conceptual thinking. But just as conceptual thinking gives us a plane of being on which we live our characteristically human life, creative thinking brings about another distinct plane of being, the plane of metaphysical or spiritual reality. Plato in the Phaedo portrays the philosophical life, life on the plane of spiritual reality. It is not the numerous halting arguments for personal immortality that give the true message and meaning of the Phaedo, but the ideal of the philosophical life and the notion of the divinity (eternity) of the soul. (The argument in the Phaedrus for the eternity of the soul deserves special treatment.) When Socrates in the Phaedo ends by speaking of adorning the soul “in her own proper jewels, which are temperance, and justice, and courage, and nobility” (Jowett) he is speaking of life on the spiritual plane.
A person who has elected to live on the spiritual plane sees that as her or his true inner being; she or he will live in eternity for the duration of her or his life and will readily die rather than be untrue to that inner reality — as Socrates died, as Giordano Bruno died.
Shelley ends his Prmetheus Unbound with prophetic words which portray life on the plane of spiritual eternity:
To suffer woes which Hope thinks infinite;
To forgive wrongs darker than death or night;
To defy Power, which seems omnipotent;
To love, and bear; to hope till Hope creates
From its own wreck the thing it contemplates;
Neither to change, nor falter, nor repent;
This, like thy glory, Titan, is to be
Good, great and joyous, beautiful and free;
This is alone Life, Joy, Empire, and Victory.
This is the final justification of morality, but it is a justification that will cut no ice with those who have not elected that kind of life for themselves. Hence it is not by moralizing or arguing or inculcation that we teach morality but by firing the creative imagination. The best teachers of morality are not preachers but poets and artists. The best examples of moral teaching are the myths of Plato, the parables of Jesus.
D. R. Khashaba
December 23, 2016