Thursday, December 01, 2016



D. R. Khashaba

Why study philosophy? If the question is taken in the sense of ‘Why should anyone study philosophy?’ the answer is: \There is no reason whatsoever why anyone should study philosophy’/ One can be good and wise and happy without having ever heard of Plato or Spinoza. But — there is an important ‘but’ that I will come back to later.

In fact philosophy is very much akin to a disease. If you are infected with the germ you will philosophize, if not, you can spend a lifetime studying and scrutinizing the works of the greatest philosophers without becoming a philosopher.

To be a philosopher is to have a questioning mind, to be plagued with the irresistible urge to know. But here we should stop to note a crucial distinction depicted by Plato in the Republic (475e): Not all ‘knowledge’ is grist for the philosophical mill. A born scientist is also invincibly impelled by the urge to know but – to put it shortly, almost enigmatically – while the scientist’s questions are ‘How?’ questions, the philosopher’s questions are ‘Why?’ questions. This is the distinction drawn by Socrates in the ‘autobiographical’ passage in the Phaedo (95e-102a) between investigation into things (en ergois) and investigation into ideas (en logois). For this reason, to preclude confusion and misunderstanding, I prefer to say that while science is concerned with knowledge, philosophy is concerned with understanding. I have been harping on this in all my writings from my first book, Let Us Philosophize, to my latest, Creative Eternity: A Metaphysical Myth.

I come back to the ‘but’ I left hanging in the first paragraph above. I said that a human being can be good and wise and happy without philosophy. But such a person would somehow be immature, incomplete. There is in us an urge to understand why we are here, what the meaning, the purpose, of life is; there is in us a thirst to belong to the All, to be one with the Whole. The Upanishads, Lao-tzu’s Tao Te Ching, the quests of Xenophanes, Heraclitus, Parmenides, all sought to satisfy that thirst, and they all sought the living water to ease that thirst in the depths of the human soul (mind). Without answering that thirst in us we remain fragmented, alienated in the world, lost in the dark mazes of a universe bereft of meaning.

Must all people then study philosophy to be mature and whole human beings.? We know that many highly intelligent persons have no stomach for philosophy. Plato knew that only a limited portion of humans can philosophize. Must the majority of humans then always remain fragmented and immature? No. Philosophers endowed with the capability for abstract thinking philosophize. Their insights are disseminated by poets and artists — in fiction, drama, the cinema, the plastic arts, and not least in music. In a wholesome culture, where all levels and all aspects of civil and practical life are informed with philosophical insights all humans can live wisely, virtuously, and happily,

That is the hope and the dream for a sane, happy humanity. But sadly, how far, how very very far, we are from that hope, that dream, in our present world drenched in violence, conflict. and animosity — driven by ignorance and greed to the dark precipice of final annihilation.

D. R. Khashaba

December 1, 2016

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