Saturday, November 25, 2017




D. R. Khashaba

The name of the gracious goddess Philosophia has been handled so insipidly and for so long that it has come to mean all things and nothing. Take one example: experts in the techniques of Artificial Intelligence have been calling their science ‘philosophy’! So to keep close to what philosophy meant for, say, Plato, I will speak of ‘metaphysics’ even though this term (which neither Plato nor Aristotle knew) has not escaped mutilation and defamation.

Rather than asking “What is metaphysics?” I will ask “Who is a metaphysician?” and rather than advancing towards an answer through rational discussion I will at once bluntly and audaciously give an oracular answer that I will defend by unfolding, amplifying, and elucidating the oracular pronouncement in what follows.

Here is the oracle: A metaphysician is an intelligent soul who throughout her life is irked by unanswerable questions.

In the morning of human life – be it the life of the human race or of an individual human being – the mind is troubled by endless questions about the phenomena of nature and of life. In time the intelligent mind discovers that there are on the one hand answerable questions, even if the answers do not come readily or easily, and there are on the other hand questions that are unanswerable, not only that they are hard to crack or that they call for preparations or conditions that are not within our reach, but that they are in their nature unanswerable. Answers to the answerable questions accumulated over time: they are the pith and core of our present-day science and technology. The computer I am working on now owes a debt to the first man or woman who struck two stones together to make fire,

Let me take leave of generalities for a while and move on to particulars. At the birth of Western philosophy in Greece (the profound cultures of China and India deserve special treatment in a separate essay) Thales, Anaximenes, Democritus – to pick some names at random – busying themselves with the stuff and the order of the cosmos, were laying the foundations of modern physics and modern astronomy. Stephen Hawking will tell you that he and his colleagues are still working on questions posed by those early Greek thinkers. On the other hand, Heraclitus was not concerned with the stuff of the world but with the soul that is too deep to fathom. Yes, Heraclitus as a genuine metaphysician was concerned with the soul, despite our materialist, positivist, empiricist scientists, and I mean scientists, for our professors of philosophy who have splintered philosophy into diverse specialized disciplines – whether they research the mind of a fly or the ‘intelligence’ of robots – are scientists doing perhaps very good scientific work but not philosophy — for them the soul is not unfathomed or unfathomable but an empty word without any meaning whatever.

Plato was concerned with moral values, a concern he inherited from Socrates, but he was also concerned with the question of ultimate reality and with the nature and provenance of knowledge. He had no answer to any of these queations. For the nature of knowledge he gave us the principle of Forms; for the provenance of knowledge he gave us the myth of reminiscence; for the problem of ultimate reality he gave us the allegory of the Form of the Good. Why could he not answer the questions that engaged his mind throughout his life? These are unanswerable questions because Reality, Intelligence, Life, Goodness are ultimate mysteries and will always remain closed secrets to us.

Now comes the sensible question: Since these are mysteries that will always remain forbidden ground for us and since all questions relating to them must remain unanswerable, why bother about them? Let us listen to the oracle once more: “A metaphysician is an intelligent soul who throughout her life is irked by unanswerable questions.” Since the mysteries of Being, Life, Mind, Goodness are what gives us being, life, mind, and goodness, to remain alive and to remain truly human we must never lose touch with those mysteries. An intelligent soul cannot but be irked by those mysteries and being troubled by questions relating to them. And since the questions are truly unanswerable, then it is only in myth and parable that we voice what insight we are given to glimpse into them. And this applies not only to the metaphysician, but to the poet, the artist, the lover — to whomever is blessed with sensing the reality of those life-giving mysteries.

In modern times, especially in the present day, the practical successes of science and technology have seduced us to focus our attention on exteriors — on the outer world and our own outer physical being. Scientists and philosophers-turned-scientists have led us not only to forget our inner reality but to completely deny that inner reality. I am convinced that the crises and turmoils of our world today are not separated from this loss of insight into our inner reality and loss of touch with the unspeakable metaphysical mysteries..

Let metaphysicians not be dismayed when their prophetic visions are mocked by the scientists and their league on the ground that those visions are not supported by facts: let them call on Kant for aid and let them tell scientists that their vaunted ‘facts’ are no more than interpretations of empty phenomena and that it is the metaphysicians and poets and artists who are in touch with the nounena of their unfathomable souls.

D. R. Khashaba

November 25, 2917

Posted to xnd

Wednesday, November 08, 2017



D. R. Khashaba

An email from a dear philosopher-friend set me thinking, but every new line I went through evoked in my mind a question or more than one question. Of one, only one, thing I was certapn: that I had no answer to any of those questions. It occurred to me to put everything aside for a while to reflect.

I am ninety. Leaving aside my early childhood and leaving aside a not inconsiderable stretch of time when my circumstances were inimical to philosophical thinking, I can say that throughout my life I have been philosophizing, and what have I to show for all that? While writing these lines another thought occurred to me. For some time, especially since my ninetieth birthday a few weeks ago, I have been thinking of how best to make use of the days I still have to live. The thought that has just occurred to me is to start a confessional: daily (as far as possible) to devote some time to reflect, write down my reflections, and if they make up a book or booklet, then I should collect these reflections in book form and make it available with the rest of my books. But let not the reader expect anything exciting — the life I want to register in this confessional is the life of my thought, not –of my emotions or passions or happenings (except incidentally) that give autobiographical writings their relish.

Let me go back to the reflections I started with. What have I to show for my lifelong philosophizing? The one thing that I can affirm confidently, is that what we normally refer to as higher values – moral, aesthetic, intellectual – are what makes life worthwhile. All else is vanity of vanities. Perhaps it was such a thought that made Gautama the Buddha shun his luxurious palace life and wander with his followers preaching his insight; and it must have been this thought that made Tolstoy in his late years give up his wealth and choose to live a simple peasant life.

So this is the one thing I can affirm with confidence. Do I owe that to philosophy? Not wholly and not in the first place. The first seeds of my moral stance were planted at home in my early childhood. I had the great fortune of growing up in a loving family. Next I had the fortune of coming at an early age to come across Plato’s works and to admire Socrates. Hence I can say that philosophy consolidated my attachment to moral ideals, But at this point I would not be honest if I let my words give the impression that I live up to my ideals. In my life there were many negative influences. Hence I must make it plain that in saying that in my philosophy the one certain thing is that moral, aesthetic, and intellectual ideals are what gives life meaning and worth, I am speaking of my philosophical position and not of my person or my way of life.

In the message of my philosopher-friend that I mentioned at the beginning my friend more than once speaks of God. Now I have to state that if my attachment to philosophy consolidated the moral values I gained in my childhood, it had the contrary effect on my religious beliefs, primarily on any belief in God. I started questioning the Church teachings when I was about fourteen. First to drop was faith in the tales of the Old Testament. Next certain aspects of orthodox Christian morality were questioned. With my earliest tamperings with metaphysical thinking I came to see that any belief in a transcendent Creator is philosophically bankrupt. For a time I believed and asserted confidently that ultimate Reality must be intelligent and good. Further on my philosophical reflections convinced me that pure reason or purely theoretical thinking cannot answer any of our ultimate questionings. Yet though I no longer assert the intelligence and goodness as true of the actual world, yet I still hold that as the metaphysical vision in which I find satisfaction.

I accept Kant’s position: empirical science can only deal with the way things appear to us but cannot tell us about the ultimate nature of things. Pure reason too cannot tell us about the ultimate nature of things. Pure reason can only reflect on what Kant calls the Ideals of Reason. But Kant. to my mind, was inconsistent. He juggled with the Ideals of pure reason to ‘prove’ the existence of God and the immortality of the human soul.

I cannot attach any distinct meaning to the word God, unless we equate God with ultimate Reality. But again I say that neither empirical science nor metaphysical thinking can tell us about ultimate Reality.

Yet I do not throw metaphysical thinking overboard. I maintain that the Ideals of Pure Reason and the moral and aesthetic values give us a world of our own creation that enriches our life. I maintain that the idea of ultimate Reality, though we have no right to make it apply to the actual world, yet it gives our life coherence and value. In other words I maintain that as poets and artists dream and by their dreams enrich our life, so a Plato, a Spinoza, a Santayana, dream and by dreaming give us an ideal world we live in for a while just as we live in the worlds of Mozart, of Shakespeare, of Goethe.

Dear Reader, I said above that this would be the first of a series of such reflections. I already doubt that I will be able to keep that promise. And yet, who knows?

D. R. Khashaba

November 8, 2017

Posted to xnd


Sunday, November 05, 2017

AI versus HUMANS

AI versus Humans

D. R. Khashaba

The Independent reports that “Stephen Hawking warns artificial intelligence 'may replace humans altogether.'” To my mind this is not what we should worry about nor should we worry about the related question if or when will ‘thinnking machines’ surpass humans in intelligence. Neither of these issues should be what we have to worry about and prepare for.

To begin with, we have to be clear as to what we mean by AI. We already have computers that make in seconds calculations that it takes Stephen Hawking hours to make. On the other hand, bees, birds, and many non-human animals make problem-solving feats that dazzle us. It is not that kind of ‘thinking’ in which we should take pride and which gives us our distinctive character as humans.

I said there are computers that beat Stephen Hawking in a specific kind of problem-solving but – and this is a most important but – it is Stephen Hawking that puts the question to the computer. The computer may even seem to do something on its own that keeps Hawking wondering how it was done, but the computer, having done its miracle, does not keep wondering how it did it. So this is one element among others that gives us our distinctive human character.

Then, we have values, even when they are corrupt and vicious values: we do something not because the total configuration of the physical world at that moment necessitares it but – another stupendous but – we want to do it, we will it.

The age of the ‘thinking machine’ is already with us. The questions we have to think about and prepare for are: (1) Who is to set the aims and ask the questions for which we seek answers? (2) What are the values we care for and want to preserve?

Unfortunately, while the world leaders and thinkers are busy planning and devising more and more destructive missiles and missiles to intercept missiles and while world leaders and thinkers instead of thinking about how to make a more sane and more just organization of the human family are only thinking about power grabbing and territory annexation and the next financial crisis

Nothing short of a revolution in human thinking and in the global world organization will save us from a robot-governed world whose sole aim and purpose is to reach the highest rate of production and consumption even if that involves numerous pockets of poverty, famine, and disease while elsewhere surplus food is destroyed and the pharmaceutical industry makes huge profits.

D. R. Khashaba

November 5, 2017

Posted to xnd

Thursday, November 02, 2017

HERACLITUS a tentative construction

. HERACLITUS a tentative construction

D. R. Khashaba

In this paper I try to reconstruct out of Heraclitus’s disjointed fragments a plausible synoptic outlook. Such an attempt is not only risky; it is outright foolhardy especially in my case with my confessedly elementary knowledge of Greek. My only excuse is that I present this not as a contribution to Heraclitus scholarship – I hope I am not that mad yet – but as an attempt to outline a reasonable metaphysical view of my own from intimations suggested by dabbling in Heraclitus’s obscure oracular phrases.

I venture to say that we do not go far wrong if we say that Heraclitus was the first metaphysician (pardon the anachronism) in Western thinking, leaving aside Chinese and Hindu thinkers for the moment. Thales and Anaximenes were cosmologists. They tried to think out how all things came out of some primitive stuff. Xenophanes was more of a philosophe: he would have been quite at home with the thinkers of the Enlightenment.

But Heraclitus sought to understand how there could be anything at all rather than nothing. And in trying to find an answer to that question he did not look for a primal thing or stuff from which the world could be worked out, nor even for a primal Chaos, which would be an existent thinng, leaving the metaphysical question unanswered or rather unasked: for in philosophy it is the question that opens up vistas for endless exploration.

In seeking the first origin and beginning of all things Heraclitus did not look for a thing – neither stuff nor god – but for a principle: the Logos, the nearest thing in Western thinking to the Tao in Lao Tzu’s thought . The Logos is not a thing, not even a primeval mind, but a creative principle. Yet thus far we are still leaving things hanging in the air.

Heraclitus speaks of the need to follow (dei hepesthai) Logos and complains that though Logos is common, people live hôs idean echontes phronêsin, as if they owned their thinking privately. I find this highly significant. If and when we follow reason we would be following the common understanding (Logos). It is this common understanding .that puts us in touch with what is real. Seek as we may, we will never find a criterion of reality other than its being intelligible, open to the understanding. And it is this that supports and justifies our finding in the Logos, which transcends being, the origin of all being.

Further, I find this supports and is supported by Heraclitus’s looking for reality and understanding not in any external thing or in a god external to the world but in his innermost being, in his soul.

It may not be out of place here to clarify my view of the nature and limits of metaphysical thinking. From what I have already said above it is clear that I maintain that metaphysics seeks to delineate an outlook in which we find the world and life and in particular human life intelligible. The whole quest of metaphysics takes its course within the individual mind. Thus a metaphysician is entitled to say: Here is a vision in terms of which I find the world intelligible. I believe that the fatal error in which most metaphysicians fall is to claim that the vision they present is the one true vision. Kant was right when he asserted that pure reason cannot tell us anything about the actual world. Metaphysicians who claim that they disclose the reality of the world are superstitious dogmatists.

What use then is metaphysics? I maintain that neither science nor philosophy can speak of reality. Yet we cannot live without metaphysical philosophy, unless we are content to live in a totally meaningless world.

That Heraclitus insists on the eternity and absolute autonomy of the cosmos is made amply clear when he asserts that the world was made by neither god nor man. I go back again and again to this point because, in my view, the acceptance of Being (Reality, World, Cosmos, what you will) as an ultimate mystery is the essence of Metaphysics. To suppose any determinate beginning to the world, be it Aristotle’s Uncaused Cause or the Big Bang, lands us in absurdities. To the question “How did the world come about?” the only sane answer is “We don’t know”. But of the many metaphors in which that sane answer may be attired, two give me satisfaction. (1) Ultimate Reality is Eternal Creativity or Creative Eternity. (2) Ultimate Reality is Love, for Love is a ceaseless outflow, an eternal act of giving. In deference to Heraclitus I will also accept his pur aeizôon, ever-living Fire .

Many philosophers have given good answers to the metaphysical question. The fly in the ointment in every case has been that they present their metaphors as if they were factual reports about the actual world. Only Plato was free from this error since he gave his vision in myth and metaphor. In the light of the outline I gave above, Heraclitus too may have been free of this error.

D. R. Khashaba

November 2, 2017

Posted to xnd