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



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