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


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