Tuesday, January 24, 2017



Self-Knowledge as example

D. R. Khashaba

In Plato’s Charmides Critias proposes to define ‘temperance’ (sôphrodunê) as self-knowledge and identifies the Delphic gnôthi sauton with an injunction to be temperate. Socrates sets out to examine the proposal. At the very outset Socrates introduces the assumption that undermines the examination and dooms it to futility. This is not an unwitting fault on the part of Socrates. The whole of the Socratic elenchus aims at revealing the futility of seeking understanding through objective dissection of an idea, as I have been affirming in all my writings.

If to be temperate, Socrates says, is to cognize (gignôskein) something, then it is knowledge (epistêmê) and the knowledge of something. This is the rock on which all the elenctic voyages in search of the ‘what’ of this or that crashed and were wrecked. For the understanding of an idea cannot be found in anything external to the idea but only in the self-evidence of the idea in the immediacy of the intelligence that gave birth to it.

In all the elenctic discourses Socrates leads the discussion to the identification of virtue (or of a specific virtue) with wisdom, intelligence, understanding (sophia, nous), or the blanket-term knowledge (epistêmê); then he proceeds to inquire: What knowledge, knowledge of what? And it turns out that it is not any particular knowledge. This is the true goal of the elenchus, to turn the interlocutor’s mind within, where all understanding is.

This same rock of dividing the indivisible, of objectifying the subjective, is what wrecked Kant’s desperate search for identifying the transcendental unity of apperception. It is what baffled Wittgenstein’s attempts to catch the meaning of a word and that tormented him with the chimera of private language.

This nemesis attaching to all thought that dooms it to falsifying all it touches is also the essential aretê (power, function) of thought. To think is to break up the one into many, to fragment what is whole. That is the basis of all theoretical knowledge. That serves our practical purposes well but we err gravely when we think we can approach reality or can have any certainty or any definitive truth that way.

Interminable scholarly controversies rage around the theory, say, of Truth or of Justice, not only because Truth is not one thing or Justice one thing, but even when we constrict as much as possible the range of the term we are concerned with, a single, comprehensive, definitive theory is in the nature of things an impossibility. For to theorize is to abstract features or elements of an original totality to be worked into a consistent parallel artidicial whole picturing the original. A picture is not the thing pictured and the thing pictured can always be pictured anew and necessarily with a difference.

Similarly, the problem of self-knowledge (not in the psychological or moral sense which is a different matter) has been the subject of much theoretical dispute. All the difficulties arise from the creation of a duality of knower and known. We are trapped by the grammar of a language created for dealing with outward things. Self-knowledge is simply the mind aware of its reality: its reality is this awareness, this intelligence, this luminosity. For the mind is not a thing, not an entity, but is a perpetual act of intelligent creativity. This is a difficult notion to grasp because it runs counter to our common norms of thought and language but to my mind this alone puts an end to our theoretical quandaries.

Let this suffice for now, but this is a subject I have dealt with repeatedly before and will probably (given the time) revert to again and again.

D. R. Khashaba

January 24, 2017

Posted to https://philosophia937.wordpress.com and http://khashaba.blogspot.com

Friday, January 20, 2017



D. R. Khashaba

What is life? Let me begin by stating my position bluntly. I see ultimate reality as living, intelligent, and creative. This position I do not arrive at by reasoning and it cannot be defebded by reasoning nor can it be refuted by reasoning. It is simply the view in terms of which I can find the world intelligible.

Being, life, mind, becoming, freedom (creativity) are ultimate irreducible mysteries. Science searching empirically for the origin of life or mind or becoming will only delve infinitely into beginnings that have further beginnings. Philosophy, employing pure reason, when sane and wise, stands in reverent awe before these mysteries and pays homage to them by inventing myths to intimate their ineffable reality.

Such is our knowledge for in truth we know nothing. And let no one jump eristically at this statement describing it as a paradox or a self-contradiction, for our knowledge of our ignorance is not knowledge of something objective but is our immediate awareness of our limitation. The apparent paradox is only an indication and a consequence of the ineluctable imperfection of language and of logic as well.

What is the use of science and of philosophy then? Science gives us useful practical knowledge (please don’t jump at the word) about things and the ways of things, about phenomena as Kant would say. This know-how knowledge at its most advanced, most astounding, most sophisticated is humbled by the like knowledge exhibited by a bee, am ant, or by an amoeba. As to philosophy, philosophy gives us to probe into our inner reality, commune with ultimate realities and with the realities created by the mind, the realities of love, of beauty, of loyalty and honour. This and only this is understanding. In philosophizing we exercise our intelligence and live our life as intelligent beings.

Does my position imply that all things, animate and those we call inanimate, have life and mind? Yes, but it is in vain that we try to imagine how a rose or a pebble feels. All the efforts of scientists to probe, by whatever ingenious experiments and devices, into the interior life or mind of a fish or bird or even a primate, are in vain. They yield objective phenomena that can be variously interpreted, including reductionist interpretations which falsely and deceptively parade as explanations. If God wanted to know how a frog feels he has first to become a frog. But as I have put iy somewhere, I cannot but think that a butterfly must be as beautiful within as it is without.

D. R. Khashaba

January 20, 2017.

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Thursday, January 19, 2017



D. R. Khashaba

I am reading Maria Popova’s article on Jimena Canales’s The Physicist and the Philosopher http://press.princeton.edu/titles/10445.html As is my habit, I will write down what occurs to me as I read, not basically commenting on the article but expressing marginal thoughts on points discussed, perhaps mostly on Time and on the ‘science and philosophy’ question.

Hannah Arendt, in the citation heading the article, speaks of “the continuously flowing stream of sheer change” being changed by man “into time as we know it”. This is very perceptive and perhaps it says it all. In nature, in reality, there is no time: there is the stream of change, the Heraclitian flux.

I think it is too much to speak of the Bergson-Einstein conversation ‘shaping our experience of time’. What changed in the twentieth century was the theoretical approach influenced by the fiction of absolute time. Experienced time was always and continues to be subjective and relative.

“Einstein insisted that only two types of time existed: physical, the kind measured by clocks …”. Do ‘clocks’ measure time? Can we catch time as an objective ‘what’ to measure? We measure an event in terms of an arbitrarily chosen standard event reduced to an arithmetical unit and we can never reach the absolutely irreducible standard unit. Ask Zeno of Elea. As in the case of space: you can never have the absolutely irreducible unit measure of space. You cannot take the Euclidean point as a unit for measuring Descartes’s res extensa, which is an uncatchable faery.

Of course Bergson’s duration was and is of no use for science. This underlines the radical difference (that Socrates saw clearly and that I have been harping on in all my writings) between science which interprets objective phenomena in terms of theoretical fictions on the one hand and philosophy which interprets subjective realities in terms of imaginative myths. (If the reader finds this enigmatic I ask her or him to excuse me because this sums up my philosophy, which could not be put in a few words without seeming enigma,)

“The debris of that disagreement became the foundation of our present ideas about the fabric of existence.” Fascinating! But as I see it, no interchange between science and philosophy can lead to an ultimate view of the ‘fabric of existence’. As Plato emphasized, the study of outer things can only give us doxa (let us say ‘theory’), while the mind in itself and by itself gives us insight into a reality that can only be intimated poetically in parable, metaphor, and myth. Or as Kant put it, objective science can only deal with phenomena while pure reason is solely concerned with Ideas. There can be no meeting ground between the two. Science has to confess it has nothing to do with ultimate reality and philosophy has to acknowledge that it has nothing to do with factual knowledge or knowledge about the natural world.

It is odd that Einstein, the sanest of modern scientists, and Bergson, with his penetrating intellect, could not see that their argument was pointless since they were speaking about two different and completely unrelated things — like two people arguing about Venus, one having in mind the planet and the other the goddess. I believe that Whitehead, in whose philosophy the notion of duration had a crucial role, could be unclear about the difference between subjective and objective time.

We read of Einstein “rattling our understanding of time”. Whose understanding? Newton’s or Stephen Hawking’s maybe. But not Sappho’s or Wordsworth’s.

To my mind it is meaningless to oppose physics to metaphysics or rationality to antirationalism. Physics studies objective existents, the world outside us; metaphysics explores our inner reality. Rationalism, to which antirationalism is rightly opposed, claims that reason can explain everything and, in principle, can foretell what the state of the world will be at any future time; rationality is the demand that we accept nothing that does not satisfy out reason. Of course such sweeping statements as I have made here must be full of pores and replete with embedded contradictions; this is inevitable, but I believe a sympathetic reader will find sense in what I am saying.

The statement that “the universe (and our knowledge of it) could stand just as well without us” is two-pronged. That the universe could stand without us is opposed to subjective idealism which no sane person ever held seriously but only as a theoretical problem. That ‘our knowledge’ of the universe would stand ‘without us’ is inane.

We read: “Each man represented one side of salient, irreconcilable dichotomies that characterized modernity.” These dichotomies result from scientists trying to answer philosophical problems and philosophers trying to reach objective factual knowledge. All my writings have been directed to resolving this groundless impasse.

D. R. Khashaba

January 19, 2017

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Monday, January 16, 2017



D. R. Khashaba

Can there be a philosophical ethics? To my mind the answer to this is: Only the ethics of the philosophical life is philosophically defensible. If, with Plato, you hold that a life of philosophizing is the best life for a human being, then and only then you can consistently uphold the priority and superiority of contemplation and meditation to a life of pleasure or adventure or power or personal glory. Any of these latter alternatives can serve as the rational basis of a coherent and consistent morality.

Before you can rationally defend any morality you have to determine the values you elect to maintain. Is there any rational ground for preferring, say, benevolence to malevolence? There may be utilitarian arguments for the long-term benefit of doing good to others. These do not constitute a moral stance any more than the belief that the gods commanded it and will reward those who comply and punish those who don’t.

Kant said that the only absolutely good thing is a good will. I see that as a version of Socrates’ belief that the whole worth and good of a human being resides in a healthy soul, For both Socrates and Kant that provides the rational ground for morality but neither of them grounds that first ground rationally.

Apart from the ideal of philosophical life, does philosophy give any reason for being good? Before it can do that it has to determine what it is to be good. No pure logic, no ‘pure reason’, can do that.

Metaphysics – and I may seem here to contradict what I have been saying above – can only support morality when it sees goodness and intelligence and freedom as aspects of ultimate reality as Plato and as Spinoza did and as I do in my philosophy of Creative Eternity. But such metaphysics itself cannot be rationally grounded. It is a vision that appeals to us aesthetically.

Ultimately the moral sense is of the nature of the aesthetic sense. To be morally good is to have the aptitude for the sense of the good life, the holy life. That sense is nurtured and developed by love, by beauty, by imaginative works of art, poetry, and literature.

Perhaps we are all born with the seed of that sense of goodness, for life itself is essentially a power of affirmation, of giving. But as we grow up innumerable negative influences tend to obliterate and smother that sense.

To go back to the question we began with: Can there be a philosophical ethics? A philosophy like Plato’s that is sheer poetry nourishes the moral sense (when it is not mutilated by erudite ignorance), but no theoretical reasoning can prove that to suffer injury is better than to commit injury, as Socrates maintained.

(In the above I have not been concerned with the problems of applied ethics which, it seems, have recently been the prime object of ethical discussion.)

D. R. Khashaba

January 16, 2017

Posted to https://philosophia937.wordpress.com and http://khashaba.blogspot.com

Monday, January 09, 2017



D. R. Khashaba

Dear Reader: In the following rambling thoughts I may have given way to much foolishness. I am not asking you to take anything of what I say on trust. If I goad you to think things out for yourself, will it have been a waste of time?

In Let Us Philosophize (1998, 2008) I wrote:

“Words are treacherous. Words, creatures of the mind, jump at every opportunity to lord it over the mind. There is not a single word that one may use unguardedly. Every word holds out a snare, and one must beware of falling into the snares of words. The mind must constantly assert its mastery over words by re-thinking, re-creating all its terms, all its formulations. Otherwise it soon finds itself a slave to the creatures it created to sing its hymns of glory. …”

Despite the rhetorical tone, I meant every word to be taken in complete earnestness. In all my subsequent writings I have emphasized that no determinate formulation of words or thought can be exempt from intrinsic contradictoriness. This is the lesson that Plato meant to convey in the Parmenides, a dialogue which scholars, blind to its plain message, have found perplexing. In the first quarter of the twentieth century, logicians, pursuing the dream of Leibniz, developed the ‘perfect’ language of symbolic logic. That has been put to many practical uses, but has a single ‘truth’ in whatever field of knowledge been arrived at by sheer manipulation of logical symbolism? Was not Wittgenstein fully justified in holding that pure logic says nothing?

The ‘science’ of economics has been fully mathematized. If the economies of the most advanced countries in the world are not in complete shambles, can economists honestly claim credit for that? I frame my sentences guardedly in view of my confessed ignorance, but I expect a clear-sighted competent economist could put the point more strongly.

The astounding advance of science and technology in the past four centuries gave rise to the rationalist illusion that there can be absolute certainty in scientific formulations and to the sister delusion that it is possible – at any rate in principle – to predict future natural states with absolute certainty provided we have adequate information about the preceding state. This is the dogma of causal determinism which was given its classic expression by Pierre Laplace (1749-1827).

The dogma of causal determinism is allied to the illusion that we know what causation is. I maintain that the only causation we know is the causation of our free will. The ‘causes’ science deals with are descriptions of observed natural processes and interpretations of observed regularities in nature. Nature has well-settled habits and these enable us to make serviceable predictions. These predictions, including the most precise scientific predictions, are approximations that can never be absolutely certain or absolutely accurate. The sun will not rise tomorrow if our galaxy collides with another galaxy. The most accurate calculation of the earth’s orbit round the sun cannot be absolutely accurate if only because the mass of the sun is constantly changing.

To remain with the sun: the most prominent regularity observed by humans in nature is that the sun rises every morning and goes down at the end of the day. Humans sought to interpret that. They saw the sun as a god that benevolently comes up every morning to give light and warmth to all living things. This ‘explained’ the movement of the sun as well as any other interpretation. Ptolemy in the second century of our era gave an intricate astronomical interpretation of the planetary movements that served for centuries. Copernicus gave another that we find fits the observed phenomena better but which – I affirm bluntly – explains nothing. Nor did Newton explain anything: he gave a formula that enables us to calculate the movements of bodies to a practically satisfactory degree of accuracy. He said that what makes bodies move that way is something he called the force of gravitation, but he confessed he did not know what that force might be. Einstein did away with the force and attributed the movement to a curvature in space’ I venture to say that that is no better an explanation than the god Ra or the god Apollo. What Einstein contributed was new mathematical formulations yielding more satisfactory calculations. It may be apposite here to quote an insightful statement of Einstein’s that I have quoted several times before: “As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain, as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”

Since I have already stuck my neck out, I will permit myself another roguery. Since there is no absolute space (pace Newton) and since the universe has no fixed centre, I suppose a god standing outside the universe would wink and see the earth orbiting the sun, then wink again and see the sun orbiting the earth, and he would wisely know that both views are equally right and equally wrong.

D. R. Khashaba

January 9, 2017

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Monday, January 02, 2017


THE PHILOSOPHICAL ESSAY D. R. Khashaba Scholarly dissertations by academic philosophers no doubt have their use, but they add nothing to the genuine philosophical heritage; for philosophy is the free exploration of ideas. The free exploration of ideas does not yield objective knowledge, nor does it arrive at apodeictic or demonstrable truth. The first end of philosophical thinking is to remove confusions and obscurities of ideas to enjoy clearer, more coherent, thinking. At a higher level, philosophical thinking creates notions that infuse order and meaning into what was a chaos. Socrates, discussing the idea of ‘cause’ (aitia) in the Phaedo, declares himself unsatisfied with the naïve idea that a man grows when by nourishment flesh is added to flesh, bone to bone, and so on. Now this naïve idea is of the selfsame character as what empirical science accepts as an instance of causation and we find it difficult to appreciate Socrates’ dissatisfaction and find it more difficult to see his point when he says that it is the idea Growth that makes the growing of the man understandable. Socrates of course did not invent the idea of growth. The idea was created by the human mind long ago. People saw a plant or an animal small, then saw it bigger, then saw it bigger still, and that was a baffling mystery; then a woman or man with a creative mind said, “We will call that Growth.” This gathered the disparate appearances of the plant or animal in a whole, gave them unity, and intelligibility. This did not explain the mystery. Nor do the scientist’s elaborate descriptions of the process explain the mystery. The idea attires the chaos in a garb that makes it eligible for membership in our intelligible realm. That is the beginning and end of all understanding. For in truth we know nothing but thanks to the creativity of the mind we create for ourselves an intelligible world of our own, But I have strayed far away from what I had in mind when I began this essay. Let me put it crudely. Philosophy proper being free exploration of ideas, the exemplary medium for philosophical writing is the Platonic dialogue and next to that the free essay. The best writings of original philosophers were essentially free essays not scholarly dissertations. I will only name a few: Descartes, Hume, Schopenhauer, Santayana, Whitehead, Russell. Kant only harmed himself when he buried his great insights under his cumbrous tectonic structure. D. R. Khashaba January 2, 2017 Posted to https://philosophia937.wordpress.com and http://khashaba.blogspot.com