Wednesday, January 24, 2018



D. R. Khashaba

Why is it that philosophy, unlike science, does not have a commonly agreed body of thought or doctrine to show for its continued efforts over some twenty-six centuries?

In my view the answer is quite simple: philosophy is not required to vie with science in yielding positive knowledge about the objective world, nor is it required to vie with mathematics in attaining demonstrable propositions. Unfortunately philosophers themselves have not been generally clear on this in their own minds. The failure of philosophers to grasp and acknowledge this is responsible for much muddled thinking and for the ignominy that has been the near-universal fate of philosophy.

Philosophy and science are two distinctly separate activities relating to two radically different realms of being. To underline and emphasize this distinction I draw a corresponding radical distinction between knowledge, which I assign totally to science, and understanding, which solely and totally pertains to philosophy.

Let me give an illustration. Seed laid in moist soil germinates, sprouts, grows, yields fruit. Let us clear our minds of all that we have learned about this process. Let us imagine humans with no inherited knowledge whatsoever, imagine them observing this miracle for the first time. There is no necessary connection between one stage of this process and the next. It is all just completely separate happenings, we cannot even justifiably say ‘following one another’. Ask Hume. It is all a mystery, or better said, a number of disparate mysteries. Then the mind of a genius among humans produces the idea ‘growth’ and lo! the unrelated mysteries fall together to form an intelligible whole. This is understanding.

Then people learn to plant seeds and in time there grows the body of knowledge we have today in botany books and the inherited know-how of agriculturists. We fancy that this body of knowledge gives us understanding of the mystery. The most exhaustive account of the observed happenings does not make us understand how and why a seed becomes a tree bearing fruit. For us, drowned in knowledge, this is difficult to grasp. The idea ‘growth’ also does not explain the mystery but it gives us the peace of being possessed of an intrinsically coherent whole — permit me to say, a metaphysical whole.

The ‘Laws of Nature’ formulated by scientists are generalizations of observed regularities in the natural phenomena. They do not explain those phenomena even though scientists in general commonly claim that they do. We need to realize that science neither can nor is required to explain or make us understand happenings in nature. The loose use of the terms ‘explain’ and ‘understand’ makes this important point difficult to grasp but it is necessary that we be clear about it.

On all levels all understanding is a creation of the human mind, from simple perception to metaphysical insight. “The mind is its own place, and in itself” creates meanings, values, realities, intelligible worlds. Milton’s words extend farther, higher, deeper than he intended.

A philosopher does not reach her or his position by reasoning but the travail of wrestling with the philosopher’s own inner realty is rewarded with insights that, in Plato’s words “suddenly, lik e light flashing forth when a fire is kindled, it is born in the soul and straightway nourishes itself” (Epistle VII, 341c-d, tr. Glenn R. Morrow). The philosopher gathers the insights as a lover gathers roses in a bouquet for the beloved. The unity of a philosopher’s thought is not primarily rational or logical but aesthetic, like the unity of a fine mosaic.

What is a philosopher’s valuable and durable contribution to the common treasury of human culture? Not a theory, not a doctrine, and decidedly not positive knowledge about the world. A philosopher, in wrestling with the mysteries of Life and Being, continuing the creative work of the mind, creates magic garbs of thought that lend character and meaning to the neutral stuff of life and the world, thus rendering that stuff intelligible. A particular philosopher’s special collection of such creative notions constitutes that philosopher’s universe of discourse, which becomes part of the cultural heritage of humanity. In Plato’s Universe of Discourse I tried to identify Plato’s collection of such creative notions.

Philosophers are creators of special universes of discourse. When we attempt to reconcile two different philosophies, each expressing its proper universe of discourse, the outcome is more likely to be a confused jumble than a meaningful reconciliation. Each universe of discourse is unique, standing in its own right.

A philosopher’s universe of discourse, constituting her or his Weltanschauung is whole and unique. To assess it or interpret it in terms of a different philosopher’s universe of discourse produces an incoherent muddle.

Hitherto philosophers have tended to adopt the absurd stance of assuming that there can only be one ‘true’ philosophy, all the others being at best approximations, failed exertions to reach the one ‘true philosophy’. So long as this attitude ruled, and it still mainly rules, if not openly and explicitly then as a thinly veiled assumption — so long as that attitude ruled, philosophy was understandably open to mockery and ridicule. And that attitude will inevitably rule so long as it is held that philosophy, like science, aims at attaining ‘true knowledge’. Unless we realize and are convinced that we are all equally ignorant, and that all ultimate questions relate to ultimate mysteries that will always be beyond our ken — unless and until we see that clearly, we shall continue to dwell in the Cave of Plato’s Allegory.

We have no ‘true knowledge’ of the world: this is so without qualification. In science the most up-to-date ‘explanatory theory’ that ‘saves the appearances’ is maintained until we have a better representation, but it is all fiction from beginning to end.

A commonly agreed body of philosophic thought would have nothing to do with philosophy; it would amount to the death of philosophy. When philosophy is not the wrestling of a human mind with the unknown and unknowable it ceases to be philosophy; it turns into dogmatic superstition. To philosophize the philosopher must be fully aware that she or he knows nothing and can never know anything. All our boasted ‘knowledge’ is tinsel and shadow. When the condition of knowing nothing, confessing that one knows nothing, and resigning to the conviction that one can never know anything — when that condition is fulfilled, then one’s philosophizing would be a daring challenge to the unknown and unknowable. The philosopher confronts the unknown and unknowable ultimate realities saying: Be damned! I will create my own understandable world.

Every philosopher creates her or his more or less consistent, more or less intelligible reality. Every philosopher creates her or his understandable world for herself or himself in the first place, to give herself or himself respite from the irksome sense of being plunged in an un-understandable world, but thereafter everybody is welcome to roam that private world and participate in the peace it affords.

Do philosophers then deceive themselves and live in a big lie? Put it that way if you wish, but when the lie is known for a lie it loses its sting.

Dear Reader, if you have the stamina to go through what follows, you will find nothing but sheer madness, but it is that madness that is the sum of wisdom.

The ultimate mysteries of Being, Mind, Life, Becoming can never be solved, resolved, or explained. Science cannot approach these mysteries since they cannot be objectified so as to make them accessible to measurement and empirical experimentation. Nor can philosophers explain these mysteries. Yet philosophers create understandable myths in terms of which the world is intelligibly portrayed — I am trying to speak the ineffable: this is where mystics escape unto Unreason, Nothingness, Cloud of Unknowing — let me say: in terms of which we are enabled to make our peace with the mystery. For where do we meet face to face with the mysteries of Being, Mind, Life, Becoming? It is in our own internal reality. Hence we mythologize to give expression to our insight into our own internal reality. Hence I insist that the way to understanding ourselves and understanding reality is the realization and the confession of our ignorance. Philosophers have to confess and to declare that their mythical representation of our internal reality is not knowledge, is not truth.

Parmenides said: tauto gar esti noein te kai einai, “it is one and the same thing to be intelligible and to be”, or we might put it this way: “intelligence and reality are one and the same”. This is the credo of all genuine philosophy, from Plato through Spinoza to Hegel. But I find fault with philosophers when they affirm that this is true of the actual world. Philosophers legislate for themselves; they have no right, no competence, to legislate for Reality outside the human mind. Of all philosophers hitherto (apart from mystics and the old sages of China and India) only Plato saw this clearly and affirmed it explicitly. At the apex of the philosophical ascent, the end of the philosophical travail, Plato finds the Form of the Good about which we can only speak in myth and parable.

The one Reality that we know immediately and indubitably is our subjective inner reality. All the rest is flux, shadow, transient phenomena. That is why I insist on the principle of philosophical ignorance: the confession of our ignorance is the gateway to – not knowledge – but understanding — understanding of what?, of the one reality we know, our inner reality represented in intrinsically coherent myths.

That is why, dear Reader, philosophers must, should, differ, intimating their insights into the one Reality in various prophetic dreams, exactly like poets, for philosophers are indeed poets.

Dear Reader, I know that what I have been saying in this essay is hard to absorb, for I am condensing in these few lines what I have been expounding in numerous books and essays over more than two decades.

D. R. Khashaba

January 24, 2018

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Monday, January 15, 2018



D. R. Khashaba

“The more I think about language, the more it amazes me that people ever understand each other.” Gödel


The phrase ‘understanding others’ can be taken in either of two distinct senses; (1) the moral sense; (2) the semantic or epistemic sense.

In the moral sphere ‘understanding others’ relates to the aptitude of human individuals to appreciate the feelings, motives, aims, and interests of their fellow humsns. All normal, wholesome human individuals have a measure of this faculty. Many species of non-human animals show empathy with other members of their own species and sometimes with members of other species.

No aggregation of humans – family, tribe, society, etc. – can function and survive without a minimal measure of fellow-understanding. But individuals differ widely in their gift of understanding others. Practically all tension and strife within human groups – families, societies, countries, and even between one country and another – are fuelled by failure of understanding the other.

Persons endowed with a generous share of this gift may, outwardly, be unfortunate; they may be fated to give more than they receive; but inwardly they are abundantly rich, even their sorrows are precious.

When we hear about atrocities committed by deformed and depraved characters – rape and slaughter and torture – we tend to feel that such characters deserve the severest of penalties but in fact they have their punishment in the very deed; inwardly they are putrid and miserable. Of course society has to curb their evil to protect its members, but no punishment imposed on them can equal the death-in-life they bring upon themselves. Oscar Wilde presented an apt metaphor in The Picture of Dorian Gray.


Coming to the epistemic sphere, let me start by making a shockingly paradoxical assertion. Strictly speaking, no one ever can understand an other one. The phrase ‘understanding others’ which in the moral sphere can be given a meaningful and vital sense, in the epistemic sphere is strictly nonsensical. The understanding is not a neutral vacant receptacle into which ready-made meanings can be fed from the outside as a warehouse receives ready-made products from the outside. Locke’s basic error – which was to breed much nonsense when the Empiricists naively took it literally, was to assume that the mind passively received what was imported into it from outside. The apt metaphor for the mind is not the warehouse nor the blank slate, but the living body which processes what it receives from the outside and fashions it and integrates it into its own organs and activities.

Strictly, the mind does not understand the other but understands its own interpretation of what it gets from the other. This is true on all levels of interaction between the sensate individual and the individual’s surroundings. What we take to be simple perception is an actively fashioned interpretation of the dumb sensuous inflow. On all levels all understanding is active, creative interpretation.

Apart from empy formalities and trivial sayings that are spoken almost unconsciously, every sentence issues from the speaker’s subjective world, drenched in associations and emotive hues, trailing undertones and overtones of its own; it is received in a different subjective world to be clothed in different associations and overtones and undertones. ‘To understand the other’ is a fiction, an empty shell. We do not, we cannot, understand what is spoken to us. What reaches our understanding is our interpretation of what is spoken to us. Hence the misunderstandings and failures to understand when the subjective worlds of speaker and auditor are wide apart.

Moreover, language, any language, is basically a skeletal system of generalities. For every individual and for every group of people the skeleton is fleshed out by living experience. But the words of any living language have to remain fluid to fit the nuances and peculiarities of concrete instances, no two of which are perfectly identical. Hence Leibniz’ dream of a ‘universal characteristic’ remains an unattainable dream. Its putative realization in the system of Symbolic Logic, like its predecessor the system of numbers, gains universality and fixity at the cost of barrenness. When it borrows actual content from outside the formal system the outcome is necessarily an approximation. Scientists generally slur this truth but two great thinkers of the twentieth century saw it clearly. Wittgenstein concluded that Logic is empty, “says nothing” and Einstein insightfully said: “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.”

D. R. Khashaba

January 15, 2018

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Friday, January 12, 2018



D. R. Khashaba

Epistemology is a misnomer. It is not a logos (science, theory) of Knowledge but of the paraphernalia of Knowledge. Knowledge herself is a goddess that does not admit humans to her holy of holies. Nothing can explain how we know anything, how we understand, how we are conscious, how we have a mind: all of that is one and the same mystery, which in turn is one with the ultimate mystery of Reality.

The academic discipline of Epistemology is, strictly speaking, a science since its subject matter is the actual or potential objective products of knowledge and the actual or potential instances of acquiring knowledge. It has numerous branches, each branch including several sub-disciplines. Scholarly work in this field will continue indefinitely since its subject matter can never be exhausted. All of that is a good, valuable addition to our treasury of mathemata, but it can never so much as approach the core of the mystery of knowledge because that is one with the mystery of the mind, which in turn is one with the ultimate mystery of Reality. (I will not apologize for saying it over and over again.)

Plato permitted himself several ventures into the theory of knowing. In the Meno and the Phaedrus he initiated three such ventures. (1) He defined knowledge as true opinion accompanied by a rational account (logos). In the Theaetetus this same definition was considered and found unsatisfactory. (2) He introduced the method of hypotheses which was further developed in the Phaedo. Its application in the ‘final argument’ for the immortality of the soul was confessed, along with the other arguments, to be non-conclusive. Moreover in the Republic (533c) we are told that the hypotheses underlying any philosophical statement must be demolished by dialectic. (3) In Phaedrus, 264-266 he outlined the method of collection and division. He experimented with this method in the late dialogues, Sophist, Statesman. Philebus, modifying the method as he went on, till in the Philebus it is no longer recognizable as the method described in the Phaedrus. Clearly all of this is far removed from the insight into the mystery of epistêmê shown in winged passages in the Phaedo (79d), the Symposium (210e-212a), and that oracular gem in Republic (490a-b). The Divided Line in the Republic (509d-511e) ranges the planes of cognition, ascending from sensuous perception to philosophical understanding. — When it comes to definite doctrines, determinate theories, we find Plato revising himself, contradicting himself, what he affirms in a given context he rejects in another context, to the delight of erudite scholars who revel in discovering such contradictions and inconsistencies.

All of the above-noted thought-sallies of Plato were adventures on the outskirts of knowledge, but Plato was not deluded into thinking that he had an answer to the question What is knowledge? In the same dialogue, the Meno, where he was proposing the definition of knowledge as true opinion accompanied by a logos and advancing the method of hypotheses, in that same dialogue he introduced the doctrine of anamnesis, acknowledging that knowledge is a mystery beyond our ken.

ANNEX – a fragment

The mystifying onar anti oneiratos (dream for a dream’) in Theaetatus 201d-292c, though Socrates presents it as an oddity, is amenable to a Platonic interpretation amounting to this: Every explanation is composed of unexplained elements; all reasoning rests on unreasoned grounds; when we come to explain those unexplained grounds we advance fresh ‘given’ stepping stones. The building blocks of all epistêmê have to be elements taken in good faith. The premises of the Aristotelian syllogism are, strictly speaking, dogmara. In the method of hypotheses introduced by Plato in the Meno and further developed in the Phaedo the ground hypothesis must not be questioned; when questioned it has to be supported by a more basic hypothesis taken in good faith. All of this is strictly in harmony with (1) the Socratic elenchus where the Form examined remains undefined, finally intelligible in its own self-evidence in the intelligence that gave it birth in the first place; (2) Plato’s insistence in the Republic that the grounds of any philosophical statement be destroyed by dialectic (Republic, 533c); (3) Socrates’ resorting – when asked to elucidate the Form of the Good – to thr simile of the sun. All of this is part and parcel of the Socratic principle of philosophical ignorance — the wisest among humans is he who, like Socrates, understands that he knows nothing. All knowledge, human knowledge in its entirety, is a cobweb woven of the substance of dreams. The only understanding that is not vain conceit is that indicated by the Delphic oracle: gnôthi seauton.

D. R. Khashaba

January 11, 2018

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Monday, January 08, 2018



D. R. Khashaba

In September last, on my ninetieth birthday, I posted a blog titled “Ninety” as a farewell to ‘doing philosophy’. Though I continued to post blogs and have even been flirting with the idea of yet another book on Plato, I looked to all of that as no more than ‘parerga’ to idle away my remaining days. But when I came across an article by Professor Alan Lightman reviewing Exact Thinking in Demented Times by Professor Karl Sigmund on the Vienna Circle I felt that I had struck gold and could not let the chance slip away. Here, clearly, succinctly, and precisely are set views that I have been combating in all my writings. Here I have the opportunity to set out my opposed views in some order, not by way of commenting on the rich review article but by way of answering the foundational beliefs and presuppositions of the Logical Positivists’ credo as so plainly expressed here.

First an explanatory note to ward off a possible misunderstanding. The Vienna Circle consisted of a group of mathematicians, physicists and philosophers coming together to brood “over such questions as the nature of science, the nature of philosophy and the dividing line between the two”. This innocent-looking delineation of purpose hides a damaging presupposition; not that there is anything wrong with mathematicians, physicists, and philosophers coming together to exchange views; any broadening of one’s outlook is beneficial, but to suppose that these intellectuals working in their diverse fields can somehow cooperate to reach answers to any common questions leads to serious error on all sides. More of this in what follows; indeed this is the bottom line of this paper and cannot be adequately treated in a preliminary note. I will hereunder reproduce salient statements from Professor Lightman’s article and then give my answer.

LIGHTMAN: “The distinguished members brooded over such questions as the nature of science, the nature of philosophy and the dividing line between the two”.

KHASHABA: Between science and philosophy there is not a dividing line but an impassable chasm. Science and philosophy are two radically distinct domains dealing with two entirely separate realms of being. The defining law of science is objectivity. Philosophy proper is exclusively concerned with the subjective. The first to see this clearly and state it explicitly was Socrates, at any rate Plato’s Socrates as represented in the Phaedo in a crucial passage (95e-102a) that scholars have been strangely blind to. By disregarding this Socratic insight both scientists and philosophers erred gravely: philosophers made fools of themselves by trying to reach factual knowledge about the natural world and scientists often produced absurdities as soon as they ventured beyond their proper domain. (See my “Stephen Hawking’s Bad Metaphysics”.) Kant rediscovered the Socratic insight but has been grossly misunderstood: I will revert to this further below.

L.: … said Schlick: ‘The scientist seeks the truth (the correct answers) and the philosopher attempts to clarify the meaning (of the questions)’; what meaningful statements can be made about the world; and the challenges of language itself in describing the world.”

Kh.: So many issues are raised in the above-quoted lines. I will try to be brief, leaving side-issues untouched. ‘Truth’ in the common acceptation of the term has no relevance in philosophy which is concerned with metaphysical reality (see further below). Although the clarification of language (meanings) in general is a role of philosophy, science alone has to elucidate the meaning of its own concepts and – more importantly – its own questions.

L.: “The members of the Vienna Circle were not shy about asking the big questions, nor giving their answers. We still struggle with the aftermath.”

Kh.: The ‘big questions’ relating to the physical universe when formulated in scientific terms and dealt with by scientific methods are the prerogative of science. But questions about ultimate origins, ultimate ends, and ultimate values cannot be dealt with by scientific methods. When scientists deal with these questions they can only return absurdities. hen philosophers deal with these they produce myths, myths that ease our yearning for understanding; but when philosophers go on to assert that their mythical representations are ‘true’ of the actual world they commit the sin that has brought philosophy to its present-day disgrace. Science gives us ‘knowledge’ of appearances, in the strict sense of the term, as what appears to us and our instruments, but of the core of things we know nothing. This is what both Socrates and Kant tried to make us see, (More of this below.)

L.: “… the members of the Circle … were unified in rejecting the abstractions of the great German philosopher Immanuel Kant, who proposed that there were things in themselves outside perception, and knowledge independent of human experience.”

Kh.: I am completely baffled by the failure of eminent thinkers, among both scientists and philosophers, to understand Kant. Kant harmed himself by burying his core insight under the imposing architectonic of his transcendental system. The core insight is a (conscious or unconscious) revival of the insight in the Socratic-Platonic doctrine of Forms and it is as simple as it is profound. The impressions that come to us through our senses (the ‘ideas’ of Locke) are in themselves and by themselves mute, meaningless, until the Forms (Plato) or Concepts of the Understanding (Kant), engendered in the mind and by the mind, are applied to them; then and only then do they have meaning for us. A thing in the natural world is for us the sum of the sensuous impressions that come to us from the thing. What is behind or beneath those impressions we never know. Only in one place do we know that hidden noumenon: that one place is our own internal reality. All our sophisticated ‘knowledge’ of the natural world – galaxies, electrons, neuron – rests finally on observation of impressions coming to us from that world. That is the meaning of Kant’s assertion that all empirical knowledge is knowledge of phenomena. To say that Kant “proposed that there were things in themselves outside perception” is a distortion of Kant’s position. With the sole exception of our own inner subjective reality, the inner reality of things is never and can never be known to us. To say that the sum of impressions that come to us from a thing is all there is in that thing, is to pass judgment on what we do not know and can never know. Our inner reality is not “outside experience”; it is the ground, fount, condition of all experience. Let me stop here, else I would be rewriting the Critique of Pure Reason all over again.

L.: “Schlick and Hahn and Carnap proclaimed, instead, that all our beliefs should be testable and verified, a philosophical theory that became known as ‘logical positivism.’”

Kh.: Kh.: Our ‘beliefs’ about the natural world should certainly be empirically testable, but statements relating to values, ends, and ultimate realities lie outside the jurisdiction of empirical science. Professor Lightman says as much in a bracketed statement following the above-quoted lines.

L.: “At age 29, Wittgenstein wrote to Russell (perhaps the greatest living Western philosopher at the time), ‘I think I have solved the problems once and for all.’ By ‘problems,’ the young Wittgenstein meant all the problems of philosophy.”

Kh.: Wittgenstein’s philosophical career was as tragic as his personal life. He ‘solved’ all philosophical problems by declaring that all philosophical statements arise out of ignorance of the principles of Symbolism and out of misuse of language. When he first met Russell both of them had high hopes. But soon their positions diverged to the point of becaming completely opposed. Wittgenstein’s Tractatus concluded that all logic was empty, says nothing. Although Wittgenstein stated that conclusion clearly and emphatically, Russell wrote an enthusiastic introduction that was actually a complete misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the young man’s position, as Wittgenstein himself said. Later, in My Philosophical Development, Russell expressed his bitter disappointment in Wittgenstein and showed that neither of them could understand the other. In my opinion, Wittgenstein had an inborn yearning for metaphysical understanding that was suppressed by the teaching of Frege and Russell. I venture to suggest that had Wittgenstein studied Philosophy in Berlin instead of Engineering he would have had a richer and happier philosophical career.

Professor Lightman concludes by relating a freak incident in which Schlick was involved, then remarks, “It was an illogical act but one we can understand.” I find this insightful but refrain from adding to the length of this paper by commenting.

D. R. Khashaba

January 8, 2018

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