MY KIND OF PHILOSOPHY
D. R. Khashaba
For nigh two decades I have been advancing a certain conception of the nature of philosophical thinking. Two factors have worked against my efforts, the one historical and the other we may call semantic.
Let me take the semantic factor first though it is closely connected with the historical factor. The word ‘philosophy’ has had a long rich history and has meant different things at different times and to different people. At one time it was crowned queen of the sciences. I would be crazy if I meant to wipe off all that and confine the usage to what I sometimes refer to as ‘philosophy proper’. Perhaps I could call my special kind of philosophy Platonism, but then a chorus of scholars will roar at me: That is not the Platonism we study and teach.
Now for the historical factor. Whereas in the Orient, in China or India, sages pronounced their insights into reality and into value in metaphor and parable and paradox and no one fancied that their wisdom, which was appreciated and revered, had anything to do with the natural world, in the Occident, philosophical thinking arose in Greece in close proximity with natural speculation and investigation.
First a word about how Greek philosophy differed from the wisdom of the Orient. The characteristic feature of Greek philosophy is rationality (not ‘rationalism’, I have elsewhere explained the distinction I make between the two). The Greeks demanded intellectual satisfaction. They wanted their views to be intrinsically coherent. This is in essence an aesthetic craving. It is not essentially related to the desire for truth. Plato was satisfied with a ‘likely tale’. On this more hereafter.
In Greece then philosophy arose in close proximity with science and the line between the two was sometimes blurred. Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes were cosmogonists. They wanted to give a likely account of the development of the universe. They were fundamentally engaged in the same search carried on by today’s astrophysicists. But Xenophanes was not interested in that. He was concerned with what goes on in the minds of human beings. Nor was Heraclitus primarily concerned with the actualities of the actual world. His mind searched the reality beyond the evanescence of the natural world. He found reality in the Logos and in the unfathomable Psuchê.
Then came Socrates. In the ‘autobiographical’ passage in the Phaedo Socrates says that in his youth he was interested in the investigation of nature. An intelligent young man in mid-fifth-century Athens could not have failed to be attracted by the flood of investigations peri phuseôs current at the time. But that was not where his heart really was. He was concerned with virtue, justice, reasonableness; he was concerned with what benefits our inner reality and what harms our inner reality. He tells of his experience with Anaxagoras’s book and what he says in that respect is most revealing.
Socrates heard someone reading from Anaxagoras’s book and it seemed that Anaxagoras maintained that the mind was the prime cause of all things. Socrates therefore eagerly sought to obtain and read the book but he was deeply disappointed. Anaxogaras’s system was just another cosmogony. Here Socrates reached a revolutionary conclusion that students of philosophy – most of all erudite scholars – have ignored and continue to ignore.
I have explained that crucial conclusion of Socrates tens of times. Let me try to put it in a new way. The human mind raises two different kinds of questions: (1) Questions about natural things, what they are, how they come about, how it is possible to handle and manipulate them. (2) Questions about the meaning and the value of such notions as good and bad, of justice, of amity, of life, of joy, of beauty. For answers to the first class of questions we have to go out to the things where the things are. For answers to the second class of questions we have to probe our own minds. Socrates was convinced that these two kinds of approach have nothing, nothing, nothing in common. The first kind is the business of science; the second is the business of philosophy in a special restricted sense of the term.
Philosophy has no answers to the questions proper to science and science has no answers to questions proper to philosophy. Philosophy cannot even approach the questions proper to science and science cannot even approach the questions proper to science. The moderns – Empiricists, Analysts, the advocates of scientism – have been rubbing in the first leg of this dual statement but they refuse even to make an effort to understand the second part. What cannot be validated by scientific methods is nonsense and that’s that.
Came Plato. Early in his career Plato produced a number of dramatic pieces mimicking the Socratic examination of ideas. Scholars have differed in their reading of those works. In my idiotic reading I find in those dialogues a dual lesson. (1) The meaning of a notion such as justice cannot be determined in terms extraneous to the notion. The meaning can only be found in the self-evidence of the idea in the mind. (2) Since as human beings our life and behavior are governed by our beliefs, convictions, evaluayions, it is necessary that we constantly subject our mind to examination to remove obscurities, disentangle entanglements of ideas, unearth false beliefs and prejudices implanted in us, etc.
But Plato was also irked by an original question: What is really real? What is ultimately real? He was convinced that the answer to that question cannot be found in the world outside us. He was convinced that the ideas in our mind and our mind itself are what is really real. He identified what is really real, what is ultimately real, with our mind which is our own inner reality. We are immediately aware of that reality; in our exercise of intelligence we are in intimate communion with reality; but that reality is strictly ineffable since determinate thought and determinate language cannot constrain that reality. Our awareness of reality can only be intimated in myth and parable.
That Socratic-Platonic view of philosophy has been commonly ignored. Apart from Plotinus, only mystics and poets grasped it — until an idiotic, unlearned philosophos named Khashaba struggled to revive it around the turn of the twenty-first century.
August 25, 2016.