ARE IDEALISTS FOOLS?

ARE IDEALISTS FOOLS?
D. R. Khashaba

Someone asked: Is it foolish to be an idealist? Surely she did not have in mind any variety of metaphysical Idealism, that of Plato or Berkeley or Hegel. The question was about moral idealism.
What is it to be an idealist in morals and the practical walks of life? It is to believe with Socrates, the Buddha, Jesus, or the later Tolstoy that the best life for a human being is a life of giving, not of acquisition.
Socrates tells us that it is never right to harm anyone or to return injury for injury and that it is better to suffer wrong than to commit wrong (Crito, Gorgias). Jesus says, “Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back” (Luke 6:30).
Perhaps throughout history and all over the world only a few exceptional individuals live fully up to those ideals. For us others made of poorer stuff to be an idealist is candidly to believe that the best life is indeed a life enlightened and governed by those ideals. An idealist in this sense is filled with joy and gladness on the not too many occasions when she or he lives up to that ideal and is genuinely perturbed when failing to do so.
An idealist in this sense takes in all seriousness the words of Tolstoy when he says that “as long as I have any superfluous food and someone else has none, and I have two coats and someone else has none, I share in a constantly repeated crime” (What Then Must We Do? Ch. II, tr. Aylmer Maude).
When we read of women, men, and children dying of hunger in Nigeria or Southern Sudan we should personally feel guilty. When we learn that half the food produced in the United States is thrown away while millions die of hunger and malnutrition elsewhere in the world we share in the guilt and should genuinely feel we share the guilt.
When rich countries get richer producing weapons that kill innocent people and producing life-saving pharmaceuticals that do not reach the needy because of the greed of the producers, we should be sincerely convinced that we are living under a world system that is cruel and unjust and must be changed.
This kind of idealism is not only sane and good but is absolutely necessary if humanity is to survive.
D. R. Khashaba
February 21, 2017
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PLATO’S SECRET

PLATO’S SECRET
D. R.Khashaba

Plato is the most read philosopher and the most studied but, in my view, he is the least understood.
In the Phaedrus Plato says in the clearest terms “He who thinks … that he has left behind him any art in writing, and he who receives it in the belief that anything in writing will be clear and certain, would be an utterly simple person” (275c-d, tr. Fowler). Yet he has left us about thirty well-wrought pieces of writing of various length. Was he “an utterly simple person” or was he fooling us? Neither. He meant us to read his artistic creations in the light of this clear warning.
Before proceeding further to elucidate what I mean by this we have to clear one hurdle. Plato was a born poet and dramatist. With maybe one or two exceptions, every one of his literary works is a creation of dramatic genius. Character portrayal, scene ‘painting’, situation depiction, are as prominent as the thought content. The dialogue is always tailored to fit the character, be it that of a Euthyphro, a Crito, or a Thrasymachus. The dramatic introductions of the Protagoras or the Symposium for instance are literary masterpieces in their own right. Sometimes the dramatic element is overwhelming. Both the Hippias pieces are character-comedies. The Euthydemus is an odd mix of farce and didactic guidance. This dramatic feast should be enjoyed but should not be allowed to obfuscate the underlying philosophical purpose.
To get to the philosophical purpose we have to go back to the Apology. The Apology was almost certainly not the first dialogue that Plato wrote but it is where we have to begin and it is one creation of Plato’s where we can take all that is said at its face value and without qualification. Perhaps the only other such one is the Crito.
In the Apology Socrates affirms that the greatest good for a human being is to discourse daily of virtue. He sums up his mission in life in admonishing all people to care above all things for virtue and for the good of their souls, these two being one and the same thing. Plato sums all this in affirming that the best life for human beings is the philosophical life. This is the gist of the Phaedo, not the confessedly non-conclusive arguments for immortality.
Philosophy then, for Plato as for Socrates, is a manner of life, not the acquisition of a mass of factual knowledge like science or of deductive certainties like mathematics. But it is integral to the philosophical life to be constantly scrutinizing our ideas, our purposes, our valuations. In saying this we are simply unfolding Socrates’ affirmation that the greatest good for a human being is daily to discourse of virtue. The philosophical life is a ceaseless search of one’s mind.
Plato adds another element to the discourse that constitutes the good life: for just as we have constantly to scrutinize the ideas, aims, and values that determine the character and texture of our lives, likewise, as intelligent beings, we have to satisfy the irking questionings about the Whole and the Ultimate, the All and the ‘really real’. A human being to attain the integrity of her or his personality needs to satisfy this unquenchable urge,
But Plato is unwaveringly clear about the impossibility of there ever being a determinate, definitive answer to these questionings. As we have ever to re-consider our purposes and values, we have also ever to muse our metaphysical questionings. In the Republc Plato offers a vision of Ultimate Reality as the Form of the Good, but when ‘Socrates’ is asked to elucidate he resorts to the simile of the Sun that gives Light and Life. Likewise the Good brings forth Being, Life and Understanding but is above and beyond being, life and understanding. Thus philosophy is an emdless quest. Philosophical life is the quest itself not any definite goal that the quest arrives at. Philosophy is the life of active, creative intelligence. When the mind is satisfied and is at rest it is no longer alive.
I have often said that the best philosophy is poetry and that poetry is the best philosophy. I conclude this essay by quoting two passages from two poets that clearly depict the philosophical venture. I give these without comment.
Coleridge in a prophetic passage of Biographia Literaria, expanding on a thought of Plotinus, speaks of ‘philosophic imagination’ as ‘the sacred power of self-intuition’. He writes:
“They and they only can acquire the philosophic imagination, the sacred power of self-intuition, who within themselves can interpret and understand the symbol, that the wings of the air-sylph are forming within the skin of the caterpillar; those only who feel in their own spirits the instinct, which impels the chrysalis of the horned fly to leave room in its involucrum for antennae yet to come.”
Hölderlin in Hyperion gives us the following words, pregnant with insight and wisdom:
“Poetry … is the beginning and the end of philosophical knowledge. Like Minerva from the head of Jupiter, philosophy springs from the poetry of an eternal, divine state of being. And so in philosophy, too, the irreconcilable finally converges again in the mysterious spring of poetry.” (Tr. Willard R. Trask)

D. R. Khashaba
February 18, 2017
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HAS PHILOSOPHY A HISTORY?

HAS PHILOSOPHY A HISTORY?
D. R. Khashaba

Does philosophy have a history? To answer this question we have first to observe that ‘philosophy’ is not a unitary term. From the beginning of Western philosophy in Ionia around the sixth century BC philosophy has been closely associated with physics, astronomy, and mathematics. These are sciences characterized by the accumulation of positive knowledge; hence they have histories through which there runs a continuous line of development. But there is a perennial core of questions about the meaning of this world we find ourselves thrown into, of the nature of a human being, of the meaning of life and what we can make of life. These are questions that have puzzled the human mind ever since humans acquired the power of reflective thinking. These are questions that have to be ever faced anew, ever answered anew, and that can never be answered once and for all, for the simple reason that in facing and answering these questions human beings constitute their individual characters and determine the meaning and value of their individual lives.
As such philosophy is not a cumulative acquisition of positive knowledge and hence does not have a continuous line of development that can be depicted as a history. Of course there are certain disciplines associated with philosophy, such as logic, and certain ancillary techniques, that show development. We have a parallel to this in poetry and drama and art. In all of these there has been much development in exteriors, but fundamentally they all address the everlasting quandaries of being and life and meaning and we have the same depth of insight in Sophocles as in Goethe. Our world today with its computers and space probes is very different from the world Shakespeare lived in, but the heart-wringing questionings of Hamlet or of Lear are still our questionings.
Since the questions of philosophy live as long as humanity lives and since philosophy (in the restricted sense in which I take the term) does not have and can never jave a store of positive knowledge, how does philosophy function? A. N. Whitehead, one of the profoundest thinkers of the twentieth century, wrote a fine book titled Adventures of Ideas. That title nicely depicts the nature of philosophical thinking. All the dialogues of Plato are adventures of ideas. A dialogue begins as a hunt for the meaning of a certain idea. The idea is chased, discovering its relatedness to other ideas, thereby forming a fairly coherent context, but no rest is ever found there. How can there be rest in the intellectual venture when Plato tells us that the philosophic soul aspires to comprehend all things whole and in their entirety (tou holou kai pantos aei eporexesthai)? (Re[ublic, 486a) And this is true in all philosophical endeavour since everything in the world is interconnected, interdependent.
In the philosophical quest we play with ideas, creating intrinsically coherent contextual wholes satisfying our unquenchable thirst for intelligibility. But the wholes we create are necessarily ad hoc and the self-coherence is only such for us at the moment. Like a child seeing camels and storks in a passing cloud, our enjoyment is true but not factual. Hence Plato insists we must constantly undo our dearest intellectual creations (tas hupotheseis anairousa) (Republic, 533c). It is only thus that we can enjoy the life of intelligence without falling into the dungeon of what Socrates called the worst amathia (ignorance), thinking that we know what we do not know.
D. R. Khashaba
February 15, 2017.
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WHAT IS KNOWLEDGE?

WHAT IS KNOWLEDGE?
D. R. Khashaba

I have repeatedly affirmed, from my first book onwards, that knowledge is an ultimate mystery and that in vain do we seek to say what knowledge is or how it comes that there is such a thing as knowledge. On the face of it, this sounds like a preposterous denial of a whole field of philosophical thinking, namely Epistemology. I hope I am not that mad; but before I explain my position I have to say something about my way of writing philosophy.
I do not write scholarly dissertations; I write philosophical essays — an entirely distinct art: this is true even of my book-length works. A philosophical essay focuses on and explores a core insight. In thus focusing on a single idea it sacrifices any attempt at ‘completeness’ and neglects to smooth rough edges. A short while ago I posted a blog titled “Science Breeds Ignorance”. At least one reader completely missed my point, thinking me to equate scientific knowledge with ignorance, although I had taken pains to explain that I was not speaking of common knowledge and common ignorance: I was speaking of the ignorance of spiritual realities and values.
To go back to where I started: In maintaining that knowledge is an ultimate mystery do I banish all theoretical thinking about knowledge? Not at all. Epistemology can do and does do useful work on such questions as how do we acquire knowledge or what are the marks (criteria) as opposed to illusion or belief? But I adamantly insist on two points: (1) No such studies can ever tell us what knowledge is or explain how it is that there is intelligence and understanding. (2) There can never be a final and definitive theory of knowledge.
I will take up the second point first but only briefly. There is no objective thing called ‘knowledge’ that can be subjected to observation and analysis. Knowledge is the whole universe of intelligent discourse and that encompasses all there is. Every theory of knowledge approaches that limitless and amorphous totality from a certain perspective. That is why there will always be rival theories and no one theory can be free from intrinsic defect. The endless controversies of scholars is testimony to this. To assert that one particular theory is the one true theory of knowledge is to say that the elephant is a long pliable tube and that is all there is to know about it.
As to the first point (my holding that knowledge is an ultimate mystery) I call Plato to witness. To ‘explain’ the mystery of knowledge Plato introduced the myth of anamnesis (recollection). In the Theaetetus he examines various approaches to empirical knowledge and finds them all defective. I examined the Theaetetus in Chapter Nine, “Theory of Knowledge”, of Plato: An Interoretation (2005) and dealt with “Plato’s Examination of Knowledge” (in Meyaphysical Reality, 2014) and do not wish to expand on the subject here.
D. R. Khashaba
February 13, 2017
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SCIENCE BREEDS IGNORANCE

SCIENCE BREEDS IGNORANCE
D. R. Khashaba

Science breeds ignorance. I do not mean to sound paradoxical. I assert in all seriousness that the astounding progress of science in the past four centuries or so has plunged us in darkest ignorance. To explain what I mean we have to begin with a semantic excursion.
The words ‘know, knowledge’ and ‘understand, understanding’ overlap and are often used interchangeably. This is most unfortunate since it conceals a profound distinction between two radically different states of mind. Let me illustrate this with some examples.
A certain person does a deed of great sacrifice. Science, giving an account of the deed, can describe exhaustively and accurately the state and working of every muscle, every nerve, every neuron involved in the act. This is objective knowledge; but the scientist giving the account may yet say under his breath: What a damn fool! Another observer’s heart may gush at the sight or the report of the deed, seeing in it the ideals of love and nobility. This is understanding.
The sun sets on a clear lake, painting the horizon with gorgeous ever-changing colours. A physicist will tell us of light waves, long and short, and of the laws of refraction, and may bring in the physiologist to tell us of the working of the eyes and related brain centres. A painter will gasp “Ah!” and proceed to portray the scene in a landscape, not reproducing the natural scene but giving expression to her or his inward reaction to the scene.
A lonely cloud sails across the sky. A scientist can write a bulky tome on the life-history of the cloud. Shelley composes an ode. This is not representation; thus is what Plato called ‘giving birth in beauty’ (tokos en kalôi).
Now let us go back to our theme: Science breeds ignorance. The great achievements of science have ingrained in scientists and in the public of advanced countries the illusion that science explains everything. Wittgenstein saw through this illusion. He wrote: “At the basis of the whole modern view of the world lies the illusion that the so-called laws of nature are the explanations of natural phenomena.” (Tractatus, 6.371).
Now scientists are boldly ‘explaining’ life, ‘explaining’ mind, ‘explaining’ the origin of the world. This illusion is not only blinding us to our own inner reality and to the whole realm of values but is also robbing us of the sense of wonder at the mysteries of Life, Mind, and Being. I cannot go into this more fully here or I will be re-writing all that I have written from my first book to the present day.
D. R. Khashaba
February 8, 2017
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WHAT USE IS PHILOSOPHY?

WHAT USE IS PHILOSOPHY?
D. R. Khashaba

Some twenty-six centuries of philosophical endeavour show clearly, or should have sufficed to show clearly, that the endeavour was completely on a wrong track: (1) it produced not one bit of factual knowledge about the natural world; (2) it established not one irrefutable proposition.
Let me stop for a moment to say why I speak of twenty-six centuries or so. Before that in Egypt, in Babylonia, there was science and mathematics and wisdom; in India, in China, in Persia, there was profound speculation about the mysteries of Being and Life couched in metaphor, aphorism, and paradox. But some twenty-six centuries ago the audacious Ionians set to give answers to all questions about nature and life and the ultimate mystery of Being by that one power which seems to be peculiar to humans of all living beings, the power of reflective thinking, and demanded that the answers be true and, audacity upon audacity, that they satisfy that power and that power alone. That was hubris too gross for Zeus to stomach, and if Jehovah expelled Adam from Paradise for desiring Knowledge, Zeus plunged philosophers into an unfathomable labyrinth for demanding Truth. It is thus that twenty-six centuries later philosophers have not one truth to show for their labours.
Near the beginning of that long travail one man was clear-sighted enough to see what was wrong. Socrates saw that by reflective thinking (reason) alone we can know nothing of natural things nor can we have answers to questions about ultimate things. The best wisdom for humans is to acknowledge that they know nothing and can know nothing. (That the astounding achievements of science do not belie this I have argued in all my writings and will revert to in these blogs shortly.) Yet that same Socrates held that only a philosophical life is a worthy life for a human being. Was he a fool?
The proper work of philosophy is to look within, to cleanse, clarify, and set in order the ideas, ideals, values, goals that constitute our characteristic nature as human beings. By the special set of ideals and values every one of us adopts she or he makes herself or himself what she or he is. Basically we are of course the plaything of chance, but by scrutinizing and electing our ideals and values we, defying all the powers of destiny, create our inner reality, our proper reality. This is the core-truth of Stoicism; this is the gist of Spinoza’s identification of freedom with adequate ideas; this is the prophecy of Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound. Without philosophy we go in life doubly the playthings of powers we know not, without ever being in possession of ourselves, without ever being our true selves.
Further, when in philosophizing we confront the riddle of ultimate Reality and wrestle with the mysteries of Being and Life and Mind, and, without deceiving ourselves into thinking we can have any truth about these riddles and mysteries, create for ourselves visions in which the riddles and mysteries assume coherence and intelligibility, we thereby create for ourselves, over and above our human reality, a new dimension, constituting our metaphysical or spiritual reality.
For me, philosophy helps me be myself, and helps me live and think on a plane of reality beyond all other reality.
Dear Reader, if you find all I have been saying nonsense, you are within your rights. I write for myself. I write because I enjoy playing with ideas.
D. R. Khashaba
February 3, 2017
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CANSCIENCE MAKE LIFE BETTER?

CAN SCIENCE MAKE LIFE BETTER?
D. R. Khashaba

The Independent on February 1, 2017, tells us: “”Quantum computing breakthrough could help ‘change life completely’, say scientists.” This is followed, in quotes, by: “It is the Holy Grail of science … we will be able to do certain things we could never even dream of before.”
When has science stopped enabling us “do certain things we could never even dream of before” — from turning a stone into a cutting edge to destroying a city by a single bomb? But has it ever improved the quality of life? More importantly, has it made us inwardly a worthier kind of being? Have all the achievements of science made us more sensitive to beauty than the flower-painters of ancient China or more aware of the vanity of our dreams than Gautama the Buddha? The hubris of science is blinding us to what is truly real and truly valuable in us.
D. R. Khashaba
February 1, 2017
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