THOUGHTS ON ARGUMENTATION

THOUGHTS ON ARGUMENTATION
D. R. Khashaba

Any sufficiently intelligent person can find a plausible argument for whatever she or he believes. The history of thought – philosophical or scientific or practical – provides evidence enough. So all argument – especially all argument between pereons with opposed points of view – is completely fatuous. This is a generalization of Kant’s Antinomy of Pure Reason. The only proper use of argument is for developing a position, bringing out the implications, in friendly dialogue between persons starting from some common ground. Every step in the argument will then– to borrow a phrase frequently used in Plato’s dialogues, especially in the Phaedo – be admitted as valid on the agreed presuppositions.
Wittgenstein was wise when he said in the preface to the Tractatus: “This book will perhaps only be understood by those who have themselves already thought the thoughts which are expressed in it—” (tr. Ogden). This should be placed on the title-page of every serious book and I will be the first to quote it in my upcoming book.

You cannot easily find two thinkers who had more, let us say, theoretical agreement than the co-authors of Principia Mathematica, Rissell and Whitehead. But you cannot find two mature philosophical positions more mutually antithetical to each other than those of those same two thinkers. Their mature philosophies were as opposed as those of Plato and Aristotle.
It seems that in general every one of us human beings is fated to live as an isolated island in the Ocean of Life. On the quotidian practical level the exigencies of daily living necessitate that we have a modicum of shared pragmatic knowledge; but the deeper anyone of us plunges in the sea of thought the more isolated she or he becomes.
It is tragic. most tragic, for anyone to find another, whom she or he truly loves, is barricaded behind impenetrable walls — as if life, simply life in itself, were not tragic enough!
D. R. Khashaba
July 17, 2018

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REALITY OF THE SOUL

REALITY OF THE SOUL
D. R. Khashaba

It is not easy to find another notion that equals the spread of the ‘soul’ notion over the face of the earth at all times. It is easy to understand this ubiquity, at least of the primitive version of the notion. In sleep we are visited by absent relatives and acquaintances and in particular by dear departed ones and the readiest explanation of this is to imagine that in every one of us there is another copy or version that can travel separately from the original. This primitive notion still lingers in some quarters but the notion has had a long rich history throughout which it has undergone much change. However I do not intend to trace that history here but to concentrate on that imagined .separateness’ of the soul from the rest of the person.
While the notion in Homer is still very much the same primitive idea of a separable copy, when we come to Heraclitus (late sixth century BC) we find a radically changed understanding of the notion. For Heraclitus the soul is the inner reality of a human being. Socrates deepens and enriches that understanding. He regularly refers to the soul as that in us which prospers when we do what is moraly right and is harmed when we do what is morally wrong. Yet the discussion of immortality in Plato’s Phaedo begins by defining death as the separation of the soul from the body, and in my opinion that vitiates all the arguments for immortality in the dialogue. Christianity inherited that morally profound, rich understanding together with the (in my opinion) flawed idea of separateness so that we find Descartes in the seventeenth century locating the soul in an organ of the body. To do Descartes justice we may say that he would not have committed this folly but for his dread of the Church and the Inquisition.
The reader will doubtlessly be wondering what I am driving at. Do I side with the ‘materialists’ who say there is no such thing as the soul? Far from it. What I propose is a novel idea which is not easy to grasp at once. To put it in a seemingly paradoxical statement: I reject the separable existence of the soul to affirm the reality of the soul. It is an idea that I have expounded in several of my writings. I will try to present it briefly in what follows.
We human beings consist of successive planes of being integrally united in a human person. We are physical objects subject to all the laws of physics. At the next plane we are subject to the laws of chemistry. At the next plane we are living beings sharing with plants and animals all the properties of these and subject to all the predicaments of these. At the next plane we are thinking beings, a qualification shared with us by numerous species of animals, insects, and bords. Then we have being on yet another plane which, as far as we know, we human beings alone have: this is the plane of creativity and of principles-governed behaviour. This plane of being we may call the Plane of Freedom or the Spiritual plane of being. This is what, for short, we call the Soul.
Of all these planes of being in which we participate this Spiritual Plane or Plane of Freedom is alone, I maintain, fully real, real in the truest sense of the word. Thus I say that the soul is not only real, but is all that is truly abd wholly real in us, or let us say, the Soul is our reality.
The Soul is not a thing, not a substance, not an object, but is pure act, activity, creativity. Naturally the Empiricists cannot find it, cannot catch it, and will try in vain to find it in the neurons of the brain however much they may search and however much they may experiment.
What I have been saying of the Soul is true of the Mind. In Plato psuch, nous, phronsis are fully interchangeable terms,
D. R. Khashaba
July 1, 2018

ON TRUTH

ON TRUTH
D. R. Khashaba

I have repeatedly asserted that philosophy proper has nothing to do with truth. The reason why I say that so emphatically, so provocatively, is that I want to bring out most strongly a view that I deem absolutely necessary to rescue philosophy from its present wretched condition, namely the view that philosophy strictly understood has nothing to do with yielding or seeking factual truth, objective truth, truth about the actual world, this type of truth being the proper province of empirical science. This view incidentally would be fully in agreement with the position of Kant’s transcendental system had not Kant betrayed his own better insight by giving Practical Reason jurisdiction over (1) the existence of God; (2) the immortality of the soul; and (3) the freedom of the will. This self-betrayal by Kant I reserve for a coming paper.
However ‘truth’ is a protean notion. It has many different meanings in different fields of thought (science, history, forensic research, etc.). Most of these different meanings and usages do not clash with my assertion that philosophy is not concerned with truth. But there is a family of truth-meanings that can neither be overlooked nor replaced by other terms. There is the holy trinity of Goodness, Beauty, amd Truth. There is Keats’ “Beauty is truth, truth beauty”. There is Shakespeare’s “This above all: to thine own self be true”. Then comes the immediate incentive that prodded ne to write this note: I was reading Plato’s immortal Phaedo when I came to the concluding words addressed by Socrates to his friends: Socrates was speaking about adorning the soul with her own proper adornments: reasonableness and justice and courage and freedom and alêtheia (114e-115a). This word is normally translated ‘truth’, though in Plato more often than not it means ‘reality’ rather than ‘truth’, but here as a virtue among the highest virtues, what word can do it justice? Only ‘Truth’ in the most sublime sense of the term. And who would wish to distance philosophy from these supreme ideals?
And yet, begging your pardon dear Reader, I will continue to affirm that philosophy has nothing to do with ‘truth’ in the commonsense, quotidian meaning of the word, because what brought philosophy to its present miserable condition was that philosophers thought that they had to vie with science in yielding factual knowledge about the objective world and I rely on the intelligence and goodwill of the reader for not charging me with the stupidity of distancing philosophy from the Truth that Socrates places aming the proper adornments of the soul.
D. R. Khashaba
June 23, 2018

KANT’S MESSAGE

KANT’S MESSAGE
D. R. Khashaba

I have repeatedly deplored the general failure of philosophers to grasp the essence of Kant’s transcendental system. The other day, flipping the pages of the Cambridge electronic version of the First Critique a section rubric in the Introduction by PAUL GUYER A ND ALLEN W O OD caught my eye; it read “THE MES SA GE O F T H E CRITIQUE”. I thought I should read that section to check both my understanding of Kant and the justice of my censure of post-Kantian philosophers. The section opens as folloas:
“The Critique of Pure Reason is complex and many-sided. Both its overall message and its meaning for the subsequent history of philosophy defy any easy summary.”
I find this unduly sweeping. There is no denying the Critique is “complex and many-sided” but while its contortuous complexity understandably earned Nietzsche’s scathing condemnation and the aversion of many first-rate philosophers its crucial message is to my mind simple and clear. Kant himself sums it up where he speaks of his “Copernican revolution”. I have repeatedly given the gist of it, particularly in “Kant and Plato” (in The Sphinx and the Phoenix). The whole of Kant’s message is an unconscious revival of two fundamental insights of Socrates: (1) Sense impressions in themselves are meaningless; they become meanimgful perceptions only when clothed in ideas (forms) from the mind (Kant’s Concepts of the Understanding). (2) Investigation of phenomena, of things in the outer world, tells us nothing of the inner reality of things (noumena). Empirical science is confined to the phenomenal sphere. Examination of values, moral ideals and purposes pertain exclusively to pure reason. It’s as simple as that.
I feel I have exhausted the subject in these few lines. Indeed there is little deserving comment in the rest of the text. But I could not let the following passage go without a word|
“The originality of the Critique can be indicated by focusing on the way it attempts simultaneously to resolve two of the most intractable problems of early modern philosophy, the simultaneous vindication of the principle of universal causality and of the freedom of the human will.”
Thus Professors Guyer and Wood find Kant’s originality precisely in Kant’s worst bungled failure. As far as I can see Kant’s message is as lost on them as on the others. But I have written extensively both on the dogma of causality and on the reality of free will and do not find it suitable to discuss two major themes in a concluding note.
D. R. Khashaba
June 14, 2018

CRAZED RAMBLINGS

CRAZED RAMBLINGS
Crazed ramblings but not without sense
D. R. Khashaba

Someone asks, “What is real?”
This is not a true question. No true question can be asked about what is undetermined; nobody would know what your question is about.
The following would be a permissible answer to the above pseudo-question: “Whatever a person believes is real is for that person real.”
Dr. Johnson ‘refuted’ Berkeley by kicking a stone. The stone was real for Dr. Johnson.
Bishop Berkeley would say to him, “It’s the pain in your foot that id real. But is the pain really in your foot? Or is it rather in your brain? Or better still, in your mind? Best of all, it’s your whole person that has the pain. But your person is not a physical thing, indeed not a thing at all.”
Plato overhears the discussion: “That shows you that there can be no reality in the physical world. It’s the ideas in the mind that are real. Better still, since the ideas cannot have being by themselves and in themselves, it’s the mind and only the mind that is real.”
Socrates smiles: ‘O miserable humans! You are born innocent babies and die innocent babies. The best of what you deem knowledge is fraught with falsehood/ Only when you realize that you know nothing are you freed from the worst ignorance, that of believing that you know anything at all!”
D. R. Khashaba
June 9, 2018

METAPHYSICS AND REALITY

METAPHYSICS AND REALITY
D. R. Khashaba

When Kant was dismayed at the reception of his Critique of Pure Reason he wrote Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphsics to drive home the core message of the first Critique, namely to specify the scope of empirical science and depict what is permissible in metaphysics and what is not. Sadly the Prolegomena was as little understood as the Critique, not only by Kant’s contemporaries and immediate followers but also by successive generations of philosophers to this day. However it is not my principal
intention here to write about Kant and his great ill-fated works. I intend to approach the problem of the validity of metaphysics from a different angle.
Is the world reasonable? Before we can tackle this question we have to face another question of a higher priority. What right have we to demand or expect that the world should conform to reason, our reason? Do we in fact have in our power this highly-vaunted ability or capability called Reason? To look at the state of the human race today, only a member of the race soaked in empty haughtiness would dare confidently to say, “Yes, we do have Reason!” The meekest and the wildest of animal species living in groups would give him the lie. But perhaps my revulsion at the atrocities, stupidities, and lunacies taking place all the time in all corners of the Earth threatens to blind me to the fact that this does not answer the question, The majority of humans may be mad but there are always here and there a few individuals who are sane.
Back to the question: What right have to demand or expect that the All should conform to reason? And when asking or answering this question the only Reason we have in mind can only be our human reason. Incidentally, it may be that certain animals, birds and insects have a kind of intelligence that is qualitatively different from that working (when it does work) in human beings.
Einstein said that the mystery of the world is its comprehensibility: but what could Einstein – a through and through mathematician – mean by ‘comprehensibility’? He meant, it seems, that the world obligingly conforms to mathematical formulations. Does that apply to anything more than purely physical quantities? Einstein was one of the most broad-minded scientists, with an active interest in all aspects of hunan life, Still I don’t think that we can translate his ‘comprehensibility’ into ‘rationality’ or ‘reasonableness’.
So what can our Reason, pure or with the aid of empirical experience (begging Kant’s pardon for this corruption of his terminology) reveal to us of the World? Let us compensate Kant for the corruption of his terminology by accepting in toto the gist of his transcendental system. Of the natural (objective) world we can know the forms, relations, and processes of its phenomena, that is, of its states and happenings as they appear to us and not an iota beyond that. Of the World as a whole science can know nothing at all, and pure reason can dream to its heart’s content, but all its dreams conflict with and contradict one another (Kant’s Antinomies of Pure Reason), and there is absolutely no way for saying if any of them speak of the whole. Of morals and values Reason has the privilege to speak and to direct but all that has nothing to do with the external natural world. (This does not exactly represent Kant’s position, but this is not the place to go into that.)
What says Plato? But for a difference in language, Plato would agree with Kant as regards knowledge of the outer world. For Plato the outside world is a world of shadows. In respect of the world as a whole and of the world of values, Plato dreams dreams — but with a crucial qualification. Plato calls his dreams dreams and, lest we delude ourselves into thinking we have positive knowlrdge, Plato insists that our dreams must be broken down and shredded by Dialectic (the critical exercise of reason).
So where does all this leave the metaphysician and what is the bearing of all this on our first question? Is the world reasonable? If our question is meant to extend to the actual world or the whole world, then the answer must be: “We can never know”. But we – at any rate the thinking few among us – cannot live in a meaningless or in a fragmented world. The human mind demands that the world be whole and be meaningful. So human beings from the earliest times and in all quarters of the Earth have invented myths, fables, epics, and metaphysical visions, Reflective thinking knows all these creations of the human mind for what they are. They are of the same nature and issue from the same spring as when a lonely man walking through a deserted dark lane whistles to fortify himself against the Ubknown. And perhaps it is remarkable that all the myth and fable makers, the poets weaving their epics, all of them know what they are doing, but only the sagacious metaphysicians still think they are reporting on the actual world, as if it is not honour enough for them to be helping to make human life a little less scary, a little more tolerable.
Thus if we ask “Does Metaphysics speak to us of Reality?” my answer would be: Metaphysics creates for us the only Reality that is meaningful to us, the Reality that determines the quality of the life we live. But lest we fall victim to narrow-minded hubris let me add that it is not metaphysics alone that tenders this service to humankind but so also do poetry and art and creative literature. And indeed, since not all individuals have a taste for metaphysics, the finest gifts of metaphysics are transmitted and diffused most widely not through the works of philosophers but through poetry, drama, fiction, cinema, etc.
D. R. Khashaba
May 31, 2018

THE WISDOM OF IGNORANCE

THE WISDOM OF IGNORAMCE
D. R. Khashaba

The wisdom in Socrates’ injunction that we know our ignorance extends to a greater scope than Socrates had in mind. We human beings, even at the simple level of our animal nature, are soaked and drenched in mystery. Empirical science, not to speak of the speculations of pure reason, is fruitful when and so long as it finds itself surrounded by unanswered questions. The comfortable feeling that we know, that we understand, this or that kills or at least numbs the mind in this or that area.
I am writing this note impromptu without forethought or preparation and every sentence I begin to write comes heavy with side-proliferations most of which I have to discard to keep the sentence manageable for writer and reader. But the initial impetus that triggered the subsequent outflow was the flicker of a thought about the origin of language. Philosophers, anthropologists, psychologists, linguists, have written and will yet write tomes of learned speech without coming any nearer to a satisfactory answer to the question about the origin of language. Why so? In my opinion, this is as it has to be and as it must be. Again, why? Because language is part of the ultimate mystery of Life and mystery of Mind.
Plato sought an answer to the question: ‘how is it that we have knowledge, any knowledge?’ His wrestling with that question gave hin his greatest insight intimated by the myth of Reminiscence, which is not so much a myth as a symbolic expression of the insight: when we are born we bring with us all knowledge hidden within us; it has only to be ferreted out. I know nothimg more idiotic than the institution of an academic discipline named ‘philosophy of mind’ — but this results from the foul heritage of Descartes who made of thought a substance.
Nowadays the most exciting news comes from astrophysics and reports of NASA’s explorations and with every physical or theoretical discovery we hear jubilant voices announcing “we are nearer to discovering”, “we are closer to understanding”, which is nonsense. With every new discovery the ultimate mystery slides into deeper darkness. Whoever sang: “Nafje and nature’s laws were hid in night, / God said ‘Let Newton be’ and all was light” stood the truth on its head. For two centuries physicists lived the lie of having all the answers until Einstein made them see their error. If you want to find the most knowledgeable people on Earth, go to the most backward, primitive tribe. They have no unanswered questions.
Dear Reader, I offer you these rambling thoughts because I promised to keep posting fresh blogs. If you find what I have written crazy, well, what do you expect of a demented old man whom death refuses to visit?
D. R. Khashaba
May 21, 2018