PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS ISSN 2043-0728
Issue number 97 11th January 2005
I. 'Personal Transformation: A Personal Integrity' by Erwin B. Laya
II. 'Philosophy - Rigorous Science or Intuitive Thought:
A Critique of Mind by John Searle' by Richard Schain
III. 'The Euthyphro as a Philosophical Work' by D.R. Khashaba
The first issue of Philosophy Pathways for 2005 sees three scintillating essays, from Erwin B. Laya, a philosophy instructor from the Philippines, and from Pathways veterans Richard Schain and D.R. Khashaba.
For Erwin Laya, personal transformation is the prerequisite for any agenda for social change. Laya's essay makes an interesting foil to Thomas Basboll's defence of the 'civilizing effects' of hypocrisy in his article for Philosophy for Business Issue 13 ('Let He Who is Without Sin Articulate the First Virtue').
Philosopher John Searle is famous for his stubborn defence of the reality of mental phenomena in the face of encroachments of AI theory. Yet Richard Schain is right on the button in placing Searle firmly in the camp of the 'scientific philosophers' who in attempting to account for the nature of mind only want 'the facts and nothing but the facts'.
Daoud Khashaba's piece on Plato's Euthyphro is a welcome corrective to the popular myth of the Platonic Socrates as vainly seeking, and failing to find 'definitions' of the moral virtues. Khashaba's subtle and careful reading shows the dialogue in a far more positive light, illustrating his thesis that 'the searching examination is the whole of the philosophical act.'
I. 'PERSONAL TRANSFORMATION: A PERSONAL INTEGRITY' BY ERWIN B. LAYA
A philosophical reflection on social change
Society is replete with examples of persons who say one thing but to do something else, of individuals whose left hand pretends not to know what the right hand is doing, of people whose actions belie the very convictions they claim to cherish. While government officials and darlings of the media have the lion's share of public criticism, it only takes a modicum of self-examination to realize that all of us, in varying degrees, are troubled by the universal weakness of humanity, a factory defect characterized by the old adage: 'follow what I say, do not follow what I do.'
Many of us are familiar with the primary school textbook story of the boy who is model of behavior in school, but a little demon at home. In a very real sense, all of us are like that. We are plagued by a dichotomy between our actions and convictions, between what we know is right and what we actually do, between ideals and the reality of our personal faults. The double standards of judgment that we frequently, often without realizing it, apply to other people bears this out. We are quick to criticize the faults of other people, harangue the inconsiderate family member, or brand the government official spineless, but seldom give second thought to the possibility that perhaps we too are insensitive to the needs of our friends, or of our families, or make small compromises in our work. The cartoon character Charlie Brown speaks eloquently for us all: 'I love people. It's humanity I hate.'
Our flawed human nature, without exception, is always torn between the convenient, immediately apparent course of action and the more difficult path that must be trodden by those seeking what is authentically and objectively the correct thing to do.
Very often, we avoid directing this critical ray of judgment at ourselves. After all, criticizing other people is always the easiest and socially fashionable thing to do. We jump deliciously at the chance to point out the mistakes of people, but are slow to cast the same critical eye upon ourselves. While it seems that the acceptable norm is to become the self-righteous watchdog of government ineptitude and excess, or the loud conscience of the errant family member we accuse of never being able to do the right thing, or the responsible manager who corrects wayward subordinates at every turn, we nevertheless have to train the magnifying glass at ourselves. Often, we forget the truism that all charity begins at home - indeed, within ourselves. We should examine our own actions for the very faults we find in others. Perhaps we don't because subconsciously the discomfiting truth is that we are guilty too.
All change begins within. Improving society starts with self-improvement, which comes only with self-scrutiny. To change the whole of society, we begin with the individual parts that make up the whole, namely ourselves. All of us should therefore struggle to improve: in our use of the time, space, and other resources at our disposal. People must examine themselves critically: how have we deployed the resources made available to us? This is premised on the assumption that what we do redounds to the benefit or loss of others. This self-examination should boil down to the smallest things. Have we made good use of our time, starting our work on the dot, acting with a sense of urgency, and striving to finish ahead of schedule? Have we pushed ourselves to put things in the right place, keeping clean internally, and externally, maintaining only the essential things we need to work well, maintaining things so they can be used by others, and contributing to the general cleanliness of our surroundings? Have we been systematic in deploying our resources, employing them where they can be most beneficial, setting targets, following an orderly sequence, and operating within an effective framework? Because Providence has given us limited capital, we must make do with this scarcity, ordering our time, space, and other personal resources within a framework that benefits everyone. Our small activities - precisely because they take up space, time, and energy and therefore affect everyone else - should pass scrutiny before we even think of carping about other people's shortcomings.
This personal self-scrutiny is the flaw many self-styled advocates of social change overlook: they claim that oppressive social structures must be overthrown and replaced before any meaningful improvement in society can take place. They fail to see that the large social problems we see are, very often, the accumulation of small, individual weaknesses of the people who make up the system. This explains why, as is the case with failed communist societies, the substitution of the old 'oppressive' structure with a new 'liberating' one does not work unless their formulas call for change at the grassroots. Very often, only the players are replaced, with no real improvement to speak of. Historical evidence support this: invariably, the new structures merely aggravate the social excesses they intended to eradicate.
Thus any agenda for social change is bound to fail if it lacks the core formula of personal transformation. Without personal discipline, and personal integrity, no master plan for improving society can succeed.
(c) Erwin B. Laya 2005
II. 'PHILOSOPHY - RIGOROUS SCIENCE OR INTUITIVE THOUGHT:
A CRITIQUE OF MIND BY JOHN SEARLE' BY RICHARD SCHAIN
Ever since its origins in the antique Hellenic world, philosophy has been bedeviled by a double identity - a search for meaning in human existence or a search for reliable knowledge of the world. The first approach will always be associated with Plato, of whom Alfred North Whitehead said that all subsequent philosophy was only a series of footnotes. The second is exemplified by Aristotle, who in the Middle Ages was regarded as 'The Philosopher.' To be sure, there are many overlaps of both aspects of philosophy in these two great figures of the antique world, but the relative emphasis in them is clear.
In the twentieth century, this duality of philosophy was noted by the mathematician-philosopher Bertrand Russell in a comment that all philosophers were either inclined to science or to mysticism. Russell himself regarded intuitive aspects of philosophy as mysticism. There was no doubt where Russell's sympathies lay; he and other proponents of the analytic method in philosophy are responsible for the pejorative meaning now usually associated with the term 'mysticism.' The 'mystics' may be regarded as being predominant throughout most of the history of western philosophy when the latter was dominated by Christian dogma with its substructure of Platonic metaphysics. However, beginning with the Siecle des lumieres, then followed by the incredible scientific revolution of the past two centuries, philosophy has come to adopt the scientific world-view and even regard itself as a science. Most contemporary philosophers identify with Husserl's defining philosophy as 'rigorous science' (strenge Wissenschaft). William James once joked that if they dared, philosophers would wear white coats.
The problem for scientific philosophy today is that the mind - which has been an essential focus of philosophical thought since Descartes - already has not one but two fields of science connected with it, neurology and psychology. The neurological sciences have taken giant steps in studying brain structures and relating them to mental processes. The psychological sciences have equally progressed by analyzing perception, cognition, and behavior and subjecting them to experimental study. What then is left for philosophy as science other than popularizing the scientific advances made by scientists in these fields? It is notable that the history of 'scientific' philosophy reveals that its domain has steadily diminished as astronomy, medicine, physics, and physiology matured into bona fide scientific specialties. The same has happened with psychology in the last century.
John Searle is a distinguished professor of philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley who has published extensively on the philosophy of mind. His most recent book on this topic proposes to provide a comprehensive review of the entire subject. The reader is immediately exposed to Searle's style when the author asserts at the beginning that 'all of the most famous and influential theories [on the mind] are false.' Searle later puts forth his own point of view that places subjective mental phenomena as part of nature but ontologically distinct from object phenomena.
Searle reviews contemporary theories of mind from the perspective of philosophy as rigorous science. There are discussions of consciousness, intentionality, mental causation, free will, and the self. The last chapter is entitled 'Philosophy and the Scientific World-View.' He makes the following categorical statement: 'So if we are interested in reality and truth, there is really no such thing as "scientific reality" or "scientific truth." There are just the facts that we know. I cannot tell you how much confusion in philosophy has been generated by the failure to perceive these points.' Like the emotionless Detective Friday of the American television series Dragnet whose trademark saying was 'just the facts, ma'am, just the facts,' Searle wants just the facts. Of course, he is not alone in this viewpoint in contemporary academic philosophy; it is shared implicitly or explicitly by most analytically minded philosophers committed to the scientific world-view. In fact, Searle would have to be placed among the more open-minded academicians since he accepts concepts such as consciousness and the self as bona fide mental realities in their own right, not ontologically reducible to physical entities. He views the former 'as much as part of the natural world as is photosynthesis or digestion.' Searle does not want to be classified as a materialist or a dualist.
Searle's approach reflects the pervasive influence of phenomenology in modern philosophy, although there is no mention of Husserl in his discussions. Consciousness is a real phenomenon; therefore it must be objectively described in its own right. In fact, Searle seems to be skirting dangerously close to dualism with his point of view. The mere fact that he views the brain as causally related to the mind does not obviate the fact that he accepts the latter as a realm ontologically distinct from the neuronal network of the brain. This sounds like Cartesian dualism with an unspecified relationship between the two ontological realms instead of the pineal gland performing this function. Still, Searle thinks of Descartes' ideas as a 'disaster' for philosophy, a common point of view among materialist philosophers. One might compare his formulation with that of Schopenhauer, who labeled Searle's mental 'first person ontology' as will and his object 'third person ontology' as representation [Wille und Vorstellung.] Of course they differ in that Schopenhauer was deeply pessimistic about the principle of individuation he called 'will' while Searle, as befits an unbiased proponent of 'biological naturalism' toward the mind, avoids value judgements either way.
The phenomenology of Searle reveals itself in that he is not interested in the rich intuitive content of western philosophy that has characterized it ever since the era of Socrates. Plato is not even mentioned in this book described as an introduction to the philosophy of mind. Nor is Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Bergson, Berdyaev, Whitehead, or Teilhard de Chardin. William James gets a passing comment. Presumably these are philosophers whose ideas about the mind do not meet the strictly factual criteria subscribed to by Searle. Not for him is the proclamation of Kierkegaard that 'truth is subjectivity' or Berdyaev's discovery of meaning in creativity. He uses the same approach in his 'first person ontology' as in his 'third person ontology.' The knowledge of subjectivity is just materialism pitched at a different level.
When one reads Searle's book, it is possible to feel as Socrates is said to have felt when he came across the book of Anaxagoras on the mind. The story is recounted by Plato in the Phaedo. Socrates had heard that Anaxagoras taught that Mind [Nous] was the cause of all things. He expected to find the mind's ideas about the common good in Anaxagoras' writing. However, he was grievously disappointed because all he found was physical and physiological discussions but nothing about what he thought was important about the mind. After that, Socrates turned to his own mind in his search for wisdom. If one expects to find philosophical depth in Searle's book, he or she will be similarly disappointed. Philosophy as rigorous science is the only topic; there is no consideration of the mind's search for man's place in existence or of the wisdom that accrues from a higher type of mental activity.
For the philosopher, the important thing about mind should be its content of creative thought not the mechanics of its operation. The latter can be left to scientists who are competent in these problems. Philosophy in this latter area will never be taken seriously by scientists anyway, since philosophers do not engage in the principal requirements of modern science - data collection, data analysis, and verification of hypotheses. Without these functions, philosophers can only perform as armchair theorists, relying on the discoveries of others to propound their theories and incapable of verifying them by scientific methods. The risk exists of philosophy again becoming a sterile scholasticism.
However, philosophy is indispensable in the search for meaning in the world since meaning stems from the subjective element of existence, an element not explicable by scientific investigation. The sciences may provide useful metaphors in this search but the mind thinking creatively is the only source of meaning in human existence. Profound philosophy about the mind existed prior to modern science. Another way of expressing this dichotomy is to recognize the universal metaphysical need of human beings as distinct from their need to objectivize existence. This need has been historically gratified by religions; thus Schopenhauer thought of religion as 'the metaphysics of the people.' Schopenhauer, who was an elitist of the first order, believed that philosophy should perform this role for those of greater intellectual capacity. However one may view Schopenhauer's prejudices, he is correct in thinking the metaphysical need is properly satisfied in unfettered philosophic activity. Man has been referred to as the animal metaphysicum and philosophy is metaphysics. These concepts require valuation of the mysteriously rational, mysteriously mystical human mind above mere phenomenological analysis.
(c) Richard Schain 2005
Web site: http:---
Mind: A Brief Introduction by John R. Searle Hardcover 336 pages Oxford University Press 2004 ISBN: 0195157338
III. 'THE EUTHYPHRO AS A PHILOSOPHICAL WORK' BY D.R. KHASHABA
What is a philosophical work? This is a question to which there can be a myriad of reasonable answers. So without claiming to give the one right answer, I will try to offer an answer by examining Plato's Euthyphro, whose title to being accounted a philosophical work will not be questioned by many.
In doing so I may be imitating the foolish interlocutors in the Socratic dialogues who, when asked: What is, say, courage?, answer: Standing firm in battle is courage. So, asked: What is a philosophical work?, I will answer: the Euthyphro is a philosophical work. So much of foolishness I ask to be permitted me. But I will not stop there. I will go on to show what, in my view, makes the Euthyphro a philosophical work.
Socrates comes to the Stoa of the Archon Basileus to meet the indictment brought up against him by Meletus. There he meets with the soothsayer Euthyphro who has come to lay charges against his own father who has caused the death of a man without due process of law. Euthyphro proceeds against his father to remove the pollution thus incurred. The impiety in failing to do so would outweigh the impiety of acting against his own aged father. Euthyphro is fully confident that his expert knowledge of theology makes it possible for him to decide what is pious and what impious in such a situation.
What, then, Socrates asks, is piety? Tell me what do you say piety is and what impiety? (5c, 5d.) What are we to understand by - what do we mean by - piety? As I have often reiterated in my writings, Socrates does not ask for a definition, but wants his interlocutor to look within his own mind and try to make out what he understands by the concept under discussion.
Euthyphro answers that to do what he is doing is piety. As evidence he cites the action of Zeus against his father Cronus and what Cronus in turn had done to his own father. Socrates is incredulous of such tales, but that is not what he wishes to examine right now. He is content to register his incredulity and lead his partner back to the question under examination.
By his initial answer Euthyphro has shown that, like most interlocutors in the Socratic dialogues, he has no idea what it is to examine a concept apart from the concrete instances in which it is exemplified. At this point Socrates tries to clarify the distinction between the various perceptible instances of a certain character and the idea that we have in our mind of that character, the distinction between a sensible realm of things in the world surrounding us and an intelligible realm of ideas which render the things meaningful. He asks Euthyphro to tell him of that one character which makes all things pious pious.
The creative concept of the distinction between the intelligible and the perceptible is Socrates' original and profound contribution to philosophical thought and is pivotal to the whole of Plato's philosophy. Socrates nowhere tries to 'prove' this distinction or to 'prove' the 'existence' of the intelligible realm. He proclaims the distinction and the reality of the intelligible realm, and in all he says and does he manifests the value and meaning with which our life becomes infused in the light of these concepts.
Euthyphro says that what is agreeable to the gods is pious, what is disagreeable to them impious (6e-7a). Even if we found no other fault with this statement, still, believing what Euthyphro does believe about the wars and quarrels among the gods, it would not help us know what is pious and what impious: what pleases one god may displease another (7a-8b). Clearly, the ideas in Euthyphro's mind do not form a consistent, coherent whole; they clash as much as his gods do.
Technically, this is an argument ad hominem, which is legitimate within proper limits, and Socrates does not make much of it. Indeed, for Plato its value resides more in revealing the absurdity of the popular conception of the gods than in disclosing the insufficiency of the statement proposed.
Prompted by Socrates, Euthyphro accepts an amendment to his statement: what all the gods like is pious, what all of them hate is impious (9d). Let us see: shall we say that the pious is loved by the gods because it is pious or that it is pious because it is loved by the gods (10a)? This is a knotty question that Euthyphro cannot easily comprehend. It is also a question with a tremendously profound dimension, which Plato is content to leave hovering here because in the present context it could not be dealt with commensurately with its profundity. Still, the prophetic notion of the autonomy of morality, which was to be the core of Kant's moral philosophy, is here clearly hinted at.
Socrates, leaving aside the profounder problem, explains the logic of the question: we speak of carrying and being carried, leading and being led, seeing and being seen. So also being loved is one thing and loving another. In short, what is carried, led, seen, loved, is in such a state because of some action to which it is subject. To say that a thing is in a state of being loved by the gods is to say that the gods love it. In other words, it is to say that something is happening to it. That is not to say what it is. The statement, then, that the pious is pious because it is loved by the gods tells us of an accident to which it is subject, but does not tell us what it is.
We shall say then that the gods love what is pious because it is pious. In other words, the gods love piety because of what it is. But then we are back to the question: What is piety?
Euthyphro confesses to his being at a loss what more to say and Socrates offers to help. We will readily agree that what is pious is righteous (dikaion). Well, is all that is righteous pious, or shall we say that, while all that is pious is righteous, part of what is righteous is pious and part of some other character? (11e-12a.) Once more, the question is too complex for Euthyphro and Socrates has again to explain a point of logic.
No modern student has any problem with such a question, thanks to the work done by philosophers. Philosophers create notions, distinctions, ways of looking at things, of examining questions, that become an integral part of the mental equipment of cultured humans. We very easily forget that these tools are gifts of individual creative thinkers.
Socrates then suggests that the pious is part of the righteous. What part of righteousness is piety? Euthyphro says that piety is that part of righteousness that has to do with attending to the gods; the rest of righteousness covers our dealings with humans (12e). Well, what do we mean by this tendance or service to the gods? We make use of this notion of tendance when we speak of tending to horses or cattle. We are then speaking of a special skill or branch of knowledge. Euthyphro thinks this may well be true of piety as tendance to the gods (13b). But in the case of attending to horses or cows the purpose and the result is to benefit the horses and cows and improve them. This cannot be the case with attending to the gods (13c).
Euthyphro suggests a different analogy. The service to the gods that is piety is of the kind rendered by slaves to their masters (13d). It is then some kind of assistance. A slave assists his master in performing work aiming at some good. What then is the good work in the performance of which the pious assist the gods? (13e).
Many and fine are the works of the gods. But what is the chief work in the performance of which they make use of the assistance of the pious? Euthyphro says that when someone knows how to gratify the gods in offering sacrifices and prayers, that amounts to piety, and that secures the wellbeing of individuals and of society (14a-b). That, Socrates finds, comes down to offering gifts to the gods and asking favours in return (14c-d). To ask properly would be to ask for what we need; to give properly would be to give what the recipients need. Piety would be a species of trading carried out between humans and gods (14d-e.). The goods that we may receive from the gods are obvious, but what benefit do they derive from our gifts? Nothing but honour and reverence and gratification. Then piety is simply pleasing to the gods. We have thus returned full circle to the view that piety is what is pleasing to the gods, which we have already found unsatisfactory (15a-b).
We should go back and start the investigation anew. But Euthyphro has to attend to his business and excuses himself, leaving the discussion in this inconclusive condition.
To my mind, what makes of the Euthyphro a philosophical work is precisely that it is not anything of what most people expect of a philosophical work. It does not advance a thesis; it does not draw inferences from a proposition or set of propositions; it does not establish a theory or present arguments in support of a hypothesis.
What do we find in this little philosophical work? A word that is part of our common vocabulary, that we use and think we understand, is examined to see what meaning or meanings and what associations of meanings it evokes for us: a piece of the furniture of our mental chamber is turned this way and that way to see how well-wrought it is and how well it sits with the rest of the furniture in the chamber.
A philosophical work, true to Socratic dialectic, does not seek to arrive at a definite conclusion, or to prove or uphold a thesis or set of theses, but to subject one's own and others' beliefs, presuppositions, and accepted notions to searching examination, to illumine obscure nooks and crannies in one's own mind and others' minds. The end is not to arrive at conclusions, but to help us gaze within ourselves with clearer eyes.
F. M. Cornford has this to say of the dialectical treatment of a subject:
"[A modern reader] will readily understand that dialectic
means a co-operative inquiry carried on in conversation
between two or more minds that are equally bent, not on
getting the better of the argument, but on arriving at the
truth. A tentative suggestion ('hypothesis') put forward by
one speaker is corrected and improved until the full meaning
is clearly stated. The criticism that follows may end in
complete rejection or lead on to another suggestion which
(if the examination has been skilfully conducted) ought to
approach nearer to the truth."
This is a good description of the procedure of dialectical discourse, which is basically true of all genuine philosophical discourse however conducted. My only reservation is about the phrases 'arriving at the truth' and 'to approach nearer to the truth'. There is no objective truth to be arrived at. The end of proper philosophical discourse is to achieve a fuller awareness of our presuppositions, a clearer understanding of the fundamental notions and principles on which we base our judgements. Those fundamental notions and principles cannot be discovered in anything external to the mind and are not amenable to proof. To argue with a view to establishing their truth or revealing their falsity is vain. They rest in their own self-evidence. The question to be raised with regard to them is not a question of truth or falsity, but one of value and sufficiency and viability. The critical question to be posed in assessing a philosophical view should be: What kind of world does that view give us to live in? What kind of life does it offer? What level of intelligibility does it secure for us?
Does this mean that philosophical thought has no positive content whatever? No. What I am saying is (and I believe this was Plato's position too) that it can rest in no definitive formulation whatever. The searching examination is the whole of the philosophical act: that perpetuated act is a constant affirmation and realization of the reality of human intelligence and the integrity of the human mind. That is our whole reality and the ground of our proper worth. That reality finds creative expression in ideals and principles and theoretical models, rooted in our reality and 'true' in so far as they are expressions of that reality. But their particular formulations are necessarily always relative and contingent. Taken as final and absolute, as 'true', they turn into dogma and superstition. That is why they have to be constantly re-examined, put under the light-rays of new questions, revealing the inherent insufficiency of all determinate thought, that being the critical function of philosophy.
And since the expression of our inner reality in ideal formulations does not represent or seek to represent any outer, objective, actuality, the concept of truth is irrelevant and inapplicable to it. That is what I mean by saying that all creative philosophical thinking is mythical and oracular. It has nothing to do with facts; its whole concern is with values, the values of goodness. beauty, and, no!, not truth, but truthfulness.
The philosophical endeavour soars on two wings: the oracular and the dialectical. The two are complementary and no genuine philosophy can be without a share of both, but a particular work of philosophy, or even the bulk of a particular philosopher's work, can be either principally dialectic or principally oracular. In the Euthyphro we can see the dialectical dimension clearly illustrated, but we can also glimpse the oracular dimension, not only in the ideal of God or the gods as necessarily good but also and markedly in the principle that moral values must be autonomous. This was the insight that formed the core of Kant's moral philosophy.
Socrates' life-mission was to combat amathia ('ignorance') by helping his interlocutors examine themselves. Amathia, the evil of which the Socratic elenchus rids the soul, is not lack of knowledge: in its milder variety, it is obscure and confused thought; in its more pernicious variety, it is 'disknowledge' instilled into the soul by bad upbringing and bad education, consisting in false values and notions and beliefs. But the process is not purely negative. In the philosophical dialectic (of which the elenchus is simply the characteristically Socratic mode) the philosopher introduces, actually creates, concepts, conceptual distinctions, ideal patterns, which expand, enrich, deepen, the capacity of the mind to infuse meaning into the givennesses of experience. Such concepts, conceptual distinctions, and ideal patterns, are not derived from the outer world and therefore cannot be in any way verified or proved. Again, they are not 'knowledge' imparted to the learner. If the learner receives them as factual knowledge they turn into dogmatic superstitions, a new amathia. When the learner sees them as creative developments of her/ his own mind, they become forms of intelligibility under which the mind can translate more of the chaos of the givennesses of experience into the cosmos of intelligence.
1. In the fifth of my Excursions into the Dialogues of Plato, "The Argument of the Republic", available on my Website: http:---, I give an ampler answer by examining the chef-d'oeuvre of Plato's.
2. I hope no one will conclude from this that I align myself with the Ordinary Language school of thought: there may be points of contact, but there are radical differences between their outlook and mine.
3. F. M. Cornford, Plato's Theory of Knowledge (1935), p.30.
4. For a fuller elucidation of this view, see my "Philosophy as Prophecy", available on my Website.
(c) D. R. Khashaba 2005
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