Showing posts with label Socrate. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Socrate. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Plato

Plato ( ca 427 – 347 BC) belongs to the world’s best literary authors and philosophers and one of the most influential thinkers in Western philosophy. Plato was not his real name. His real name probably was Aristokles, and Plato was a nickname referring to his athletic figure, the shape of his front and his wide eloquence. Plato carefully recorded his teacher’s and role model’s words: Socrate. His works are testimony of his indignation and struggle against Athens’ rulers, when they had Socrate and other philosophers executed. Plato also struggled against professional philosophy of his days, of which Protagoras was an important representant: Sophism. Plato thought it unworthy to ask money, when you teach your students, that it doesn’t matter what truth is because every person has his own truth and nothing can be proved. ‘For if truth is only sensation, and no man can discern another’s feelings better than he, or has any superior right to determine whether his opinion is true or false, but each, as we have several times repeated, is to himself the sole judge, and everything that he judges is true and right, why, my friend, should Protagoras be preferred to the place of wisdom and instruction, and deserve to be well paid, and we poor ignoramuses have to go to him, if each one is the measure of his own wisdom? Must he not be talking ad captandum in all this? I say nothing of the ridiculous predicament in which my own midwifery and the whole art of dialectic is placed; for the attempt to supervise or refute the notions or opinions of others, would be a tedious and enormous piece of folly, if to each man his own are right; and this must be the case if Protagoras’ Truth is the real truth, and the philosopher is not merely amusing himself by giving oracles out of the shrine of his book.’

Dialectic relations are leading principle of Plato's thinking, in the sense of opposing or differing forces leading to another outcome. The mingling of opposites leads to a third outcome: Creations; in all their variations. Infinity and finiteness are the first two classes; then comes the third class of temporal result -- which is only possible through a fourth class of causality. Abstract concepts like hot and cold or wisdom and pleasure, but also high and low tones, are infinite concepts. They are limited by finite concepts, such as measures and degrees: 30 Celsius, but also bigger than, higher than; therefore, temporary states of being. Grammar and linguistics belong, like other human knowledge, to the infinite realm, because its system is self-existing. Other examples are tones, and concepts like hot and cold. This leads to something else: A result, in form of an individual creation with certain qualities. It owes these qualities to a fourth class, namely the cause of its mixture and generation.

Socrates’ and Plato’s philosophy stood at a psychologically high level of describing emotions, desires and thoughts that accompany events in the universe and individual creatures. They made a difference between either observation, or moral judgement, leading to knowledge, emotion or opinion. An erroneous opinion is not necessarily the same as an immoral one, as it doesn’t have the same cause: Respectively observation and memory, versus valued appreciation. Plato did not consider physical causes of pain. He restricted his research to psychological logic.

An example of dialectic dialogue, is this dialogue between Socrate and Protarchus, written in the Dialogue with Philebus. The dialogue mentions topics that are important in Ancient Greece; they often return in Greek philosophy.

Dialectics between infinite and finite, pleasure and wisdom:
"Socrate said in a dialogue with a young man named Philebus, and Protarchus: ‘The sound which passes through the lips, whether of an individual or of all men, is one, and yet infinite. And yet, not by knowing either that sound is one or that sound is infinite, are we perfect in the art of speech; but the knowledge of the number and nature of sounds is what makes a man a grammarian. And the knowledge which makes a man a musician, is of the same kind. Sound is one in music as well as in grammar. But, when you have learned which sounds are high and what low, and the number and nature of the intervals and their limits or proportions, and the systems compounded out of them, which our fathers discovered, and have handed down to us who are their descendants under the name of harmonies; and the affections corresponding to them in the movements of the human body, which when measured by numbers ought, as they say, to be called rhythms and measures; and they tell us that the same principle should be applied to every one and many. When I say, you have learned all this, then, my dear friend, you are perfect; and you may be said to understand any other subject, when you have a similar grasp of it. But, the infinity of kinds and the infinity of individuals, which there is in each of them, when not classified, creates in every one of us a state of infinite ignorance; and he who never looks for number in anything, will not himself be looked for in the number of famous men. Some god or divine man, who in the Egyptian legend is said to have been Theuth, observing that the human voice was infinite, first distinguished in this infinity a certain number of vowels, and then other letters which had sound, but were not pure vowels (i.e., the semivowels); these too, exist in a definite number; and lastly, he distinguished a third class of letters which we now call mutes, without voice and without sound, and divided these, and likewise, the two other classes of vowels and semivowels, into the individual sounds, told the number of them, and gave to each and all of them the name of letters; and observing that none of us could learn any one of them and not learn them all, and in consideration of this common bond, which in a manner united them, he assigned to them all a single art, and this he called the art of grammar or letters.’

Protarchus answered: ‘That seems to be very near the truth, Socrate. Happy would the wise man be, if he knew all things, and the next best thing for him is that he should know himself. Why do I say so at this moment? I will tell you. You, Socrate, have granted us this opportunity of conversing with you, and are ready to assist us in determining what is the best of human goods. For when Philebus said that pleasure, delight, enjoyment, and the like, were the chief good, you answered -- No, not those, but another class of goods. And we are constantly reminding ourselves of what you said, and very properly, in order that we may not forget to examine and compare the two. And these goods, which in your opinion are to be designated as superior to pleasure, and are the true objects of pursuit, are mind and knowledge and understanding and art and the like. There was a dispute about which were the best, and we playfully threatened that you should not be allowed to go home until the question was settled; and you agreed, and placed yourself at our disposal. And now, as children say, what has been fairly given cannot be taken back; cease then to fight against us in this way.’

Socrate answered to that: ‘I remember to have heard long ago certain discussions about pleasure and wisdom, whether awake or in a dream I cannot tell; they were to the effect that neither the one nor the other of them was the good, but some third thing, which was different from them, and better than either. If this be clearly established, then pleasure will lose the victory, for the good will cease to be identified with her:-Am I not right? And there will cease to be any need of distinguishing the kinds of pleasures, as I am inclined to think, but this will appear more clearly as we proceed.’ Soc. ‘Is the good perfect or imperfect?’ Pro.: ‘The most perfect, Socrates, of all things.’ Soc: ‘And is the good sufficient?’ Pro: ‘Yes, certainly, and in a degree surpassing all other things.’ Soc: ‘And no one can deny that all percipient beings desire and hunt after good, and are eager to catch and have the good about them, and care not for the attainment of anything which its not accompanied by good. Let there be no wisdom in the life of pleasure, nor any pleasure in the life of wisdom, for if either of them is the chief good, it cannot be supposed to want anything, but if either is shown to want anything, then it cannot really be the chief good. Reflect; would you not want wisdom and intelligence and forethought, and similar qualities? would you not at any rate want sight? But if you had neither mind, nor memory, nor knowledge, nor true opinion, you would in the first place be utterly ignorant of whether you were pleased or not, because you would be entirely devoid of intelligence. Soc. Let us divide all existing things into two, or rather, if you do not object, into three classes.Were we not saying that God revealed a finite element of existence, and also an infinite? I say that a fourth class is still wanted. Find the cause of the third or compound, and add this as a fourth class to the three others. I want to know whether such things as appear to us to admit of more or less, or are denoted by the words “exceedingly,” “gently,” “extremely,” and the like, may not be referred to the class of the infinite, which is their unity, for, as was asserted in the previous argument, all things that were divided and dispersed should be brought together, and have the mark or seal of some one nature, if possible, set upon them-do you remember?’ Pro: ‘Yes’. Soc: ‘And all things which do not admit of more or less, but admit their opposites, that is to say, first of all, equality, and the equal, or again, the double, or any other ratio of number and measure-all these may, I think, be rightly reckoned by us in the class of the limited or finite; what do you say?’ Soc: ‘The class of the finite which we ought to have brought together as we did the infinite; but, perhaps, it will come to the same thing if we do so now;-when the two are combined, a third will appear.’ Pro: ‘What do you mean by the class of the finite?’ Soc: ‘The class of the equal and the double, and any class which puts an end to difference and opposition, and by introducing number creates harmony and proportion among the different elements.’ Pro: ‘I understand; you seem to me to mean that the various opposites, when you mingle with them the class of the finite, takes certain forms.’ Pro: ‘Yes, I think that I understand you: you mean to say that the infinite is one class, and that the finite is a second class of existences; but what you would make the third I am not so certain.’ Soc: ‘That is because the amazing variety of the third class is too much for you, my dear friend; but there was not this difficulty with the infinite, which also comprehended many classes, for all of them were sealed with the note of more and less, and therefore appeared one.’ Soc: ‘Yes, indeed; and when I speak of the third class, understand me to mean any offspring of these, being a birth into true being, effected by the measure which the limit introduces.’ Soc: ‘Still there was, as we said, a fourth class to be investigated, and you must assist in the investigation; for does not everything which comes into being, of necessity come into being through a cause? Then the first I will call the infinite or unlimited, and the second the finite or limited; then follows the third, an essence compound and generated; and I do not think that I shall be far wrong in speaking of the cause of mixture and generation as the fourth. And therefore the infinite cannot be that element which imparts to pleasure some degree of good. But now-admitting, if you like, that pleasure is of the nature of the infinite-in which of the aforesaid classes, O Protarchus and Philebus, can we without irreverence place wisdom and knowledge and mind? And let us be careful, for I think that the danger will be very serious if we err on this point. … when I asked the question to what class mind and knowledge belong? Yet the answer is easy, since all philosophers assert with one voice that mind is the king of heaven and earth-in reality they are magnifying themselves. And perhaps they are right. But still I should like to consider the class of mind, if you do not object, a little more fully. Let us begin by asking a question. Whether all this which they call the universe is left to the guidance of unreason and chance medley, or, on the contrary, as our fathers have declared, ordered and governed by a marvellous intelligence and wisdom.’ Pro: ‘Wide asunder are the two assertions, illustrious Socrates, for that which you were just now saying to me appears to be blasphemy; but the other assertion, that mind orders all things, is worthy of the aspect of the world, and of the sun, and of the moon, and of the stars and of the whole circle of the heavens; and never will I say or think otherwise.’ Soc: ‘Shall we then agree with them of old time in maintaining this doctrine-not merely reasserting the notions of others, without risk to ourselves,-but shall we share in the danger, and take our part of the reproach which will await us, when an ingenious individual declares that all is disorder?’ Pro: ‘That would certainly be my wish.’ Soc: ‘We see that the elements which enter into the nature of the bodies of all animals, fire, water, air, and, as the storm-tossed sailor cries, “land” [i.e., earth], reappear in the constitution of the world.’ Soc: ‘Only a small fraction of any one of them exists in us, and that of a mean sort, and not in any way pure, or having any power worthy of its nature. One instance will prove this of all of them; there is fire within us, and in the universe’. Pro: ‘True’. Soc: ‘And is not our fire small and weak and mean? But the fire in the universe is wonderful in quantity and beauty, and in every power that fire has’. Pro: ‘Most true’. Soc: ‘And is the fire in the universe nourished and generated and ruled by the fire in us, or is the fire in you and me, and in other animals, dependent on the universal fire?’ Pro: ‘That is a question which does not deserve an answer’. Soc: ‘But is our body nourished wholly by this body, or is this body nourished by our body, thence deriving and having the qualities of which we were just now speaking?’ Pro: ‘That again, Socrates, is a question which does not deserve to be asked’. Soc: ‘And whence comes that soul, my dear Protarchus, unless the body of the universe, which contains elements like those in our bodies but in every way fairer, had also a soul? Can there be another source?’ Pro: ‘Clearly, Socrates, that is the only source.’ Soc: ‘Why, yes, Protarchus; for surely we cannot imagine that of the four classes, the finite, the infinite, the composition of the two, and the cause, the fourth, which enters into all things, giving to our bodies souls, and the art of self-management, and of healing disease, and operating in other ways to heal and organize, having too all the attributes of wisdom;-we cannot, I say, imagine that whereas the self-same elements exist, both in the entire heaven and in great provinces of the heaven, only fairer and purer, this last should not also in that higher sphere have designed the noblest and fairest things?’ Pro: ‘Such a supposition is quite unreasonable.’ Soc: ‘Then if this be denied, should we not be wise in adopting the other view and maintaining that there is in the universe a mighty infinite and an adequate limit, of which we have often spoken, as well as a presiding cause of no mean power, which orders and arranges years and seasons and months, and may be justly called wisdom and mind?’ Pro: ‘Most justly.’ Soc: ‘And wisdom and mind cannot exist without soul?’ Pro: ‘Certainly not.’ Soc: ‘And in the divine nature of Zeus would you not say that there is the soul and mind of a king, because there is in him the power of the cause? And other gods have other attributes, by which they are pleased to be called.’ Pro: ‘Very true.’ Soc: ‘Do not then suppose that these words are rashly spoken by us, O Protarchus, for they are in harmony with the testimony of those who said of old time that mind rules the universe.’ Pro: ‘True.’ Soc: ‘And they furnish an answer to my enquiry; for they imply that mind is the parent of that class of the four which we called the cause of all; and I think that you now have my answer. And let us remember, too, of both of them, (1) that mind was akin to the cause and of this family; and (2) that pleasure is infinite and belongs to the class which neither has, nor ever will have in itself, a beginning, middle, or end of its own.’ Soc: ‘I wonder whether you would agree with me about the origin of pleasure and pain.’ Pro: ‘What do you mean?’ Soc: ‘I mean to say that their natural seat is in the mixed class. … I say that when the harmony in animals is dissolved, there is also a dissolution of nature and a generation of pain. And the restoration of harmony and return to nature is the source of pleasure, if I may be allowed to speak in the fewest and shortest words about matters of the greatest moment. Let us next assume that in the soul herself there is an antecedent hope of pleasure which is sweet and refreshing, and an expectation of pain, fearful and anxious.’ Pro: ‘Yes; this is another class of pleasures and pains, which is of the soul only, apart from the body, and is produced by expectation.’ Soc: ‘If I remember rightly, when the lives were compared, no degree of pleasure, whether great or small, was thought to be necessary to him who chose the life of thought and wisdom.’ Pro: ‘If so, the gods, at any rate, cannot be supposed to have either joy or sorrow.’ Soc: ‘Certainly not-there would be a great impropriety in the assumption of either alternative. But whether the gods are or are not indifferent to pleasure is a point which may be considered hereafter if in any way relevant to the argument, and whatever is the conclusion we will place it to the account of mind in her contest for the second place, should she have to resign the first. The other class of pleasures, which as we were saying is purely mental, is entirely derived from memory. Let us imagine affections of the body which are extinguished before they reach the soul, and leave her unaffected; and again, other affections which vibrate through both soul and body, and impart a shock to both and to each of them. When I say oblivious, do not suppose that I mean forgetfulness in a literal sense; for forgetfulness is the exit of memory, which in this case has not yet entered; and to speak of the loss of that which is not yet in existence, and never has been, is a contradiction; do you see? Instead of the oblivion of the soul, when you are describing the state in which she is unaffected by the shocks of the body, say unconsciousness. And the union or communion of soul and body in one feeling and motion would be properly called consciousness? And memory may, I think, be rightly described as the preservation of consciousness? And do we not mean by recollection the power which the soul has of recovering, when by herself, some feeling which she experienced when in company with the body? And when she recovers of herself the lost recollection of some consciousness or knowledge, the recovery is termed recollection and reminiscence? I want to attain the plainest possible notion of pleasure and desire, as they exist in the mind only, apart from the body; and the previous analysis helps to show the nature of both. Do we mean anything when we say “a man thirsts”? We mean to say that he “is empty”? Then there must be something in the thirsty man which in some way apprehends replenishment? And that cannot be the body, for the body is supposed to be emptied? The only remaining alternative is that the soul apprehends the replenishment by the help of memory; as is obvious, for what other way can there be?’ Pro: ‘I cannot imagine any other.’ Soc: ‘But do you see the consequence?’ Pro: ‘What is it?’ Soc: ‘That there is no such thing as desire of the body.’ Pro: ‘Why so?’ Soc: ‘Why, because the argument shows that the endeavour of every animal is to the reverse of his bodily state.’ Pro: ‘Yes.’ Soc: ‘And the impulse which leads him to the opposite of what he is experiencing proves that he has a memory of the opposite state.’ Pro: ‘True.’ Soc: ‘And the argument, having proved that memory attracts us towards the objects of desire, proves also that the impulses and the desires and the moving principle in every living being have their origin in the soul. Let me make a further observation; the argument appears to me to imply that there is a kind of life which consists in these affections. I mean when a person is in actual suffering and yet remembers past pleasures which, if they would only return, would relieve him; but as yet he has them not. May we not say of him, that he is in an intermediate state? And has he not the pleasure of memory when he is hoping to be filled, and yet in that he is empty is he not at the same time in pain? But when a man is empty and has no hope of being filled, there will be the double experience of pain. You observed this and inferred that the double experience was the single case possible. Would you say that no one ever seemed to rejoice and yet did not rejoice, or seemed to feel pain and yet did not feel pain, sleeping or waking, mad or lunatic?’ Pro: ‘So we have always held, Socrates.’ Soc: ‘But were you right? Then, how can opinion be both true and false, and pleasure true only, although pleasure and opinion are both equally real? And if rightness attaches to any of them, should we not speak of a right opinion or right pleasure; and in like manner of the reverse of rightness? And if the thing opined be erroneous, might we not say that opinion, being erroneous, is not right or rightly opined? And if we see a pleasure or pain which errs in respect of its object, shall we call that right or good, or by any honourable name? We agree-do we not?-that there is such a thing as false, and also such a thing as true opinion? And pleasure and pain, as I was just now saying, are often consequent upon these upon true and false opinion, I mean. And do not opinion and the endeavour to form an opinion always spring from memory and perception? An object may be often seen at a distance not very clearly, and the seer may want to determine what it is which he sees. He asks himself-“What is that which appears to be standing by the rock under the tree?” This is the question which he may be supposed to put to himself when he sees such an appearance. To which he may guess the right answer, saying as if in a whisper to himself-“It is a man.” Or again, he may be misled, and then he will say-“No, it is a figure made by the shepherds.”‘ Soc: ‘Well, now, I wonder whether, you would agree in my explanation of this phenomenon.’ Pro: ‘What is your explanation?’ Soc: ‘I think that the soul at such times is like a book.’"

Socrate talked with a young man, Phaedrus, about the nature of passionate desire: ‘Every one sees that love is a desire, and we know also that non-lovers desire the beautiful and good. Now in what way is the lover to be distinguished from the non-lover? Let us note that in every one of us there are two guiding and ruling principles which lead us whither they will; one is the natural desire of pleasure, the other is an acquired opinion which aspires after the best; and these two are sometimes in harmony and then again at war, and sometimes the one, sometimes the other conquers. When opinion by the help of reason leads us to the best, the conquering principle is called temperance; but when desire, which is devoid of reason, rules in us and drags us to pleasure, that power of misrule is called excess. Now excess has many names, and many members, and many forms, and any of these forms when very marked gives a name, neither honourable nor creditable, to the bearer of the name. The desire of eating, for example, which gets the better of the higher reason and the other desires, is called gluttony, and he who is possessed by it is called a glutton-I the tyrannical desire of drink, which inclines the possessor of the desire to drink, has a name which is only too obvious, and there can be as little doubt by what name any other appetite of the same family would be called;-it will be the name of that which happens to be eluminant. And now I think that you will perceive the drift of my discourse; but as every spoken word is in a manner plainer than the unspoken, I had better say further that the irrational desire which overcomes the tendency of opinion towards right, and is led away to the enjoyment of beauty, and especially of personal beauty, by the desires which are her own kindred-that supreme desire, I say, which by leading conquers and by the force of passion is reinforced, from this very force, receiving a name, is called love. Consider this, fair youth, and know that in the friendship of the lover there is no real kindness; he has an appetite and wants to feed upon you. As wolves love lambs so lovers love their loves.’ Love is the fourth form of madness, after the ailment, prophetic inspiration and artistic inspiration, which demonstrates not all madness is evil, evil meaning both harmful and immoral. The prophetic gift comes from the divine and is therefor perfect. Prophecy is a glimpse on man’s future as planned by the divine and thus benificial. Another form is madness is a soul being possessed by ‘the Muses’: they ‘inspire a delicate and virgin soul with the frenzy to produce lyrical and other numbers’ which are preserved for posterity. The sane man is no match for the artist consumed by artistic madness, according to Socrate. Love as fourth madness has a harmful and beautifying nature, depending which of the two forces dominate the human soul. Plato pays much attention to the human soul and describes it as a ‘charioteer on a wagon guided by two winged horses, the right one white, healthy, obedient and noble, the left one grey-brown, unhealthy, reddish eyed and rebellious, the more earthy, less ambitious souls loose their wings on the road and stay earthbound in humble abode. These two often clash and struggle and it is up to the charioteer’s mastery which horse prevails. Plato strongly believed in reincarnation of the soul and mentions several periods for good, highly esteemed souls and evil or smaller minded souls.

Sources & further reading:

Works by Plato, The Internet Archive
Wikipedia
Philebus
Phaedrus

As we see, exact empirical science on for instance the human body and how it functions has yet to come. However, psychological knowledge -- which is an important field of human knowledge -- flourished at a high level, as did applied artisan mastery, as well as knowledge of the arts. Plato gives detailed descriptions of tones and other aspects of music in his book Politeia. They show, Plato must have had a solid musical education.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Examples of a Socratic Dialogue in Islam

What could a Socratic dialogue about Qur’an al Kerim sound like? Here follow three small examples of such possible Q/A-conversation. We may call it a Socratic dialogue. Start easiest:

A: What is man’s main task in life?
B: To serve Allah swt.
A: Firstly, what is serving?
B: It is performing actions to please the one who is being served.
A: Why is it necessary to serve Allah swt?
B: A believer loves Allah swt and wants to reach His reward
A: If there would be no reward, would you still find it necessary to love Allah swt?
B: Yes. Loving Him for Him alone, is part of serving Him, and serving Him is done out of love.
A: What is love for a Muslim, try and describe it please.
B: Love is not just a positive caring emotion for someone or something, it’s also an action.
A: What action?
B: Caring and sharing. You do nice things for them that they like.
A: How do you care and share for, with Allah swt?
B: You do the things that He asks in His Book.
A: What things?
B: You pray, perform the other rituals, you do good works.
A: Tell us something of these good works. What good works do you do out of love for Allah swt?
B: Me? I do my best to treat other people, animals and other creatures well; I pray to Allah swt.
A: Why is it necessary to treat others well out of love for Allah swt, is it not enough to do it for them?
B: Allah swt wants us to be caretakers of His creation, it is part of our duty to Him.
A: Now I look into your Qur’an. What doest ALM mean?
B: No-one knows, they are just letters.
A: Why are they there?
B: It is said that they are meant as a sign that man doesn’t know everything and He does.
A: What do you say they mean?
B: I say that it is not allowed to speculate on things we don’t know.
C comes in now: We should leave it to the scholars, they have better knowledge, also of things with double and obscure meanings.
A: Who says that you and I are ignorant, or uneducated?
C: You didn’t study fiqh.
A: Can you prove or assess my credentials?
B: Every believer has the duty to find knowledge, even if it were in China.
A: So is it allowed to search and share knowledge?
B: Yes, but you must back up your statements with evidence.
A: Did any scholar know the exact meaning of ALM?
B: I don’t thinks so.
C: 'Thinking' isn't yet 'knowing'. Always keep that in mind.
A: Is it allowed to form your own opinion on three letters?
B: As long as you make clear that it is your opinion, why not.
A: Must you ask consent to think and speak at all?
B: I'd say, it isn't necessary, because people are allowed to mutually consult.

Second level:

A: 'And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest, and to display of their adornment only that which is apparent' What is 'apparent' here, in Kabul, may be different in Cairo or Washington. So, women have freedom of choice, as to what they wear?
B: No, because Rasulullah said, that a woman may only display her face and hands.
A: That still leaves her freedom of choice, whether she wears trousers, dresses, skirts, yes or no coat, a cap, or a hat and shawl, in whatever color or fabric she wants.
B: Euhm... no, because Rasulullah has said, that the fabric may not be transparent or brightly colored.
A: Still -- she can choose whatever style she wants.
B: I see your point, she has perhaps more freedom than that some people say.
A: But, there is no compulsion in religion. So, she is free whatever she wants anyway.
B: On the one hand -- yes; on the other hand, no. If she wants to be a Muslim in the real sense of the word, she is eager to fulfil the Prophet's word.
A: But, the Prophet said, if the faithful are, at least, able to eagerly say Shahada, then the rest is less important. What's in your heart, counts most. Rules are extra. I read that in ahadith.
B: Yes, but if you're too easy with yourself, you may loose your religion, discipline, good effort. Qur'an al Kerim says, that the faithful must compete in good deeds.
A: Then, why is using your freedom no good deed? Maybe, in the eyes of Allah SWT, using your freedom is a sign of taking good initiative, and is any alternative no second hand bargain. What do you know?
B: You think I didn't know that? Why do you think, more freedom of dress is restored now, in Kabul?
A: So, why talk bad about women who take their freedom?
B: Indeed that's haram, but giving them feedback in person, is good thing. You must help others.

Third level:

A: You can't prove, Qur'an al Kerim is the book of Allah and we can't prove, there is a God.
B: Yes, you can. The whole system of the universe is too complex, ingenuous and consistent to be just haphazard arrivals. There is obviously something or someone who mastered it out, but we just can't see it from here.
A: That's no proof.
B: Why not. Qur'an says, we don't know what Allah looks like, or how Allah functions. So, why not just drop the chase. His works are visible enough.
A: That's weak, and you it.
B: On the contrary, and #you know that. Sometimes, a building, mountain or object is too big for you to see. You just see little bits of it. And, that's only a building, mountain or object. You know you are in Kabul, but can you see all of it? Allah is way bigger for your eye to behold. You can't just take distance, travel, and then hope to see Him. The problem is lack of humility and acceptance, for many people. They see themselves too big.
A: Why isn't Qur'an al Kerim just another fairytale book, invented by someone?
B: Because many verses are true in the laws of nature, which people didn't know at the time.
A: The Greeks, the Persians, the Chinese, Indians: They knew. The Prophet used their works.
B: It's your turn to prove that, now.
A: Can you actually prove, the Prophet received revelations, that indeed he was illiterate?
B: There have been many, many witnesses. Their testimonies are well-documented.
A: Are these writing objective enough? They were written down in their own community.
B: But, the best writings were written down by foreigners. Outsiders. Yes, Muslim outsiders. And, history everywhere is mostly written down by people from their own community. American history was written by American historians and no one contests their reliability. Only now, in the internet era, we also see testimonies of their probable opponents. Why would Rasulullah's reporters be more untrustworthy or unobjective than historians elsewhere? Can you give any #good proof?



Thursday, November 15, 2018

Socratic Dialogue: Is It Possible In Islam?

Socrate has abandoned philosophy of nature, as practised by many of his fellow Greek thinkers. In his view, it is best to not dwell on those phenomenons we can't explain anyway, such as explaining what stars are; what is night and day, how it's come into existence. His people didn't possess the tools and equipment, yet, to travel far, or look at small particles and cells. Socrate found it good enough to perfect human life, morality, politics, present living conditions, economics, and how to improve and embellish these, now. This is only possible as a result of reason and dialogue. It is necessary to think and exchange views about the important aspect of human life, in order to reach personal perfection, and a good system for society. In later days, western culture has differentiated between natural science, which is about explaining objective and proven facts, and philosophy in the sense as Socrate has meant it: A rational exercise about other aspects of life, where objectivity may not come first. Aspects as human living conditions, beauty, morality, politics, economics, peace, religion. Natural Science and technology are seen as necessary to support other aspects of life, because they are objective and beyond questioning, and because they provide tools for living. But, even they, aren't ways to one ultimate truth.

Islam, has tried to combine natural science, philosophy of nature, and ethical intellectualism, with some rules and boundaries, to make a fair play possible. Investigating a text without immediate aim of giving absolutely true answers, but rather aiming to approach an issue from several angles and then encouraging use of logic and exchanging different views, can be a good approach towards better understanding Qur’an al Kerim. The ultimate aim is to come to truth, within natural limitations set forth by Allah SWT. 'People who think' will notice, that not everything is possible, even after the most excellent technology has been explored. Ultimate possibility, has been ordained by the creator of everything: Allah SWT. And, even Allah SWT is bound to absolute truths. 'Thinking' and 'mutual consultation' are encouraged. It is, however, not encouraged to make severe conflict about the 'ambiguous' verses in Qur'an. Ambiguous verses are those with, to us, incomprehensible or multiple meanings. Fighting about ambiguity, is seen as a sign of disbelief or injustice. It is not allowed in Islam, to invent or phantasize things, that clearly aren't there, or can't be perceived. It is allowed to phantasize about them, as long as we're clear about them being our own opinion, and as long as we are kind to those who disagree with us. There's a point, where Islam and Socrate diverge: Islam does believe in an ultimate truth. However, this truth may not be perceivable to humans. As not all truth is perceivable to humans, humans are allowed many freedoms of thinking and believing, as long as they do not lie, or oppress dissident thinkers. If opponents don't harm others, then let them. Discuss with others, is okay, but it may cause spiritual or religious harm to yourself. That is your problem, and not of a government censor. Censorship, isn't necessary anyway, because there's freedom of thought and no compulsion in religion. Because we can't observe Allah SWT, we can't legally enforce people to believe in Him. Many aspects of life are ambiguous, or lead to more than one way. Those very same people may be wrong about one aspect of truth, yet, they may be very truthful about another aspect of truth. Truth is a big thing, as big as the universe, with many facets. That's why, in Islam we must live by this rule: Live and let live, in honesty, humility, and tolerance -- until life has been made impossible by oppressors, or by natural impossibility.

Perhaps, Socratic dialogue is not the first way to understand most ahadith, as these transmit very specific sayings, actions and decisions of the Prophet saws. And, many scholars have classified and interpreted them and channeled them into jurisprudence. That doesn’t mean, it isn't allowed. There's some etiquette involved, however. You want a discussion with knowledgeable Muslims? Then, respect their privacy, safety, and personal lives. Discussions about philosophy and the meaning of life tend to take place in informal surroundings, among friends and relatives. And, Qur'an al Kerim was revealed exactly in answer to prevailing questions that people may have. Having said that, it is allowed to ask those who may have knowledge, any question. There are no inferior questions, nor inferior information seekers. The first 12 verses of Surah 80 mention a blind man who asked the Prophet questions, but the Prophet initially dismissed him. The verses, however, exhorted to answer questions. Furthermore, we live in a time where technology has changed living conditions and has literally shrunk distance between people globally. Another aspect is, that Islam was absent in many government systems, during the colonial era. So, it is possible, to look at ahadith from a fresh philosophical and legal perspective, without immediately ending up with untruth.

All the same. As Muslims, we receive the questions. Not just about what Islam is, but also the more fundamental questions, of why you should believe; if you 'have to' believe and if yes, then why. And more specific questions about certain verses, especially those that may offer more possible answers. We'd like to counter them with relevance and wit, if possible. And, we'd like to pose our own questions. To non-Muslims and other Muslims alike. So, why not exercise in Socratic dialogue? Socrate offered here a methodology, not a full philosophical or religious theory. A discussion method is neutral and doesn't clash with other religion.




Some applicable Qur'anic verses:
2:255-258; 3:7-8; 3:200; 5:100-102; 10:18-20; 16:4-11; 24:58,59,61; 55:33; 60:5-9; 64:2-3; 67:3; 80:1-12; 112:1-4.

'Allah! There is no God save Him, the Alive, the Eternal. Neither slumber nor sleep overtaketh Him. Unto Him belongeth whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth. Who is he that intercedeth with Him save by His leave? He knoweth that which is in front of them and that which is behind them, while they encompass nothing of His knowledge save what He will. His throne includeth the heavens and the earth, and He is never weary of preserving them. He is the Sublime, the Tremendous. (255) There is no compulsion in religion. The right direction is henceforth distinct from error. And he who rejecteth false deities and believeth in Allah hath grasped a firm handhold which will never break. Allah is Hearer, Knower. (256) Allah is the Protecting Guardian of those who believe. He bringeth them out of darkness into light. As for those who disbelieve, their patrons are false deities. They bring them out of light into darkness. Such are rightful owners of the Fire. They will abide therein. (257) Bethink thee not of him who had an argument with Abraham about his Lord, because Allah had given him the kingdom; how, when Abraham said: My Lord is He Who giveth life and causeth death, he answered: I give life and cause death. Abraham said: Lo! Allah causeth the sun to rise in the East, so do thou cause it to come up from the West. Thus was the disbeliever abashed. And Allah guideth not wrongdoing folk. (258)' (2:255-258)
'He it is Who hath revealed unto thee (Muhammad) the Scripture wherein are clear revelations - they are the substance of the Book - and others (which are) allegorical. But those in whose hearts is doubt pursue, forsooth, that which is allegorical seeking (to cause) dissension by seeking to explain it. None knoweth its explanation save Allah. And those who are of sound instruction say: We believe therein; the whole is from our Lord; but only men of understanding really heed. (7) Our Lord! Cause not our hearts to stray after Thou hast guided us...' (3:7-8)

'O ye who believe! Endure, outdo all others in endurance, be ready, and observe your duty to Allah, in order that ye may succeed. (200)' (3:200)

'Say: The evil and the good are not alike even though the plenty of the evil attract thee. So be mindful of your duty to Allah, O men of understanding, that ye may succeed. (100) O ye who believe! Ask not of things which, if they were made known unto you, would trouble you; but if ye ask of them when the Qur'an is being revealed, they will be made known unto you. Allah pardoneth this, for Allah is Forgiving, Clement. (101) A folk before you asked (for such disclosures) and then disbelieved therein. (102)' (5:100-102)
'They worship besides Allah that which neither hurteth them nor profiteth them, and they say: These are our intercessors with Allah. Say: Would ye inform Allah of (something) that He knoweth not in the heavens or in the earth? Praised be He and high exalted above all that ye associate (with Him)! (18) Mankind were but one community; then they differed; and had it not been for a word that had already gone forth from thy Lord it had been judged between them in respect of that wherein they differ. (19) And they will say: If only a portent were sent down upon him from his Lord! Then say, (O Muhammad): The Unseen belongeth to Allah. So wait! Lo! I am waiting with you. (20)' (10:18-20)

'He hath created man from a drop of fluid, yet behold! he is an open opponent. (4) And the cattle hath He created, whence ye have warm clothing and uses, and whereof ye eat; (5) And wherein is beauty for you, when ye bring them home, and when ye take them out to pasture. (6) And they bear your loads for you unto a land ye could not reach save with great trouble to yourselves. Lo! your Lord is Full of Pity, Merciful. (7) And horses and mules and asses (hath He created) that ye may ride them, and for ornament. And He createth that which ye know not. (8) And Allah's is the direction of the way, and some (roads) go not straight. And had He willed He would have led you all aright. (9) He it is Who sendeth down water from the sky, whence ye have drink, and whence are trees on which ye send your beasts to pasture. (10) Therewith He causeth crops to grow for you, and the olive and the date-palm and grapes and all kinds of fruit. Lo! herein is indeed a portent for people who reflect. (11)' (16:4-11)

'O ye who believe! Let your slaves, and those of you who have not come to puberty, ask leave of you at three times (before they come into your presence): Before the prayer of dawn, and when ye lay aside your raiment for the heat of noon, and after the prayer of night. Three times of privacy for you. It is no sin for them or for you at other times, when some of you go round attendant upon others (if they come into your presence without leave). Thus Allah maketh clear the revelations for you. Allah is Knower, Wise. (58) And when the children among you come to puberty then let them ask leave even as those before them used to ask it. Thus Allah maketh clear His revelations for you. Allah is Knower, Wise. (59) ... No blame is there upon the blind nor any blame upon the lame nor any blame upon the sick nor on yourselves if ye eat from your houses, or the houses of your fathers, or the houses of your mothers, or the houses of your brothers, or the houses of your sisters, or the houses of your fathers' brothers, or the houses of your fathers' sisters, or the houses of your mothers' brothers, or the houses of your mothers' sisters, or (from that) whereof ye hold the keys, or (from the house) of a friend. No sin shall it be for you whether ye eat together or apart. But when ye enter houses, salute one another with a greeting from Allah, blessed and sweet. Thus Allah maketh clear His revelations for you, that haply ye may understand. (61)' (24:58,59,61)
'O Ye who believe! Enter not the dwellings of the Prophet for a meal without waiting for the proper time, unless permission be granted you. But if ye are invited, enter, and, when your meal is ended, then disperse. Linger not for conversation. Lo! that would cause annoyance to the Prophet, and he would be shy of (asking) you (to go); but Allah is not shy of the truth. And when ye ask of them (the wives of the Prophet) anything, ask it of them from behind a curtain. That is purer for your hearts and for their hearts. And it is not for you to cause annoyance to the messenger of Allah, nor that ye should ever marry his wives after him. Lo! that in Allah's sight would be an enormity. (53)' (33:53)
'O ye assembly of Jinns and men! If it be ye can pass beyond the zones of the heavens and the earth, pass ye! Not without authority shall ye be able to pass!' (55:33)
'Our Lord! Make us not a prey for those who disbelieve, and forgive us, our Lord! Lo! Thou, only Thou, are the Mighty, the Wise. (5) Verily ye have in them a goodly pattern for everyone who looketh to Allah and the Last Day. And whosoever may turn away, lo! still Allah, He is the Absolute, the Owner of Praise. (6) It may be that Allah will ordain love between you and those of them with whom ye are at enmity. Allah is Mighty, and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. (7) Allah forbiddeth you not those who warred not against you on account of religion and drove you not out from your homes, that ye should show them kindness and deal justly with them. Lo! Allah loveth the just dealers. (8) Allah forbiddeth you only those who warred against you on account of religion and have driven you out from your homes and helped to drive you out, that ye make friends of them. Whosoever maketh friends of them - (All) such are wrong-doers. (9)' (60:5-9)

'He it is Who created you, but one of you is a disbeliever and one of you is a believer, and Allah is Seer of what ye do. (2) He created the heavens and the earth with truth, and He shaped you and made good your shapes, and unto Him is the journeying. (3)' (64:2-3)

'He Who created the seven heavens one above another, no want of proportion wilt thou see in the Creation of the Most Gracious. So turn thy vision again: seest thou any flaw?' (67:3)

'He frowned and turned away (1) Because the blind man came unto him. (2) What could inform thee but that he might grow (in grace) (3) Or take heed and so the reminder might avail him? (4) As for him who thinketh himself independent, (5) Unto him thou payest regard. (6) Yet it is not thy concern if he grow not (in grace). (7) But as for him who cometh unto thee with earnest purpose (8) And hath fear, (9) From him thou art distracted. (10) Nay, but verily it is an Admonishment, (11) So let whosoever will pay heed to it, (12)' (80:1-12)

'Say: He is Allah, the One! (1) Allah, the eternally Besought of all! (2) He begetteth not nor was begotten. (3) And there is none comparable unto Him. (4)' (112:1-4)


Sources & further reading:

Monday, November 12, 2018

Socrate & Ethical Intellectualism

socrates-stelt-prangende-vraag
Socrates is the first well-documented Greek philosopher, no thanks to his own writing activity. He is known to have lived from 470 to 399 BC. His student Plato has carefully documented his words and methods. Socrates’ method was a radical breach with the past. Until then, philosophy’s interest was into explaining the cosmos through reason. Philosophers wanted to know our origine and made rational theories on the origin of matter, the celestial bodies and life. Sophism was the first school of thought to bring Greek philosophy to earth and teach people to form themselves a theory, about any topic at all, and propagate it to others with the use of convincing reason. Sophism lifted philosophy to a methodology at professional scholastic level and skipped the in their eyes unanswerable question concerning creation. Socrates was the first to make man center of philosophic interest. The main question for man to solve, is how to live a proper and responsible life. Important knowledge, therefore, is knowledge of man and society. Man has to ask himself firstly: How can you know anything, when you don’t know yourself?’ ‘Know yourself’, 'Gnote Sauton', was his first rule, for other knowledge comes from self-knowledge and who knows you, after all. 'The unexamined life is not worth living'. Wisdom is acquired self-knowledge. An important aspect of that, is knowing your own boundaries: Awareness of your own ignorance and the fields where knowledge is missing. Self-knowledge is the starting and reference point for any other gathering of knowledge. You must ask yourself questions and test the answers’ validity, firstly. Further knowledge comes from communicating with others, as a way to exchange your knowledge with other people’s knowledge. Your and other people’s knowledge must be mirrored and tested on its truthfulness and durability. Socrates' second rule, the Socratic Paradox, was that ‘the only thing I know is that I know nothing’ and from many detailed facts it is possible to work towards knowledge, a search method we call induction. Exchanging and thus gaining knowledge is made possible by asking the right questions through encouragement to carry on or to stop and sideway pushing with the right remarks. Socrates called this communication technique the midwive’s technique, maieutike techne; his mother and wife Xantippe both were midwives. Knowledge, according to Socrates, had to be authentic and his questions were only meant to test the solidity of acquired knowledge. Finding truth is possible by asking the right questions and in the process digging deeper into the subject by a new question following the answer. His technique of questioning people to test their knowledge has become known as the dialectic or Socratic dialogue. Socrates not only teached his students; he could be found in open air, having his dialogue with an audience, too. Socrates’ favorite topics were justice, self restraint, piety, bravery and wisdom. It is possible to find a general truth and ethical standards for human behavior, the ‘essentials’, by research on other people’s knowledge and behavior, and then, gathering the answers.
Through insight and knowledge, it is possible to find virtue, and virtue being a matter of intellect, can be achieved by everyone. This thinking is called ‘ethical intellectualism’. Virtue is not necessarily obedience to a good public rule. Virtue mainly is knowledge. When a person knows and understands what true virtue is, he may act within general principles, instead of self-interest. Socrates tried to make his students aware of their actions being self-interested, even though everybody agrees that the general interest has priority over self-interest. Goodness and virtue aren’t built on nice words by a clever spokesman, but on being shared by everyone. It is at the field of morality, that people have the least self-knowledge. The word-artists (the sophists!) have an easy job here in convincing others of their moral standard. Goodness and virtue come from a life of learning and teaching. Good people never stop learning and studying. Another part goodness is made of, is beauty. Masculine beauty and its benefits, lead to intellectual wisdom; feminine beauty similarly leads to a good body and thus to procreation, according to Socrates.
The ultimate goal of all action, according to Socrates, is finding happiness. If a student has gained enough knowledge of a desired goal, he or she is bound to act virtuously. Incorrect action is a consequence of insufficient knowledge of virtue. Virtue is, for both the state and the individual, the only way to happiness. Socrates did not believe in deliberate evil. Evil action comes from ignorance and everyone at least has the will to find out what is truly good for him or her. Truth is the same as goodness. The state must strive towards justice, not to power and wealth, and knowledge is the only guidance for just actions. Power without knowledge can only lead to unhappiness. ‘Ideals belong in a world only the wise man can understand’. Socrates finds it therefore necessary to elect leaders for their knowledge, not for their wealth of descent, and the ordinary civilian lacks the knowledge to elect competent leaders. Socrates disapproved of any state system, all of them giving no answer to who might possess the most intellectual baggage for leadership. Philosophers should govern the state.
Athens those days experimented with democracy. However, a true democracy, it was not. Women, slaves and foreigners (they might be Greeks from outside Athens) were excluded from the right to vote in the general assembly (the Ekklesia), an institution which existed since it was founded by statesman Clisthenes (ca 570 – 507 BC). Men and women leaded secluded lives and erotic relations between boys and young men were more or less approved of. Finding beauty and wisdom among men, had educational intellectual worth, provided a man was not ‘enslaved’ by his physical ‘passions’. After marriage, men had to find physical beauty in women. Procreation was seen as an important part of that. Homosexual relations among adult men met more disapproval. However, pederastic relations between adult men (eromenos) and boys (erastes) were commonplace and were considered a patronage relation. Nowadays, in modern standards, we would recognize aspects of prostitution in them. Socrates and his students lived in this world and are known to have made approving comments on homosexuality. Sexuality, even masturbation, were displayed more openly in Ancient Greece, than after the arrival of Christianity. Slavery was another part of a natural and ethical world order. A slave could be as noble as a free man, but human relations are naturally determined by dominance; some people are braver and stronger and, therefore, are able to provide patronage to others. In Classical Greece, slavery gained a formal absolute status. Socrates and Aristoteles both made acquiescenting comments on the phenomenon. Freedom of religion only went so far. The state religion allowed for non-dogmatic and equal worship of several deities, mostly ancient traditional deities, among whom important leaders and thinkers, to be allowed into the ‘pantheon’, the temple for all religions. But, it was not allowed to either reject a deity or introduce a new one without official consent, or reject the pantheon itself. Many a philosopher was put to trial and banned or executed. This fate also fell on Socrates. He was accused of rejecting the city’s gods, introducing new deities and rejecting Athens' democratic institutions. Socrates was not a man to run from civil law he had paid allegiance to. As a consistent thinker, he saw it as his moral duty to undergo the verdict, which he could have avoided through many legal channels. So, finally, he was executed.
Socrates’ sayings were recorded by his students, mostly Plato, but also by Xenophon, Aristotle and Aristophanes. It is uncertain, how reliable their accounts are; it is said, that some writings reflect the ideas, admiration or criticism of the authors, rather than Socrates’ exact words.
Also today, universities and institutions in the western world like to work within Socrates' principle. They use his name in their programs. The Socratic dialogue is anything but obsolete. Institutions say, it can bring awareness, that learning should last a lifetime and never finishes -- an attitude greatly appreciated also nowadays. A new aspect, however, is democratisation of knowledge. A quote of a teacher site at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Universiteit van Amsterdam, and Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences has said: ‘Socratic method is not the art of teaching philosophy, but of teaching how to do philosophy; it's not the art of teaching about philosophers, but to make pupils into philosophers’ (Leonard Nelson) This teacher, Kristof van Rossem, offers training courses in Socratic Dialogues on many institutions over Europe, as many others do. Van Rossem thinks, the Socratic dialogue is a good tool at school, even primary schools, as it stimulates citizenry in young people: A good citizen actively participates in a society based on knowledge and professionalism. A teacher as leader of a Socratic dialogue is rather a stimulating, democratic facilitator than an expert who brings dogmatic knowledge. Van Rossem mentions several differences between a discussion and a dialogue, the first being ‘aimed at shaking out, it is rhetoric, aimed at decisions and actions, judging, attacking and defending, going for your own right, convincing, taking a standpoint, defensive or offensive in attitude, answering; it's speed and individualism oriented’. A dialogue would be ‘aimed at knowing via, be dialectic, aimed at insight in the value of judgements; suspending judgements, investigating and checking, wanting to know the truth, investigation, listening to yourself and others, attitude of taking the other’s point of view, questioning, slowness and community oriented’.
A next question could be: is any part of Islamic revelation suited for a Socratic dialogue? 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Seven Sages, Orphism, Dionysianism, Epicurus, Scepticism, Cynicism

driehoeken-met-logische-paradox

Twenty-two philosophers have been mentioned as probable members of this legendary group of seven founders of Greek philosophy: Cleobulus (whose daughter Cleobulina was a well-known philosopher with a political cloud), Chilon, Periander, Miso, Aristodemus, Epimenides, Leophantus, Pythagoras, Anacharsis, Epicharmus, Acusilaus, Orpheus, Pisistratus, Pherecydes, Hermioneus, Lasus, Pamphilus and Anaxagoras. However, classical sources are unanimous about four thinkers: Thales from Milete, Bias from Priene, Solon from Athens and Pittakos from Mytilene. The latter three are known for their statesmanship, legislation and poetry. The Seven Sages had high status in their society. Wise maxims were, according to Plato criterium for admittance; they were selected from all over Greece. They probably assembled in Delphi. Some of the best known maxims were featured in Delphi to honor Apollo. Well-known, also today, are 'Know Thyself' (Thales) and 'Nothing Overmuch'. It's not sure, whether Plato's words are true. The dates make such gathering just about possible. The Seven Sages, all living in the 6th century BC, probably were:

Cleobulos of Lindos (the tyranical governor at the Isle of Rhodes); Solon of Athens (legislator and founder of democratic reform); Chilon of Sparta (military governor of Sparta); Bias of Priene (politician and legislator); Thales of Milete (the first famous philosopher, mathematician, astronomer); Pittacus of Mytilene (governor of Mytilene); Periander of Corinth (governor of Corinth.)

Prince Orpheus, probably son of a Thracian king, early 6th century BC, gained a mythical status for his singing and poetic skills; he was said to be a son of the Greek god Apollo. Even lions laid down at his feet to listen to his voice, according to tradition. Orpheus’ philosophical teachings, Orphism, had little influence on mainstream beliefs, but he appears to have had a great influence on later philosophers as Pythagoras, Heraclitus and Plato; even on Christianity. Orphism emphasized human nature in man, and his immortality and continuance after death. Postmortem punishment may be expected. Therefore, a proper life and sobriety are necessary: An ascetic, sternly disciplined way of life. Orphism believed in re-incarnation and, according tradition, Orpheus had released the mysteries of Egypt to the Greeks. In the 6th century BC, Orphism separated from an even older mystic cult: Dionysianism. Religion in ancient Greece was polytheistic, and Dionysianism mainly revolved around the illusive god of wine, madness, theater, and vegetation: Dionysos. Both mystic movements are anti-dogmatic, esoteric, strongly personalized and, last but not least, festive. Some groups knew violent rites, some others sexual and transcendental rituals. Dionysianism believed, contrary to Orphism, in one Cosmos, without dualism or ranking. Female figures were important in Dionysianism. Orphism had a rational, speculative nature and was more popular among philosophers; Pythagoras modified it into a form of Logical Mysticism. The Orphic theories of Cosmic Law, Harmony and Sympathy can be traced in Pythagorism. Pythagorism never became a proper or mainstream Orphic sect.

Greek mysticism has ancient roots, perhaps in the Bronze Age, and is influenced by ancient Buddhist thinkers in India, Thracian and Minoan traditions. Judaism and Nazareanism also left their strong traces on Orphism, also in the later Roman Mystery tradition. Various deities from different creeds appear in Orphism: the Egyptian gods Sakla (of the Dead), Ptah, Seraph, and even the Jewish deity Iao (Yah) and Kabbalistic concepts like Jehovah Tzabaoth. It was a complicated and heterogeneous mixture of concepts and characters. Empedocles, an Orphic philosopher may have held concepts resembling those of Tantric Bodhisattva with its reincarnation concept of ‘conscious incarnation of the illuminated’. He also thought, that matter consisted of four elements, or 'roots': Fire, water, earth, and air, which can't change, nor come into or dissapear from existence. Empedocles said he had passed through successive incarnations from fish to man into a living god. To prove his immortality, Empedocles jumped into Mount Etna, never to be seen again. The final stage of Orphism was Platonic, from the 4th Cent BC, with two main currents; one being libertarian, spiritual and moderately hedonistic; the other unworldly mystical, logical, paternalistically authoritarian, and ascetic. Orphism remained intelligent, ethical, and progressive, until its final phase, when corruption and elitism entered. This corrupt elitism led to the successful rise of the modern Judeo-Christian current. The Roman Empire made an end to the mainstream Millennium of Mystery cults, though Orphism was one of the last of the ‘Pagan’ Mysteries to survive in the West until the late 5th Cent AD, as were Mithracism, Iseanism, Serapeanism and some others. It had its influence on especially the isolated Celtic cultures on the British islands. Some say, that Pauline Christianity was a rewriting of later Orphism, and that Gnosticism was even more so. In Asia Minor, sects existed around the 3rd, 2nd Cent AD, that combine Orphic and Christian imagery.

Logic was an important focus of ancient Greek philosophy. An example is Epimenides’ Paradox, Epimenides of Knossos being Cretan, 6th Cent BC: ‘All Cretans are liars… One of their own poets has said so’. This is not a true paradox, since the poet may know, that at least one Cretan is honest and so be lying, when he says that all Cretans are liars. There may, therefore, be no contradiction in a possibly false statement by a lying person. Epimenides was a poet and was considered a prophet. He was, perhaps, of Central Asian shamanic descent. In ancient Greece, this kind of philosophic reasoning brought respected status in the public debate. It shows, that a thinker understands, how certain relations may be stronger interconnected, in several ways, than that meets the eye. And, that deductive thinking leads to the proper solution to a puzzle or problem with unusual or unexpected starting positions. The liar paradox disappeared from the public eye, until the twelfth century AD, when its variations were studied under the name of insolubilia.

Anacharsis, early 6th Cent BC, Scythian philosopher to be become the first ‘foreigner’ to receive Athens citizenship, is seen by some as the very first Sceptic and Cynic. Not many writings of his hand have been preserved; mainly colorful and humorist anecdotes have been recorded by Plutarch. An impression of Anarcharsis' philosophy appears, however. He must have had a combination of Atomist and Sceptical views: He believed in many worlds, yet, as humans, we see them as nothing but particles, grains, objects, like paintbrush on even the most skillfull paintings. Therefore, no matter at all, can ever have a moral value, or be a source of truth. Standards of right and wrong are merely conventional. Perception and observation are all we have, but both are imperfect and are no more or less than projections of objects; never objects themselves. Truth is, therefore, not only non-existent and indistinguishable -- it's irrelevant -- because truth is highly personalized. Atomist and Scepticist views had great influence on later Western philosophists, such as Descartes.

Scepticism as a school of thought, was founded by Pyrrho -- not to be confused with Greek general and statesman Pyrrhus. Pyrrho founded a new school in which he taught fallibilism, namely that every object of human knowledge involves uncertainty. Thus, he argued, it is impossible ever to arrive at the knowledge of truth. Pyrrho founded his school as a reply to the Dogmatists, who claimed to possess knowledge. Pyrrho was a highly respected scholast in Greece. But, he left no writings. His disciple Timon of Plius, left quotations, among which this one: 'The proper course of the sage, is to ask himself three questions. Firstly we must ask what things are and how they are constituted. Secondly, we ask how we are related to these things. Thirdly, we ask what ought to be our attitude towards them. As to what things are, we can only answer that we know nothing. We only know how things appear to us, but of their inner substance we are ignorant. The same thing appears differently to different people, and therefore it is impossible to know which opinion is right. The diversity of opinion among the wise, as well as among the vulgar, proves this. To every assertion the contradictory assertion can be opposed with equally good grounds, and whatever my opinion, the contrary opinion is believed by somebody else who is quite as clever and competent to judge as I am. Opinion we may have, but certainty and knowledge are impossible. Hence our attitude to things (the third question), ought to be complete suspense of judgment. ... ', attitude we should practice for both practical and theoretical matters. Hence: Nothing is in itself true or false. It only appears so. In the same way, nothing is in itself good or evil. It is only opinion, custom, law, which makes it so. When the sage realizes this, he will cease to prefer one course of action to another, and the result will be apathy (ataraxia). All action is the result of preference, and preference is the belief that one thing is better than another. If I go to the north, it is because, for one reason or another, I believe that it is better than going to the south. Suppress this belief, learn that the one is not in reality better than the other, but only appears so, and one would go in no direction at all. Complete suppression of opinion would mean complete suppression of action. Therefore, Pyrrho aimed for suppression of opinion. Scepticism, is about abstinence of opinions. Having opinions, would lead to preference and loss of objectivity. All of this, would lead to apathy, but, apathy is the best way for a sage. Having no preference, means having no greed and no preference and struggle for matters, that in themselves hold no value to us, to begin with. Another leading personality in Greek skepticism, was Diogenes of Sinope ( appr 400 BC). He must have led an extreme, colorful life; even have lived in slavery, as a home teacher. He was a strong opponent of Sophism and conventionalism. He was a disciple of Socrates. Diogenes' main belief was: If a behavior is appropriate in private, it's also appropriate in public, even if convention says otherwise. In this line of thought, Diogenes rejected the convention of eating in the market place. He ate at the marktet place, because coming there, made him feel hungry, and there's nothing wrong with eating to begin with.

Philosophical skepticism is searching wheather one may find truth from one’s own convictions. Scientific skepticism is searching wheather other people’s sayings have a scientific value that is falsifiable and reliable, based on hypotheses and critical thinking. Philosophical skepticism says, the human mind is naturally uncapable of certain knowledge. Scientific skepticism is part of empirism: it says, observation leads to forming and testing a theoretical model. No theory can have a truth claim without systematic observation.

Cynicism appeared only after Socrates and was, probably, founded by one of his students and closest friends, Antisthenes, teacher to Diogenes of Sinope. It taught, that virtue; a life in accord with nature; freedom; reason; ascetism and denial of luxury and property were the only way towards true wisdom. In cynics' eyes, theoretical philosophy wasn't only unnecessary for happiness and virtue; it was useless. Cynicism denies convention and law as a necessary way to virtue. In cynic's eye, it isn't wrong either to have a bad reputation in the public's eye, because convention is only molded by the political and temple establishment, with all their corruption and hunger for power. Nature itself; self-reliance (autarkeia); ascetism; and the proper spouse and companions, lead to virtue and, hence, to wisdom. Genuine love, is part of that. As did Socrates, Antisthenes thought, that virtue is equal for men and women. Virtue can be taught, too. All in, cynicism is a moral philosophy rather than a knowledge, science or theory oriented philosophy. It persisted until late in the Roman period. Within political philosophy, cynicism may be seen as origin of Anarchism.

Influenced by and resembling Socrates, Aristotle, Epicurianism, and Cynicism, around 300 BC, Stoicism appeared, founded, in Athens, probably, by Zeno of Citium (Cyprus). Stoicism was influential on Roman emperors; Marcus Aurelius was one of them who attempted to live by it. It even influenced Christianity, as well as a number of major philosophical figures throughout the ages (for example, Thomas More, Descartes, Spinoza), and in the early 21st century saw a revival as a practical philosophy associated with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and similar approaches. Rome became main center for the Stoic school of thought under emperor Augustus, around 88 BC. Stoicism has had, both in Greece and in Rome, several rivalrous schools. Other big Greek names among Stoicism, are Epicurus, Epictetus, ... Stoicism is a type of eudaimonic virtue ethics, asserting that the practice of virtue is both necessary and sufficient to achieve happiness (in the eudaimonic sense). However, the Stoics also recognized the existence of “indifferents” (to eudaimonia) that could nevertheless be preferred (for example, health, wealth, education) or dispreferred (for example, sickness, poverty, ignorance), because they had (respectively, positive or negative) planning value with respect to the ability to practice virtue. Stoicism was very much a philosophy meant to be applied to everyday living, focused on ethics (understood as the study of how to live one’s life), which was in turn informed by what the Stoics called “physics” (nowadays, a combination of natural science and metaphysics) and what they called “logic” (a combination of modern logic, epistemology, philosophy of language, and cognitive science). There was strong debate among philosophers and school on how many virtues were needed to achieve happiness. Socrates thought, that we need only four key virtues: wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance. Aristotle listed at least twelve virtues, but added to effort also a bit of luck, such as good health, education and even good looks.

There was strong rivalty, also, between Epicurus and Stoics guided by Epictetus. Epicurians said, that pleasure and pain on the human body have important impact on tranquillity of mind (ataraxia). Epicurus is one of the major philosophers in the Hellenistic period, the three centuries following the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C.E. (and of Aristotle in 322 B.C.E.). Epicurus developed an unsparingly materialistic metaphysics, empiricist epistemology, and hedonistic ethics. Epicurus taught that the basic constituents of the world are atoms, uncuttable bits of matter, flying through empty space, and he tried to explain all natural phenomena in atomic terms. Epicurus rejected the existence of Platonic forms and an immaterial soul, and he said that the gods have no influence on our lives. Epicurus also thought skepticism was untenable, and that we could gain knowledge of the world relying upon the senses. He taught that the point of all one's actions was to attain pleasure (conceived of as tranquility) for oneself, and that this could be done by limiting one's desires and by banishing the fear of the gods and of death. Epicurus' gospel of freedom from fear proved to be quite popular, and communities of Epicureans flourished for centuries after his death. Epictetus attacked this view in strong polemics and said, that pleasure and pain cannot in themselves lead to a virtuous life, and thus to happiness; also moral choices are needed.

Generally, philosophers were free to debate among each other and as competing academies, but they could, and did, run into serious trouble with established powers of temple and political leadership. Blasphemy charges did lead to persecution or exile of philosophers. Until approximately 88 BC, Athens was Europe's main center of philosophy; from then, it moved to Rome and elsewhere in the Mediterranean area, after political developments.

Sources and further reading:
Cosmic Sympathy 
Thales and the Seven Sages
Anaxagoras
Anacharsis
Pyrrho
Antisthenes
Cynicism
Stoicism
Epicurus
Diogenes of Sinope

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Reputed Names of Greek Scientists and Philosophers Known in the Prophet’s Era

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The realms of knowledge and science necessary to understand Islam, are not only traditional and historic knowledge. In my view, philosophy, law, linguistics and natural science are perhaps more important. History and tradition are the background to the rise of Islam; philosophy, law, linguistics and natural science, deal with the content of the message itself. First three aspects are more important than the latter, natural science, to everyday worhip. But, in the modern era, scientific findings on natural phenomena have been successfully used to prove the truthfulness of Islam. The message of Islam covers many fields. For a better understanding, it's helpful, to have at least some knowledge of philosophy, law, linguistics, and science.

The very first Greek philosophers

Greece was an early starter in scientific development. Thales, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle are leading names. Natural science was approached through the perspective of philosophy and its deductive methods. However, Aristotle (384 – 322 BC) introduced induction in the sense of observation of visible reality. Experimentation played no role yet; also Aristotle’s approach remained within the boundaries of philosophy. Thales (624 – 546 BC) was perhaps the first and founding Greek philosopher. He was interested in water and could predict sun eclipses by calculation. In his view, water was the most elementary principle of the universe and everything originates from water. Thales was famous for his arithmetic skills. According to Greek tradition, he had visited Egypt and re-taught the Egyptians to calculate the height of their pyramids by the size of their shadows. Other big names are Anaximandros (585 – 525 BC) who thought of the indefinite (apeiron), the one elementary substance out of which everything has come forth, without beginning, end or time and producing hot and cold, dry, humid and any other polarity or contradistinction; and Demokritos (app. 460 – 380/370 BC). Demokritos who was the first to think of a theory on atomic particles in which a fabric’s structure was determined by differences in ranking, shape and size of these atoms. His theory is named Atomism: The theory that says, that all materials are made of innumerable indivisable particles: a-tomos (‘indivisable’). Indian Buddhists have largely contributed to Atomism. They thought, that atoms flash into and out of existence; teachings that seem to be confirmed in western science (Heisenberg’s probability principle). An important axiom in atomism is metaphysical nihilism: If only atoms exist, discriminate objects don’t really exist, or they are not vital. Everything is one coherent set of particles. Therefore, objects themselves don't interact with us; we only observe their effects on us. We perceive honey as sweet, but sweetness itself, doesn't exis, and our senses aren't reliable enough to genuinely and objectively observe sweetness. Democritus said: 'By convention sweet, by convention bitter, by convention hot, by convention cold, by convention color: in reality atoms and the void.'

Atomism, has a natural and a philosophical dimension. In those days, like in the Prophet’s era, the philosophical aspect was the focus of interest. Topics that may be of interest to science were part of religious considerations. But, experiments in the realm of natural science were not yet practised. Cosmology was perhaps the most important focus of interest during the Antiquity. Trying to explain the mechanism of the cosmos was to be done through reason mainly. However, observation also played a big role to some thinkers. Observation of celestial bodies had led to outstanding knowledge on astronomy in several parts of the known world, and this knowledge had become a solid fundament to many religious practices.

These first Greek philosophers defined many of our present notions on being and motion. The Elea-School, Eleatism, developed the idea of reality as 'being in space': nothing cannot be; any substance or idea exists in feasible, tangible space. Its main representant was Parmenides (540 or 515 BC – ca 450 BC?); his main axiom was ‘For never shall this prevail, that things that are not, are’, meaning that the opposite between being and non-being is non-existent. There is no nothingness and everything exists in the spatial sphere, even ideas originate from tangible substance. Even thinking is part of being and Parmenides said ‘thinking and being are one and the same’. Another school of thought was the theory that ‘everything streams and nothing lasts’, ‘panta rhei kai ouden menei’. The Eleatists believed in a permanent static being, Heraclitus believed more or less the opposite; he believed in perpetual change and movement. ‘The world is the same for everyone, it was not created by men or gods, it is and will be an everlasting fire, flaming up or damping down. Heraclitus saw fire as the basic element, Parmenides water, Anaximenes air and Xenophanes earth and water.

A third important school of philosophy was Sophism. The sophists were the first professional philosophers; they made philosophy a paid teaching job, trying to teach others the art of argumentation and discussion. Every person has his own opinions, no one can decide which opinion is true, there are no absolute fundamentals in the universe that can be found or discovered, and the effort to do so, is basically waste of time. Knowledge comes to us through observation, and worldly success and satifaction are the best achievement human beings may reach -- not truth.

A famous fourth school of thought, inspiration to philosophers as Parmenides, Empedocles, Philolaus and Plato, was Pythagorism. Pythagoras was a mystic thinker and a mathematician, but left no writings. Pythagoras and his companions were a small and close knit community with their own way of life, which even fell victim to persecution. Their theory was, says Aristoteles, ‘that numbers constitute the true nature of things and numbers have borders, the same way as objects have. Emptiness is the border between things or numbers. Emptiness exists and pervades heaven from an indefinite breath – it breathes, as it were, into the emptiness. Emptiness differentiates the nature of things; it differentiates and distinguishes successive names and terminology in a series. This, firstly, happens for numbers, as emptiness distinguishes their nature’. Emptiness, ‘apeiron‘, is indefinite and perpetual and inspires reality: The definite and finite, ‘peiron‘, the cosmos, its nature and distinguishes it from other definites and finites, other objects, forms, ‘things’. This inspiration of apeiron into peiron, makes the world a mathematical place. Purely in a mathematical way, the continuum of numbers and the domain of reality, the cosmos, are a play of form and emptiness and its rules are, that it must happen in a harmonious fashion. This harmony-principle distinguishes Pythagorism from the older theory by Anaximandros and the Elea School. Pythagoras has also, in the same line of thinking, commented on sound and tone height. Pythagoras is famous for his calculation method of triangle line lengths, the Pythagoras axiom, which some say was derived from ancient Egyptian calculations used for the construction of their pyramids, but no proof of such do we have. Others say, he may have derive his theorem on right-angled triangles, a2+b2=c2, from the Indian mathematician Baudhayana (800 BC). One of Pythagoras’ students, Alcmaeon, a philosopher and medical thinker, said that ‘we don’t think with our blood, the air or fire -- it is our brain that enables us to think, smell and see. From there, we form our thinking and opinion, and then our knowledge. As long as the brain isn’t damaged, man has his senses and herewith, I confirm that it is our brain that makes the mind speak’.

Even the evolution theory had its predecessor in ancient Greece: Empedocles (ca 492 BC – ca 432 BC). Empedocles was, among others, a doctor, poet, teacher in philosophy, and statesman, born in Sicily. He held the strong belief, that everything has emerged from the four elements earth, air, water and fire, through the two opposing elemental powers he called love and hatred, in a random perpetual flow of mixture and seperation, like mixing colors of paint. Love is the building power and hatred the destructive power. Only the strongest combinations could survive. Empedocles also believed, like Parmenides, that the cosmos is eternal; has always been present, and that no material goes missing. Empedocles called God ‘a circle the middle of which is everywhere and its periphery nowhere’. Aristotle later adopted most of Empedocles’ theory.

Sources and further reading:
Anacharsis, Demokritos, Scepticism, Atomism