Theology Reconsidered: An Introduction

What follows is the Introductory chapter from a newly published, two Volume work entitled Theology Reconsidered.  The book can be purchased from Lambert publishing via their website; Volume I here and Volume II here.

 


When looking at the first mythological and philosophical works from antiquity, it is very easy to get lost in the “facts” surrounding these ancient works and lose sight of their true meaning and import to the people and cultures within which these works emerged from and out of.  Much of the modern academic and scholarly literature concerning these ancient “theo-philosophical” works falls into this category.  To a large extent, the purpose of this work is to try and “recover” said meanings of these ancient works as much as possible, and to look at them within a much broader theological, mythological and philosophical narrative that we find throughout Eurasia in the first millennium BCE, the so-called “Axial Age” of modern man.

In order to do this, we take a primarily intellectual journey through the mind of ancient man, as he sees the world and as is reflected in the earliest literary evidence of man, trying to understand these works not only within the broader “Eurasian” context, but also trying to look at them through the eyes of the ancient philosophers, theologians, priests and scholars who wrote these ancient texts, or in many cases were the ones to “compile” or “transcribe” these longstanding theo-philosophical traditions, but also to try and understand them within the theological, intellectual and socio-cultural context within which these works arose.  This broader meaning we call knowledge, which from a modern philosophical perspective is referred to as epistemology.

This knowledge is what Philo Judaeus takes great pain to describe in his exegesis of the Pentateuch, Genesis in particular, what the Neo-Platonists take pains to describe in their literature which arises in defense of their doctrines as Christianity takes root and begins to supplant and snuff out their schools of learning and wisdom, it is what is alluded to in the so-called hidden, or unwritten, teachings of Plato and that which is hidden, kept secret, by the followers of Pythagoras  and also in the Eleusinian mysteries and the alchemical Hermetic doctrines attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, and also what the Upanishads refer to as Brahmavidyā, or knowledge of Brahman, that from deep antiquity is believed to be passed down from teacher to disciple – as Plato refers to in his Seventh Letter as that which is “brought to birth in the Soul, as light that is kindled by a leaping spark, and thereafter nourishes itself.”.[1]

After the author completed his first major work, the Snow Cone Diaries, we considered the writing “experiment” complete, the Work was done.  Following that exercise, and for reasons we cannot completely explain, we found it necessary to flesh out some of the ideas therein, reflecting a continued interest, and ultimately curiosity, concerning the advent, development, and evolution of what we term theo-philosophical developments of mankind which abound in the historical record, following the intellectual journey as it were up until modern times, what we refer to herein as the Information Age, where Information is at our finger tips, where activity is “informed” by its surroundings (Quantum Theory), and yet while we all for the most part (and in particular in Western academia) ignore the wisdom of the ancients.

The Snow Cone Diaries was somewhat manufactured in the sense that it was intentionally modelled after one of the most influential books that the author has read written by a modern self-proclaimed “metaphysician”, or philosophologer (i.e. one who studies philosophy) named Robert Pirsig entitled Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, initially published in 1974 but which the author encountered and read during the summer between his freshman and sophomore years in college, years of great tumult and change for most, the author being no exception.

After college, as is documented in Snow Cone Diaries, the author spent several years pursuing a career in professional tennis which in the end amounted to more so than anything else a time period of intense reading and personal analysis and introspection that led the author, in a manner that can perhaps best be described as “chance”, or if you believe in such things, Fate as it were, to Eastern philosophy and mysticism.  The author had been prepared for this adventure somewhat as he had majored in Ancient History as an undergraduate at Brown University and had written his thesis on the “Origins and Influence of Hermetism”.  In a sense then, the author’s initial, and now very persistent and long lasting, foray into Eastern mysticism was a natural extension of the intellectual pursuits of his undergraduate years.

The impetus and source of the author’s interest in Eastern philosophy, Kuṇḍalinī Yoga specifically in fact, stemmed primarily, at least at the beginning, from an interest in the mental and psychological demands of the game of tennis at the professional level, where many matches were determined by an individual’s performance at key points within a given match.  After spending a 6-9 months on the professional tour, mostly travelling in Europe, It became very clear that an individual’s success (which was of course almost entirely measured in Wins and Losses) while depending of course on physical attributes such as power, strength and fitness, at the same time very much depended upon what is referred to in sports as the mental aspect of the game.

This somewhat revealing and interesting component of the game, which arguably is an aspect of all professional sports but is more accentuated as it were in tennis given that it is mono y mono so to speak, became even more pronounced when two opponents were somewhat evenly matched as it were, and victory hinged upon just a few points – which as it turned out happened more often than you might think.  The author became somewhat intrigued by this phenomena, if we may call it that, and he became fascinated with what in professional sports is referred to as The Zone.

As such, it became very clear that in order to get into The Zone, there was a very well documented and well-studied connection between what peak performance and what we might call “clarity of mind.  In turn, this clarity was connected to, and in many respects seemed to be dependent upon, what are even in the sports psychological literature referred to as the development and cultivation of various rituals and practices, both on and off the court, before, during and after matches, in order to facilitate and/or “bring about” these states of mind where peak performance could be “attained”, or in Eastern philosophical parlance, realized.[2]

With this background then, the author while he was playing and studying, began writing – primarily about the so called “mystical experience” which was such an integral part of the Eastern philosophical tradition and its fundamental relationship to The Zone as it was understood in Sports Psychology.  The effort was centered around (and to a large extent this is also true for the Snow Cone Diaries as well as the current work) an attempt to establish a rational grounding, or intellectual footing as it were, within which these states of mind could be better understood and as such better integrated, or at least somewhat integrated, into what the author now calls the objective realist intellectual framework that underpins not just Western academia, but also is clearly the very rational ground of the Western mind, or psyche.

For despite all the author’s education and training, mental and physical gymnastics galore as it were, no one had ever even broached the topic or discussed with him this idea of peak performance and its relationship to the cultivation of clarity of mind, and the related states of consciousness that were associated to these “states” as it were, despite the fact that it appeared to be an almost empirically proven correlation between the two – at least in Sports Psychology circles.  It also became clear over time that this goal of peak performance as it were was not just dependent at some level upon these so-called states of mind, but in fact that that there seemed to be a very direct, causal relationship between the two.  Furthermore, these very same states of mind that were described in the Psychological literature around peak performance were not only clearly an exteremly significant, and somewhat undervalued and under practiced, component of competing as a professional athlete at the very highest levels, but that they were also an integral part of the mystical experience as well as it was described in almost all of the Eastern philosophical literature.  And of course, after some reflection, these states of mind seemed to be an integral component to success in life, however one might choose to define such a thing.

Following the model of Robert Pirsig then, and because the author felt strongly that the ideas that he was exploring, presenting and analyzing were best understood only within the psychological and mental context within which the author himself initially encountered and confronted such ideas, the author felt compelled to take his initial more “academic” works and wrap them around a loosely fictional character which he named Charlie, as well create additional (also loosely fictional) characters to which Charlie was “responding” and “reacting” to in order to try and establish the empirical reality and power of the nature of mind, and along with it the fundamental truth and power of the ancient art of meditation and mysticism to which it is integrally tied.  For perhaps the hallmark of the Eastern philosophical tradition is the emphasis and description of the art of meditation and its relationship to the attainment of these states of mind, what the author calls the Science of the Mind as it were, an altogether Eastern discipline.

Using Charlie as his mouthpiece then, we essentially argue in the Snow Cone Diaries, as Pirsig had done before him, that not only are our current (Western) intellectual models lacking in some very basic and fundamental ways – given the lack of emphasis and focus on the mind and experience itself as basis of reality as we understand it – but that these limitations had, again as Pirsig had argued before him as well, significant implications on how society in the West functioned and how individuals within that society behaved toward each other as well as the nature of the relationship between individuals and (Western) society as whole to the world around them in general.[3]

Given the level of effort and personal sacrifices that were made to publish Snow Cone Diaries, and given that the author is by no means a full time writer and first and foremost has a demanding professional career and responsibilities as a parent that were and are first priority, we never thought that he would embark upon a subsequent work.  We thought we were done.  However, our interest in ancient philosophy and the art of meditation did not dwindle, and the author’s meditation practice continued to flourish and grow and (as it is wont to do as any persistent and schooled meditation practitioner will tell you) the practice itself continued to have a profound impact on us in the following ways as it pertains to this work specifically:

  1. Our own personal conceptions of the nature of reality and the disconnect between it and commonly held and systematically taught “belief systems” which we are taught from early childhood and are presented as “empirically true” in the West,
  2. a continued and increased dissatisfaction of the current prevailing “Western” worldviews and belief systems,
  3. a deeper appreciation for the eternal truths that the very first philosophers from classical antiquity, as reflected in the term the Axial Age, were trying to convey and seemed to be missed or passed over in much of the scholarly work surrounding these ancient texts and authors,
  4. that in fact there were many more parallels and commonalities between these various belief systems that were compiled in classical antiquity throughout “Eurasia”, much more so than was reflected in most if not all of the scholarly and academic work surrounding these traditions, and
  5. the disciplines surrounding the study of the philosophers of deep antiquity were “siloed”, in the sense that the Sinologists (Chinese) weren’t collaborating with the Vedic or ancient Sanskrit scholars and the “Classicists” who studied the ancient Greek philosophers didn’t seem to be collaborating with either of these two disciplines either

Given these facts, and after studying the various traditions from antiquity, again as reflected in the so-called Axial Age, even from a layperson’s perspective it seemed that there were underlying similarities and patterns that were being missed primarily because these disciplines in and of themselves independently requires such a rigorous and deep level of knowledge about the specific domain.  Those that could understand and read ancient Chinese script were not necessarily the same people that knew and could read Vedic Sanskrit, and these people of course were not necessarily the same people that knew ancient Greek or Latin, and in turn these people were not necessarily the same people that could read cuneiform of the ancient Sumer-Babylonians or the hieroglyphs of the ancient Egyptians for that matter.

However, given that we now live in the Information Age, and that the translations of many of these texts, as well as the underlying meaning and etymologies of the various terms and words of the ancient languages themselves as reflected in the ancient writing systems that developed in the 3rd and 2nd millennium BCE throughout Eurasia, are now readily available, the time seemed to be ripe for a generalist of sorts to pull together the knowledge from all these somewhat disparate domains and bring them together in some sort of cohesive whole, in a more comprehensive and somewhat more scholarly fashion than had been done in Snow Cone Diaries, which was more of a personal journey tan it was an intellectual or academic one.

So given that the disciplines and domains of study and research described herein continued to impress themselves upon the author, and given our continued interest in ancient philosophy, and writing even after the publishing of Snow Cone Diaries, we ended up publishing two interim works thereafter that summed up and further explored some of the more esoteric and less well known aspects of Hellenic philosophy and their subsequent influence on the development and foundations of early Christianity, as well as an exposition of the philosophy of the Far East, the latter being and area of research that was relatively new to the author and that was not considered in the Snow Cone Diaries.[4]

The Far Eastern ancient philosophical tradition, what is referred to as ancient Chinese philosophy, which is covered in detail in the current work, is intriguing for many reasons but for the sake of brevity in this Introduction, suffice it to say that the Yijing, what is more commonly known as the I Ching, is arguably the most fascinating and intriguing theo-philosophical work from antiquity, hands down.  And the more the author studied it and was exposed to its origins and influence throughout Chinese history, the more impressed he was with its place as one of the greatest and most intellectual achievements in the history of mankind, one that reached far back into Chinese antiquity (3rd millennium BCE at least) and one that undoubtedly rivaled the Vedas and Avesta as representative of some of the oldest theo-philosophical treatises of ancient man.[5]

Furthermore, as the author began to understand more and more of the nature, content, structure and origins of the Yijing, the most prolific and influential of all of the ancient Chinese “philosophical” works, if we may call it that, it became apparent that its basic architecture, particularly from a numerological and metaphysical perspective, shared many common characteristics of ancient Pythagorean philosophy, in particular as reflected in the symbol that perhaps more so than anything else has come to represent said philosophy, namely the Tetractys.  Following this intellectual thread as it were, the author published what was supposed to be a small academic piece on the similarities from a numerological and arithmological perspective between “Pythagorean” philosophy, or what we know of it, and classical Chinese philosophy as reflected in the I Ching, what is referred to in this work as its more modern Romanized form, i.e. the Yijing.[6]

 

This work in its current form is to a large degree an outgrowth and evolution of the intellectual journey that is documented and mapped in the Snow Cone Diaries, and in particular an outgrowth of research done after Snow Cone Diaries was written exploring the nature and origins of early Hellenic philosophy and its relationship to early Chinese philosophy as well as ancient Vedic or Indo-Aryan philosophy as reflected primarily in the Upanishads, the latter of which was rigorously and systematically studied at the Rāmakrishna-Vivekananda Center of New York under the guidance of Swami Adiswarananda to whom this work is dedicated to.

So while this work can at some level be considered to be extensive revision and expansion of the academic and intellectual pursuits that are reflected in the Snow Cone Diaries, it is distinctive from the author’s first major work in many respects and represents a much deeper dive into the material covered therein, as well as covers topics and areas of inquiry that are not covered.  Having said that, this work is much more “academic” in the sense that it represents – at least from the author’s perspective – a much higher level of scholarship than is reflected in the Snow Cone Diaries, and of course the personal narrative, Charlie himself, has been put to rest (God rest his Soul).[7]

Given the extent of the material covered in this work, the author in no way intends to represent it as an exhaustive study of any of the specific topics that is covered herein.  In fact, each chapter or section of the work could be covered, and is covered, in much greater length in a variety of works that are cited as references and for further study and research.  The author has however taken great pains to try and refer to, and directly cite, the most influential and comprehensive works that cover the various topics in question and of course the interested reader can follow these lines of inquiry and these references to learn more about any given topic.

The specific source material that is used is not only cited directly throughout as footnotes, but is also covered from a much broader perspective in the Sources and Bibliography section at the end of the work.  Perhaps more so than other works from before the 21st century, an era the author refers to as the “Information Age”, this work stands directly on the shoulders of many academics and scholars that have toiled and taken great pains to open up the world of antiquity to the modern Western reader and scholar through countless translations and historical books and records, many of which are now electronically available and upon which easy access the author has greatly relied.

There are no doubt particular sections or chapters which the author has glossed over in a manner that may be considered to be “superficial”, particularly by academics and scholars who have spent the better part of their professional careers studying and writing about the specific topics in question.[8]  However, each of the lines of thought represented in each Chapter of each Part of this work represent a coherent and cohesive whole and in their entirety, and of course for the sake of brevity (as ironic a term that may be given the length and scope of this work), is intended to show as complete a picture as possible in one text.

The approach from a reference and bibliography standpoint is to have significant footnotes and references directly within the material itself rather than, as is the case with most academic works, at the end of a chapter or even at the end of the work.  The footnotes, the explanations and small intellectual excursions which are reflected in the extensive footnotes that are included directly in the text not only serve to give credit to the reference material and the work and analysis put in by other academics and scholars on whose research and work mine ultimately depends and builds upon, but also as sidebar notes that may be of interest to the reader that provide direct links and references to works that the reader can refer to if they are interested in a certain topic that is not covered in detail in this work.[9]

The footnote style that is used is essentially adopted from the writings of Swami Nikhilananda (1895 – 1973), one of the foremost Sanskrit and Vedic scholars in the West in the 20th century.[10]  Nikhilananda’s works have in no small measure influenced the author, as he studied at the Rāmakrishna-Vivekananda Center which he founded in the middle of the twentieth century which was led by the author’s teacher, Swami Adiswarananda from 1973 until his passing in 2007.[11]

In this context, Vedānta, and more broadly what we refer to as “Indo-European philosophy”  in this work, is a central and constant theme throughout this work, in particular with respect to the modern conception of ancient Indian philosophy as it is presented in the teachings and works of Swami Vivekananda (1863 – 1902), one of the foremost proponents and most influential of the modern “Indian philosophers”.[12]  From the author’s perspective, Vedānta, as reflective of one of, if not the, oldest and richest of the Indo-European theo-philosophical traditions, can (and should) be leveraged as an intellectual and theo-philosophical benchmark of sorts for the recasting of the definitions of knowledge and reality in the West, one of the main thrusts of this work.

 

The work is divided into 4 major sections, Books or Parts, following more or less the intellectual development of mankind since the dawn of “history”, history in this sense being marked by the invention and widespread use of writing after which we have a “direct” or “first hand” exposure to the mind of man, or at least into the minds of the authors of the works that are covered herein.

  1. On Creation and On Metaphysics, Parts I and II: how the ancients looked at the world and defined reality and knowledge (),
  2. On Theology and Physics, Part III: how we came to our current, modern conceptions of reality and knowledge in the West (Part III), and
  3. On Ontology Part IV: a deeper and more comprehensive look at the nature of reality, Being in the sense that it was looked at by Aristotle and Plato as understood through a modern Western intellectual lens, and in particular in light of the knowledge of the East.

The chapters and sections in each of the respective Parts, or Books, are designed and written as much as possible to be modular as much as possible.  By “modular” we mean to say that they are written with the intention, again as much as possible, of being stand-alone essays or dissertations of their respective topics such that the reader can read a particular chapter without necessarily reading preceding chapters.  That is to say, the design of the work itself is such that it need not be approached or “read” in a sequential fashion from start to finish.  And of course as such, some material and content is repeated in the various sections and Parts of this work so that said “modular” design is achieved.  Given the breadth of the topics covered herein, this type of modular design is not only intentional but is almost required in order for the work to have value.  For if it is not read, it of course cannot have the intended impact or influence on modes of thinking which to a large extent the intended purpose of the work.

One of the main underlying themes of the work, especially in Parts I and II, is an exploration and analysis of the potentially shared origins of not just the mythology of the first “civilized” peoples in Eurasia, which the “Laurasian” Mythos hypothesis of Witzel, but also an expanded version of said hypothesis which analyzes and discusses the potential shared the origins of “philosophy” – what is referred to again as theo-philosophy throughout following the terminology of Snow Cone Diaries which brings attention to the fact that the earliest systems of “philosophy” from antiquity are not just analytical or rational systems of thought, but are also fundamentally theological in nature.

Parts I and II of this work are primarily focused on this area in history, the 3rd to 1st millennium BCE when we have introduced into the historical record evidence and documents that outline the Mythos of these early Eurasian peoples, specifically the creation narratives (what we refer to as cosmological or theogonical narratives), which is followed by a detailed analysis of the subsequent theo-philosophical tradition which emerges from, and is fundamentally and intrinsically related to, the underlying comsogonical narrative, i.e. again the respective Mythos.

Part III focuses on intellectual developments that take place in the West post classical antiquity from the intellectual developments that characterize Hellenic philosophy, through the advent of more orthodox religious or theological developments, straight through the Enlightenment Era and Scientific Revolution periods of Western intellectual history where effectively the worldview is overturned and Science, as we define it in more modern terms, begins to eclipse the dogmatic religious and theological worldviews that had dominated the intellectual landscape in the West for some thousand years prior, the so-called “Dark Ages” .

Part III then goes on to look at scientific developments in the 20th century, Relativity Theory and Quantum Mechanics in particular, which call into question our modern (and pervasive) notions of deterministic, objective based frameworks of reality, what we refer to collectively as objective realism, which represent from the author’s perspective a somewhat unintended byproduct of the Scientific Revolution and which, given their limitations with respect to understanding reality from a comprehensive or holistic perspective (i.e. ontology, or the study of the nature of being or reality), require – in the same intellectual spirit and intent pursued by Kant, Pirsig and other more modern Western philosophers – a wholesale revision in order for not only the two theoretical pillars of modern Science (Classical Mechanics and Quantum Mechanics) to be understood in any meaningful way, but also such that the knowledge and wisdom of the East is integrated into our conception and understanding of reality as well.

Part IV covers in detail much of the material that was first introduced in Snow Cone Diaries with respect to the fundamental incompatibilities of Quantum and Classical Mechanics, going into (theoretical) detail not just with Relativity but also Quantum Theory, as well as some of the philosophical, and ultimately metaphysical, implications of Quantum Theory, covering two interpretative models in particular that the author thinks are relevant to the ontological questions that are the topic of Part IV – namely the Relative-State formulation of Quantum Mechanics by Hugh Everett as well as the pilot-wave theory that is attributed to Louis de Broglie and David Bohm.  The Metaphysics of Quality as presented by Robert Pirsig is also offered up as an alternate model for ontological inquiry given its adoption and incorporation of the direct perception of “intuitive” reality directly into its metaphysics as it were.

Part IV then offers up various alternative interpretations of reality that attempt to present and synthesize what we understand about the nature of reality both from a scientific perspective, as well as from what we might term a mystical or spiritual perspective, models which directly incorporate experiential reality into account when defining reality or the extent of knowledge itself, i.e. what is referred to as epistemology in modern philosophical nomenclature.  The models and analysis in Part IV directly take into account the role of active consciousness, cognition and perception, what in Quantum Theory has come to be known as the act of observation which from a Scientific perspective, at least again from the author’s standpoint, must be taken into account in any formulation of reality and in any definition of knowledge.

The alternative approaches to defining reality and knowledge that are presented and described in Part IV basically synthesize typically “Eastern” and “Western” worldviews, and from the author’s standpoint, are far better suited than existing philosophical or religious intellectual frameworks to prepare us not just as individuals to survive and thrive in the modern, Information Age, but also are much better suited to serve the society as a whole, from a national as well as global perspective, given the level of interdependence and interconnectedness of not just the human race, but also the natural world within which we live and depend upon for our survival moving forward into the future.

The last several chapters of Part IV, much more so than the author originally intended in fact, are dedicated to a fairly lengthy discussion of a relatively modern debate surrounding different ways or approaches to interpret, how best to understand, the life and teachings of the 19th century Bengali (Indian/Hindu) sage Rāmakrishna Paramhamsa, a tradition of course to which this author is closely linked from a theo-philosophical perspective.  Rāmakrishna in this sense, and how he is perceived and approached in these final chapters of this work, is the full manifestation of, and in turn the perfect example of, the limitations of Western “thinking” and the implicit epistemological restrictions and assumptions that while true, are fundamentally limited in their capacity to deal with anything that falls outside of the realm of Science proper and as such is dealt with as a case study of sorts for the need to integrate the Science of the Mind as it were into any ontological framework that we are to choose that would include the knowledge of the East along with the knowledge of the West.

This so-called mystical, or supraconscious experience, which is the intended result of the practice of the ancient art of meditation as it has been passed down to us through various classically Eastern theo-philosophical traditions – in the Upanishads in particular but also implicit in the writings and teachings of Plato and Greek Eleusinian mystery and Orphic traditions and of course in the teachings of Buddha as well – are presented as a necessary and integral component of any “redefinition” of reality and knowledge which, following any sort of rational interpretation of Quantum Theory must take into account the role of the observer and the act of cognition i.e. perception, into account in any coherent and complete model of reality.

Along these lines, various intellectual frameworks and models which include direct experiential reality are explored and discussed at length in Part IV, as well as in the Epilogue, with specific chapters dedicated to the re-interpretation of Upanishadic philosophy as presented by Vivekananda in the early 20th century as well as an objective analysis of the experiences and interpretation of the life of Paramhamsa Rāmakrishna in particular who according to tradition of course was the primary influence and inspiration for Vivekananda’s teachings and life in general.

Rāmakrishna as a mystic then, and mysticism  in general – specifically defined by the practices and experiences associated with the direct perception of the ground of reality and existence itself which is the hallmark of Eastern philosophy – is not only one of the main, recurrent (and under emphasized) themes of ancient theo-philosophy in all its forms throughout Eurasian antiquity as reflected in the material in Parts I and II of this work, but also from an ontological standpoint represents one of the other main thrusts of this work which is covered in Part IV as well as summed up in the Epilogue which follows Part IV.

This “Western” view of Rāmakrishna, which is primarily represented in the book Kālī’s Child (a work which is critiqued at length in Part IV and the first section of the Epilogue as well) is from the author’s perspective a perfect illustration of the fundamental limitations of Scientific inquiry as we understand it in the modern Ear in the West.  An intellectual domain that rests squarely on the implicit, and very often left out, assumptions of not just empiricism and rationalism, philosophical modes of thought which characterized the Enlightenment Era for the most part, but also causal determinism and again objective realism, which provide the very basis for epistemology (i.e. our scope and understanding of knowledge itself) in the West, be they recognized as such or not.

Therefore when it comes to understanding, or again interpreting from a Western intellectual perspective, fundamentally Eastern theo-philosophical constructs such as Satcitānanda, Brahman, Purusha, Dao, or Nirvana, all words and terms that fall outside of Science proper in the West given their lack of empirical, objective reality and yet at the same time reflect concepts and ontological principles that are fundamentally required to come to any sort of understanding of any great sage, saint or prophet in the history of man – Paramhamsa Rāmakrishna included.  The choices we are left with given the modern Western intellectual landscape are the need to either study these domains specifically where these words and their associated meanings originate from, or alternatively expand our intellectual domain in the West to include some sort of corollary to these ideas, what they inherently mean and signify – the latter of which is the approach that Pirsig takes by formulating a new metaphysics which he calls the Metaphysics of Quality but what he unfortunately falls short of doing, a topic covered at length in the Epilogue as well.

This analysis of course lends itself to one of the core and final arguments of this work, namely that the intellectual and metaphysical model that is applied to reality in the West, i.e. our ontological framework, while being extraordinarily powerful from a natural philosophical perspective, i.e. Science, is in fact an inadequate conceptual framework for the comprehension of the full scope of reality and therefore  is in need of wholesale revision and/or significant expansion and extension metaphysically and theo-philosophically speaking in order to support a more broad definition of reality through which a more complete and fuller understanding of existence itself can be at least approached.  Hence the title of Part IV of the work, On Ontology.

 


[1] See Plato, Letters.  Letter 7, aka Seventh Letter 341c – 341d.  From Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 7 translated by R.G. Bury. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1966.  See http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0164%3Aletter%3D7%3Asection%3D341c.  While the actual authenticity of the letter by Plato is debated by scholars it does for the most part reflect the writing style and philosophy as presented by Plato from the author’s perspective and so while perhaps not written by Plato’s hand, still nonetheless seems to accurately represent something akin to what Plato would write, specifically with respect to the specific part of the work cited herein.

[2] The Psychology of peak performance was spear headed in the Nick Bollettieri Academy in the 70s and 80s by the now well renowned and prolific Dr. Jim Loehr, now founder and Chairman of the Human Performance Institute.  See https://www.jjhpi.com/why-hpi/our-people/dr-jim-loehr.

[3] An overview of Pirsig’s work and his invention of a new mode of thinking to address some of the inherent limitations of the modern, Western worldview which he refers to as the Metaphysics of Quality are covered in some detail in the final section of this work.

[4] These works are Philosophy in Antiquity: The Greeks and Philosophy in Antiquity: The Far East respectively.  Both published by Lambert Academic Publishing in 2015.

[5] Tradition has it that Confucius is believed to have said that if he had fifty years to spare, he would spend it to contemplating and studying the Yijing.

[6] The original paper by the author regarding the similarities between Pythagorean philosophy and the Yijing is entitled “Numerology and Arithmology in Pythagorean Philosophy and the Yijing”, published in 2016 and can be found at https://www.academia.edu/27439070/Numerology_and_Arithmology_in_Pythagorean_Philosophy_and_the_Yijing.

[7] Two interim works were published by the author covering Hellenic philosophy and Chinese philosophy specifically that were leveraged as source material for some of the content herein, specifically some of the content in Parts I and II of this work.  See Philosophy in Antiquity: The Greeks (2015) and Philosophy in Antiquity: The Far East (2016), both published by Lambert Academic Publishing in 2016.

[8] In particular the author cites the sections on Enlightenment Era philosophy as well as Arabic/Muslim philosophy as examples of Chapters which could be expanded upon greatly and to a large extent do not do justice to the actors and individuals, and the belief systems which they put forward in their writings, described therein.

[9] The footnotes also incidentally serve as reminders and reference points to the author himself so as sections of material are revisited and/or reworked and/or revised, the pertinent sources are readily available.

[10] Swami Nikhilananda is a direct disciple of Sarada Devi (1853 – 1920), the consort and wife of the 19th century Bengali sage Paramhamsa Rāmakrishna (1836 – 1886).  He is also the founder of and subsequent leader of the Rāmakrishna-Vivekananda Center of New York from 1933 to 1973 and is one of the foremost interpreters (and translators) of Vedic philosophy into English in the 20th century.  He has authored definitive translations with extensive commentaries on the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gītā, and he is also known for providing the definitive English translation of the Srī Srī Rāmakrishna Kathāmrita, commonly referred to in the West as the Gospel of Srī Rāmakrishna, a monumental work covering detailed teachings and events of the last few years of Rāmakrishna’s life as seen through the eyes of one of his foremost (householder) disciples, Mahendranath Gupta (1854 – 1932), or simply ‘M’.

[11] See https://www.ramakrishna.org/ for information regarding the Rāmakrishna-Vivekananda Center of New York.

[12] Swami Vivekananda was the first to introduce Yoga and Vedānta to the West at the end of the 19th century.  He was the foremost student and spiritual successor of Paramhamsa Rāmakrishna, a figure who is dealt with at length in Part IV of this work.  Vivekananda’s modern conception of Vedānta and Indian philosophy more broadly, is also covered at length in Part IV of this work.

The Game of Kings, Kipling, and Ritual: Strange Bedfellows

What struck Charlie as he dug deeper into the extensive philosophical and metaphysical systems that were created by Plato and even more so by Aristotle was an abandonment of the faith based mythological traditions of their predecessors in lieu of the power of the human mind, in its essential form of reason and logic.  The dawn of civilization in the Mediterranean was marked by trade and cultural exchange no doubt, this theme of cultural borrowing that Professor Lumina was so intrigued by.  But it was marked as well by the domestication of animals, the creation of language and writing which allowed for the creation of more abstract forms of thought and exchange, the creation of monumental structures such as the Pyramids of the Egyptians and the great temples of the Greeks, the invention of agriculture that provided the sustenance to support larger populations and the creation of urban centers which further facilitated exchange and places of learning, the invention of advanced forms of weaponry ship building to facilitate warfare and territorial expansion, and the building of roads and means of transportation that fueled the advance of civilization that so marked the populations of the Western world in the first millennium BCE.

All of these technical advancements must have led to mankind’s belief in the powers of their own mind, their own creative (and destructive) powers, the development of mathematics and building that fueled these societies all must have lent credence to the belief that it was man that was the great creator, and that the mind of man, reason itself, was the potent force behind it, and that in turn the gods that they had believed in for so long and the underlying myths that gave these gods life, as well as the rituals that were the means to supplicate these gods, must be mere fabrications of the mind, creations for a people who did not truly understand the nature of the world around them.  The seeds of Reason had been sown, and as they bore fruit they replaced the gardens of mythology with more sound analytical thinking and philosophical systems that simply made more “sense” than the mythology and ritualistic based belief systems that had supported mankind through their hunter-gatherer roots in the Stone Age and Paleolithic eras that preceded it.

These Greek philosophical systems questioned these age old belief systems, and in turn replaced them with more robust intellectual frameworks that were based upon the powers of the mind, on reason and logic, induction and deduction, on mathematics and astronomy.  And it was the questioning of faith that struck Charlie as the guiding force which drove these developments.  Were these age old stories, these myths told by the great poets of society true?  Should they believe these stories just because their ancestors had believed them for so many generations?  What in fact should the criteria for truth be?  What was knowledge?  What was the essence of existence itself and what were its constituents?

The Greeks were the first to start the ask these questions seriously, and it was the proliferation and beauty of their language which allowed them to construct the abstract systems of thought necessary to support these new systems of belief, alongside the development of their liberal and “democratic” society which permitted these systems of belief to flourish and permitted the questioning of the belief systems of their ancestors, and to question authority itself really which rested on the authority of these old gods and goddesses, and the fear of not supplicating to them in a manner that pleased them.

This question of faith, and the idea and relevance of the rituals that underpinned faith, reminded Charlie an awful lot of some of the main philosophical principles that he had learned as a tennis player, ironically enough things he’d learned to try and stimulate peak performance during match play, the “mental” aspect of the game that had gotten him into yoga in the first place.  The zone.

 

“What do you mean we’re going on tonight?”  Charlie spoke in broken Spanish.  He hadn’t learned Spanish in school so much, but he’d picked up a lot of it while living in Spain.  Traveling around in a caravan with two Spanish guys that don’t speak a word in English for eight weeks is the best way to pick up Spanish, let me assure you.  They learned around a dozen words in English and Charlie learned how to stay alive in Spain.  That skill required a few hundred words at least.  His accent was not bad though, even the locals gave him that.

“You’re the next match on court one.”  Marcelo, the tournament director, spoke to me without looking up from the draw.  Marcelo worked for the International Tennis Federation (ITF), but he was Spanish.  The ITF ran some of the smaller professional events, and certainly within a given region you saw some of the same tournament directors around.  Let’s just say that it was important to be nice to Marcelo.

Marcelo’s English was good however.  He was able to communicate with the other English speaking players that knew no Spanish, nor cared to learn.  He was a young man, probably in his late twenties.  His hair was short, military style.  He and Charlie had grown to know each other over the past few months.  Charlie had played a few Satellites[1] in Spain over the prior few months, and Marcelo ran pretty much the whole Spanish Satellite circuit.  This was business though, and it was getting late.  It was eight-thirty, and the moon was already glowing in the night sky.  Night match in Malaga, Spain in May.  One of 4 foreign players in a qualifying draw of 128.  Sweet, Chalrie had been waiting all day and now he was basically the last match on.

The match on court one was in the third set.  The matches on the other courts were coming to an end.  Charlie couldn’t believe that he was going to put me on at nine o’clock at night.  That was unheard of.  It was even against ITF rules.  But that was okay, because they didn’t play by the rules in Spain anyway.  Charlie had learned at least that much in his time in Spain.  And he certainly knew better than to start quoting the ITF rule book to the tournament director.  He wasn’t that stupid.

Charlie tried the soft approach.  “Don’t you think it’s getting a little late Marcelo?”  He tried not to sound sarcastic.  It was basically night time.  No one else was going on at that hour.  Send on the lone American way after anyone could possibly be interested in watching some tennis.

There were four foreigners in the draw out of a qualifying draw of some 250 players – an Aussie, a Brit, Niels the South African, and Charlie the New Yorker.

Although Niels was South African, he was really a British at heart, the British culture being instilled in him from his youth even though he grew up in Cape Town.  He was not affected by Apartheid per se, but the aura of Apartheid surrounded him culturally and sociologically and to this end he was a product of Apartheid.  Niels wasn’t white but he wasn’t black either.  He was a hybrid of sorts, and apparently South Africa had a classification of society, a social stratification as it were, based on the color/darkness of your skin, part of the system of apartheid really as far as Charlie could gather.  The blacker you were, the more far down the rung you were.  So Niels wasn’t at the bottom of the social rung, but he wasn’t at the top either.  And even though he had grown up somewhat privileged, spending most of his youth on the tennis court or travelling to tennis tournaments with his parents, he still ran up against discrimination every once and a while.  Just enough to show him that there was some basic injustice in the world, and many times there wasn’t a thing you could do about it.  But Niels was the product of a British colony, like the Aussies in that respect, and he had that regal adorable South African accent – an accent which only the well-traveled could place to South Africa, as opposed to Australia or Great Britain.

So the four foreigners had spent some good hours together over the prior two weeks, the tournament in Malaga being the third leg of the four week Satellite event.  And over those two weeks, their matches had started to develop an “us against them” sort of tone.  The Spanish satellites were Spanish.  That much was clear.  The ITF sponsored the tournaments, that’s where the money came from, but Charlie had begun to realize why there were so few foreigners, estranjeros as the Spanish referred to them, in these tournaments.

So Charlie sat by the tournament desk and waited.  There was no use arguing with Marcelo.  He was going to do whatever he wanted and there was nothing Charlie was going to be able to do about it.  Charlie could bark all night, but he was still going to be the next match on court one.  So Charlie just buckled himself in and tried to save his energy for the match.  A few minutes later his name was called.  He couldn’t remember the name of his opponent, but he’d never forget that match.  That was for sure.

They headed out on court and started warming up.  It was the legitimately night time.  It was dark and there was a cool, crisp air that came up from the sea.  The courts weren’t on the sea, but they were close.  Malaga was a tourist destination for those visiting Spain when the weather was good.  Many of the Spanish had summer homes there.  But it was too early in the season for it to be crowded just yet, hence the reason why the facility was available for two hundred young men to come together to fight for a hand full of ATP points.

The match started like any other – racquet toss, a few early holds of serve.  There weren’t too many people watching, just a few guys who were interested in the two competitors.  But Charlie’s friends were there – the Aussie, the Brit and the South African.  He noticed that.  And most of all Charlie noticed Niels, sitting right in the front row of the bleachers, just behind where Charlie’s chair was that he sat on during changeovers.  Those guys didn’t need to be there, it was late and some of them had matches to play the next day, but they were there.  And over the course of the match it was their presence, silent as they may have been at times, that carried Charlie through that match.

So Charlie’s “team” was there, perched in the bleachers with nothing else to do on a Sunday night in what you could definitely call the middle of nowhere.  And of course Charlie’s opponent’s friends.  He had a lot of them, Charlie thought.  It was his home country, so that seemed far enough at the outset.  The bleachers could fit a lot more people though, it was court one after all, the main court in the facility.  They hosted some bigger tournaments there throughout the year, so it was a legitimate venue.  But this was a smaller event.  And it was the qualifying.  So the bleachers were all but empty relative to how many people they could hold.  An odd sprinkling of people set to watch a last round qualifying match with two unseeded players, in Malaga, Spain.  I mean who really cared.  Really.

And then some typical competitive nonsense began to unfold.  The Spanish had a nasty habit of coaching during play.  One of the unique aspects of the game of tennis, at all levels, was that there was no coaching permitted, not during the match at all and not during change overs or even in between sets.  It was one of the aspects of tennis, part of its history, that made the game special and unique in the arena of sports.  It was mono y mono out there.  A mentally draining affair where you had no one to rely on but yourself, all the way through from beginning to end.  That was one of the reasons why the mental aspect of the game was so important, because if you weren’t there mentally, you were done.  There were no teammates to lean on, no break on the sidelines while someone lese picked up the slack.  No coach to give you guidance or pick up your spirits if things started going out of hand.  Just you.  And if you couldn’t handle yourself, if you couldn’t take the pressure, then the unfoldment of your mind, the breaking of your spirit, was out there in the open for everyone to see.

But in Charlie’s experience in Spain, players would constantly be taking direction from their coaches throughout the match.  Their coach would perch themselves behind the court and whisper/bark/gesture instructions to their players throughout the match.  Charlie was used to it.  But it was late.  It was a big match for him, the winner made it to the main draw, and there was the opportunity to win some ATP points if he could get through this match.  It was late, a big match, and Charlie was cranky.

 

There was a relationship between the mind and body that Charlie had become very aware of in his travels on the professional tennis circuit.  Tennis coaches and psychologists talked about the importance of eating right, of training properly, or hydrating yourself well before and during a match.  But the element of the complex relationship between mind and body had been underemphasized, at least in his training as a junior player and at the college level.  It was this ‘state of mind’ thing, a question of mental focus and concentration that was clearly integral to peak performance.  The game was mental as well as physical and when one aspect of this symbiotic relationship began to break down, performance suffered considerably, this much was clear to Charlie, hence his interest in yoga and its mental aspects that spoke specifically to the role of concentration and focus in meditation practice and mind/body balance.

It was clear for example, that when Charlie was relaxed, well rested, and felt physically strong (i.e. not injured) that was when he played his best.  And reproducing this state of mind, especially during the big points of the match, was the core essence of what you tried to achieve with your training.  But the emotional side of the game, the psychological side, the production of the state of mind which supported, and in fact was a requirement for, peak performance Charlie believed thought was not really expounded enough or taught enough by the teachers and coaches of the game.

At some level it came down to your support system.  Your friends, your family, your girlfriend.  All of these subtle elements of your life that gave you balance, or imbalance, emotionally were just as important as the physical aspect of your training.  These were prerequisites as it were to ensuring that your body, your mind, was ready from battle and could be pushed to its limits with limited amount of damage – damage both physically and mentally.  And in fact, focusing on this balance, and how important it was to success in any endeavor, was something Charlie didn’t really master until much later in his life.  When his days of gladiating were well behind him.  But certainly during this match, and in his professional playing days in general, he realized quite clearly how this emotional stability factor and this mental concentration factor were cornerstones to his success as an athlete.

But on this night, Charlie had his friends at least.  His temporal friends.  His “team” as it were.  His friends he had traveled with, slept with, ate with, trained with, and talked with over the last few weeks.  A bond much stronger than you would think could develop over a short time, but a strong bond nonetheless.  They wouldn’t be on those bleachers if it wasn’t.  That was clear.  And their presence there and their support gave him strength.

Over time, Charlie lost touch with the Aussie and the Brit, their names fading into the recesses of his memory.  But he remembered their faces.  And their games of course.  But Niels and Charlie always remained close, as indicated by their correspondence after he had left the game of gladiating behind, and their continued dialogue and echange of the ideas of the mind, and the spirit, and their exploration of the idea of what it was that was “real” and “true” and what systems of belief could be trusted and believed in and which could not.  This frank exchange of ideas and strong bond they had developed together in moments like these, when your physical and mental skills were tested to the limits, and when all you had was a few friends on the sidelines who watched while you battled on court for those ATP points.  And the match that unfolded late that evening in southern Spain, and Niels’s role in keeping Charlie present and focused, and protected and safe at some level, when all around him seemed to be falling into chaos, was perhaps one of the reasons they remained close many years after their traveling days were behind them.

 

At a certain point Charlie had had enough.  Again it was late and he was cranky and the match was close, and it had great significance for both players.  Finally he broke his silence, and his stoic presence changed when he finally blurted out, “Coaching is not permitted here gents.”  Charlie stated bluntly to his opponent, piecing together a few Spanish words that got his point across.  His opponent ignored him of course.

It was a tight first set now, the tension on court rising as the two played deeper into the first set.  His opponent was clearly receiving verbal cues from his coach when he went to the far side of the court, direct instruction that seemed to not only be words of instruction but also specific commands about where to hit the ball and when.  They might as well have been having a cup of tea together.  They didn’t make much of an attempt to hide the fact that they were having an open dialogue.  They were daring Charlie to do something about it and Charlie had had enough.

“You can’t coach!”  This time Charlie said it directly to his opponent’s coach that was sitting just behind the baseline on one side of the court.  He said it in English and he said it loudly enough where not only the kid’s coach could here but that everyone in the stands watching could hear.  The guy knew exactly what had been said to him.  Exactly.  A look of death is what Charlie got in return.  ‘This was going to be fun’, Charlie thought to himself.

So Charlie found himself on court against a local Spaniard, battling to get into the main draw of this event and get some of those ATP points he had been fighting for so long over in Europe the past year, and he has to play against not only his opponent but also his coach, which was a direct violation of not only the spirit of the game, but a very clear and direct breach of the rules.  And Charlie needed this match.  Badly.  He had worked very hard to get himself into this position.  He’d only reached the main draw of an ATP event one other time in his brief professional tennis career, and now he had a great opportunity.  This guy was beatable.  He had beaten two seeds in the qualifying tournament just as Charlie had.  And there they were, two unseeded competitors, one match away from the main draw of the event.  One match away from being in a position to win some of those valuable ATP points.  BIG.  Charlie needed this win.  Everything he had trained for, had prepared for, in his playing days as a junior, in his college career, and now in his journeys on the professional circuit, all led him up to this moment.  Charlie could see that as clearly as he could see the moon above him as it rose and shone brightly on the far side of the court, high up in the heavens.

Many sports fans have a hard time understanding why coaching is not allowed in tennis.  It seems strange.  Coaching is permitted in virtually every other sport – soccer, basketball, football, the list goes on.  But tennis, steeped in tradition, does not permit coaching on the professional ATP tour.  But this rule, this golden rule, speaks to the importance and respect that the tennis world, steeped in its centuries of tradition[2], has for the mental aspect of the game.  The unique aspect of the game that pits two mind/body systems against each other on a court drawn up of lines, played with yellow fuzzy balls and a racquet with strings in it.  For tennis, more so than any other sport, pit the minds of two opponents against each other, and forced the competitors to face their demons in a way like no other sport could.  You were out there alone.  You had to battle your own thoughts as much as the performance of the opponent.

And it was your own thoughts, your own fears and psychoses that could stand in between you and peak performance like nothing else your opponent could throw out at you.  The battle against your opponent combined with the battle of your own personal demons and faith and belief in yourself.  A battle that was the microcosm of the battle of life, the subject of the great epic poem the Bhagavad Gita, where Krishna inspired Arjuna the great warrior on the eve of battle to fight, and to fulfill his duty as a warrior and to his people despite the moral dilemma he faced with the death that surely awaited him, for either his or his brothers and sisters that he was to fight against.  In the words of the great champion Andre Agassi, the Zen Master of tennis:

 

It’s no accident, I think, that #tennis uses the language of life. Advantage, service, fault, break, love, the basic elements of tennis are those of everyday existence, because every match is a life in miniature. Even the structure of tennis, the way the pieces fit inside one another like Russian nesting dolls, mimics the structure of our days. Points become games become sets become tournaments, and it’s all so tightly connected that any point can become the turning point. It reminds me of the way seconds become minutes become hours, and any hour can be our finest. Or darkest. It’s our choice…[3]

 

 

And yet Charlie’s opponent, in arguably the biggest match of his professional tennis career up to that point, had a coach, a direct support system for his mind that gave him an unclear advantage, an unfair and unjust advantage.  He had a psychological safety net that was clearly in violation of the rules, rules that were steeped in tradition for centuries.  And tennis had another rule, one that was even more subtle and nuanced than the no coaching rule.  One that was rarely enforced and a rule that was nonetheless part of the fundamental principles of the game.  The rule was that the receiver must play at the pace of the server.  From the ITF rulebook, the rule states: ‘The server shall not serve until the receiver is ready. However, the receiver shall play to the reasonable pace of the server and shall be ready to receive within a reasonable time of the server being ready.’[4]

Kind of a soft rule, and yet part of the game nonetheless.  It was a rule that in modern times began to be enforced more and more given the amount of time that the pros were beginning to take in between points.  Every player had his own place.  The rhythm within which his peak performance tended to manifest most naturally.  Part of the game in turn, was to not only find your optimal rhythm, but also to break the rhythm of the opponent.  John McEnroe, one of the other legends of the game, was a master at this.  If John felt the rhythm, the momentum of the match was swaying in his opponent’s favor, if he felt the match getting out of hand, he would invariably cause a scene, question a line call, berate a spectator, do anything to disrupt the flow of the match and break his opponent’s rhythm.  John could take over the court and the arena like no other champion before, or after, him.  This was where his tantrums and outbursts came from.  His desperate need to control the events as they unfolded around him.  Nothing was more frustrating to Johnny Mac than a tennis match that was not under his control and no one was a master at dictating the rhythm, the pace, the flow of a match like Johnny Mac.  This was his great strength and source of greatness, and his great Achilles heel at the same time as he was berated and cajoled in the media for his tantrums late in his career.

To drive this sense of rhythm, to “tune in” so to speak to that rhythm that made you most comfortable and freed your mind to execute a serve as well as possible, every player had a number of bounces that they took before hitting a serve.  Charlie liked to think of it as every player having a “number”.  He categorized the player, assigned him a number, equivalent to the number of bounces they needed and wanted prior to hitting a serve.  And if the number changed, it was a reflection of a change in the state of mind of your opponent.  It could mean he was taking more time, trying to achieve greater concentration.  Or it could mean that he was rushing, taking less time and his mind was starting to break down and the match was beginning to take its toll on him mentally.

Charlie was a three bouncer, he liked a fairly quick pace.  He didn’t like to think too much out there.  To Charlie his mind could be his enemy, if he thought too much he tightened up and that affected his shot execution.  Agassi was the same way, he was a one or two bouncer, played at a very quick pace.  In the modern game, there was a tendency to take even more time before the serve, one of the reasons why the rules were changed to give players just 25 seconds between points rather than the 30 that had been part of the game so long, because players were abusing the time limits between points and disrupting the flow of the game, which in the end was hurting the game at large and its popularity because matches were taking longer and spectators were losing patience.

Nowadays there were ten bouncers out there, fifteen bouncers even.  Novak Djokovic, one of the great champions of modern times with 6 grand slams to his name[5], redefined the bouncer limits.  He was like a twelve or fifteen bouncer.  But his bouncer number increased with the importance of the point.  Break point down, 5-6 in the third set.  Twenty bounces.  Maybe twenty-two.  But it was a symptom of the mental pressure he was under, the more pressure the more bounces he took.  It was like a mental disorder.  And the more bounces he took before he served invariable the tighter his body was during his service motion and the less effective his serve was.  This was something he greatly improved upon later in his career, especially in his runs that led to his grand slam titles, and his he gained greater control of his mind, found a place of peace and tranquility prior to his serve that facilitated better execution of the serve itself, the most important shot of the game no doubt, the number of bounces he took before serving decreased.  He had gained control of his mind, and in so doing the manifestation of his psychosis that was the source of all those bounces and all that extra time to prepare for his serve, to “control” his nerves, had dissipated and improved and the effect on his overall game and performance was significant, and it showed up quite clearly in his results on court.

The number of bounces you used to drop into your ritual of beginning a point, that defined your rhythm.  It defined the pace with which the points within your service game were played.  On grass Charlie was a one bouncer.  But on clay and hard courts he was a three bouncer.  Three bounces for sure.  One, two, three, strike.  And he didn’t take too much time between points either.  He liked moving at a good pace.  He liked the rhythm of it.  He had picked it up from watching Agassi, or at least so he liked to believe.  Agassi played faster when he got older.  Like he just couldn’t wait to get on with it.  To force the events to unfold at a dizzying pace.  To lose yourself in the rhythm.  The ‘Zen Master’, the nickname that Barbara Streisand gave to Agassi, a nickname that stuck in no small measure due to its accuracy – and you can’t argue with Barbara Streisand.  There is a special place in hell reserved for those that disagree with Barbara Streisand, and they don’t serve cocktails and hors d’oeuvres.

But what Charlie didn’t know then, but what he learned about more and more as he studied the ancient traditions of the east, was that this bouncing of the ball, the rhythm and peace that it created in your mind, was simply a practice of ritual, a ritual that was designed to relax the mind and the senses, and a ritual intended with a specific result, namely perfect execution of the shot at hand, just as the rituals of the ancients were designed to effect a specific result, the result dependent on the specific ritual being performed.

But Charlie still needed to find a way through this match, despite the fact that this Spaniard was clearly taking advantage of the fact that he was playing in his home country and bending and stretching the rules as much as possible in his favor, that Charlie was an estrangero and could barely speak the native tongue.

 

Matches in the qualifying rounds of these small pro tournaments never had dedicated umpires.  There were roaming umpires, so if you had a problem on court you could go grab one and he’d help the players work out the situation, and of course occasionally call foot-faults on you from three courts away, but no one was roaming at this hour.  They were the last match on court and everyone at the tournament was now waiting for them to finish so they could all go home for the night.  This had put a few more butts in the seats actually, because there was no one else to watch.  But no roaming umpires available.  Sorry.

Furthermore, cheating was pretty rampant at this level.  Players got away with anything they could basically, and there was a lot of bullying and “shortening of the court”, as the players used to call it.  And this Spaniard wasn’t doing Charlie any favors in that department either.  It was clear at this point Charlie needed an umpire, things were getting kind of out of hand and part of being a pro is recognizing when things were getting out of hand, when the flow or rhythm of the match was not in your favor, and doing something about it.  The tension was definitely rising on court, Charlie was getting crankier, and he wasn’t getting through to either his opponent or his opponent’s coach that coaching shouldn’t be going on.  And he needed this match, and he needed to level the playing field.

Enter Marcelo.  Charlie ran off court and got him.  Just what Marcelo wanted, to sit in the chair for some meaningless match at the end of the night between some cocky American and one of the local Spanish talent.  Once Charlie made this move the dynamics of the match definitely changed though, and that’s what Charlie had intended.  The stakes were now higher.  The tension now rose.  Clearly any sense of trust between Charlie and his opponent, a relationship that was tenuous at best in any match at the pro level, was completely eradicated.  Now that there was an umpire, calls were being questioned more often, not less.  The Spaniard dropped a little further from the baseline to make sure his feet didn’t cross the baseline prior to his serve, the dreaded foot-fault.  Charlie did the same.  You could feel the electricity in the air.

Charlie could sense the electricity in the air, it was palpable and everyone around them who was watching the match could feel it as well.  That old expression that you could cut the tension with a knife seemed appropriate.  Charlie didn’t know it them but a moment of what the Tibetan Buddhists referred to as bardo, or opportunity, had now arisen[6].  A moment where the flow of life, an opportunity for awakening (or in this case for winning or lose an important match) had arisen given all of the factors and elements that were now crescendoing as this match unfolded.  Charlie could sense it as any professional athlete could, and in the words of the great Robert Horry, the end of game three point NBA championship master who had hit so many big shots in his career, game ending shots in huge moments over and over again, “pressure can burst a pipe, or pressure can make a diamond”.  This was clearly one of those moments.

The good news was that the coaching stopped.  And this player that was so used to receiving instructions from behind the court from his coach started to flounder a little bit when this channel was cut off.  Charlie was hoping that was going to happen, and he began to see the web of the Spaniard start to unravel, to see the opening in his mind, the splinter which Charlie could exploit.

Breaking your opponent.  Breaking him physically and mentally.  Chipping away at his armor until he was wounded and on the ground kicking and screaming.  If you didn’t take joy in the process, relish in the physical and mental game of chess that tennis truly was, then you had no business competing, certainly not at this level.  Because it was only through love of the game, love of the unique mix of mental and physical opponents that challenged you during every match, that you could somehow make peace with it.  And deal with the dizzying heights that came from victory, along with the depths of despair that came from defeat.  That you could play the game to win, with all your energy, and yet at the same time accept the pain of a loss and wake up the morning after, lick your wounds, and prepare to put yourself out there one more time.  Against another opponent, in another city on another surface.  Accept the game in all its rawness, in all its glory which meant dealing quite directly with the world of opposites, the yin and yang of the east that played out on a court of lines and with yellow fuzzy balls, a court and game designed by monks ironically enough, played out in the courtyards in the 17th and 18th century in what now called “real tennis”, or “court tennis” and was the game upon which modern day tennis was developed.

Only in an individual sport like tennis, did losses present themselves so clearly.  If you didn’t win, you came in second in a game of two players.  There was no one else to blame but yourself.  You could whine and moan about the conditions, about the speed of the court, about the balls, about some injury or another.  But any tennis player, professional or otherwise, knows implicitly that the conditions are the same for both competitors, and it is the victor who is able to overcome the challenges of the conditions, the game of the opponent, and the psychological battle that rages within one’s mind as the match unfolds, that produces a winner on court and ultimately a champion.

This rawness of losing was very difficult to stomach sometimes, and you truly needed to love the game in order to pick yourself back up and compete again after a devastating loss, losses which invariably came, came to every player that played the game no matter what level.  Charlie loved the game, at least he thought he did.  Otherwise what the hell was he doing in the middle of nowhere playing a match against some unknown player in front of just a hand full of people, most of which could be categorized as strangers, chasing after some silly ATP points.

One of the other unique aspects of the game of tennis is the prevalence of losing.  Every competitor had to deal with it.  And it was this shared experience that Charlie thought brought tennis players together.  This shared rawness of putting yourself out there, and exposing yourself to the challenges of your mind, along with your opponent, that Charlie thought brought all players of the game together.  For in every tournament, there is only one player, just one, that doesn’t lose.  Every single other player in the draw loses.  They could lose early, in the qualifying rounds even, or get all the way to the final and lose there.  But everyone, except the winner who held up the tournament trophy at the end of the week, lost somewhere along the way.  In a draw of 128 players for example, the size of the main draw for grand slam events, every single player left the tournament a loser except for one, the guy (or girl) who held up the trophy at the end of the tournament .  That was the nature of the beast.  Even the top players lost half their matches over the course of the year, only the very very top, the top 10 or 20 in the world, ending up the season with winning records.  And it was the losses, much more so than the victories, and how the player dealt with and evolved after those losses, which defined the player.

Charlie had heard a story once, one of the many myths of the game that were part of the tradition, that after Boris Becker, another of the legends of the game, the winner of the Wimbledon title at the age of 17, the youngest ever, the winner of 6 grand slam singles titles as well, that after one of his losses in the finals of Wimbledon one year he was so distraught, do devastated, that he didn’t leave his apartment for a full week after the match.  Charlie didn’t know if it was a true story or not, but he certainly could relate and it certainly wouldn’t surprise him if it was true.

Was it love of the game, or a fascination of the journey of the of the depths of his being that pushed him to compete week after week, despite how difficult and unforgiving the challenge of rising in the rank and file of the tennis world was?  Was it some psychosis that drove him?  Some very basic elemental desire to prove himself that kept him coming back again and again to the game that seemed to be the source of such great emotional strain and suffering?  Was it the dizzying heights of victory that he was pursuing?  It was probably a bit of everything, Charlie mused.

But at that moment on court, Charlie was focused on trying to win.  Nothing else.  Every atom of his being was focused on trying to choke the life out of his opponent, while he had the chance, while he saw the chink in the armor, while he saw the opening, and while the opportunity was clearly present before him to put some points, some games, and some sets between him and his opponent.  For if Charlie had learned nothing in his tenure as a professional tennis player, going all the way back to his days competing as a junior at 10 and 11 years old, was that opportunities present themselves in a match typically only once.  And when they do, you must pounce on them.  For if you don’t capitalize on these opportunities, you will invariably be plaqued by regret and remorse for not having done so.  It was these moments of bardo, moments of opportunity, that needed to be seized upon.  And step one was you needed to be aware they were present, and step two was you needed to capitalize.  Sometimes, if you didn’t capitalize on those moments and you ended up losing the match, the mental anguish of the loss could pursue you for years after, even decades.  Just ask Johnny Mac about his loss to Lendl in the finals of the French Open, a title he never won, where he squandered a two sets to love lead and up a break in the third set.  That won left a mark that’s for sure.  It was this fear of regret of a potential loss when he saw this window of opportunity, this opening, so clearly, that perhaps more than anything else drove Charlie on that night.  What pushed him to squeeze victory out of a very precarious situation, when the stars arguably were not lined up in his favor.

The good news for Charlie is that once he brought Marcelo on court, despite Marcelo’s Spanish roots, the pace of play on Charlie’s serve started to level out, and the Spaniard no longer had access to his coach.  His coach, in fact, was asked to move from beyond the baseline into the bleacher seats along with the rest of the spectators.  And the Spaniard was so accustomed to receiving direct instruction from his coach, sometimes even during points while they were being played, that when Charlie cut off that source of instruction from him, the poor bastard started to crumble.  His rhythm was broken, a rift in his mental state had been created.  Charlie had found the key that unlocked the room where the source of the Spaniard’s competitive spirit dwelt.  And Charlie charged right into that room, and made himself right at home, disrupting the Spaniard’s rhythm, getting into his head quite literally, and in turn disrupting his ability to play at his best, disrupting his peak performance.  It was almost painful to watch actually, even as his opponent.  To see such great play and competitive spirit turn into an error strewn display of frustration and anger.  Ok maybe it wasn’t so painful to watch.

Charlie started to gain momentum, the Spaniard started to make errors and get frustrated, and just like that Charlie saw a window to pulling out the match.  Up a set and a break.  Here we go.  The end is near.  And as the end of the match started to unfold on court, Charlie noticed that the bleachers had a few more bodies in them.  He wasn’t sure where they came from, but he was pretty sure that he had found himself right in the middle of a pretty good spectacle.  One with a villain, and a fallen hero.  Charlie was on the wrong side of this tale though.  At least on the wrong side from the spectator’s perspective.  From a won and loss perspective of course, Charlie very much liked the side he was on, the villain part he could deal with.

 

Charlie couldn’t help thinking though, even in the heat of battle, that this game was truly a test of the human spirit, a test of mental as well as physical strength and a test of skill and training, all wrapped up into one contest.  And the end result, the winner and loser, so illustrative of life itself on many levels, just as Agassi so elegantly put it, was the perfect example of the cold, heartless reality of a competitive game of tennis and in turn life.  Of one competitor doing everything in his power to break his opponent to achieve victory.  And there was a beauty in that, no question.  A beauty in the stark reality of it, in the test of the limits of the man’s competitive spirit.  But there was a harshness in it too.  A sense of brutal reality that one might find on the plains of the Serengeti where a lion stalks and hunts down the weakest of the gazelle so that she can feed her cubs.  Where there must be death in order to support life.  The whole circle of life thing as cliché as it was.

And Charlie had been here before, many times before.  And this training kicked in as he tried to navigate through points, and in turn games to create an opening for a victory.  And in the chaos of the moment, as Charlie started to create some separation between him and the Spaniard in that second set, he heard the echoes of that Kipling poem, in all its beauty and grace and power.

 

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son![7]

 

The words passed through his mind like shadows as the match started to unfold before him, in his favor this time around thankfully.  He knew the poem not from school, but because the lines ‘If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors just the same’ were inscribed on the wall of the player’s entrance to Center Court at Wimbledon.  The holiest of holy places in the game of tennis.  The place that made, and destroyed champions.  Where all of the legends of the game had passed through and made their mark.  For if you didn’t make your mark at Wimbledon, well then, you hadn’t really made an indelible mark on the game, or so the legend went.

That was it wasn’t it?  All captured in those two lines by Kipling.  Tennis wasn’t a game of kings, it was a game of gladiators, exploring the depths of the human soul and spirit in a fantastic array of athletic talent, endurance, strength, mental toughness and insight, and agility, all played out on this court with white lines and boxes on it, with a net in the middle, and this yellow fuzzy ball that you struck with a round shaped racquet with strings in it.  Seriously?  Yes, seriously.  A silly little exercise of chasing a yellow fuzzy ball around the court against an opponent within which all of the mysteries of life could be revealed.

And in order to achieve peak performance, to hit what athletes called “the Zone” when you really needed it, you needed an understanding of the art of ritual and how it was the railing that you held onto when all felt lost for you on court, even if you didn’t call it ritual it was those small ticks, those small little habits and exercises you did between points, that either prepared you for the next point properly, or failed to do.  For when the desperation for winning, or in many cases simply the core drive to avoid the prospect of failure, started to overcome you and take over your mind and lock you up physically, it was these small little rituals, these little patterns and behaviors that could calm your mind, bring you peace and set yourself in the moment, that could make all the difference.  And it was the same pressure, the same tension, that same inner struggle that all tennis players felt and had to overcome, no matter what the level, and that was in some respect the beauty of the game, the mental struggle to achieve peak performance, to achieve victory, to avoid the anguish of defeat, that everyone who played the game could relate to.

And of course at Wimbledon, that was where they held the key.  The source of the game’s strength and longevity.  The reason why champions were made there.  The Kipling quote wasn’t out there on Center Court for everyone to see, it wasn’t outside the locker room for all the press to view and snap photos of.  It was inside the walkway to center court, underlining and underscoring the momentous event that was about to unfold before you.  And to remind you.  To tell you quite clearly as you walked on court, that the game was bigger than you, that the game was about the inner struggle for perfection yes, and about winning no doubt, but it was about the definition of your character, the illustration of the depth of your soul for all the world to see.  ‘Treat those two imposters just the same’.  Nothing harder to learn, nothing more difficult to comprehend, nothing more difficult to achieve, no question about that in Charlie’s mind even after all these years of playing and competing, and yet when you find it, when you truly understand the depth of meaning that Kipling so eloquently described, then you had won already then hadn’t you?  Won at the game of life in fact.

 

Once tennis fans figured out that there was an interesting match unfolding, one with a little dispute that added some spice and story line, people started to assemble.  Charlie saw that so many times.  Where the people came from he didn’t know.  But they assembled when the tension rose, when a battle unfolded and two great competitors challenged each other.

So the bleachers started to fill up a bit.  Charlie could clearly tell by the applause between points that he had not ingratiated himself to the “fans” so much.  He was playing the role of the villain well.  He didn’t care really.  He just wanted that damned W.  The bodies in the bleachers were blatantly rooting for the Spaniard to come back.  Even Charlie’s camp, the other three foreigners in the draw, the English speakers, was very quiet.  They didn’t want to say a word.  They knew when to keep their mouths shut.  But they were there.  They stayed.  They had Charlie’s back.  And that was important.  Charlie wouldn’t forget that.  Especially Niels of course, with whom he had developed a bond that would last well beyond his playing days.

But Charlie was up a set and a break.  He was getting close to closing out the match.  He could smell the end, taste it.  He was so close.  His opponent was starting to get even more frustrated, making more errors.  The Spaniard was crumbling now.  Charlie could sense it like a lion senses weakness in a pack of antelope.  Charlie’s fist pumping didn’t stop though, he was getting a little carried away in the moment as well.  And the closer Charlie got to match ball in his favor, the more vigorous and buoyant were his fist pumping and shouts of encouragement which he levied upon himself.  “Vamos!” was one of his favorite epithets and that one escaped his lips in fervor many times as he attempted to close out that match, and its Spanish origins no doubt even further irritated the Spanish spectators that were hoping and praying that this Spaniard would somehow pull a rabbit out of the hat and beat this arrogant American and send him home packing with his tail between his legs.

None of this behavior ingratiated Charlie to his mostly Spanish audience.  They wanted their local boy to win, no question about that.  But they also clearly perceived Charlie’s behavior to be unsportsmanlike and ungentlemanly.  Charlie needed to fire himself up to make sure he closed out the match without letting his nerves get to him, but from the spectators view it was Charlie stepping on the throat of an opponent who was wounded and gasping for air.  But that’s what Charlie need to do, squeeze every ounce of fight out of his opponent until he had no more fight left in him.  Charlie was looking to finish the gladiatorial spectacle off with murderous precision and cold heartedness, and he didn’t give a damned what the Spanish thought of him.

As Charlie mind bounced from that epic poem, back onto the court, he started to capitalize on the hole in the Spaniard’s defenses that he had opened up.  He saw the path to the W.  He saw his opponent on the ropes.  He got more aggressive.  He knew how to close out a match.  That was something innate in him.  Something you couldn’t teach, his coaches had told him.  And he saw it now before him, and he pounced on the Spaniard and broke through his defenses.  Getting more and more fired up along the way.  Lots of fist pumping.  A few more, “Vamos!” thrown in for good measure and assert his on court presence and dominance over the flailing Spaniard.

And all the while he heard Niels’s small quiet voice, almost hidden within the backdrop of the Spanish din, that cheered him on.  That gave him words of encouragement and support, when he needed it most.  Niels’s cheering was not the loud, boisterous kind that was coming from the Spanish, it was the subtle more grave kind, one that understood the mountain that Charlie was climbing, and inserting just the right words of encouragement, or the clapping and cheering that was not accompanied by words, that kept Charlie going through that night.

 

Tennis is a dance.  It’s a dance of adversaries, where the ballroom is the court and the dancers are not intertwined physically necessarily but most certainly connected.  When Charlie played tennis, particularly when he was plugged in, in the zone, you were integrally connected to you opponent.  Connected in a way that you could anticipate his movements.  You could see where he was going to hit his next shot.

You had angles, Johnny Mac was so good at knowing the angles, the percentages.  And the percentages told you about probabilities really, what was the probability that your opponent would hit the ball crosscourt?  Down the line?  What was the score?  Was it a time for him to play conservatively or be aggressive because he had a few points to play with.  The tighter you kept the score, the bigger and more important that the points were, the easier it was to anticipate where their next ball would go.

Speed and quickness in turn, is measured not be how fast you actually move from point A to point B, but also how well you anticipate the next shot.  For any athlete knows, as clearly and plainly as the sun that shines before them, that there is no substitute for that first step.  The proverbial jump you get on a ball.

So speed is deceiving somewhat. Because it depends on your court position, your ability to anticipate, as well as your actually speed – how fast your legs can actually move the body/mind system that must be in position for the next shot in order to strike it, move it back to your opponent, with just the right spin, just the right velocity, such that your opponent’s next shot was as difficult as you could possibly make it for him.

And you always had to keep in mind the angles and percentages that you had to cope with when you struck the ball.  And the better position you were in, the more solid your physical foundation when you struck the ball, the more opportunities and better percentages you had to work with.  That was why movement was so important, so key.  On all shots except the serve of course.

The serve was a different beast altogether.  It was the only shot where you weren’t moving, in flight.  You had basically all the time you needed (actually 25 seconds between points) and yet it was the most technically complicated of all of the shots.  You controlled where the ball was, where you tossed it, how far out in front it was.  And yet on the serve, you had all the physical forces of your body at work – the hips, the shoulders, the legs and calves, the elbow and wrist – and the all had to work in perfect fluidity and synchronicity.  To strike that yellow fuzzy ball some ten to twelve feet above the ground behind the baseline, some 99 feet across a net that was three feet above the ground at its center, and place the ball with the perfect spin and at the perfect angle within a few square inches of your desired location, preferably just where your opponent was least expecting it or at the very least just where your opponent least wanted to see it. The best servers had the most fluid and smooth motions, but their fluidity hid the complexity of the stroke, they made it look easy but it was far from easy and it was an art form that took years and years to master, and some never did.  But the ones that did were the ones that achieved greatness, the likes of Pete Sampras and Roger Federer to name probably the best servers of all time, and the ones of course with the most fluid and beautiful motions, works of art really and art forms that took decades to perfect.

And of course it was the serve, and how a player serves under pressure, that in almost every tight match has the most impact on the actual outcome.  For tennis is a mental game, no doubt.  It is a battle of wills and minds, an attempt by the adversaries that have the net and court between them to break their opponent down, to find their weakness and exploit it as much as possible.  An exploitation that leads to frustration, that leads to pressing and lack of fluidity, which in turn leads to more pressing and in the end defeat.

You physically needed the game, the tools, to compete at the highest level though, there was no question about this.  You needed weapons.  Big weapons.  You needed a bomb of a serve.  A bomb that could be slipped and placed into every corner and every crevasse in the service box on the other side of the court.  You needed precision, as well as power.  And you needed to be able to vary speed and spin, ball velocity.  And you needed to be able to hold your serve.  Not hold in the sense as win your service games, but hold the ball on your serve such that you opponent could not see where the ball was going to be targeted until after the ball left your racquet.  The hold.  This holding, this deception, was such a subtle nuance of the game, especially on the serve, that it was overlooked even by the best of commentators and spectators.

If you look at the serves of Pete Sampras or Roger Federer, look at their ball toss, the quickness with which they snap their hips, shoulders and arm into the shot, and at the same time recognize that it’s not until their opponent sees their racquet face strike the ball, that they know where that serve is headed.  Sampras was perhaps the best at this, you couldn’t tell where he his serve was going until after it left his racquet and in many cases this was just too late.  And this was their secret, their great gift.  And this subtlety depended upon the balance and fluidity of the entire service motion, and the softness of their hands to push and stretch that ball into different corners of that service box with as similar a motion every time they serve as possible.  The same could be said of baseball pitchers really, how to make a curve look like a fastball or a changeup, such that the hitter couldn’t tell which one it was until after the ball was released from the pitchers hand and it was too late to change the momentum of your swing.

 

And there it was.  The match before him.  On his own racquet as they say.  Charlie dropped into his pre-service ritual.  Walking back steadily to the fence to pick up all the balls.  Spinning the balls in his hand to pick out the ones he wanted to use.  Catching his breath.  Breathing deeply through his nose to try and relax his nerves, his mind, his body.

Match ball.  The slider out wide on the ad side of the court.  That’s where Charlie wanted to go.  That was his bread and butter, his set up shot.  His “go to” play when he needed a point on that side of the court.  His opponent knew it was coming.  He had ridden that play all night long.  The courts were slick.  The balls were bald, all the hair torn off them as the two gladiators had beat them into submission over the course of three grueling hours of battle.  That made the balls slide even more.  So slider it was.  Charlie was committed.

Charlie rolled the balls around in his hands once more prior to serve.  The last part of his pre-serve ritual.  He selected the one he wanted to use for the first serve slider he could see so clearly in his mind’s eye.  It was the one with the least amount of ‘fuzziness’, the baldest one that would slide off the court the most.  The ball that would catapult him into the main draw and put him one step closer to that ATP point that he had been chasing all around the world.

Match ball.  Charlie served out wide, a slider, and came in behind it.  Charlie was a lefty and that slider out wide on the ad side if hit well could set up either a baseline winner to the open court, or sometimes he’d come in behind it and cut off the volley into the open court.  He came in behind this one.  The serve was hit well.  He got a flailing reply, a nice easy floating ball up the line.  Charlie cut off the volley and carved it into the open court.  One last fist pump and he was off to the net to shake hands with his opponent.  It was done.  Victory.

Then the fun started.  The Spanish seemed to coagulate and congregate outside the court.  As Charlie stepped off the court after shaking his opponent’s hands, and Marcelo’s hand.  He walked right into a fray of people and noise.  Charlie was still really wired, he had just pulled the victory out a few seconds prior and was totally tuned into the match.  He now had to make that transition back to no-tennis playing reality.  That usually took a few hours.   After a big match like this that could sometimes take up to half a day in fact.

And he stepped into the chaos.  Charlie was shocked to see the energy and anger of the Spanish as he stepped off the court.  There must have been 4 or 5 of them still left watching the end of the match.  It was late, well past midnight, before they finished.

And Charlie for sure didn’t see the arms and fists that came at him from behind.  He just felt them on his back.  And just as Charlie turned to face his new adversary, in a setting that he was altogether unaccustomed for (Charlie had been in just one fight in his life, with a pal from school when he was in 4th or 5th grade.  Charlie had won that battle as it turns out but it was quite tame, two private school kids in blazers wrestling around for a few minutes basically, not altogether good preparation for a cock fight in Malaga Spain), he saw Niels fly past his peripheral vision, and straight on top of the chap that had his hands and fists buried in Charlie’s back and kidneys.  Niels to the rescue, how fitting actually.

By the time it was over and Charlie and Niels were back in their hotel room ready to shut it down for the night, Charlie looked over at Niels and said, “nice work tonight my friend.  Not quite sure what I would have done without you, on or off court”.

“You probably would have gotten your ass kicked.  On both fronts my man”.  Charlie could see the wry smile on his face as he said this even though Charlie was on the other side of the room getting ready for bed.

“Yeah, you’re probably right.”  Charlie responded.  Damn straight he was right.  A kinship that would last a life time, sown in the seeds of battle.  Rare indeed.


[1] The “minors” of the tennis tour, akin the triple A baseball league before the pros.  The Satellite events were four week events, typically under USD 20,000 in prize money.  Each of the four week long events would be hosted at different tennis facilities in the same general region, all in Southern Spain for example.  The best 32 players (in some cases just 16) qualified for the final week of the satellite, where all the ATP points were handed out depending upon performance.  The next level of the professional tennis tour were Challenger events which were in the neighborhood of USD 50,000, had smaller draws and were typically closed, i.e. there was no open qualifying rounds and you had to have a high enough ranking – 300 in the world or so – to qualify.  Satellites have since been replaced with what is called Futures, one week events as opposed to the four week Satellite tours.

[2] Tennis, or ‘Lawn Tennis’, had its root in Court Tennis, or Real Tennis, whose origins date back to the 17th century.  For a nice piece on the history of Court Tennis, see http://www.uscourttennis.org/index.php?id=48.

[3] Andre Agassi Facebook post, Dec 19th, 2013

[4] From Rules of Tennis, official rules of the International Tennis Federation (ITF), of which the United

States Tennis Association (USTA) is a member.

[5] As of Jan 2014 Djokovic had won four Australian Open titles, one Wimbledon title and one US Open.

[6] “The Tibetan word Bardo means literally “intermediate state” – also translated as “transitional state” or “in-between state” or “liminal state”. In Sanskrit the concept has the name antarabhāva. It is a concept which arose soon after the Buddha’s passing, with a number of earlier Buddhist groups accepting the existence of such an intermediate state, while other schools rejected it.  Used loosely, the term “bardo” refers to the state of existence intermediate between two lives on earth. According to Tibetan tradition, after death and before one’s next birth, when one’s consciousness is not connected with a physical body, one experiences a variety of phenomena. These usually follow a particular sequence of degeneration from, just after death, the clearest experiences of reality of which one is spiritually capable, and then proceeding to terrifying hallucinations that arise from the impulses of one’s previous unskillful actions. For the prepared and appropriately trained individuals the bardo offers a state of great opportunity for liberation, since transcendental insight may arise with the direct experience of reality, while for others it can become a place of danger as the karmically created hallucinations can impel one into a less than desirable rebirth. The term bardo can also be used metaphorically to describe times when our usual way of life becomes suspended, as, for example, during a period of illness or during a meditation retreat. Such times can prove fruitful for spiritual progress because external constraints diminish. However, they can also present challenges because our less skillful impulses may come to the foreground, just as in the sidpa bardo.”  Quoted from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bardo

[7] Rudyard Kipling, “If….”

Hellenistic Theo-Philosophy: Sowing the Seeds of Christianity

Despite his search through the evolution of thought from the dawn of civilization, particularly in the Mediterranean and Near/Far East, Charlie still had yet to find that marker, that break, where man had become so convinced of the reality of the empirical world, that reality which had laid its foundation on that which could be measured, weighed, seen or heard, the blind faith in materialism within which the world of objects was wholly distinct from and separate from the observer, their subject.

This to him was the fatal flaw of modern times, the religion of the world that justified selfishness and the blind pursuit of wealth and power and its natural subjugation of selflessness, service and commitment to one’s fellow man and the common good.  This was the same search that drove Robert Pirsig to insanity and led him to create a new metaphysics for the modern age, the Metaphysics of Quality; Quality in his framework being an intuitive state beyond subject and object from which all experience, subjective or objective, sprung forth naturally.

Charlie had looked at the cosmological traditions of the Ancient Sumer-Babylonian culture, the cosmology of the Ancient Egyptians, the cosmology of the Ancient Greeks, the Indo-Aryan theological and metaphysical tradition that was reflected in the Vedas, the cosmological tradition of the Judeo-Christian culture as reflected in the Old Testament, the birth of Western philosophy that was born from Ancient Greece, and even into the life and works of Sir Isaac Newton, and yet nowhere could he find a presumption of a clear distinction of the materialistic world within which we all live and breathe from the person with whom was doing the living and breathing.  Even Newton, despite the field of classical mechanics which stemmed from his seminal work Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica at the end of the 17th century, did not profess the reality of the objective world, but simply the mathematical principles that governed natural philosophy, harkening back to the fields of knowledge, or episteme, that were established by Aristotle two millennia prior.  And yet it was from Newton’s work that the basis and foundation for materialism was born clearly.

The cosmological traditions that grew out of the Ancient Mediterranean and Indo-Aryan civilizations centered around the development of order out of this chaos, a birth of the universe from out of the cosmic void by some central creative principle, be it anthropomorphic in nature or not.  And each of the cosmological traditions spoke of the this primordial order or law being the founding principle upon which the earth, heavens, seasons and other natural laws rested upon to provide for the foundations of human life.  These cossmological traditions spoke of the cycles that governed this order of the universe, cycles which reflected the Ancient’s dependence and observance upon the world around them – the cycles of flood and recession of water of their respective river systems, the passage of the stars throughout the sky throughout the course of the year that marked the seasons, the passage of the sun and moon across the heavens that marked the passage of the days, months and years, even the cycle of birth and death which bounded human life and the soul.

But each of these cosmological and cultural systems also contained complementary mythologies – the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh, the Greek journey of Odysseus, the myth of Ra and Horus of the Egyptians, the fables of Krishna in the Mahabharata – all of which made up what the later Greek philosophers deemed mythos, as distinguished from logos or reason.  These respective mythologies spoke to the ethical and moral virtues and qualities which the societies’ citizens should aspire to, wrapping ethical and moral principles in the blanket of fable and story, dipped in just enough history to make the myths credible.

In many cases however, these cosmologies and mythologies, collectively mythos, were also used to establish the legitimacy of power of the respective rulers and priestly classes of these ancient societies, tainting these traditions with some level of propaganda that reinforced this underlying societal order to which all individuals must confirm.  And this bastardization of the mythical and cosmological traditions was not lost on the ancient scholars and thinkers, particularly after the prevalence of writing which allowed scholars and philosophers to begin codifying and documenting their respective metaphysical beliefs.  And it was from this understanding, this knowledge, this rebellion against the lack of rational foundation of the prevailing mythos of these ancient cultures, from which ancient philosophy was born.  And more so than any other culture, it was the Hellenic philosophers that carried this first torch, who dedicated their lives to establishing the supremacy of reason and logic over faith in mythology or the reigning gods, theos, of the day.

During the height of Greek/Hellenic influence in the Mediterranean from the 6th century BC down through reign of Alexander the Great (356 – 323 BC)[1], his empire extending Hellenic influence well beyond the Mediterranean to the East, through the time of Roman influence through the Republic and then into the Roman Empire at the turn of the millennium that dominated the Mediterranean and beyond until at least the fifth century CE, Hellenic philosophical development took root and evolved in a cultural melting pot that included Egyptian, Babylonian, Greek, and Roman cultures.  And as it developed, their respective cultural theologies and mythologies were synthesized and each of the respective civilizations adapted and evolved the Greek philosophies to their own cultural and theological bent.

With the advent of the Macedonian Empire stemming from Alexander’s conquests, the spread of Greek culture moved beyond just the areas in and around Athens and the surrounding city-states.  Alexander’s empire at its height extended as far south as Thebes in Egypt to as far East as the Indus river in the Indian subcontinent.  This imperial conquest enabled Greek culture and thought to spread throughout the ancient world, at least definitively assimilated into Sumer-Babylonian and Egyptian culture, and at least some evidence that there was Hellenic influence exerted in the Indian subcontinent as well despite Alexander’s failed attempt to conquer the territories east of the Indus River in the Indian subcontinent[2].

Historically, this cultural intermixing and spread of – primarily Athenian – Greek culture into these foreign lands is referred to as Hellenization, and despite its imperial context, this cross-pollination of cultures contained the seeds of much of the philosophical and theological evolution that took place until Christianity took hold in the Western Europe and around the Mediterranean in the 4th and 5th centuries CE with the adoption of Christianity as the de facto religion of the Roman Empire.

This next stage of Western metaphysical and theological thought in the Ancient world after the decline of the influence of Athens as the cultural and intellectual center of the Ancient Mediterranean developed in a much more cross-cultural context than the tradition which preceded it where traditions developed in a much more insular and isolated fashion.  And Greek philosophic thought, more so than any other theo-cultural tradition, predominated in the centuries following Plato and Aristotle and took root not only in Ancient Greece, but also in Ancient Egypt and the Near East as well, albeit driven mostly by cultural assimilation forced by military conquest more so than anything else.

Running parallel to the maturation and evolution of Hellenic philosophy, to the East the Indo-Aryan civilization was going through a similar transformation from the prevalence of a polytheistic, priestly authoritarian and mythological based religious tradition based upon the ritualistic practices outlined in Hinduism complemented with the mythological traditions encapsulated in their two great epic poems the Mahabharata, and the Ramayana, to a more open and accessible philosophical movement which aimed to explain the universe and mankind’s place in it within the context of a more reasonable and rational framework.  This intellectual development was primarily driven by the analysis, commentary and interpretation of the more esoteric and philosophical aspects of the Vedas (or more specifically the Upanishads which according to most scholarship were transcribed in Sanskrit between the end of the 2nd millennium BC down through the middle of the first millennium BC), complemented by the spread of Buddhism which took hold in the Indian subcontinent in the 4th century BC.

Buddhism for example arose from the Ancient Indo-Aryan civilization as a reaction to the prevalent Hinduism and caste system of the day which Siddartha Gautama (c 563 – 483 BC) saw as exclusive and divergent from its true Hindu roots – at least as represented by the more esoteric aspects of Hinduism as laid out in the Upanishads – and lacking a true theo-ethical framework within which the all people of caste and creed may escape the world of suffering and endless chasing after worldly desire; the so-called Middle Way as laid out in his Four Noble Truths and Noble Eightfold Path, a path open to all seekers within which the bondage of suffering could be broken.

From Charlie’s perspective, no matter what dating of the Upanishads you wanted to ascribe to, either a tradition that went as far back as the early part of the second millennium BC or as late as the middle of the first, it was clear that the Upanishadic philosophical tradition of the Indo-Aryans preceded its Hellenistic counterpart by some centuries at least.  To what extent the Hellenistic philosophical systems that blossomed in the send half of the first millennium BC in Greece borrowed from their Indo-Aryan brethren, rather than arising independently and spontaneously as a result of the same rebellious forces to religious orthodoxy, was open to scholarly debate.  Nonetheless, it would very be hard to argue that both of these rich theo-philosophical systems did not spring from the same common quest for knowledge and understanding by use of reason and logic, rather than the predisposition to naïve faith and belief in mythology as had been predominant in the era before the advent of human urban civilization up until the turn of the first millennium BC[3].

The Indo-Aryan theo-philosophical tradition as reflected in the development of Vedanta in the first millennium BC is unique relative to its Hellenistic counterpart in that to a great extent Vedanta continues to flourish today thanks to its reincarnation with the teachings of Swami Vivekananda and the Ramakrishna Order, whereas the Hellenistic philosophical tradition, as primarily reflected in the works of Plato and Aristotle, was effectively swallowed by Christianity (and Islam) in the second half of the first millennium CE.

Unique to the Hindu tradition from which Vedanta springs, there existed in the ancient texts not only the establishment of the authority of the Brahmins and their role as priests and the presider over religious ceremonies and rites, but also a firm belief in the divine nature of the spirit, or Atman and its underlying unity with the penultimate creative principle of the universe, or Brahman.  In Hinduism, metaphysics as it were was baked into its religious tradition from very early on, albeit developing in parallel but part of the same tradition nonetheless, whereas to the West the metaphysics developed independent of religion per se.

Christianity and Islam incorporated some of the metaphysical and philosophical traditions that came before them, namely Hellenistic philosophy, but for the most part operate independently of these metaphysical traditions, as they continue to do so today.  Not so in the Eastern tradition, or at least not as much.  As a reflection of this, India today, despite its conquest over the millennia by a long list of cultures and their representative religions, retains a well-established and long standing tradition of spiritual and theological freedom from within which many religious practices and theological traditions have flourished alongside each other for centuries, stemming no doubt from the richness and depth of the teachings of the Vedas and their respect for individual realization.

And yet throughout all of this synthesis and assimilation, the Greek philosophical tradition still dominated the metaphysical landscape, even if the religious or theological underpinnings remained different depending upon the cultural context.  And this markedly Hellenistic philosophy was built upon and refined over the centuries, even with respect to the integration and utilization of various religious developments following the decline of the Roman Empire – namely Christianity, Judaism and even Islam.

So how did this synthesis of the Hellenistic philosophical systems occur?  The Eastern traditions have an unbroken link to their underlying metaphysics for the most part, the metaphysics and theology developed alongside each other, even the mythical tradition as reflected in the Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita ran complimentary to the underlying theology and metaphysics of the Hindus, but the Judeo-Christian tradition, and in turn the Islamic tradition which sprung from the same roots, was different.  These monotheistic religions and their associated theologies were born from the melting pot of philosophical thought which dominated the Mediterranean and surrounding areas at the time of Jesus’s teaching to the few centuries thereafter, culminating in the adoption of Christianity as the de facto religion of the Roman Empire.

Middle Platonism is the term historians and scholars give to the time period marked by the advent of Antiochus of Ascalon (c 125 – 68 BC), a student of the Academy which Plato founded who diverged from the skepticism taught at the Academy for the few centuries following its founding and integrated Stoic and Peripatetic (school founded by Aristotle) principles into Platonic philosophy, arguing that truth and falsehood could in fact be discerned and that the intellect was capable of making the distinction.  Middle Platonism extends until the development of what modern historians and scholars call Neo-Platonism, as put forth by Plotinus (c 204 – 270 CE) and then transcribed by his pupil Porphyry (c 234 – 305 CE) in his seminal work Enneads, which laid out a comprehensive monotheistic doctrine that built off the original Platonic philosophy.  Middle Platonism then covered some four of five centuries of development, all occurring against a backdrop of cultural assimilation marked most notably by the rise of the Roman Empire as well as the development of early Christianity.[4]

Much of what we know about philosophical development during this time, even as far back as the pre-Socratics from the 6th to the 4th centuries BC down through the establishment of the Academy by Plato and the Peripatetic school founded by Aristotle toward the latter part of the 4th century BC stems from the work of a Diogenes Laertius, a 3rd century CE biographer and historian who wrote Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, the primary extant source from which we understand the development of Greek philosophy in the ancient world and within which a summary of the doctrines of many ancient historic theo-philosophies are described in detail.

In this work, Diogenes divides ancient philosophy into Ionian and Italian schools, the former tradition represented not only by pre-Socratic philosophers such as Thales of Miletus and Solon, but also the Socratic tradition which of course included the works of Plato and Aristotle and others that followed them.  In the Italian school, he included the Eleatics, Atomists and Skeptics, expounding upon the life and works of such renowned philosophers as Pythagoras, Empedocles, Heraclitus, Parmenides, Zeno, and Democritus among others.

As Diogenes describes the tradition that evolved in and around the Academy after Plato, under the leadership of Arcesilaus in the middle of the 3rd century BC the school started to emphasize skepticism, or the denial of the possibility of knowledge of absolute truth, following to a great extent the Platonic tradition that rested on the principle that one might know what the source of all Forms or Ideas are “like”, but the full and complete comprehension of their essence was beyond intellectual capability of the human mind.  This development can be seen to some extent in contrast to the popularity of Stoicism, the tradition founded by Zeno in the 3rd century BC, which taught that destructive emotions came from ignorance, and the development of the intellect and a rigorous moral and ethical framework would lead an individual out of the suffering stemming from these unchecked emotions, i.e. the comprehension of truth and knowledge was possible and in fact was the way to the path of virtue and true happiness[5].

The Academy’s rich history ends with Philo of Larissa, the last undisputed head of the Academy from 110/109 BC until his death in 84/83 BC, whose student Antiochus breaks from the skeptical traditions that marked the Academy’s tradition in the prior few centuries and attempts to provide a broader metaphysical framework which rests more faith in the capacity of the intellect and the reality of the sensory and materialistic world than his Academic predecessors.

Middle Platonism and Stoicism, markedly Hellenic theo-philosophical systems set in motion by Socrates (c 469 – 399 BC) and Zeno of Citium (334 – 262 BC) respectively[6], had a broad influence on not only Hellenistic philosophy, but also extended into the period of Roman influence as well, challenging the prevailing polytheistic and mythological traditions of the respective cultures and providing for a rational framework of viewing the world which sat in contrast to mythological traditions and blind faith in the gods.  Each school not only attempted to open up religion[7] to the masses in their own way, but also applying its core metaphysical principles to subjective reasoning and logic.  Buddhism in turn sprung from the same forces in the East a century earlier.  Each of these belief systems at one level or another professed that a direct relationship to the divine was to be had by all, and could be understood, or known, and furthermore that the knowledge of the nature of the universe and man’s place in it was not the divine right of just a few selected, preordained priests or rulers.  Furthermore, none of these belief systems espoused an anthropomorphic deity per se, this was a later development stemming from Christianity (which had Judaic roots of course), and their genesis was a direct response to, a rebellion away from, the polytheistic and priestly religions which had dominated the ancient civilizations surrounding the Mediterranean for millennia[8].

These new systems of belief reflected by Stoicism, Middle Platonism and even Buddhism from further East weren’t just religions per se, they were holistic belief systems that attempted to not only explain the world around them in a rational and logical way (Aristotle’s natural philosophy), but also attempted to establish a rational, logical framework to describe the principles that sat behind the universe and what laws it was governed by (Aristotle’s first philosophy and principles of causality).  Furthermore, all of these theo-philosophical systems provided the synthesis of a way of living that prescribed a moral and ethical framework within which the goal of life was to be pursued, based upon principles such as virtue, excellence, reason, and compassion.  These were integrated systems open to all that attempted to provide a rational structure of the universe that was synthesized with a moral and ethical framework that ascribed to reason and logic as their foundations, divorcing themselves from the mythological belief systems that marked the pre-civilized era of human history.

With the fall of Athens as the socio-cultural epicenter of the Ancient Western world following the Peloponnesian War (431 to 404 BC), a new cultural and academic center developed in Alexandria in Northern Egypt a century or so later after Ptolemy (Ptolemy I Soter) consolidated his rule over Egypt in the decades following Alexander’s sudden demise.  The Ptolemaic Dynasty ruled Egypt and the surrounding Mediterranean areas for three centuries after the Macedonian empire collapsed until it was felled by the Romans in 30 BC.  During this time Alexandria served not only as its capital but also as a trading and intellectual hub of the Mediterranean and surrounding areas, reinforcing Hellenic influence in Egypt and the Middle East.

The Ptolemaic Dynasty and its associated Egyptian Kingdom/Empire was presided over by a Greek Macedonian family placed into power by Alexander toward the end of his reign in 323 BC.  Ptolemy I Soter, a former general in Alexander’s army, was the first ruler of the Ptolemaic dynasty and took the title of Pharaoh in 305/304 BC.  At its height, the Ptolemaic Kingdom extended as far west as Cyrene in Northern Africa and as far East as Mesopotamia and Babylon and despite its Egyptian heritage, reflected a predominantly Greek culture given the heritage of its rulers.

One of the lasting marks of the Ptolemaic Dynasty on not only Egypt but on the Western world as a whole was the construction and development of an academic center in its capital Alexandria commonly called the Royal Library of Alexandria.  The Ptolemaic rulers established and funded the Library along with its academics and scholars liberally, carrying forward the Hellenic tradition of academic scholarship and thirst for knowledge with them into Egypt.  It is said for example that the Ptolemaic rulers not only paid for travel, lodging and stipends for the academics, but their families as well, establishing an epicenter of learning and study that was unmatched for centuries.  As an intellectual center, Alexandria flourished for the next three centuries.  During this time the Ptolemaic rulers leveraged legal, financial and political means to bring scholars together and it became a place where not only ancient manuscripts were archived and translated, but also where prolific commentaries and other original works of scholarship were authored.

One of the great influential ancient works that came out of this intellectual hub was a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament called the Septuagint.  The work was commissioned by Ptolemy II (309 to 246 BC) in order to make the Old Testament more readily available to the general populace where Greek (Coptic Greek) was the lingua franca of the day.  This text had broad influence on not only the Judaic philosophical and theological development as this became one of the standard Old Testament texts, but it also influenced Christian development as well.[9]

One of the most notable philosophers and theologians that lived during the period of Alexandrian influence is the Jewish scholar and theologian Philo, or Philo of Alexandria (c 20 BC – 40 CE).  Philo is known primarily for his work in systematically synthesizing Greek philosophical traditions with Orthodox Judaism, particularly in his interpretations of the Books of Moses or the first five books of the Old Testament, sometimes referred to as the Pentateuch[10].  Although his most lasting contribution was his allegorical and classically Greek philosophical interpretation of the Pentateuch which was broadly adopted by the early Christian community, Philo also wrote on other topics such as the role of reason in the animal kingdom, the nature of God and Providence, and even a treatise called The Contemplative Life, or De Vita Contemplativa, which describes in detail the daily lives and rituals of members of a Jewish ascetic community living at the time in Egypt.  He also wrote extensively on Jewish law and custom, or Halakha.

Ironically, most of what we know about Philo comes from later Christian authors rather than the Jewish tradition, as Philo was looked upon by later philosophers and theologians as primarily Christian in belief and thought despite his clear Jewish heritage.  Jerome, the Roman Christian priest and theologian from the 4th century CE (c 347 – 420 CE) best known for his Latin translation the Bible, i.e. the Vulgate, for example even lists Philo as a Church Father.[11]

Philo was very well schooled in the Greek philosophical tradition and it is clear that he held Greek philosophers in very high esteem (Plato most notably) but his overarching premise was that Moses and his doctrines as laid out in the Pentateuch were the highest philosophy and that Hellenic philosophy, as well Hellenic law and epic poetry, all stemmed from a set of principles that were handed down to them by Moses.  His commentaries on the Pentateuch and other philosophical works, his interpretation of the Book of Genesis in particular, looked at the myth of creation and the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt through a symbolic and allegorical lens rather than a more literal interpretation of actual events, in very much the same way as many of the Greek philosophic schools looked at the mythical tradition passed down by Homer and Hesiod.

Philo was not necessarily significantly diverging from the views of some of the other Jewish scholars of his time however, as there were several Jewish historians and theologians before him who had argued that Moses was the source of Hellenistic philosophy and law – scholars such as the historian Artapanus and the philosopher Aristobulus of Paneas both from the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC for example.  So in this sense, Philo was merely carrying on and expanding upon the Hellenistic-Judeo synthetic tradition that had come before him rather than innovating along these lines, no doubt providing for a more deep and profound framework than those who came before him but consistent in basic approach nonetheless.

The Hellenistic theo-philosophies that evolved in the second half of the first millennium BC not only rested on a firmer rational foundation than the mythological and faith based traditions that preceded them, but were also designed as open and freely available faiths comprehensible and accessible to any person that could think or read, or even simply listen and understand, in contrast to the prevailing polytheistic and priesthood based traditions that held that access to the divine was the right of the exclusive few who had some sort of special access to the underlying truths and secrets of the universe.

In both the Stoic, Platonic and other Hellenic theo-philosophical traditions as they evolved during the few centuries leading up to the time of Philo, there existed then robust and consistent logical and rational frameworks that underpinned their respective metaphysics, as well as systems of ethics and morality that were all strewn together as cohesive belief systems, religions in fact in the modern sense of the term, except that they lacked an anthropomorphic conception of God as put forth in the Pentateuch which was a later primarily Christian development.  These traditions kept somewhat true to their polytheistic roots, despite their rejection of the prevailing religious establishment.[12]

The notion of god(s) in the Greek philosophical tradition, as reflected in their use of the term theos, did not deny the reality or existence of the different gods such as Zeus, Athena or Apollo, but rather asserted that each theos, each god, was a reflection or manifestation of a different aspect of the one single creative principle that sat behind the universe.  This principle can be gleaned even from the mythology of the Ancient Greeks, although an allegorical interpretation of the myths must be used in order to see this, i.e. the method used by the Stoics in interpreting the works of Homer and Hesiod and then in turn by Philo in his interpretation of the Old Testament.

This allegorical interpretation of myth was almost an a priori assumption to the majority of the philosophical and metaphysical development that came out of ancient Hellenistic culture, be it implied or explicitly called out in the various philosophical traditions[13].  Furthermore this polytheistic metaphysical context blended nicely with the Roman and Egyptian cultures which both had their own deep polytheistic roots, in turn facilitating the assimilation and integration of Hellenistic philosophical systems into Roman and Egyptian culture.

Poetry and mythology then, in particular the Homeric epics which encapsulated much of the Hellenistic mythos, were looked at as an integral part of the Hellenic intellectual framework, not cast aside as mere fantasy or as myth in the sense that we use the term today.  These epic poems and their respective cosmologies were looked at in a fundamentally allegorical context by the Greek philosophers, particularly when it came to interpreting the morals and ethical implications of the stories contained therein.

This synthesis of poetry, mythology and philosophy is probably best encapsulated in the work of Parmenides (early 5th century BC) in his poem On Nature, a work which had a profound influence on the Platonic and other Hellenic philosophical schools that came after him, even if only for its refutation as is the case in Plato’s dialogues, most notably the Parmenides which carries his name.  The poem narrates a mythical journey of the author to the halls of the Night led by the maiden daughters of the sun god Helios.  Passage through the gates is granted by the goddess Justice at the behest of the maiden gods which accompany Parmenides and the narrative that follows is a dialogue between him and the goddess Night about the nature of the universe and the paths of inquiry into truth[14].

On Nature proffers up two ways of inquiry for those seeking truth or knowledge; the first of which is called the Way of Conviction which describes “true reality” (alêtheia) or “what Is” (to aeon), and the second of which is described as the inferior way but a way nonetheless is the Way of Mortals or the way of myth and allegory.  The Way of Conviction is philosophical and metaphysical in content and it is this part of the work that influenced later Hellenic philosophical development, almost all of which is extant.  The second part of the work, the Way of Mortals, is only around 10% extant but it is clear that it outlined a mythical and cosmological narrative of the creation of the world, from its initial conception to the creation of the heavens and earth, all the way down to the creation of mankind and the animal kingdom, akin to the contents and approach of Moses’s Genesis or Hesiod’s Theogony from the Judeo-Christian and Greek mythological traditions respectively.[15]

On Nature then represents one of the earliest known attempts to bridge the gap between poetry & mythology and metaphysics & philosophy.  The form of the work itself, as presented as a classic Greek epic poem, reflects the core belief of the author in the power of the poetry and mythology as a means to communicating truth.  This cannot be denied.  So irrespective of contents, in much the same way that Plato (and Aristotle) held dialectic as the greatest and most powerful means for conveying truth, Parmenides held that poetry, and perhaps even mythology, was the most potent tool. 

Given that the poem does not exist in its source or complete form, particularly the latter part on the Way of Mortals, the interpretations of the work with respect to what Parmenides was actually trying to convey regarding the two seemingly contradictory means of inquiry is open to debate by later scholars and historians.  From Charlie’s perspective however, it was clear enough based upon what has survived, and the form of the medium itself, that Parmenides at least at some level intended to not only illustrate in toto what he thought was the true nature of the universe as juxtaposed against the backdrop of the prevalent mythos of the day (i.e. Way of Conviction), but also to state emphatically that a) the way of knowledge or reason is the higher and more clear path to knowledge and understanding, and b) that the way of myth and poetry, albeit leading to a lower form of understanding or realization, was also a relevant and alternate path, even complementary to a purely rational or philosophical approach.

The Way of Mortals portion of the work takes as its context and backdrop the prevailing Greek notions of mythos and theos, reflecting and interpreting the polytheistic and mythological traditions that had predominated Mediterranean civilizations for millennia, this much is clear. It draws from the same mythological traditions that Homer and Hesiod drew from, with an albeit distinct narrative.  Again from Charlie’s perspective, it would be very hard to argue that from Parmenides standpoint mythos did not have a significant role to play in the understanding of the world we lived in and the path of righteousness and virtue that people should follow, be it less true, or probably better put less accurate, than an intellectual framework based on the faculties of the mind and reason.

Outside of the relevance of the synthesis of myth and philosophy in On Nature, in the Way of Conviction Parmenides introduces the term logos to describe this rational foundation upon which knowledge and truth is to be known and understanding is to be gained.  Parmenides’s logos, as fleshed out even more in later Hellenistic philosophical development, particularly in the Stoic and Peripatetic schools, was looked at in juxtaposition to doxa, or “opinion”.  Although doxa is traditionally translated into the English word “opinion”, it more literally can be translated as “to expect” or “to seem”, in the Parmenides and Stoic context referring to the widely spread common mythological belief systems steeped as reflected in the poetic traditions of the time which had the appearance of truth.  Logos and in turn doxa as terms were picked up and expanded and expounded upon by later Hellenistic philosophic schools into broader metaphysical frameworks, but it is with Parmenides that the first lines, and terminology, with respect to logos and doxa are drawn[16].

For this view, that That Which Is Not exists, can never predominate. You must debar your thought from this way of search, nor let ordinary experience in its variety force you along this way, (namely, that of allowing) the eye, sightless as it is, and the ear, full of sound, and the tongue, to rule; but (you must) judge by means of the Reason (Logos) the much-contested proof which is expounded by me.[17]

In not only the Eleatic Philosophical school of which Parmenides was its founder, as well as the Platonic and Stoic philosophical traditions that arose somewhat after chronologically, detailed epistemological frameworks were developed that established the supremacy of reason and rational argument in the elucidation of truth and knowledge, moving well beyond even an allegorical interpretation of the Hellenic mythos as established by Parmenides.  They postulated, and even attempted to prove via the development of well-defined systems of logic and argument, that the one creative principle from which the pantheon of gods has and continues to emerge from was beyond the comprehension of the intellectual faculty of man, and that we must use reason, or logos, in order to begin to comprehend the nature of this all-pervading creative principle.

Plato’s Forms and his Allegory of the Cave in The Republic represent the most prolific and lasting metaphors and philosophical foundations for this notion, giving rise to the development of Neo-Platonism several centuries later after monotheism started to take root in the Mediterranean upon the broad adoption of Christianity.  In the Stoic tradition, there even developed a semantic and philosophical framework for perceiving and integrating mythology and poetry into its underlying metaphysics.  This integration rested on the underlying theory of language and poetry, where the term logos took on special significance to denote the underlying meaning implied by a word, in either spoken or written form.

Logos then, particularly in the work of Philo, takes on a crucial role in the evolution of philosophical development in the Ancient world, first in Ancient Greece and then spreading through the Mediterranean and into the Near East over the subsequent centuries as the Greeks and then the Romans established empires which provided the cultural foundations upon which these theo-philosophical developments could take place.

As the Stoics before him had looked to mythology and poetry not as truth in and of themselves but as allegories and stories from which truth, more specifically ethical and moral frameworks, could be gleaned, Philo latched onto this idea of logos, and wrapped his allegorical interpretation of the Old Testament books around it, developing an underlying, classically Hellenistic, metaphysics that underpinned the anthropomorphic concept of God that Moses laid out for the Jews in the Pentateuch.  Philo did espouse that the words of the Pentateuch were revelationary and of divine origin, but he also believed that the true understanding of the Books of Moses could only be had by looking past their literal interpretation and toward their allegorical meaning.  He even went so far as to debunk the anthropomorphic concept of God of the Jewish Old Testament, preferring instead a more Hellenistic theo-metaphysical framework where logos and theos, as put forth by the Eleatics, Stoics and Platonists before him, existed conceptually but the creator from which these principles originated was unknowable and indescribable[18].

For it is out of that essence that God created everything, without indeed touching it himself, for it was not lawful for the all-wise and all-blessed God to touch materials which were all misshapen and confused, but he created them by the agency of his incorporeal powers, of which the proper name is Ideas, which he so exerted that every genus received its proper form.[19]

In this way Philo attempted to try and put forth a Jewish philosophy that not only affirmed the place of the Books of Moses as the highest and first truth staying true to his Jewish heritage, but also to establish a richer metaphysical framework from within which the Jewish scriptures could be revealed, a conception of the world that was consistent with the scripture and was aligned with the rich Hellenistic philosophical tradition which was broadly accepted by the scholars and intellectuals of his time.  From Philo’s point of view, the Yahweh of the Old Testament was to be looked at in an allegorical context, and was beyond intellectual understanding.  But the stories, the mythology of the Old Testament, was true in the sense that it shed light on what Yahweh was like, how Yahweh wanted us to behave, and how mankind was to be viewed within the context of the universe as a whole.[20]

To Philo, the notion of logos represented the intellectual manifestation of the creative principle of the universe that emanated from the one and only God, the Yahweh who gave Moses the Ten Commandments.  But at the same time this creative principle was distinct from God in the sense that although knowledge of logos was possible to a certain degree, it did not necessarily imply that one comprehended, or had conceptually realized, God.  Logos in the sense that Philo used the term, had a clear ancient Greek philosophical heritage, particularly as reflected in the Stoic tradition, but Philo expanded and expounded upon its meaning within the context of his interpretations and commentaries of the Old Testament in order to connect its underlying mythology with the rational Hellenistic metaphysical frameworks that had taken root in the Mediterranean, providing for a rich framework that was then leveraged by the early Christian Church Fathers as one of the cornerstones of Christian theology[21].

Philo however went even further to try and synthesize directly Platonic ideas into his work and explicitly connected logos with Plato’s Forms, setting the stage for later Neo-Platonic and arguably even Gnostic development.  To Philo, logos represented the underlying Form of a thing in that it was from this Form that the mind or intellect could understand or know a thing.

It is manifest also, that that archetypal seal, which we call that world which is perceptible only to the intellect, must itself be the archetypal model, the Idea of Ideas, the Logos of God.[22]

Philo then established a metaphysical link between ancient Geek philosophy and Jewish monotheism, providing a sound metaphysical and philosophical foundation for Christianity in the centuries that followed, and setting the table for the broad adoption of Christianity that followed in the next few centuries.


[1] Aristotle tutored Alexander for at least a few years prior to his joing the army at age 15.

[2] There is some evidence that Hellenization under Alexander’s imperial efforts exerted an influence of the some of the Buddhist practices that developed in the years following Siddhartha’s death as well (Siddhartha Gautama Buddha (c 563 – 483 BC).  See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_the_Great#Hellenization.

[3] There is some historical evidence that suggests that Indian sages and Vedic philosophers visited Ancient Greece in the first millennium BC, and certainly one could argue that some of the ideas put forth in Plato’s Dialogues have Indian counterparts, but this connection is loose at best and does not rule out by any means that the metaphysical constructs and frameworks developed independently from each other.  See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Upanishads for details on common dating of the Upanishadic sources as well as footnotes and references for further study on scholarship that links the Vedic and Hellenic philosophical traditions.

[4] The Academy that Plato had established in Athens persisted until 83 BC and although many of the influential Greek philosophers of this period did study and teach at the Academy, philosophical development occurred all throughout the Mediterranean during this period.

[5] From its founding, Stoic doctrine had a popular following throughout the Hellenistic period and the period of the Roman Empire which followed.  Some of the most notable figures during this time that were strongly influenced by Stoicism include the Roman philosopher and statesmen Seneca (4 BC-65 CE) who was a tutor and advisor of the Roman emperor Nero, the Roman/Latin philosopher and statesmen Cicero (106-43 BC), and the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (121-180 CE).

[6] Not to be confused with the Zeno from Elea who was part of the Eleatic school started by Parmenides at the turn of the 5th century BC, which has a relationship with the Platonic school as reflected in establishment of at the very least an intellectual exchange between Parmenides and Socrates as represented in Plato’s Parmenides, a lengthy exchange between Parmenides and the younger Socrates where Socrates defends at length the Theory of Forms against a variety of intellectual attacks from the Eleatic school as narrated by Parmenides.  Socrates makes use of a series of what have come to be called “Deductions” to defend the Theory, a rational framework which later inspired Neo-Platonists such as Plotinus (c 204 – 270 CE) and later Proclus (412 – 485 CE) who saw in the Deductions the key to the hierarchical ontological structure of the universe.

[7] The notion and word religion actually has Latin roots, i.e. religio meaning respect for what is sacred or reverence for the gods, and had no counterpart in Greek, hence Aristotle’s notion of first philosophy.  See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion#Etymology,

[8] Plato posited the creative force behind the universe as akin to a divine craftsman, but nowhere does he espouse the existence of or belief in an anthropomorphic God, this was a later development of Christianity as borrowed from the Judaic tradition from which it was born.

[9] As the story goes, the Septuagint (literally “seventy” in Latin) was crafted by seventy-two Jewish scholars, six from each of the 12 tribes of Israel.  It is not only quoted from in the Epistles of Paul in the New Testament, but also by some of the Apostolic Fathers in the first and second centuries CE as well as later by some of the Greek Church Fathers.  See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Septuagint for more details.

[10] The Pentateuch, or “five books”, is the name given to the five first books of the Old Testament; namely Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

[11] Philo’s influence on Christianity is evidenced by his reference in the works of some of the most influential early Christian scholars and Church Fathers; authors such as the Christian apologist and philosopher Justin Martyr (100 – 165 CE), the Church Father Athenagoras (c 133 – 190), the famed Church Father and theologian Clement of Alexandria (c 150-215 CE), and Clement’s pupil and also a noted Church Father Origen also of Alexandria.

[12] Interestingly enough, even in the Old Testament, this anthropomorphic God, or Yahweh, had many names, speaking to the polytheistic roots of even the Judaic tradition in some sense.

[13] Although the Platonic tradition as reflected in his dialogues has many references as to an ongoing feud between poets and philosophers, alluding to fundamentally different world views of the two perspectives, Plato’s writings include many myths and allegories in and of themselves and his dialectic narrative form both speak to the relevance and importance of story, allegory and myth in his teaching philosophy.  See http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2012/entries/plato-rhetoric/ for a detailed look on the interpretation and view of rhetoric and poetry in Plato’s dialogues.

[14] On Nature is a traditional epic poem composed in hexameter verse of somewhere around 800 verses of which around one hundred and sixty verses survive, all of which come from the quotations of later authors speaking to the broad influence of the work.  The abode of Day and Night to which Parmenides alludes to as the destination of his journey and the place from within which the narrative takes place has its roots in Babylonian mythology as the abode of the sun and the place of judgment of souls after death.

[15] The Way of Conviction could be loosely categorized as Aristotle’s first philosophy, and the latter part of the Way of Mortals could be categorized as Aristotle’s natural philosophy, leaving aside the mythological components.

[16] Aristotle makes extensive use of the term endoxa, meaning “reliable opinion” from which his metaphysical foundation is constructed upon.  In other words, his method of elucidating truth and reality from falsehood starts with and builds upon endoxa, i.e. the sifting through of doxa to establish what can be more reasonably relied upon as starting points of truth and fact.  This is referred to sometimes as Endoxic method, see http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle/ for details.

[17] On Nature, B 7.1-8.2.  From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parmenides.

[18] Ironically enough, despite Philo’s belief that the Books of Moses represented divine revelation, and although it is believed he knew and could read Hebrew, it’s clear that his source material for the Old Testament was the Greek Septuagint, operating under the assumption that the Greek translation corresponded closely to its source Hebrew, which of course in many respects, be they subtle or direct, it did not.  See http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/12116-philo-judaeus.

[19] Philo, Legum Allegorium 1.329.

[20] Biblical Hebrew was written with consonants only, meaning that the name was written YHWH, the components of which are Y, meaning roughly “he”, and the consonantal root HWH, which is connected with acts of creation, or perhaps from the Arabic HWY which is connected with the concept of falling or causing to fall which would lead to Yahweh having storm god origins which is prevalent in some sections of the Old Testament.

[21] One could even make a strong case that Philo’s logos is the same principle that is laid out as the theological foundation of the teachings of Jesus as described in the first few verses of the Gospel According to John.

[22] Philo, De Opificio Mund, 25.

Socrates, Plato and Aristotle: First Philosophy

Leaving aside the Indo-Aryan Vedic tradition, representing the root philosophical and religious tradition of the East, the emergence of philosophy as a branch of thought ran parallel with the advent of Ancient Greek civilization.  What was unique about this development, unique in fact even from the Vedic tradition, was that it emerged as a branch of thought complete divorced from any religion tradition, or mythology and theos, as the Greek philosophers and mythologians more commonly referred to it[1].

In Ancient civilizations such as the Sumer-Babylonian culture, Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, and even Ancient Judaism, there existed a very strong correlation between religion and authority.  The priesthood classes in these civilizations had a vested interest in keeping the well-established order of society, and ensuring that access to divinity was kept out of the hands of the general population.  In other words, religious authority and political power were very closely tied in these ancient civilizations, and in almost all cases political authority was connected to a divine right, leaving open persecution to those that did not ascribe to this belief system or those that rebelled from it in any way.  The religious traditions of these cultures then, both the cosmological as well as mythological aspects, were designed to establish this authority and reinforce it, and even formed the basis of the political power[2].

The Ancient Greeks however stepped away from this very ancient pre-historical connection between the ruling class and its connection to divine authority, and arguably this development represented their greatest contribution to Western civilization.  This divorce of religion from philosophy, or more aptly referred to as the development of metaphysics, i.e. the pursuit of knowledge and truth for its own sake, and in turn the establishment of the concept of the logical separation from church and state which naturally grew out of this development, gave rise to not only philosophy and metaphysics, but also math, geometry, logic and even democracy which form the basis of modern Western civilization to this day.

Like any great discovery or evolutionary change however, this development did not happen naturally and without resistance from those who considered the developments as a threat to their authority.  And from Charlie’s perspective, this revolution – for it was in fact a revolution in the true sense of the word – was embodied in the life and times of Socrates, who died for his beliefs at the hands of the Greek council and authority in much the same way that Jesus was put to death by the Jewish priestly authorities some five centuries later.

The word “philosophy” comes from the Greek philosophia, which translated into English means literally “lover of wisdom”.  The term itself is supposedly to have originated with Pythagoras[3], the ancient Greek mathematician and philosopher who is based known for his Pythagorean Theorem which established the relationship between the three sides of a right angled triangle, namely, , but who also was a philosopher and metaphysician in his own right.  In Ancient Greece, philosopher was used to describe those teachers of wisdom and knowledge that disseminated such learning with no financial exchange involved, the dissemination of wisdom and truth for their own sake if you will, as juxtaposed to the sophists[4] who at the time were noted for the exchange of such learning for money and carried with them a negative context from the society at large.

Pythagoras, beyond his mathematical genius, was a philosopher and mystic as well who lived circa 570 BC to 495 BC, overlapping with the life of Socrates for some thirty years or so.  He not only contributed to mathematics and philosophy, but also founded a religious movement called Pythagoreanism which among other things had a fairly well developed cosmology that departed from the traditional mythological and cosmological traditions which rested on the belief of the gods as the creators and benefactors (or malefactors in some cases) of mankind.  It is believed that Pythagoreanism also held that the soul was a a more permanent construct than the body and existed beyond natural death, i.e. belief the transmigration of the soul which diverged from the concept of the Ancient Greek notion of hell as reflected in their mythological tradition of Hades or the underworld which was prevalent in much of Ancient Greek mythology.

Although the specifics of Pythagorean philosophy and metaphysics is debated by modern scholars given the scarcity of his extant work (much of what we know of Pythagoras and Pythagoreanism comes to us via indirect sources such as Aristotle and Plato among other ancient authors), it is safe to assume that his metaphysics and cosmological world view had a strong mathematical basis, setting the stage for further development of the role of mathematics, and in turn reason, in the philosophy and metaphysics of Plato and Aristotle, reinforcing the notion that mathematics played a crucial role in mankind’s understanding of the universe (kosmos in Greek), principles that permeate not only modern day Western metaphysical beliefs, but also of course modern day physics in both its theoretical and classical forms[5].

One of the best indications of the influence of Socrates on the development of philosophy, his ideas being primarily represented by the writings of his best known pupil Plato, is the more modern delineation of philosophical systems into pre-Socratic philosophy to the philosophical and metaphysical systems of belief that came after Plato, marked most notably by Aristotleanism and Neo-Platonism among other philosophical systems.  In other words, in terms of the evolution of what the ancients termed philosophy, which provides the basis for all of the branches of knowledge that today we would categorize as science, biology, ethics, metaphysics, socio-political theory, and even psychology, current historians and scholars basically divide philosophical history into pre-Socratic, Platonic, and Aristotelian, and then post-Medieval philosophy as represented by the works of Aquinas, Descartes, Kant, and Newton among others.

The gap in centuries between the Ancient Greek contributions to philosophy down through the centuries following the introduction of Christianity into the Western world illustrates just how broad and far reaching an influence the Ancient Greek philosophers had on the development of the Western mind and even on Western civilization as a whole given the broad scope of the topics covered in their works.  The advent of Christianity in the centuries following the death of Jesus however, traditions which had their own underlying mythological and cosmological beliefs (much of which were borrowed from the Jewish traditions from which Christianity was born, i.e. the Old Testament), predominantly replaced, or at least were superimposed upon, the philosophical and metaphysical systems that were developed by the Ancient Greeks.  It was not until many centuries, and even millennia later, not until the power of the Church and the associated threat of persecution for non-believers in the Western word began to wane, that the work of Plato and Aristotle could begin to be expanded upon and drawn from in a purely metaphysical, and even scientific, context.

Having said that, despite the influence of Christianity in the millennia or so after the death of Christ, the work of Plato and Aristotle was not completely abandoned by Christian theologians and philosophers.  Of course Christian religion had a profound influence on the theology and metaphysics (if you could call it that) of the Western world in the centuries following the death and crucifixion of Jesus, the metaphysics and cosmology as laid out by Aristotle and Plato did have some influence later Christian scholars and theologians, if for no other reason as providing the metaphysical and logical framework from within which the Holy Trinity and the divinity of Jesus could be established.

This influence can be seen in the development of Neo-Platonism which took shape in the 3rd and 4th centuries AD and incorporated Egyptian and Judaic theology into the metaphysics of Plato and was also espoused most notably by St Augustine (354-430AD) who incorporated Judeo-Christian theology with Platonic thought.  Gnosticism, which also flourished in the few centuries following the death of Jesus and in many respects can be seen in contrast to some of the more dogmatic Christian beliefs of the time, borrows some of its theology and metaphysics from early Christianity but also from some of the more esoteric components of the Zoroastrianism and some of the Greco-Roman mystery religions of the day.  Scholasticism, a mush later development which is reflected most notably in the works of Thomas Aquinas from the 13th century AD, dominated the monastic teachings of the Christian Church for the few centuries after the turn of the first millennium AD and not so much reflected a particular world view, or philosophy, but more so a mode of learning adopted from its Greek predecessors, focusing on the use of reason and dialogue, i.e. dialectic and inference, as the means to arriving at truth.

From Charlie’s perspective then, the Dark Ages, as marked by the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century AD until the advent of the Renaissance in the late 14th century some one thousand years later, could be categorized to a certain extent as a step backwards with respect to the establishment of the supremacy of reason and metaphysics over theological and mythological beliefs, reflecting the reinforcement of the use of religion and theology to establish and protect the power of the elite and ruling class which in this case was The Church and the ruling class whose authority rested on the Church.  In brief, from Charlie’s perspective, it was the re-establishment of religion as reflected in the dogmatic belief systems of the Church as the basis for authority (and even law), which stifled pure metaphysical and philosophical pursuits throughout the Dark Ages, ironically enough having exactly the very opposite effect that Jesus intended when he rebelled against the Jewish religious authorities of his day, namely the establishment of the divine as every individual’s right: “Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21)

Although none of the complete works of pre-Socratic philosophers survive today in full, we do have excerpts and references to their work that allude to who these philosophers were and to some extent their metaphysics, theology, and philosophy.[6]  Furthermore, it is clear from the works of Plato and Aristotle that at least to some degree they were influenced by them, even if only within the context of disagree with their fundamental tenets or conclusions.  Socrates himself, even if he did not espouse to any of the specific doctrines that were laid out by contemporary or pre-historical philosophers, at the very least laid the groundwork from which subsequent philosophers could freely teach and proselytize their respective doctrines.

All of these pre-Socratic philosophers, and Socrates himself if we are to believe the portrayal of him by Plato, shared the common principle of the rejection of the hitherto traditional mythological and cosmological explanation of reality that permeated ancient thought, and to a great extent all of them attempted to answer such fundamental questions of the origin of the universe and the nature of reality in a more rational, reasonable fashion as contrasted by the traditions that came before them and were predominant in their time[7].

Although Socrates didn’t author any works himself, at least none that are extant and survive down to us today, his teachings and life do survive in the indirect accounts of his final days by his most prolific disciples, namely Plato and Xenophon, as well as in indirect accounts and references in the works of other semi contemporary Greek authors such as the Greek satirical playwright Aristophanes[8], along with of course references in the works of Aristotle, the most prominent student of Plato and an alumnus of the Academy which Plato founded.

Socrates life’s end is marked by his execution by Greek authorities for, at least according to Plato, corrupting the minds of youth and challenging the legitimacy of the gods as well as the established authority of the aristocracy of Greek society of the day.  Both Plato and Xenophon wrote works describing the last days of Socrates and the trial specifically, where Socrates attempts to defend his position as simply a seeker of wisdom and man of virtue, almost enticing his accusers to sentence him to death rather than banish him to some foreign land.

Plato was by far the most prominent of Socrates’s disciples and was a prolific author, all of his writings however coming after the death of his mentor and therefore at best represent at least one generation removed of the actual life and times of the great martyr who as the story goes sacrificed his life in the name of truth and knowledge[9].  Plato however is named specifically in the Apology by Socrates himself as being present at the day of the trial however, so there is some evidence, albeit disputed by some scholars, that at least some of Plato’s accounts of Socrates in his dialogues represent first-hand accounts by direct witnesses of events.  But taken as a whole though, the life and times of Socrates, from whose example stemmed the great lives and works of both Plato and Aristotle must be looked at through the rose colored lens of his successors who clearly held him in great esteem.

Socrates then personifies what we conceive of today as the prototypical philosopher, despite the contributions of the men that came before him.  However what the ancients considered philosophy and what we consider philosophy today, and in turn the field of metaphysics, are conceptually similar but at the same time very different things, the ancient term being much more broadly used to cover a wide variety of topics and branches of thought.  The ancient philosophical doctrines of Socrates (as reflected in Plato’s earlier work), the works of Plato himself as reflected in his later works that most scholars agree represent Plato’s own philosophical and metaphysical beliefs, and the works of Aristotle not only explored concepts which we today would consider fall under the category of philosophy, but also covered topics such as theology, ethics, the underlying principles of logic and reason, as well as what we today would call metaphysics, or the study of the nature of reality and knowledge itself.  All of these topics fell under what the ancients termed “philosophy”, or more specifically what Aristotle referred to as epistêmai (which is typically translated as “sciences” but is the plural of the Greek word for knowledge).

It must be kept in mind, when looking at and reviewing the authors of Plato and Xenophon in particular who both wrote what are considered to be direct accounts of the last days of Socrates, that the political backdrop was a time of war, a war that affected the entire Greek realm at the time.  The Peloponnesian War was the great conflict between Athens and her empire and the Peloponnesian League led by Sparta at the end of the 5th century BC (431 to 401 BC), the termination of which marked the end of the golden age of Athens, after the loss of which was relegated to a secondary city-state in the Ancient World.

This conflict raised many questions as to the nature of political systems in general to the great thinkers of the day, as Sparta’s form of government differed in many respects to that of Athens, and given the war that had such a significant impact on all of Ancient Greece and its bordering city-states at the time, much of the philosophical works of Plato, as well as Aristotle in fact, analyzed the competing socio-political systems of the day and proffered up opinions, philosophical and otherwise, upon which system of government was the best.  From Charlie’s perspective, it was from this socio-political self-analysis and introspection, stemming from the great perils and destructive force of war, that democracy in its current form was forged.

Therefore the role of the state, the exploration into the ideal form of government, and the role of the philosopher within the state, topics that would not be classically consider as philosophical inquiries today, is the main topic that runs through Plato’s Republic, arguably one of his most lasting and prolific works.  In this text, Plato explores the various forms of government prevalent in ancient Greek society and specifically delves not into the meaning of justice and virtue.  He also, through the narrative of Socrates, explores the role of the philosopher in society, even going so far as to speak of the utopian form of government being one that is led by the “philosopher-king”.[10]

In a broader sense, The Republic portrays Socrates, along with other various members of the Athenian and foreign elite, discussing the meaning of justice and various forms of government, and examines whether or not the just man is happier than the unjust man by comparing and contrasting existing regimes and political systems, as well as discussing the role of the philosopher in society.  All of these themes must have crystallized in Plato’s mind and life after the death of his beloved teacher Socrates given the socio-political context within which he was put to death.  Plato’s concern with the ideal city-state, reflected in the title of the work that was given to it by later historians and compilers of his work on this topic, i.e. The Republic, focused on the value and strengths and weaknesses of democracy as it existed in Ancient Greece, again an important topic of the day given the broad impact of the Peloponnesian War on the world of Ancient Greece at the time and the competing forms of government each side of the conflict espoused.

Another example of the importance of the state in the early philosophical works of the ancient Greeks comes from Aristotle’s Politics.  Here Aristotle continues Plato’s exploration into various forms of government and their pros and cons, looking specifically at the government of Sparta in one passage, describing it as some combination of monarchy, oligarchy and public assembly/senate of sorts, all of which were combined to balance power, in many respects similar to the balance of power as reflected in the House, the Senate and the office of the President in the United States today.

Some, indeed, say that the best constitution is a combination of all existing forms, and they praise the Lacedaemonian [Spartan] because it is made up of oligarchy, monarchy, and democracy, the king forming the monarchy, and the council of elders the oligarchy while the democratic element is represented by the Ephors; for the Ephors are selected from the people. Others, however, declare the Ephoralty to be a tyranny, and find the element of democracy in the common meals and in the habits of daily life. At Lacedaemon, for instance, the Ephors determine suits about contracts, which they distribute among themselves, while the elders are judges of homicide, and other causes are decided by other magistrates.[11]

So government then, its role and purpose, as well as the role of the individual citizen, were clearly very important topics of the early Greek philosophers and you’d be hard pressed to believe that to at least some extent they influenced the development of various political systems in their day.  But their most lasting contribution arguably was their devotion to the pursuit of knowledge and truth for their own sake, as opposed to the pursuit of knowledge to establish the legitimacy of authority and the ruling class which had been the pattern that had existed for centuries if not millennia before them, as well as their creation of institutions of learning from which this new field of study could be practiced and taught, passing its tenets down to later generations not only orally but through a written tradition for further enquiry and analysis by subsequent students, as reflected in the works of Plato and Aristotle which survive to this day.

Plato, and in turn Aristotle, then should be considered the first metaphysicians in the modern day sense of the word, a metaphysician in this sense being defined as someone who attempts to create and describe a framework within which reality can be described, as well as the boundaries which knowledge and truth can be ascertained, the prevailing characteristic of such a quest being the implementation of reason and logic as opposed to myth or any theological framework which rested on faith.  They called this search and exploration philosophy, but the meaning of the term in Greek implied not only at the study of the true nature of knowledge and reality, but also the source of virtue and ethics and their relationship to society at large.  In the much quoted words of Alfred North Whitehead, a prolific and influential philosopher and mathematician of the early twentieth century:

The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.  I do not mean the systematic scheme of thought which scholars have doubtfully extracted from his writings.  I allude to the wealth of general ideas scattered through them.[12]

Plato’s works are classically divided into three categories – his early dialogues, more commonly referred to as the Socratic dialogues, which focused on the last days of Socrates along with what are presumed to be a summary of Socrates’ philosophy, the Middle dialogues where most scholars agree Plato starts to explore his own philosophical systems of belief, and his Late dialogues where Plato explores his metaphysics, philosophy, theology and cosmological views in greater detail.  It is from Plato’s early dialogues that much of what we know about the life and times of Socrates survives to us today.

Plato wrote in dialectic[13] form, exploring theoretical and metaphysical concepts by the use of a narrative or dialogue between various characters, some of whom were verifiably historical and others whose place in history is unknown, exploring esoteric and metaphysical topics from varying points of view in order to arrive at some sense of truth or essence of the topic at hand.  Plato believed, and this view was inherited to a certain degree by Aristotle, that the most direct and powerful way to arrive at truth or the essence of an abstract topic was through dialogue, and so almost of all of his writings were drafted in this form.  From Plato’s perspective, it was only through dialectic, through the bantering and discussion of varying points of view by several individuals, that the truth or wisdom of a certain topic could be revealed.  This form of writing and exposition by Plato can be viewed as evidence of Plato’s insistence that pure, absolute truth is unknowable, but can be explored or better understood by evaluating all sides of an issue or topic and using reason and logic to arrive at understanding, even if absolute truth is elusive.

Socrates plays a significant role in many of Plato’s dialogues, and although it’s not clear to what extent the narratives that Plato speaks of are historically accurate, Plato does make use of a variety of names, places and events in his dialogues attributed specifically to Socrates and others that lend his dialogues a sense of authenticity, be they historically accurate or not[14].

Taken as a whole however, given the philosophical and metaphysical nature of the topics Plato explores in his extant work, historical accuracy isn’t necessarily an imperative for him.  In other words, Plato is not attempting to provide any sort of historical narrative but attempting to lay out alternative points of view on a variety of topics to yield knowledge and truth regarding esoteric topics that had hitherto been unexplored.  In other words, given the purpose of Plato’s dialogues and extant work, the veracity of the individual beliefs of the persona in his dialogues, or even the accuracy of events which he describes, are of less importance and relevance than the topics which he discusses as well as the means by which he explores the topics – namely dialectic or dialogue.  So although it is safe to assume that the life and teachings of Socrates formed much of the basis of many of the philosophical constructs that Plato covers in his extant work, particularly in his early, or Socratic dialogues, just as in the analysis of any ancient literature or culture, the historical and political context within which the works were authored must be considered when trying to determine their import and message.

The essence of Plato’s metaphysical world view is probably best encapsulated in his theory of forms, as elucidated in the allegory of the cave buried deep in The Republic, a metaphor supported by his analogy of the divided line, the sum total of which lays out his view of the nature of reality in its progressive forms as shadow, form, the light upon which the world of name and form reveals itself, and then the source of all knowledge, i.e. the Sun.  His analogy of the divided line is the beginning of his explanation into this world of Forms and their relationship to the what he considers to the be illusory, or less real, world of the senses:

Now take a line which has been cut into two unequal parts, and divide each of them again in the same proportion, and suppose the two main divisions to answer, one to the visible and the other to the intelligible, and then compare the subdivisions in respect of their clearness and want of clearness, and you will find that the first section in the sphere of the visible consists of images.  And by images I mean, in the first place, shadows, and in the second place, reflections in water and in solid, smooth and polished bodies and the like…

Imagine, now, the other section, of which this is only the resemblance, to include the animals which we see, and everything that grows or is made.…

There are two subdivisions, in the lower of which the soul uses the figures given by the former division as images; the enquiry can only be hypothetical, and instead of going upwards to a principle descends to the other end; in the higher of the two, the soul passes out of hypotheses, and goes up to a principle which is above hypotheses, making no use of images as in the former case, but proceeding only in and through the ideas themselves (510b)…

And when I speak of the other division of the intelligible, you will understand me to speak of that other sort of knowledge which reason herself attains by the power of dialectic, using the hypotheses not as first principles, but only as hypotheses — that is to say, as steps and points of departure into a world which is above hypotheses, in order that she may soar beyond them to the first principle of the whole (511b).[15]

In this section of The Republic, which precedes his more graphic metaphor of his Theory of Forms as told in his Allegory of the Cave, albeit wrapped up in the middle of a socio-political work, does represent from a Western standpoint the one of the first prolific and well-articulated forays into the world of metaphysics, i.e. the exploration of the true nature of reality that underlies the world of the senses, and attempts to explain our place in this world and the illusory and shadowy nature of the objects of our perception independent of any religious or theological dogma.  It also illustrates the prevalence of geometry and mathematics as a one of the primary means to which this reality can be understood, paving the way for further mathematical conceptions of reality brought forth by Aristotle among others.

In in the Allegory of the Cave[16], Socrates describes a group of people who have been chained to a wall in a cave for their whole lives, a chain which does not allow their heads to move and therefore they can only see what is directly in front of their field of vision.  There is a fire behind them, which casts shadows upon images and forms that are moved behind the chained souls on the top of a wall, much like a puppet show casts characters across the field of a wooden stage.  So the chained souls can see shadows in front of them, or forms, projected to the wall in front of them off of the fire that blazes behind them which they cannot see.  Hence these people know only shadows and forms their whole lives, although they believe this to be the one and only reality and source of truth for they know nothing else.  Socrates then goes on to explain that a philosopher is like a person who is freed from this cave, and is let out into the light of the sun, where he sees and realizes that everything that he has thought to be real, has only been a shadow of truth and reality.[17]

Plato’s ethics and world view centered on this Theory of Forms, or Ideas as reflected by the allegory of the cave and his analogy of the divided line.  His belief in the immortality of the soul and its superiority to the physical body, the idea that evil was a manifestation of the ignorance of truth, that only true knowledge can revealed by true virtue, all of these tenets stemmed from this idea that the abstract form or idea of a thing was a higher construct than the physical thing itself, and that the abstract Form of a thing was just as true and real, if not more so, that the concrete thing itself from which its Form manifested.

It is in the Timaeus however, one of the later and more mature works of Plato, that he expounds upon his view on the nature of the divine, the source of the known universe (cosmological view), as well as the role of the soul in nature.  And although Plato, and Socrates as represented by Plato’s earlier works, rejected the mythological and anthropomorphic theology that was prevalent in Ancient Greece, Plato does not completely depart from the concept of a theological and divine or supra-natural creator of the known universe, at least as reflected in the words of Timaeus in the dialogue that bears his name.

In many respects, the ideas and postulates of the Timaeus represent an expansion on Plato’s Theory of Forms which he introduces in The Republic via his Allegory of the Cave.  In the Timaeus, Plato makes a distinction between the physical world which is subject to change, and the eternal and changeless world which can only be apprehended by use of the mind and reason, i.e. is not perceivable by the senses directly.  He also attempts to establish via a logical argument that the world and nature itself are the product of the intelligent design of some creator, and that mortals, given their limitations, can conceive only of that which is probable or “likely” and that the essential truth is perhaps unknowable.  The passage itself in the Timaeus is profound enough to quote in full.

First then, in my judgment, we must make a distinction and ask, What is that which always is and has no becoming; and what is that which is always becoming and never is? That which is apprehended by intelligence and reason is always in the same state; but that which is conceived by opinion with the help of sensation and without reason, is always in a process of becoming and perishing and never really is.  Now everything that becomes or is created must of necessity be created by some cause, for without a cause nothing can be created. The work of the creator, whenever he looks to the unchangeable and fashions the form and nature of his work after an unchangeable pattern, must necessarily be made fair and perfect; but when he looks to the created only, and uses a created pattern, it is not fair or perfect. Was the heaven then or the world, whether called by this or by any other more appropriate name-assuming the name, I am asking a question which has to be asked at the beginning of an enquiry about anything-was the world, I say, always in existence and without beginning? or created, and had it a beginning? Created, I reply, being visible and tangible and having a body, and therefore sensible; and all sensible things are apprehended by opinion and sense and are in a process of creation and created.  Now that which is created must, as we affirm, of necessity be created by a cause. But the father and maker of all this universe is past finding out; and even if we found him, to tell of him to all men would be impossible.  And there is still a question to be asked about him: Which of the patterns had the artificer in view when he made the world-the pattern of the unchangeable, or of that which is created? If the world be indeed fair and the artificer good, it is manifest that he must have looked to that which is eternal; but if what cannot be said without blasphemy is true, then to the created pattern. Every one will see that he must have looked to, the eternal; for the world is the fairest of creations and he is the best of causes. And having been created in this way, the world has been framed in the likeness of that which is apprehended by reason and mind and is unchangeable, and must therefore of necessity, if this is admitted, be a copy of something. Now it is all-important that the beginning of everything should be according to nature. And in speaking of the copy and the original we may assume that words are akin to the matter which they describe; when they relate to the lasting and permanent and intelligible, they ought to be lasting and unalterable, and, as far as their nature allows, irrefutable and immovable-nothing less. But when they express only the copy or likeness and not the eternal things themselves, they need only be likely and analogous to the real words. As being is to becoming, so is truth to belief. If then, Socrates, amid the many opinions about the gods and the generation of the universe, we are not able to give notions which are altogether and in every respect exact and consistent with one another, do not be surprised. Enough, if we adduce probabilities as likely as any others; for we must remember that I who am the speaker, and you who are the judges, are only mortal men, and we ought to accept the tale which is probable and enquire no further[18].

Plato then goes on, through the narrative of Timaeus in the dialogue, to describe the establishment of order by what he refers to as a divine craftsman, dêmiourgos, applying mathematical constructs onto the primordial chaos leveraging the four basic elements – earth, air, fire, and water – to generate the known universe, or kosmos.  Note that the view espoused by Timaeus is that the world was not created by chance but by deliberate intent of the intellect, nous, as represented by the divine craftsman.  Although one might conclude that this would imply Plato’s belief in an anthropomorphic principle of creation, akin to our Judeo-Christian God, there is no evidence that Plato would have been exposed to that theology as he lived some 4 or 5 centuries before Jesus and the Judaic theology was not nearly so wide spread in the centuries before Christ.  Furthermore, one of Plato’s underlying premises for all of his work, is that the principles of reality or the known universe are most certainly worth exploring, again via dialogue and dialectic, but that absolute truth or knowledge is not something that he attempts to be putting forth, and in fact that absolute knowledge and facts are comprehensible by metaphor or analogy at best.

In the Timaeus, Plato attempts to describe the nature of the soul and its purpose within the context of this creative universe, describing the kosmos as the model for rational souls to emulate and try to understand, restoring the souls to their original state of balance and excellence.  Therefore Plato, although clearly establishing the supremacy of reason and rationality in the search for truth and the nature of universe, as well as a mathematical and geometrical framework from which this demiurge crafted the world which permeates much of the Timaeus, did not completely abandon theology in his world view.  Theology, in an anthropomorphic context, was the source from which the natural world was born in Plato’s view, even though he points directly to the fundamental unknowable nature of the universe, stating that we can only know what it is “like” rather than its true nature.  Furthermore, by establishing the critical and comprehensive role of the soul, both of an individual and for the world at large, Plato rooted his ethical and moral framework within his cosmological narrative, i.e. a reason to be good that did not relay on a concept of an afterworld or hell as motivation.[19]

Plato’s most famous student by far was Aristotle, who is best known for his work on formalizing some of the basic principles of logic and reason, as well as a further development of the incorporation of mathematical concepts into philosophy and metaphysics among other things.  He is also known for being the tutor for Alexander the Great, the great Greek empire builder of the 4th century BC, although the extent of the influence that he had on Alexander is debated by scholars[20].

The term metaphysics is first associated with Aristotle as the title of one of his works on the subject, although this was not a word that Aristotle used or titled any of his works himself, but was coined by later editors of his work who viewed the material in Metaphysics as that which came after (meta), or should be studied after, his work on Physics.  Aristotle called the subject matter in question first philosophy or the study of that which defines that which is (specifically the term he uses is being qua being which as you can imagine is difficult to translate directly into English), but the term metaphysics has stuck over the centuries and has taken on to be a much more specific meaning in modern day usage as the fields of science, philosophy, biology, etc. have evolved into their own separate disciplines.

Just as Plato’s work covered much more than what is today considered philosophy, Aristotle’s extant literature explored many concepts outside of the realm of what we would classify as metaphysics or philosophy as well, topics such as biology, physics, logic, mathematics, and even geology.  He also explored more in depth than Plato such concepts that relate to classical physics such as theories of motion and causation, setting the stage for centuries of analysis and thought which culminated in the branching off of science and empirical method from philosophy as reflected in the works of Descartes and Newton some two millennia later.

There are thirty-one surviving works that are attributed directly to Aristotle by modern scholars sometimes referred to as the Corpus Aristotelicum.  Throughout these works, he refers to the variety of fields of research that he studies and writes about as epistêmai, or “sciences”.  Although epistêmai is typically translated into English as “knowledge”, in the context of Aristotle’s work the word is classically translated to “science”, science in the broader and more modern sense of the term, e.g. the sciences.  Note that It wasn’t until much later in history, not until the end of the Renaissance in the 17th and 18th centuries, that scientific method transformed what Aristotle deemed natural philosophy into an empirical activity whose basis derived from experimental results, thereafter distinguishing science from the rest of philosophy proper and the term science coming to mean those fields of knowledge and study that could be verified empirically by means of experimentation.  Thereafter metaphysics denoted philosophical enquiry of a non-empirical character into the nature of existence.[21]

Although classification and grouping of Aristotle’s extant work is open to interpretation, for the most part it is agreed that Aristotle divided these “sciences”, into three basic categories, from which all of his philosophy and world view is structured.  The first category, and the one of most interest to Charlie given the context of his inquiries into the historical development of theology and its divergence into philosophy and science proper, is what Aristotle refers to as the theoretical sciences, or what Aristotle calls first philosophy.  Aristotle’s first philosophy includes his work in metaphysics, philosophy and theology, and also includes what he calls the natural sciences or natural philosophy which is reflected in his research and analysis in fields such as biology, astronomy, and what we would today call physics (e.g. the analysis of bodies of motion and their relationships in time and space) all of which have a more empirical basis as juxtaposed with his metaphysics which is purely theoretical in nature[22].

His second category of “science” he called practical science, which includes the analysis of human conduct and virtue and its effect on society at large, or ethics from both a personal and societal perspective.  Much of his work in this area built off of the foundation provided by his teacher Plato, in his The Republic for example.  The third classification or area of research of Aristotle was what he termed the productive sciences, which included exploration into such topics as rhetoric, agriculture, medicine and ship building as well as the arts of music, theater and dance[23].

Note that this broad range of topics that Aristotle explored, all of which he clearly felt strongly required further examination and analysis relative to the work of his predecessors, covered not only how the world is to be viewed or framed, with respect to identifying those qualities or attributes that described reality or being, i.e. his metaphysics, but also the foundations for society at large, ethics and virtue, as well as establishing the framework within which natural philosophy could be analyzed and explored, i.e. his elaboration and exploration of the principles of reason and logic which bled into geometry and mathematics.  All of these fields of research were related from his perspective, just as they were by his predecessor Plato.  One could not simply just create a logically framework for reality in and of itself, one needed to provide the framework for ethics and the relationship of the individual with the state and society within which he lived, and this connection needed to be well established in the metaphysical framework which described reality, and in turn mankind’s place in it.  In other words, one must look at Aristotle’s extant work in toto to come to a complete understanding of how his metaphysics and world view related to his sociological and cosmological stances, for all the pieces of his metaphysical framework fit together.

In order to provide the theoretical and logical framework within which all of the sciences could be explored and established, Aristotle also authored many works on what we might call the basis of logic or reason.  These constructs, which he expounds in his Categories, which provides his stratification of the building blocks of his metaphysical framework, as well as his treatises Prior Analytics and Topics where he delves deeply into the building blocks of analysis and reason itself, all fall into this category.  His works in this area are typically categorized as the Organon, which comes from the Greek word for “tool”, signifying its foundational basis for the rest of Aristotle’s metaphysics and philosophy.  In today’s nomenclature, these works could be loosely classified as the works which represent Aristotle’s epistemology, or the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope of knowledge itself, or that which can be known.

His Category Theory, as it is typically referred to, is covered at length in The Categories.  This basic framework of reality forms the foundation of his metaphysics so it’s important to have some idea as to what the different categories or the basis of reality are from his perspective, and what their relationship to each other is.  The list of categories is meant to be exhaustive, in the sense that realistic construct must fall into one or more of the categories that he outlines and in turn anything that one would deem to be “real” must be able to be described through some articulation of its relationship to his Category Theory[24].  Aristotle divides the known world up into 10 different conceptual groups, the most important of which was his concept of substance, or ousia.  These categories then provide the building blocks upon which all of his sciences, or epistêmai, are constructed.  Below is an excerpt from Categories where he outlines not only what he considers to be his exhaustive list of “things” which are, or things which exist, but he also calls out the critical nature of that which is typically translated as substance, or ousia in Greek.

Of things said without combination, each signifies either: (i) a substance (ousia); (ii) a quantity; (iii) a quality; (iv) a relative; (v) where; (vi) when; (vii) being in a position; (viii) having; (ix) acting upon; or (x) a being affected. (Cat. 1b25–27)

All other things are either said-of primary substances, which are their subjects, or are in them as subjects.  Hence, if there were no primary substances, it would be impossible for anything else to exist. (Cat. 2b5–6)

 

Translating ousia to “substance” in English does not express the full meaning of the term the way Aristotle intends however, and given the critical importance of this term in Aristotle’s metaphysics and philosophy, and in turn Aristotle’s influence on Western philosophy, science and metaphysics over the ensuing centuries, it is worth exploring this term ousia and how it’s relationship to its Latin derivative substantia or essentia, from which its English counterpart substance originates.

 

Ousia (οὐσία) is the Ancient Greek noun formed on the feminine present participle of εἶναι (to be); it is analogous to the English participle being, and the modern philosophy adjectival ontic.  Ousia is often translated (sometimes incorrectly) to Latin as substantia and essentia, and to English as substance and essence; and (loosely) also as (contextually) the Latin word accident (sumbebekós).

Aristotle defined protai ousiai, or “primary substances”, in the Categories as that which is neither said of nor in any subject, e.g., “this human” in particular, or “this ox”.  The genera in biology and other natural kinds are substances in a secondary sense, as universals, formally defined by the essential qualities of the primary substances; i.e., the individual members of those kinds.

Much later, Martin Heidegger said that the original meaning of the word ousia was lost in its translation to the Latin, and, subsequently, in its translation to modern languages. For him, ousia means Being, not substance, that is, not some thing or some being that “stood”(-stance) “under”(sub-).[25]

As shown above, the term ousia that Aristotle uses to describe the cornerstone of his metaphysics and world view is far from straight forward to translate into English, and the word “substance” does not really yield its true significance and much is lost in translation.  From Charlie’s perspective this was a perfect example of the non-trivial task to try and translate some of these ancient esoteric ideas from Ancient Greece to the Indo-European, Romance languages in particular, languages that derived from the Latin translation of the Greek and then into the destination tongue, i.e. at least two transliterations away from the original source.  This was true not only when attempting to translate some of the works of the Ancient Greek philosophers into English, but also when translating some of the extent Judeo-Christian literature into English which in many cases was also authored in Greek, or in many cases from an even more distant relative of English, Hebrew.  To make matters worse, the Greek language itself was not necessarily designed to handle these esoteric and philosophical ideas that Aristotle, Plato and others were trying to articulate.[26] 

Contrast this with the Indo-Aryan tradition who from earliest times had a language framework, namely Sanskrit, from which their esoteric and metaphysical, and of course theological, principles and constructs could be articulated to the reader.  A reflection of this translation difficulty is that much of the Indo-Aryan philosophy, and many of the key terms that are used, are NOT in fact translated into the English when being described or conveyed to the modern reader, i.e. English has adopted some of the original Sanskrit terms for there is no English equivalent.  The terms Atman and Brahman for example, and their relationship in the human body-mind construct as described by the chakras and Kundalini yoga, are all Sanskrit terms that represent core Vedic philosophical and theological constructs that have no English counterpart.  These terms, and others such as Satchitananda, typically translated into English by modern Sanskrit and Vedic scholars as “Existence-Knowledge-Bliss-Absolute”, or even Samadhi, the state of emergence of the individual soul Atman into the essence of the source of all things or Brahman which is the eighth and final limb of the Yoga Sutras attributed to Patanjali, both are examples of esoteric terms that have a deep philosophical and psychological meaning in the Vedic tradition and have no direct English translation.

These Sanskrit terms, and many others, have made their way into the English language over the last century as Yoga has been introduced to the West as the most accurate way to describe these principles and to a great extent this provides for a better direct communication of their true underlying meaning.  Samadhi has no English equivalent; the state which it refers to is best understood within the context of the Yoga Sutras within which it is described and the seven limbs that come before it, all of which also have their own Sanskrit counterparts and also have no direct English translation.  Not so for the Greek and Judeo-Christian esoteric words that were used by the ancient philosophers and theologians, these words in almost all cases have been transliterated into English and in so doing have lost at the very least some of their meaning and context, and in some cases the original meaning intended by their original authors may have been lost altogether.

In many respects the best way to understand the underlying theology of Aristotle, or what scholars have later termed his teleology, or the postulate that some underlying final cause must exist in nature, is to contrast his metaphysical or theological beliefs with those of his teacher Plato, specifically as represented by the cosmology he outlines in his narrative in the Timaeus and his Theory of Forms as outlined in The Republic.  For from Charlie’s perspective, it was not too much of a stretch to presume that it was the influence and works of his predecessor Plato that provided the impetus to Aristotle’s work and teaching, even if it was to establish his disagreement with his teacher.

Aristotle didn’t necessarily directly attack Plato’s belief in the existence of a divine creator per se, Plato’s demiurge, but he did argue, rightfully so from Charlie’s point of view, that Plato’s Theory of Forms lacked the sophistication to truly explain the totality of existence, or being qua being to use Aristotle’s terminology.  That is to say, Plato’s Theory of Forms, despite being a powerful metaphor to describe the what he considered to be the underlying illusory nature of reality, the transformation and relationship of a Form or Idea into a thing which we would perceive as existing in and of itself is not fleshed out at all in Plato’s metaphysical framework.  Aristotle’s metaphysics fleshed these concepts out in much more detail, and by providing the rational underpinnings of this more fleshed out Theory of Forms if you could call it that, he was able to build a rational and metaphysical framework that could extend not only the explanation of the underlying principles of ethics and virtue, but also to the world of natural philosophy, providing for the foundations of modern science as it were.

Although Aristotle’s theological beliefs are debated by modern scholars, it is certain that Aristotle disagreed with Plato’s cosmological and theological belief system in the sense that he believed that one must formulate a more rational underpinning for the explanation of reality, theological or otherwise, than what Plato puts forth in his body of work.  Aristotle’s metaphysics, along with his work on defining logic and reason itself, represents a challenge to Plato’s belief, or faith as you might call it, that the underlying beauty of the world combined with the supremacy of Forms over the world of shadow as reflected by sensory perception as Plato describes in his Allegory of the Cave, is justification enough to establish the existence of an intelligent or divine creator, i.e. the demiurge or divine craftsman that Plato puts forth as the source of the kosmos.

In order to try and comprehend Aristotle’s cosmological or theological stance, you must not only comprehend his Category Theory, but also understand his causal framework for adequacy upon which his entire metaphysics rests.  It is this framework, sometimes referred to as his four-causal explanatory scheme[27], that he describes the basis for all of his explanations of reality, or perhaps more aptly put, all things that which are said to exist.  In other words, the existence of a thing, its substance, must be underpinned by his four-causal explanatory scheme in order to fully understand the attributes of a thing which exists.  Although this may appear to be a metaphysical nuance at first, in this causal framework rests Aristotle’s fundamental metaphysical building blocks upon which any theological or teleological interpretation of his work must be viewed.  He describes this causal framework quite explicitly in Physics:

One way in which cause is spoken of is that out of which a thing comes to be and which persists, e.g. the bronze of the statue, the silver of the bowl, and the genera of which the bronze and the silver are species.

In another way cause is spoken of as the form or the pattern, i.e. what is mentioned in the account (logos) belonging to the essence and its genera, e.g. the cause of an octave is a ratio of 2:1, or number more generally, as well as the parts mentioned in the account (logos).

Further, the primary source of the change and rest is spoken of as a cause, e.g. the man who deliberated is a cause, the father is the cause of the child, and generally the maker is the cause of what is made and what brings about change is a cause of what is changed.

Further, the end (telos) is spoken of as a cause. This is that for the sake of which (hou heneka) a thing is done, e.g. health is the cause of walking about. ‘Why is he walking about?’ We say: ‘To be healthy’— and, having said that, we think we have indicated the cause.[28]

From this we can gather that Aristotle’s causal metaphysical framework for reality is made up of four distinct but related causes, the second of which corresponds loosely to Plato’s Forms.

  1. the material cause of a thing or that from which a thing is made,
  2. the formal cause of a thing or the structure to which something is created (loosely corresponding to Plato’s idea of Forms or Ideas),
  3. the efficient cause of a thing which is the agent responsible for bringing something into being, and
  4. the final cause of a thing which represents the purpose by which a thing has come into existence.

Although it is open to debate whether or not Aristotle presupposes that all four causes must be present in order for a thing to exist (in fact in some cases he cites examples of which all four causes are not present but yet existence of said thing is still adequately explained[29]), this idea of a required efficient cause is unique to Aristotle relative to the philosophers that came before him and forms the basis upon which much of his theory of natural philosophy rests.  This efficient cause of Aristotle can also be seen as representing the connecting principle of Plato’s concept of Forms to Plato’s illusory realm of the senses, representing the expansion of Plato’s metaphysics as reflected in the Theory of Forms rather than a complete abandonment of it[30].

Aristotle does not however, go so far as Plato as to believe in the existence of some divine, intelligent creator as being the source from which humans, or souls even, are born.  It is clear however that from Aristotle’s point of view, there must be a final, or penultimate, cause in order to establish the firm existence of thing, or substance, in reality – at least in almost all cases.  The complexity and importance of this issue of final cause is not lost on Aristotle, and he addresses the specific case of the explanation of the final cause of the natural world specifically in a subsequent passage in Physics, resting on the notion of formal cause as basis enough for the justification of a final cause in nature, as circular an argument as this may seem.

This is most obvious in the case of animals other than man: they make things using neither craft nor on the basis of inquiry nor by deliberation. This is in fact a source of puzzlement for those who wonder whether it is by reason or by some other faculty that these creatures work—spiders, ants and the like. Advancing bit by bit in this same direction it becomes apparent that even in plants features conducive to an end occur—leaves, for example, grow in order to provide shade for the fruit. If then it is both by nature and for an end that the swallow makes its nest and the spider its web, and plants grow leaves for the sake of the fruit and send their roots down rather than up for the sake of nourishment, it is plain that this kind of cause is operative in things which come to be and are by nature. And since nature is twofold, as matter and as form, the form is the end, and since all other things are for sake of the end, the form must be the cause in the sense of that for the sake of which. (Phys. 199a20–32)[31]

Aristotle’s metaphysics, or view of reality, then for the most part built off of the platform established by Plato’s Theory of Forms or Ideas, but Aristotle looked at the objective world perceived by our senses as more of an integrated manifestation of substance and its related attributes, combined with the notion of the prerequisite of his four-causal theory rather than espousing the material world as distinct and separate from the world of Forms, or in fact less real than the world of Forms and Ideas, as Plato espoused.  This is a subtle distinction but an important one as what as what we find in subsequent philosophical and metaphysical systems after Aristotle (leaving aside theological and/or religious systems of belief as illustrated in Judaism, Christianity or Islam) is a departure of the conception of the world of the senses as simply a shadowy representation of true reality into a belief in the fundamental existence and reality of the objective world, the world of substance, a notion that has evolved into today what we might call materialism.  To take this one step further, Charlie looked at Aristotle’s metaphysical constructs and belief system as the first step toward the departure of a theological conception of the basis of reality in the Western world.

So as the Greek society recognized and affirmed the role of the philosopher in society, due in no small part to the contributions of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, the branch of thought known as philosophy, as seen separate and apart from theology and religion, was born.  And as this development occurred, the cosmological and mythological views of the ancients started to take a back seat to the more abstract constructs laid out by these ancient philosophers, leading at the very least to the introduction of a more rational and metaphysical foundation for theology and cosmology as well as providing a foundation for a more critical and scientific world-view as these new metaphysical frameworks started to become more widely accepted.

Reason, logic and mathematics then were all born at the same time as philosophy, and it required a civilization that allowed these ideas to reign freely, what we might call today freedom of speech, in order for these fields of knowledge and branches of thought to flourish and grow.  If we are to believe the accounts of Plato and Xenophon, and Charlie saw no reason not to, Socrates gave his life in order to demonstrate his firm belief in the supremacy of truth, knowledge, wisdom, virtue, and the rule of law, over one’s own personal belief systems or blind faith in the mythological and cosmological constructs that underpinned Greek authority and politics in his day.  With his execution then, and this was a critical step in the evolution of science from Charlie’s perspective, came the beginning of western man’s faith in the power of reason and mind over religious dogma and mythology.

So if we are to look for the birth of philosophy and metaphysics, and we are to believe Plato’s depiction of Socrates as reflected in the early dialogues of Plato, we must conclude that it is Socrates who established the supremacy of knowledge, truth and virtue over religion or theology, doctrines which had hitherto been questioned only at great peril.  Socrates died, again if we are to believe Plato’s account of these events, in order to establish this new world order, or at least to create an environment in which these abstract ideas and constructs could be more freely explored.

In Plato’s Apology, where Socrates defends himself against the charges of “corrupting the young, and by not believing in the gods in whom the city believes”[32], Socrates tries to explain the meaning of the Delphic Oracle’s anointment of him as the most wise man in Athens, as well as explain the lengths to which he will go to establish the supremacy of wisdom over blind religious dogma.

This investigation has led to my having many enemies of the worst and most dangerous kind, and has given occasion also to many calumnies, and I am called wise, for my hearers always imagine that I myself possess the wisdom which I find wanting in others: but the truth is, O men of Athens, that god [theos] only is wise; and in this oracle he means to say that the wisdom of men is little or nothing; he is not speaking of Socrates, he is only using my name as an illustration, as if he said, He, O men, is the wisest, who, like Socrates, knows that his wisdom is in truth worth nothing. And so I go my way, obedient to the god, and make inquisition into the wisdom of anyone, whether citizen or stranger, who appears to be wise; and if he is not wise, then in vindication of the oracle I show him that he is not wise; and this occupation quite absorbs me, and I have no time to give either to any public matter of interest or to any concern of my own, but I am in utter poverty by reason of my devotion to the god.[33] 

It was Plato then who carried on this tradition began by Socrates into the search for wisdom and truth for their own sake.  Plato’s Academy was founded to train men in this art of the pursuit of knowledge, and teach its students the means by which these lofty ideals could be ascertained, as illustrated in his dialogues, all of which challenged the reader to look at various points of view of a certain topic or idea, and come to their own conclusions about the truth or what was right.  Plato’s emphasis on dialectic, a rational tool that even Aristotle did not abandon, represented the cornerstone of Plato’s teachings from Charlie’s perspective, for it implied that reason and logic were more relevant and more important when trying to ascertain wisdom or truth.  And it was within this framework of dialogue within which he presented his readers and students his metaphysical world view and its loosely coupled philosophical foundation, namely his Theory of Forms and his belief in the existence of some type of anthropomorphic God, not as indisputable facts of reality but as theses and hypotheses that were to be analyzed, thought through and molded by later students of his work.

It was Aristotle however, who spent decades learning from Plato and others in the Academy which Plato founded, who expounded upon Plato’s thin metaphysical framework and created a much richer and fleshed out rational foundation to describe the world around us, or that which could be considered real, along with the rational and mathematical building blocks with which the all subsequent branches of knowledge were to be constructed upon in the centuries to follow.  And even though Aristotle’s theological beliefs are not explicitly stated anywhere in his work, it is safe to say that he does not anywhere put forth any specific theological stance or dogma, the absence of which could only have been by design.  Furthermore, it is not too big of a leap of faith to state that Aristotle’s theology, or his faith if you will, rested in reason itself as the instrument from which truth and knowledge can be born.


[1] Note that in the Greek, there is no direct translation of the English monotheistic conception of God.  Deus in Latin is the original etymological construct from which God originated.

[2] The delineation of a priesthood class survives to this day even in Hindu society, namely the Brahmin class of the Hindu caste system, albeit it in a less formal and strict form given the democratic form of government.  See https://snowconenyc.com/2012/07/25/ancient-sumerian-cosmology-order-out-of-chaos/ for a look at Sumer-Babylonian ties between cosmological beliefs and authority and https://snowconenyc.com/2012/07/21/the-cosmology-of-the-egyptians-religion-and-power/ for a review of the connection between the priestly class of the Egyptians, namely the pharaohs, and their cosmological or religious system of beliefs.

[3] From CiceroTusculan Disputations, 5.3.8–9.

[4] Sophists were known for teaching debate and rhetoric along with what we would consider today to be philosophy in exchange for money, and therefore eventually became associated with the bending of truth and argument for political or other personal gain: hence the modern day definition of sophism which implies the use of argument with some level of underlying deceit and cunning.  Although Socrates was reputed to have been taught by several sophists, he later shunned their methods as exclusive and unethical.  Prominent Sophists in Ancient Greece include Protagoras (490-420 BCE) from Abdera in Thrace, Gorgias (487-376 BCE) from Leontini in Sicily, Hippias (485-415 BCE) from Elis in the Peloponnesos, and Prodicus (465-390 BCE) from the island of Ceos.

[5] Although you could argue that the notion that all of reality was related to and underpinned by mathematics and numbers was first propagated by Pythagoras, given his place in history and the lack of first-hand accounts regarding his theological and philosophical teachings however, there is not much direct evidence that points to this as an immutable fact.  It is safe to say assume however, citing references to Pythagoras by Plato and Aristotle among others, that many of his ideas influenced Socrates and in turn Plato and therefore through Pythagoras has had at the very least an indirect influence on the development of reason and science in Western civilization.

[6] References to these pre-Socratic philosophers and their work comes from the extant literature of of AristotlePlutarchDiogenes LaërtiusStobaeus and Simplicius, as well as from early theologians, especially Clement of Alexandria and Hippolytus of Rome.

[7] Pythagoras, Thales of Miletus, Heraclitus, Xenophanes, Parmenides, Zeno, Empedocles, Anaxagoras, Leucippus, and Democritus all made contributions to pre-Socratic philosophy thought and were referenced by later philosophers and historians to some extent or another.

[8] Socrates plays a significant role in Aristophanes Clouds, a satirical play of the sophist and philosophical traditions of late 5th century BC Athens.  He is primarily depicted as a bit of a buffoon in the play, but if nothing else it reflects the broad cultural and socio-political impact that the philosophical and sophist traditions of his day, Socrates and Plato reflecting the most prominent school, and therefore the easiest targets to be made light of.

[9] Plato lived and wrote in the latter part of the 4th and early part of the third century BC (circa 424 to 327 BC), and in his later life founded the Academy of Athens, the first known institution of higher learning in the Western world that persisted until the beginning of the first century BC, the same Academy from which Aristotle was schooled.  Thirty-six dialogues have been ascribed to Plato, and they cover a range of topics such as love, virtue, ethics, and the role of the philosopher in society.

[10] The Republic (GreekΠολιτείαPoliteia) is a Socratic dialogue written by Plato around 380 BC concerning the definition of justice and the order and character of the just city-state and the just man.  The work’s date has been much debated but is generally accepted to have been authored sometime during the Peloponnesian War which took place between Athens and Sparta at the end of the 5th century BC (circa 431 to 404 BC).  The Republic is arguably Plato’s best-known work and has proven to be one of the most intellectually and historically influential works of philosophy and political theory since the dawn of civilized man.  See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Republic_(Plato) for more detail.

[11] The Politics of Aristotle, trans. Benjamin Jowett (London: Colonial Press, 1900).

[12] A. N. Whitehead, Process and Reality, p. 39

[13] Dialectic is a form of intellectual pursuit and authorship reflected in a dialogue between two or more persons where various positions on the topic in question are posited and rationally expounded upon, a yielding of the truth via reason and logic where both sides of an argument are explored and stood behind by individuals, be they fictitious or real persons.  This is the basic structure of Plato’s Socratic Dialogues, a selection of works authored by Plato and Xenophon, the other prominent disciple of Socrates, being so categorized because Socrates is a characterized in the work not due to the content of the dialogues themselves.

[14] The exception to this would be Plato’s Apology which by all accounts is Plato’s attempt to describe the actual events of Socrates trial and Socrates’s actual defense and to a lesser extent the Crito which is Plato’s description of the final conversation between Crito and Socrates concerning justice where Crito attempts to convince Socrates, unsuccessfully, that he should flee his cell and Athens to avoid his impending execution.

[15] PlatoThe Republic, Book 6, translated by Benjamin Jowett.

[16] Also sometimes referred to as the Analogy of the Cave, Plato’s Cave, or the Parable of the Cave.

[17] In its simplest interpretation, the allegory of the cave can be viewed as outlining and defining Plato’s belief in the supremacy of forms or ideas over knowledge derived from sensory perception or the material world, i.e. his theory of forms[17], and taken one step further can be interpreted to mean that Plato is espousing a doctrine of the illusory nature of reality much like the Vedic tradition and its concept of Maya.

[18] Benjamin Jowett translation.  From http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/timaeus.html.

[19] For a more comprehensive look at the Plato’s Timaeus and its import, see the Stanford Encyclopedia entry, Plato’s Timaeus, which can be found at http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/plato-timaeus/.

[20] Aristotle is known to have been Alexander’s tutor for at least two years, from when Alexander was 13 to 15, but then Alexander was commissioned to the Macedonian army and therefore any later influence by Aristotle is brought into question.

[21] The branch of philosophy called Epistemology stems from the same root as epistêmai, i.e. meaning “knowledge” or “understanding” combined with logos, meaning “study of”.  This field of study is concerned with the nature and scope of knowledge itself, and arguably is the best description of Aristotle’s work in toto.  Epistemology questions what knowledge is, how it is acquired, and to what extent it is possible for a given subject or entity to be known.  The term was introduced by the Scottish philosopher James Frederick Ferrier (1808–1864) and the field is sometimes referred to as the theory of knowledge.  See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistemology for more details.

[22] ‘Prior to the modern history of science, scientific questions were addressed as a part of metaphysics known as natural philosophy. The term science itself meant “knowledge” of, originating from epistemology.  The scientific method, however, transformed natural philosophy into an empirical activity deriving from experiment unlike the rest of philosophy.  By the end of the 18th century, it had begun to be called “science” to distinguish it from philosophy.  Thereafter, metaphysics denoted philosophical enquiry of a non-empirical character into the nature of existence.  Some philosophers of science, such as the neo-positivists, say that natural science rejects the study of metaphysics, while other philosophers of science strongly disagree.’  From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metaphysics.

[23] There are a variety of ways to categorize Aristotle’s extant works but this categorization seems most intuitive and is taken from the Standard Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Aristotle.

[24] Note that despite the critical role that Aristotle’s Category Theory plays in his metaphysics and world view, he does not anywhere describe the rational foundation as to why the world should be broken up into the ten categories that outlines.  This of course leaves much of his metaphysics open to criticism by later scholars and interpreters of his work given the lack of rational underpinning for such a critical metaphysical construct that permeates virtually all of his extant literature.

[25] From Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ousia.

[26] A classic Judeo-Christian example of this transliteration problem can be found in the Gospel According to John, or simply John, the fourth of the Canonical Gospels of the New Testament and the Gospel unique to the other three Synoptic Gospels in many respects.  The oldest extant examples of the John were authored in Greek, and in particular the opening verse which is classically translated into English as “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

[27] As outlined in the Standard Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s interpretation of Aristotle’s work in Aristotle, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle/.

[28] Physics 194b23–35 as taken from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Aristotle at http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle/.

[29] See Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Aristotle at http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle/ pages 41-43 for a more detailed description of Aristotle’s view on the necessary and sufficient attributes of his four causal theory.

[30] It is however, very clear that Aristotle most definitely deviates from Plato’s view that the world of Forms is real and the world of the senses is simply illusory, which does in fact represent a significant divergence from Plato in his world view of reality akin to the dualistic view of reality in the Vedic philosophical tradition.

[31] From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Aristotle.   Found at http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle/.

[32] Plato’s Apology (24b).  Apology in this context coming from the Greek meaning “defense” or “explanation”.

[33] From Plato’s Apology.  Jowett’s translation at http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/apology.html.

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