Plato’s Metaphysics: Being and Becoming

Perhaps Plato’s greatest contribution to Western philosophy is the idealism embedded in his Theory of Forms, which in essence breaks down existence itself as not only a physical world of inanimate and animate objects, but a theory of knowledge and understanding which is based upon the notion that a) the understanding of a thing is predicated upon the existence of a true Form, or Idea of a thing without which the understanding, or even the thing itself, could not truly “exist:, and b) that such Forms or Ideas existed eternally as intellectual constructs upon which our understanding of the world around us was based.  It is from this premise and starting point that we must begin to try and grasp Plato’s perspective on not just reality and knowledge, but also ultimately his views on universal creation as well as his conception of the human Soul, all of which underpin not just his ethical philosophy but also his socio-political philosophy as reflected in the Republic and Laws most notably.

One of the primary themes that underlies all of Plato’s works, and can be especially seen in the Timaeus and Phaedo among other of his prominent works, is that the principles of reality or the known universe, and the very meaning of life and the pursuit of wisdom and understanding are not just worth exploring, but represent the very highest goal of life – the end of the philosopher.  His means of exploration, and perhaps the most defining characteristic of the Hellenic philosophical tradition which he so greatly influenced, is the role of reason and argument in the form of dialogue, logos and dialectic respectively, in ascertaining these universal truths, even if absolute truth or certainty is not completely possible given the limits of human understanding.  Whether or not he believed that absolute knowledge (sophia, phronēsis) was altogether possible or not is debatable and this is perhaps one of the great mysteries of Platonic philosophy as we try to understand it through the metaphors, analogies and arguments he presents and explores throughout his dialogues, the method and means of communication of these ideas and principles in fact lending itself to skepticism which was a hallmark of many of the philosophers which succeeded him at the Academy.

With respect to the nature of what can truly be known, from which any definition of reality can be drawn, Plato’s teachings as we understand them through his dialogues establish the first and foremost tradition of skepticism in Western – Indo-European really – thought.  This tradition, which starts with Socrates and clearly influenced Plato significantly, establishes the grounds of epistemology – the study of knowledge (epistêmê)– which is reflected in the philosophical tradition which Plato leaves behind at the Academy which he founded in Athens circa 387 BCE.  This tradition of skepticism” represented the core intellectual stream of thought emanating from the Academy subsequent to Plato which provided the basis for other currents of more materialistic and empiricist philosophical schools such as Stoicism and Epicureanism which has a much more broad definition of knowledge, each playing a strong role in the development of Hellenic philosophy in the classical Greco-Roman period.

Plato’s teachings were founded upon the principle, again believed to have been a legacy of Socrates himself, that there were significant intellectual limits upon that which could be truly known given that knowledge itself was predicated on the a priori existence of Forms or Ideas without which any understanding or comprehension of the physical world of matter comprehended by the senses is possible.  For Plato considered knowledge itself to be a type of “recollection”, which was part of his argument for the immortality of the Soul, which was the “form” of the body, one of the primary themes of the Phaedo, a dialogue which circulated in antiquity under the title of On the Soul.

Probably the most comprehensive literary expression of Plato’s notion of knowledge, the distinction he draws between the intelligible world (higher form of knowledge) and the visible world (lower form) comes from the Republic, expressed in what has come to be known as the analogy of the divided line.

“Conceive then,” said I, “as we were saying, that there are these two entities, and that one of them is sovereign over the intelligible order and region and the other over the world of the eye-ball, not to say the sky-ball, but let that pass.  You surely apprehend the two types, the visible and the intelligible.”  “I do.”

“Represent them then, as it were, by a line divided into two unequal sections and cut each section again in the same ratio (the section, that is, of the visible and that of the intelligible order), and then as an expression of the ratio of their comparative clearness and obscurity you will have, as one of the sections of the visible world, images.  By images I mean, first, shadows, and then reflections in water and on surfaces of dense, smooth and bright texture, and everything of that kind, if you apprehend.”  “I do.”  “As the second section assume that of which this is a likeness or an image, that is, the animals about us and all plants and the whole class of objects made by man.”  “I so assume it,” he said.  “Would you be willing to say,” said I, “that the division in respect of reality and truth or the opposite is expressed by the proportion: as is the opiniable to the knowable so is the likeness to that of which it is a likeness?”  “I certainly would.”

“Consider then again the way in which we are to make the division of the intelligible section.”  “In what way?”  “By the distinction that there is one section of it which the soul is compelled to investigate by treating as images the things imitated in the former division, and by means of assumptions from which it proceeds not up to a first principle but down to a conclusion, while there is another section in which it advances from its assumption to a beginning or principle that transcends assumption, and in which it makes no use of the images employed by the other section, relying on ideas only and progressing systematically through ideas.” [1]

Here we have Plato’s fundamental distinction drawn, in the analogy of a “divided line”, the world of the visible, that which can be perceived by the senses, and the world of intelligibles, i.e. thoughts and ideas divided into two unequal portions of a line, the intelligible portion being given greater emphasis and therefore greater (relative) size than its counterpart that represents the visible world.  Then each of these sections is divided again into two unequal portions of the same ration relative to each other, with the larger proportion of each subsection is sized based upon its relative clarity from an intellectual standpoint.

The smaller of the two segments of the visible portion of the line, i.e. the visible world, is made up of first images – shadows, reflections and the like – which are less “real”, more “obscure”, than the “things” which they represent in and of themselves, i.e. that which makes up the larger portion of the visible world part of the line because the “things” themselves are have more intellectual clarity or definition that the “images” or “shadows” of things.

Likewise, and analogously, the intelligible world is also divided into two unequal sections – of the same proportion.  The first of which, the smaller subsection, consists of the treatment of the images of things, and via various assumptions and conclusions various ideas or “theories”, abstract conclusions are drawn, i.e. “bottom up” or “deductive” reasoning of sorts.  The second section, the larger subsection of the intelligible world does not deal with things themselves, or even their images or representations but only deals with ideas in and of themselves and based upon pure intellectual reasoning – dialectic or logos – progresses from various assumptions or theses up to an ontological first principle or set of principles, i.e. bottom up logic or “inductive reasoning” of sorts.

dividedline-svg

Plato’s Epistemological worldview, i.e. the Analogy Divided Line[2]

Plato then goes on to use this analogy of the divided line as a representation, and relative worth or value, of four different types of knowledge, essentially using the divided line to describe his epistemological worldview.  Each section he describes as “affections of the Soul”, our perhaps better put, “capabilities” or “faculties” of the human mind.  The largest section of the line represents the clearest, the least obscure, and the closest depiction of Truth or Reality and is representative of conclusions drawn by use of pure Reason (logos), the faculty of the mind which deals only with ideas in and of themselves and reaches conclusions from principles up to the greatest and highest principle, i.e. the Good (segment DE).

This type of knowledge is followed then by lesser knowledge which is arrived at by the faculty of understanding, which draws various conclusions based upon “thinking” about not just abstract ideas in and of themselves but also about things and images as well (segment CD).  So although this type of thinking, like geometry for example, still deals with the intelligible world and therefore is of higher value than the “visible” realm of perception, is nonetheless of lesser value than conclusions drawn via pure reason and using pure ideas because this type of knowledge does deal with objects, even if they are simply images or representations of physical objects or things.

These two types of thinking that are categorized in the world of intelligibles are then followed by lower forms of knowledge which deal directly with objects of the visible world, the higher of which Plato refers to as “belief”, or “opinion” which deals with objects of the senses that exist within the world of visible world itself, what one might call the material world or the domain of  physics (segment BC), and then the lowest form of knowledge which he describes as “conjecture” or “imagination” (segment AB) which deals with not things in and of themselves but their shapes or images and deals with the likeness of visible things.[3]

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, a marked characteristic of not just the Platonic philosophical tradition, but the Western intellectual tradition as a whole.[4]

It is in the Timaeus however, one of the later and more mature works of Plato where 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 the Timaeus, Plato describes a “likely story” as to how the world was created, leveraging again reason (logos) and dialectic, and heavy use of analogy and metaphor, to describe the creation of the universe as a product of the intelligent design of a creator, his Demiurge.[5]  In many respects, the ideas and postulates of the Timaeus represent an expansion on Plato’s Theory of Forms which he introduces in Phaedo and the Republic but follows its intellectual development into the idea of the Good, and its role in the creation of the cosmos (kosmos), the material universe within which we live.

He starts again by drawing the distinction between the intelligible and sensible worlds, that which he calls Being and Becoming, two terms that have come to define Plato’s epistemological and cosmological worldview.

Now first of all we must, in my judgement, make the following distinction.  What is that which is Existent always [28a] and has no Becoming?  And what is that which is Becoming always and never is Existent?  Now the one of these is apprehensible by thought with the aid of reasoning, since it is ever uniformly existent; whereas the other is an object of opinion with the aid of unreasoning sensation, since it becomes and perishes and is never really existent.[6]

Here again Plato makes a distinction between the physical, or visible, world which is subject to change, and the eternal and changeless world of intelligibles, the Intellect (Nous) which can only be apprehended by use of the mind and reason, i.e. is not perceivable by the senses directly and can be discerned in the realm of the mind or thought.  He draws the basic distinction between that which is subject to change, the “visible” or “material” world (Becoming), and that which is eternal and changeless (Being).  Knowledge of the former, which falls under the category of the natural sciences which is the main thrust and emphasis of Aristotle’s reality, or sphere of knowledge, is not rejected outright by Plato but is held subservient – due to its constant fluctuating and changing state – to the world of ideas and thought which is apprehended by intelligence (Nous) and reason (Logos) and which is changeless and eternal.

The realm of Becoming is always subjected to perishing at some level and therefore never truly “is”, or can be said to “exist” within the context of Plato’s epistemological and ontological framework.  It is conceived of by what he deems “opinion”, alluding to the fact that perception is subjective in nature and what one perceives or experiences is not necessarily the same experience or perception of someone else, or some other being for that matter.  It is perceived via the senses, i.e. not by reason.  Whereas the latter realm always “is”, Being, is changeless and eternal, and is conceived of, apprehended as it were, by reason, mind and intelligence alone.  It is not subject to change and therefore according to Plato it truly can said to “be”, or can be said to “exist” within Plato’s epistemological framework, hence the term Being that he allots to it.

It is within this context of Plato’s distinction between the world of Being and Becoming, as he describes it in the Timaeus here, that the connection between Plato and Parmenides is drawn.  In many ancient philosophical circles, Heraclitus is said to be the mother of Plato’s teachings where Parmenides is said to be his father and it is his later works, and again specifically in the Timaeus, that we see this distinction along the lines of Being and Becoming clearly drawn, representing the most mature form of Plato’s’ intellectual conception of knowledge, i.e. what can be known, what philosophers call epistemology.

Parmenides (late 6th early 5th century BCE) is known for his one work, known by the title On Nature, written in hexameter verse which although does not survive in full, is believed to survive mostly intact through quotations and excerpts of later philosophers and commentators, reflecting its significant influence on early Hellenic philosophical development.  Most certainly Parmenides is one of the most influential of the “Pre-Socratics”, and it is through the interpretation of his philosophy through Plato really, that this determination is made.  He is believed to have been born in Elea in Southern Italy and therefore is historically categorized as part of the “Italian” branch of early Hellenic philosophy – as per Diogenes Laertius, the same branch as Pythagoras who represents the first and earliest of this tradition and as distinguished from the Ionian branch within which Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, as well as the Cynics and Stoics, belong to.

In Parmenides’s poem, he describes a pseudo allegorical journey up into the gates of Heaven driven by a golden chariot where he is initiated into eternal wisdom, i.e. the mysteries as it were, by the goddess of wisdom herself represented by the goddess Night, the very same goddess who plays a critical role in the unfolding of the universe in the in the Orphic mythological tradition.  [In later classical Greek mythology, she is personified as Athena, the goddess of wisdom and the daughter of Zeus, and it is no doubt she who most represents the notion of wisdom (i.e. sophia) as Plato perceives and describes it, in particular its illuminary nature from an intellectual perspective.]

In the excerpts that are extant from his poem On Nature, Parmenides distinguishes in very esoteric and almost mystical – and certainly cryptic – language that which is said to “be” or exist (to eon), or “true reality” (alêtheia), which he associates with thought and language and is wholly distinguishable from that which cannot in fact be said to exist in the same way, i.e. that which is not “real” and is wholly distinct from true reality (again alêtheia), due to its fluctuating and ever changing nature.

The thing that can be thought and that for the sake of which the thought exists is the same; for you cannot find thought without something that is, as to which it is uttered.  And there is not, and never shall be, anything besides what is, since fate has chained it so as to be whole and immovable.  Wherefore all these things are but names which mortals have given, believing them to be true—coming into being and passing away, being and not being, change of place and alteration of bright color.  [R. P. 119].[7]

In Parmenides, as we know him again through the quotations and comments of philosophers from the classical Hellenic period and later, we find what is believed to be the source of Plato’s epistemology where, in Vedic terms, the world of “name and form” which is in a constant state of change and flux, which falls in the domain of what Plato terms “opinion”, is held to be an inferior form of knowledge than the realm of the changeless and eternally existent world of ideas thought, as discerned by pure reason (logos), i.e. “true reality” which Parmenides calls alêtheia  and which Plato refers to as Being, again distinguished from that which is Becoming.  This bifurcation and sublimation of the material world for the ethereal or rational world ultimately provides the basis for Plato’s Theory of Forms and is the basis upon which he builds not only his theory of knowledge but also his cosmology as outlined in the Timaeus.

Furthermore, while Parmenides writes in hexameter verse, there is clearly a logical cohesion to his work, an argument or a case he is trying to make, to establish the grounds of being, in a classical philosophical sense, where he is attempting to justify and rationalize, and in turn provide the logical foundation for, his position of establishing that which “is” (to eon), or can be said to exist due to its eternal and unchanging nature which in turn again is distinguished from, and held to be of higher intellectual and philosophical value than, that which is subject to change and ultimate dissolution, i.e. the objective and material world.[8]

In this sense Parmenides work and philosophy that is represented therein is not only the forefather of Plato’s Being and Becoming as laid out in the Timaeus, but also the forefather of the means by which this distinction is established, i.e. by reason and argument which Plato presents in dialogue form using logic, or dialectic, which can be viewed as a more mature and evolved form of (written) communication of ideas and metaphysics than that which is used by Parmenides who follows in the footsteps of the earlier mythic poets Homer and Hesiod.

Transitioning back to Plato’s cosmology and its relationship to the worlds of Being and Becoming respectively in the Timaeus, we find a description which is markedly anthropomorphic in conception and yet at the same time rests upon his basic metaphysical delineation of reality between Being and Becoming – i.e. that which is permanent, eternal and unchanging and comprehended by reason (logos) and thought or ideas (eidôs), versus the sensible realm which is subject to change and “opinion” and therefore is characterized by an implicit creative and destructive process.

Again, everything which becomes must of necessity become owing to some Cause; for without a cause it is impossible for anything to attain becoming.  But when the artificer of any object, in forming its shape and quality, keeps his gaze fixed on that which is uniform, using a model of this kind, that object, executed in this way, must of necessity [28b] be beautiful; but whenever he gazes at that which has come into existence and uses a created model, the object thus executed is not beautiful.

Now the whole Heaven, or Cosmos, or if there is any other name which it specially prefers, by that let us call it, —so, be its name what it may, we must first investigate concerning it that primary question which has to be investigated at the outset in every case, —namely, whether it has existed always, having no beginning of generation, or whether it has come into existence, having begun from some beginning. It has come into existence; for it is visible and tangible and possessed of a body; and all such things are sensible, [28c] and things sensible, being apprehensible by opinion with the aid of sensation, come into existence, as we saw, and are generated.

And that which has come into existence must necessarily, as we say, have come into existence by reason of some Cause.  Now to discover the Maker and Father of this Universe were a task indeed; and having discovered Him, to declare Him unto all men were a thing impossible.  However, let us return and inquire further concerning the Cosmos, —after which of the Models did its Architect construct it?[9]

Here we see not only the implicit anthropomorphic, or perhaps better put anthrocentric, view of universal creation, but also the fundamental assumption of causality which rests at the heart of what is perhaps best terms his “theological” cosmological conception.  In other words, implicit in the existence of the universe as we know and perceive it, in fact implicit in the existence in anything, is some element of causality even if in this context he intends to mean “purpose” or “reason”, rather than a physical chain of causality which is how we have come to identify the meaning in the modern era of empirical science.[10]

Furthermore, he argues that the universe must have been “created” – i.e. has some sort of beginning in time and space as it were – because it exists within the sensible realm, the realm that is in and of itself defined by change, is apprehended by “opinion”, is subjectively perceived and is therefore – again by definition – in a constant state of flux which is bound by an implicit and eternally present creative and destructive process of Becoming.

[29a] Was it after that which is self-identical and uniform, or after that which has come into existence; Now if so be that this Cosmos is beautiful and its Constructor good, it is plain that he fixed his gaze on the Eternal; but if otherwise (which is an impious supposition), his gaze was on that which has come into existence.  But it is clear to everyone that his gaze was on the Eternal; for the Cosmos is the fairest of all that has come into existence, and He the best of all the Causes.  So having in this wise come into existence, it has been constructed after the pattern of that which is apprehensible by reason and thought and is self-identical. [29b]

Again, if these premises be granted, it is wholly necessary that this Cosmos should be a Copy of something.  Now in regard to every matter it is most important to begin at the natural beginning.  Accordingly, in dealing with a copy and its model, we must affirm that the accounts given will themselves be akin to the diverse objects which they serve to explain; those which deal with what is abiding and firm and discernible by the aid of thought will be abiding and unshakable; and in so far as it is possible and fitting for statements to be irrefutable and invincible, [29c] they must in no wise fall short thereof; whereas the accounts of that which is copied after the likeness of that Model, and is itself a likeness, will be analogous thereto and possess likelihood; for I as Being is to Becoming, so is Truth to Belief.

Wherefore, Socrates, if in our treatment of a great host of matters regarding the Gods and the generation of the Universe we prove unable to give accounts that are always in all respects self-consistent and perfectly exact, be not thou surprised; rather we should be content if we can furnish accounts that are inferior to none in likelihood, remembering that both I who speak [29d] and you who judge are but human creatures, so that it becomes us to accept the likely account of these matters and forbear to search beyond it. [11]

In this passage we find Plato, in the words of Timaeus in the dialogue, arguing that there must in fact exist a model upon which the cosmos (kosmos) is fashioned and that this model must be the “best” model, i.e. that which is eternal and changeless which he implies is the source of all things, i.e. the world of Becoming.  This model is based upon the Good, the Form of Forms, an eternal and changeless Idea which can only be apprehended – if it can be apprehended at all – by reason and thought and from which the world of Becoming is generated, or brought about from.

He equates the world of Being here to “true reality”, what he refers to as “Truth”, and the world of Becoming to the domain of “opinion” or “subjective belief”, lining up these two metaphysical principles which presumably derive from Parmenides squarely with his theory of knowledge. The former, the realm Being which is characterized by reason, thought and ideas, he considers to be the higher form of knowledge upon which the latter, the realm of Becoming which is forever changing and in a state of flux and is characterized by “opinion” and subjective belief, is molded from or shaped out of.

Plato then goes on, through the narrative of Timaeus in the dialogue, to describe in detail just how the divine craftsman, the Demiurge, establishes universal creation, what has come to be known as the “Cosmic Soul”, applying various rational, proportional, mathematical and geometrical (presumably of Pythagorean influence) constructs onto the primordial chaos out of which the four basic elements – earth, air, water and fire – as well as the heavens and earth and all living creatures therein came into existence.  But this world of Becoming, and the creative process which he outlines therein, attempting as best he can to provide a logical and rational account of creation in again what he refers to as a “likely” account, resting on and alluding to the limits of human knowledge in and of itself in understanding the reason and ultimate cause and process by which the universe comes into being, nonetheless presumes the universe to be crafted upon the model of the Good, a benign creator as it were that provides the foundation for the Judeo-Christian worldview.

[30a] For God desired that, so far as possible, all things should be good and nothing evil; wherefore, when He took over all that was visible, seeing that it was not in a state of rest but in a state of discordant and disorderly motion, He brought it into order out of disorder, deeming that the former state is in all ways better than the latter.  For Him who is most good it neither was nor is permissible to perform any action save what is most fair.  As He reflected, therefore, He perceived that of such creatures as are by nature visible, [30b] none that is irrational will be fairer, comparing wholes with wholes, than the rational; and further, that reason cannot possibly belong to any apart from Soul.  So because of this reflection He constructed reason within soul and soul within body as He fashioned the All, that so the work He was executing might be of its nature most fair and most good.

Thus, then, in accordance with the likely account, we must declare that this Cosmos has verily come into existence as a Living Creature endowed with soul and reason owing to the providence of God.   [30c] This being established, we must declare that which comes next in order.  In the semblance of which of the living Creatures did the Constructor of the cosmos construct it?  We shall not deign to accept any of those which belong by nature to the category of “parts”; for nothing that resembles the imperfect would ever become fair.  But we shall affirm that the Cosmos, more than aught else, resembles most closely that Living Creature of which all other living creatures, severally and generically, are portions.  For that Living Creature embraces and contains within itself all the intelligible Living Creatures, just as this Universe contains us and all the other visible living creatures [30d] that have been fashioned.  For since God desired to make it resemble most closely that intelligible Creature which is fairest of all and in all ways most perfect, He constructed it as a Living Creature, one and visible, containing within itself all the living creatures which are by nature akin to itself.[12]

We can see here that Plato sees the rational and ordered as of higher value than the chaotic and disordered, and he assigns the highest value to reason itself (again logos) which is attributed and ultimately equated with the divine or Cosmic Soul.  Furthermore, Plato perceives the universe, in very much the same vein as the Stoic tradition which was very influential in the Greco-Roman period and influenced early Christian theology (pneuma, the divine spirit), as a living, breathing entity which not only embodies, encapsulates as it were, all of the kosmos within it, but also is endowed with “Soul” and “reason”, just as the individual is at some extent.  God here, the Cosmic Soul, is fashioned in the image of man as it were as opposed to the other way around as it is presented in the Judeo-Christian account of creation.

At the heart of Plato’s philosophy was the belief in the ontological primacy of the rational faculty of man, Reason, along with the tools of the trade which reflected and were to be leveraged by this faculty – namely reason (logos), dialectic, logic and mathematics – as the means by which the fundamental truths of these ancient mystic traditions could be known or brought to light.  He was the first to establish the connection between cosmology, physics and ethics to a degree that had not be done before, a characteristic that became one of the primary characteristics of Hellenic and Roman philosophy and was even followed in the scholastic tradition up until the end of the Middle Ages.

Plato also established a good deal of the semantic framework, in Greek, through which these esoteric, complex and interrelated topics could be discussed and explored, a development whose importance cannot be overstated.  For before Plato the language of philosophy was shrouded in myth, analogy, and metaphor, and after Plato all of the Greek philosophic schools and practitioners now at east had a working vocabulary through which philosophic ideas and concepts could be further explored and elucidated upon, even if the various schools disagreed with each other on a variety of issues.

Plato’s unique contribution to theological development in antiquity then can be viewed as placing the rational faculty of man as the primarily tool through which any knowledge of the gods, or reality itself even, should be drawn.  His reach extended well beyond the theological domain however, extending into topics such as what could actually be known, psychological questions, systems of ethics and virtue, political philosophy, and most importantly the goal of life itself.  Many of his lasting contributions to the philosophic, and later scientific, development in the West are not necessarily the conclusions that he drew or solutions he put forth, but the tools and institutions which he established for their pursuit.

It can be said definitively however that with Plato the supremacy of reason and rationality in the search for truth and meaning in life as well as the nature and origins of the universe is firmly established.  To Plato the epistemological supremacy of the intelligible realm, the world of Being, over the sensible realm, or the world of Becoming, is the predominant characteristic of his metaphysics.  The former of which is characterized by Forms and Ideals from which the material universe as we know it, and all living souls as well, are ultimately “fashioned” from, all modeled and stemming from the belief that the Creator, if indeed he can be said to exist, must have fashioned things according to what is most fair and most just, i.e. the Good or Best.


[1] Plato Republic Book 6, 509d – 510b.  From Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vols. 5 & 6 translated by Paul Shorey. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1969.  http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0168%3Abook%3D6%3Asection%3D509d

[2] AC represents knowledge of the material or “visible” world and CE represents knowledge of the “intelligible” world.  Image From Wikipedia contributors, ‘Analogy of the divided line’, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 19 October 2016, 05:17 UTC, <https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Analogy_of_the_divided_line&oldid=745083560&gt; [accessed 19 October 2016]

[3] See Plato Republic Book 6, 510c-511e.-  From Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vols. 5 & 6 translated by Paul Shorey. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1969.  http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0168%3Abook%3D6%3Asection%3D511e and Wikipedia contributors, ‘Analogy of the divided line’, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 19 October 2016, 05:17 UTC, <https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Analogy_of_the_divided_line&oldid=745083560> [accessed 19 October 2016]

[4] 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.  But buried within his allegory is also his dim and morbid view of the role of the philosopher himself, who is tasked with trying to shed light upon the true nature of reality to those steeped in ignorance.

[5] Plato’s Demiurge, the so-called “Divine Craftsman” that he describes in the Timaeus, becomes one of the cornerstone theological principles in the Hellenic theo-philosophical tradition and one which bleeds, and fits quite nicely, into the Judeo-Christian (and Islamic) anthropomorphic conception of God.  The English Demiurge comes from the Latin Demiurgus, which stems from the Greek Dêmiourgos (δημιουργός), which means “craftsman” or “artisan” but of course morphed into the more theological notion of Creator within the Hellenic theo-philosophical tradition itself.  See Wikipedia contributors, ‘Demiurge’, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 18 December 2016, 18:44 UTC, <https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Demiurge&oldid=755542807&gt; [accessed 18 December 2016].

[6] Plato Timaeus.  27a-28a.  Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 9 translated by W.R.M. Lamb. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1925.  http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0180%3Atext%3DTim.%3Apage%3D27

[7] Early Greek Philosophy, translation with notes and commentary by John Burnet.  Chapter IV., Parmenides of Elea.  3rd editions (1920).  London.  From http://www.classicpersuasion.org/pw/burnet/egp.htm?chapter=4

[8] For a more detailed description of the philosophy of Parmenides and analysis of the existent fragments of his work On Nature, see “Parmenides of Elea: What Is Versus What is Not”, by Juan Valdez 2016 at https://snowconenyc.com/2016/09/30/parmenides-of-elea-what-is-versus-what-is-not and Parmenides entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy at http://plato.stanford.edu/cgi-bin/encyclopedia/archinfo.cgi?entry=parmenides.

[9] Plato Timaeus.  28a-28c.  Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 9 translated by W.R.M. Lamb. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1925.  http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0180%3Atext%3DTim.%3Apage%3D28

[10] It is in this context of Plato’s notion of Being and Becoming, and his fairly loose but at the same time all-pervading implicit assumption of causality or purpose, within which Aristotle establishes his metaphysical worldview which is based upon substantial form and  causality – the material, formal, efficient and final–  all of which looks to better define that which can be said to “exist”, his being qua being.  Aristotle’s efficient and final causes represent Plato’s notion of “reason” or “purpose” which underlies existence whereas Aristotle’s material and formal causes represent the underlying principles for the material or sensible world.  For more detail on Aristotle’s theory of causality and how it relates to his metaphysical worldview, see the chapter on Aristotle in this work and the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on “Aristotle on Causality” which can be found here: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle-causality/.

[11] Plato Timaeus.  29a-29d.  Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 9 translated by W.R.M. Lamb. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1925.  http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0180%3Atext%3DTim.%3Apage%3D29

[12] Plato Timaeus.  30a-30d.  Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 9 translated by W.R.M. Lamb. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1925.  http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0180%3Atext%3DTim.%3Apage%3D30

What can we do?

We look around and what do we see?
As we live our little boxes in the sky
Or our homes that we build on plotted our land
With food processed and shipped
And the environment raped to serve our needs
Until Earth herself cries out in anguish
As her forests are pillaged
And her seas exploited
And all the wonderful beasts and other wonders of life
Disappear from our planet at an ever alarming pace

But we shuttled down these high rises
We commute on trains and buses and automobiles
To get to our place of business
Which provides us the means to live
The currency to exchange for goods and services
That serve all our wants and desires
And the wants and desires of those who depend on us
To try and make it easier and better for those that depend on us
The next generation
But what d we teach them?

In our elevators and subways
Filled with clones just like ourselves
Glaring into their cell phones
Virtually connecting
With friends and colleagues perhaps
Who have well crafted personages
That show the world the pieces of ourselves
That we want them to see
Hiding behind these virtual walls
All sharing the same fears
And all looking for the same love
Which seems to slip through our fingers
That grains of sand
The tighter we grip, the more quickly it fades

Or perhaps they are simply waiting for that one message
That one like or that one comment
From that one special someone that we used to hold so dear
That will just never arrive
For to them we just filled a need a certain period of time
Satisfied that desire until it became too much
Or they just tired of us and wanted to move on

These are human emotions and challenges
That we all share
And yet we sit in our shells thinking
That our problems are real and unique
And to hell with everyone else
For if capitalism is nothing else
It is every man for himself
For the good of the economy
Which only serves to line the pockets
Of those whose pockets are so deep
They could not reach the bottom with a ladder

But we hope beyond hope
That we seek and what we are after
Will provide that elusive happiness
That is the whole purpose of this silly game now isn’t it?

From the very beginning, it was about survival
We were given brains and smarts
We built tool and weapons
And clothes and shelter
We formed social groups and gatherings
That banded together and foraged together
And protected each other in times of warfare and famine
All bound by the great laws that Darwin ‘discovered’
That allowed of the strongest of the species to propagate
To give the next generation the best possible chance to survive
By natural selection he called it
Nature’s way of giving us a chance
To live on

Qualities such as strength and protection
Prerequisites to dominance and the creation of territorial boundaries
To ensure access too food and other resources
That would allow our tribe to survive and maybe even thrive
And provide a better world for those that came after us

All of these things have been wired into us
Since we evolved from the chimps
So many millions of years ago
Without these traits
These means of survival
We would not be around today to talk about how great we are
And how great a nation we live in
And how our interests need to be protected
At all costs
Even if that means taking the war to the enemy
Overseas at great expense
To the taxpayers and the men and women of service
Who give their lives for this ‘just’ cause
Creating the mounting debt
Which in the end just lines the very same pockets
Of those that ‘protect’ our national interest

Is this no different
Than those that forced the draft upon us in Vietnam
That fought and battled in the shadows of the cold war
To the Muhammad Ali’s, Gandhi’s and Martin Luther King’s of the world
Who made great sacrifices to stand up for what they believe in
To fight for the the injustices in their homeland
To stand up against the interests of power
Who even to this day keep this great social divide in place
To serve their interests
And keep the naysayers at bay
With their powerful lawyers
And the legislative branch at their disposal
As they fill their coffers for their next election

To fight the fight of all fights
Muslim, Christian, Jew
Black, White, Yellow
None of that mattered
These great prophets, Jesus included,
Made these great sacrifices
So that the people that followed int their footsteps
hight live win a more human world
With perhaps just a trace of empathy
For our fellow man

Is this no different then
This system of ours and our great laws and justice system
Than the Great Books that were written
Inspired so they say even in ancient times
The Qur’an and the Torah
The Bible and the Bhagavad Gita
All meant to inscribe and instill
National and religious pride in its members
Laying claim to the one true word,
The One true God
Which surpasses all others
And who has handed down laws, commandments even
Which we must obey
Or face the wrath of the Lord
To protect the status quo

Look closely my dear friend
Look closely at how and why and who crafted these Great books
And what you invariably find is that they are designed to protect
Those that have power from losing it
And give them at the same time to enforce their will
Upon those that defy it

We must say yes
The rule of law and the creation of an International body of ‘peacemakers’
Is certainly a step forward
In the evolution of man and the spreading of some form of justice
To all around the globe
Even though we all know that those that are ‘protected’
And those that are not
Are separated by economic interest and national gain
Just like those the home

One of the truly great things about America no doubt
Is our self proclaimed ‘freedom’
But freedom from what exactly?
Freedom to speak our minds without risk of banishment or imprisonment?
Sure we can say what we want but what are the consequences?
Ask Curt Shilling after being let go from ESPN after a Tweet
About whether or not gender neutral, or perhaps better put gender confused,
Should be allowed to determine which bathroom they go into

Our freedoms constrained by the deep pockets
Of those to whom our attacks are directed
And while this system of law may seem fair in how we present it to the rest of the world
When you line up the lawyers and draft the court documents
It is invariably the ones with the deeper pockets and the greater commitment to their cause
That win the day in the end
Which more often that not, more often than we wish to admit
Is to protect the staus quo, and ensure the rich and powerful remain so
And that the people that serve them
Stay inter rightful places
The caste system of the 21st century
Is created before our very eyes
But we fail to see it, and we call it freedom
As if we fool everyone into believing it to be so

While teams of lawyers get behind various causes of ‘injustice’
Class action lawsuits ensure
Thousands and even millions of dollars are spent
In the name of justice and freedom
But really its to empower the lawyers
And laden their pockets full of money

And game this system of justice that we hold so dear
That has now been so saturated with lawyers and thieves
And the makers of the laws themselves
Follows to the later the advice and instructions of the powerful lobbying forces
Funded by major corporations that want nothing more
Than to keep things just the way they are
To protect their power, to protect their money
And keep their bubble world
Insulated from the harsh reality and conditions of the 99.9%
Who struggle to pay rent and put food on the table
And who try desperately to educate their young
And keep them off the streets
And out of the prisons that they all seem to end up in

Is this no different then
Then the story told in the Bhagavad Gita
And how it espouses Arjuna to fight
On the eve of battle and do his duty, follow his dharma
Obey and accept his station in life
So that those in power can stay in power
And that everlasting life, enlightenment itself can be his
If he just just stands and fights
A ‘just’ war for a ‘just’ cause

And the Judeo-Christian faith, and the Muslims too
The Church perhaps, the worst offender of them all
In the name of peace and love and faith in God
Who had their great crusades
Under the guise of Religion
But with empirical ambition the real reason behind it al
Jesus was put to death on the cross
Muhammad built his kingdom
Moses led his people from Egypt

No doubt these religious movements
Brought these peoples together
Unified them and established great city-states, nations and alliances
Bound by common religious beliefs
The great opiate of the masses

But why? To what end?
For the construction of empires of course
And the mass of wealth for those that ran those empires
The same story told over and over again
Where now even one wonders if the story can be changed
It is so ingrained in our society
So ingrained in our system of government
Here in the West and the East
One undertake guise of democracy, freedom and capitalism
And the other undertake guise of Religious statehood and Divinely inspired law

And we look from the West
With the sharia law we see
Yes it is barbaric in some cases
No doubt the stoning to death
Of women who marry without parental consent
Is bestial by any moral or ethical standards

But a democratic nation, a capitalistic one
The one we live in and find ourselves caught in
How much better is it really?
For what we have gained
In a system so fraught with greed and lust for power
That entire regulatory bodies have had to be created to reign it in
Even greater substantiating the financial burden of its citizens
As we prepare ourselves for the next major bailout
Of the financial firms that are simply just too big to fail
Line the pockets of the great new aristocracy
We have created modern times

Muhammad’s laws are dated no doubt
As most certainly are those of Moses
The Church is coming along
But still has its political motives
As it fills its own coffers in the Vatican
And looks to convert followers

And so we are left with one question, maybe two
What can we do? What is our purpose here?
Whereas the ancients that was a simpler question
Which started with survival
And progressed with the ‘advancement’ of civilization
To the pursuit of individual happiness
Which could be found in the study of ethics
Alongside the design of the perfect society
Ruled by the philosopher king in Plato’s words

Which in today’s parlance is simply Tyranny
With a naive faith in the Tyrant’s ability
To act into best interests of its people
Which runs entirely against millions years of biological evolution
Which has wired us to take care of our own first
At the great expense of others as needed
This is the mark of the human race
The true character of the human being
Homo sapiens, God’s great creation.

This is the true legacy of the Greeks in a way
Not Democracy or Philosophy
It’s the breaking down of knowledge into such small and tiny portions
Such that true knowledge and wisdom
Which Socrates so humbly professed he knew none of
And humanity and its relationship with nature
Has been almost completely lost
And hangs on by the thinnest of threads

In all the divisions and distinctions
And different modes of thought
That all subserve mother Earth and her fruits
To the pursuit of the pleasures of mankind
Backed by the Great Book
Handed down from God to Moses
Genesis all but tells us this
That these beasts and plants
These creatures of the sky and the water
Were given over to us to have dominion over
And use as we wish
And that we have done
Leaving the spirit of these beautiful verses
That have inspired us for two thousand years
In the hamper in the trash
While we continue to milk Mother Earth and all her inhabitants
Until one day they will all be gone
And the err of ways will finally be looking us in the eyes
And we will have no answer
But claim only perhaps that it was the prior generations
That did not set things straight
And perhaps they will be right

And where have we come after all these centuries?
What have we really progressed into?
What have we truly gained?
Take out Chinese – check
Mobile phones and Facebook – check
FaceTime with friends all around the world – check

And a loneliness and detachment that is beyond our imagination
As we walk through this world with our headphones on
Tuning out to the homeless on the street
And all the passers by
Ignoring all the angst and frustration
That is almost brewing over the cauldron of our cities
It can be seen in the hostility and anger
That is shout between and among fellow citizens
Ss they fight to make a red light or find a parking spot
Just to get to work
Where they can chase that mighty dollar

Perhaps Montana, Utah, Colorado, Washington, Canada even
Are all different.
Where you get a hey or a wry smile when you pass by
And humanity, what makes us human, the human condition itself
Is shared in a passing moment filled with a quick glance between total strangers
As a door is held open
As a dropped paper is picked up
As a smoke is lit by a strange
As a dollar is dropped in the cap of someone whose life has left them homeless

What can we do?
But plow on and do our duty
Provide for those that count on us
And make the sacrifices necessary to do
Use whatever means possible
To make good on our compromises
While still holding on to some moral and ethical creed
That brings us to the rest of humanity
And to the rest of the creatures we share this beautiful planet with

And keep our judgments to ourselves
And be not greedy with our well wishing
With our hellos and goodbyes
With our ‘have a nice days’ exchanged to strangers in elevators and on the street

Make the world a better place
Starting and ending with you and how you treat people
And battling those demons inside you that make you just want to run away
Run away with all the hatred that became calcified in your heart

Turn the other cheek he says
That is his greatest dictum
Not that he rose from the dead
But that he taught us the ultimate sacrifice

That for a friend, to back him up and love him still
After he betrayed you and gives you up to the authorities
The very same people you were rising up against
Even if that meant being dragged through the streets
Carrying the very same cross that he was to be nailed to
To suffocate to death in excruciating and unimaginable pain
To hold fast to his beliefs in love and truth
No matter what the cost

We need not be martyrs
We can not all find that strength
But we can be nice and kind
And forgive those that trespassed us
Just as we wish to be forgiven by those that we have trespassed
And pray that tomorrow we may be a better person
Than we were today

And maybe at the very end
As well all slowly march to that imminent doom
When the show is over and the lights go out
We might have made a difference in this world
And can find peace at last

Reason and Logic: The Precursors to Science

It’s clear in studying early religion and philosophy that mythology and cosmology in antiquity was not only theological in nature, but also had a political motive as well.  But at some point in antiquity there was a break from which reason and knowledge was divorced from the quest for power and the establishment of authority, where reason and logic began to be leveraged in a more pure form to explore the nature of the world around us.  And this could be found with the Greek philosophers no doubt.

In looking at the ancient Greek theological and philosophical literature, there were indeed some of the same theological and mythological components as could be found in the Egyptian and Sumerian traditions for example, but the political motive behind the authoring and describing of the nature of the universe was gone.  There was another force at work, a cultural and philosophical force that spurred individuals to study and author complete theological and philosophical works that had no relation to the establishment of royalty, power or authority.  And from this pure pursuit of truth, if you could call it that, many different branches of thought originated – philosophical treatises like the works of Plato, mystical or spiritual works like that attributed to Hermes like Corpus Hermeticum[1], and works of pure mathematics and geometry from the likes of Euclid.  All of these independent works and branches of thought all contributed to the birth of Reason in their own way and could only emerge in a society which respected and worshipped reason and logic for their own sake.  The divine Logos then emerges in history and does not look back.

To understand this birth of philosophy then, which is the cornerstone of Reason and Science as we know it today, one must understand the lives of Plato, Aristotle and Socrates upon which the foundations of all modern philosophy (in the West) rest.  And to understand the lives of these first philosophers, one must understand to some extent the nature of the societies within which they lived and wrote.  The Greeks are given such preeminence to our modern day western historians primarily because it is within this culture that democracy and philosophy were born.  What was it about this society that allowed these lasting and evolved concepts and ideas to develop?  This was an unnatural act, a step in the evolution of mankind that represented a break from the cultures and modes of thought that preceded it.  The birth of philosophy and reason, which required democracy and some level of separation of church and state in order to flourish, represented a major shift in thinking.  Greek civilization represented the first major split of the cultures of what is deemed today the East and the West today.

And by society in this context we mean primarily the modes of thought that were prevalent in the times of the first philosophers.  For Science and Reason to truly blossom, they needed to be looked at as more powerful, more elegant, and more pure than religion or mythology which had been the pinnacles of thought before them.  This was a necessary condition in order for these disciplines to grow and evolve because they represented such a radical shift in how individuals were to view the world around them.  It was empowering to the individual, and established authority saw this and it scared them – supremacy of thought and ideas and the rule of law over authority for authority’s sake.  This is essentially what had Socrates killed, the fear of knowledge for its own sake bereft of any political agenda or authority.  He was the first martyr.

There is a clear relationship between this empowerment of the individual, the elevation of thought and reason over religious and political authority, to the birth of reason and science.  The example of the life of Christ represented this friction, this contest if you will.  Think of the nature of the society that manifested the crucifixion of Christ.  It was what Jesus represented that scared the authority of the time so very much.  The idea that God is accessible to all equally and that the kingdom of heaven is within us all, that no middle man, no priest, was required in order to gain access to divine inspiration.  This could not be so.  This is blasphemy.  And this fear of loss of established authority and power is what led directly to his crucifixion, which of course ironically enough led to the birth of one of arguably the most influential teachings and religions in the history of mankind.

Over the centuries though, and through the creation of the Bible itself, there developed a bastardization of these teachings of Christ, leveraging the same age old techniques that were employed by the authors of the mythological and cosmological traditions of the Egyptian and Sumerians.  Christianity, and in turn the teachings of Christ, over the ages had taken root in that age old quest of the priesthood to establish their authority by stating unequivocally that to get to the gods, or in this case the God of all gods, you must go through Christ as represented in the teachings of the Bible.  Salvation can only be through Christ, and to get to Christ you must go through the Church.  Again, such was the same strategy employed by the Sumerians to establish the supremacy of Marduk over all the other gods of Mesopotamia, as well as the strategy of the Egyptians to establish the divine authority of the pharaohs.

But Christ had the philosophy of the Greeks before him, which justified this separation of church and state for the free flowing of knowledge and the search for ultimate truth.  It was upon the shoulders of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, along with the teachings of the Vedas and Buddha from the East which were surely drawn upon by the mystic traditions of the Greeks and Romans which must have influenced Jesus to some degree, that Christ declared that the divine was accessible to all and that no religious authority or priesthood could stand between the realization of these fundamental truths for the individual.  That God could in fact by realized by each and every one of us: the kingdom of heaven is within us.

But the birth of Reason itself was coupled with the birth of civilization in the Mediterranean, the birth of democracy and philosophy, and in turn even the birth of mathematics (geometry and algebra which formed the basis of the mathematical sciences) which so strongly influence our thinking today.  All of these advancements and revolutionary approaches to the way in which persons and individuals perceived the nature of the world around them can be attributed to classical Greece.

The Greek cosmological view was unique from its predecessor civilizations in the sense that it broke from the tradition of cosmology being used to establish the supremacy of royalty of authority.

… Theogony is a part of Greek mythology which embodies the desire to articulate reality as a whole; this universalizing impulse was fundamental for the first later projects of speculative theorizing.  In many cultures, narratives about the origin of the cosmos and about the gods that shaped it are a way for society to reaffirm its native cultural traditions.  Specifically, theogonies tend to affirm kingship as the natural embodiment of society.  What makes the Theogony of Hesiod unique is that it affirms no historical royal line.[2]

This quote crystallized the concept that it was this initial core break of the cosmology of the Greeks from the other ancient cosmologies which formed the necessary building blocks for the advent of philosophy and metaphysics, and in turn mathematics and science; the exploration into the nature and origin of the universe as a purely intellectual exercise, with no royal or divine establishment of power as its basis.  This key distinction was a requirement in order to be able to take that cosmology and expand on it, to drive it to further levels of abstraction.  And this concept of arche, or the fundamental concept or principle of a thing, formed the first layer of abstraction upon which these disciplines arose.

…In the Theogony the origin (arche) is Chaos, a divine primordial condition and there are the roots and the ends of the earth, sky, sea and Tartarus.  …  In the language of the archaic period (8th – 6th century BC), arche (or archai), designates the source, origin or root of things that exist.  If a thing is to be well established or founded, its arche or static point must be secure, and the most secure foundations are those provided by the gods: the indestructible, immutable and eternal ordering of things….In ancient Greek philosophy, arche is the element or first principle of all things, a permanent nature or substance which is conserved in the generation of the rest of it.   From this all things come to be and into it they are resolved in a final state. (Aristotle, Metaph.).[3]

This byproduct of the Theogony then was the birth of abstract thought, removed from political motive.  Abstract thought for abstract thought’s sake.  A new door had been opened.  It was the means by which the cosmology of the Greeks was authored and professed which sowed the seeds from which reason, science and metaphysics could be born.  The authority rested in the teller, the storyteller, the author, the poet via divine inspiration, rather than the divine authority established by dogma, or what was proselytized by ritual and priesthood.

It was subtle, but it was the presumption that the territory of the divine, that the quest of the answers to the question who am i and from whence I came, was not just the dominion of the priests and royalty, but the dominion of us all.  This was a purely Eastern construct, and it was this construct that formed the foundation of reason and science, and ironically enough the concept which eludes the bedrock of modern day science or theoretical physics that relies so much on a mechanistic view of the world[4].

The innovation of the Greeks then, their contribution to Science, is the establishment of observance of reality and experimentation, scientific method in fact, as the basis for truth.  The Greeks more so than any other culture, established the quest for the description and model of the universe that obeyed fundamental laws and principles, and was not to be looked at within the context of the establishment of power and authority, and of course not to be confused with Religion.

 

When looking for the origins of philosophy within Greek civilization, you must start with Socrates[5].  Socrates was from Athens and lived from 469 BC to 399 BC and his most famous students were Plato and Xenophon[6]. His life and teachings were also depicted in the plays of Aristophanes, a contemporary comic and satirical playwright.  Most notably in his play The Clouds which portrayed Socrates as a buffoon of sorts who teaches their students how to weasel their way out of debt.

Socrates did not produce any works per se, so his life is primarily known through the eyes of his contemporaries and students, most notably Plato of course, which leaves some room for interpretation as to what he accomplished and founded and what in turn led to his persecution and ultimate death by Greek authorities.

Socrates’s demise came at the hands of Athenian authorities due to his seemingly radical or revolutionary beliefs and specifically his challenge of the authority of the priesthood.  Socrates was found guilty of both of corruption of the minds of youth as well as impiety, or lack of belief in the gods of the state and was sentenced to death[9].

Plato and then Aristotle built upon the traditions and lines of thought of Socrates, and took his work and carried it forward to establish a more clear foundation for philosophy and reason, but it was Socrates who sacrificed his life in the name of truth and justice over the authority of religious dogma.  Socrates laid the groundwork for the creation of the world of abstract forms and ideas, superseding the traditions of mythology and religion that were prevalent in all ancient civilizations, ancient Greece being no exception.

Also from the concepts that originated in this Greek philosophical school of thought arose the concept that mathematics represented a more clear and direct description of reality that reason or logic, that mathematics was the highest form of abstract thought and came closest to describing reality in its purest form.

Thus, there came into existence two schools of thought.  One school is attributed to Plato, and finds that Nature is a structure that is precisely governed by timeless mathematical laws.  According to Platonists we do not invent mathematical truths, we discover them.  The Platonic world exists and physical world is a shadow of the truths in the Platonic world.  This reasoning comes about when we realize (through thought and experimentation) how the behavior of Nature follows mathematics to an extremely high degree of accuracy.  The deeper we probe the laws of Nature, the more the physical world disappears and becomes a world of pure math.

The other school held that mathematical concepts are mere idealizations of our physical world.  The world of absolutes, what is called the Platonic world, has existence only through the physical world.  In this case, the mathematical world is the same as the Platonic world and would be thought of as emerging from the world of physical objects.

Note that mathematics plays a key role in both worldviews. Mathematics transcends the physical reality that confronts our senses. The fact that mathematical theorems are discovered by several investigators indicates some objective element to mathematical systems (supporting Plato’s view). But, since our brains have evolved to reflect the properties of the physical world, it is of no surprise that we discover mathematical relationships in Nature.[10]

Here we have it then, the foundations upon which modern Reason and Science were constructed, ironically out of the ashes of mythology and theology.  Instead of looking to the Vedas, and the other theological and philosophical traditions of the East, the Greeks turned to mathematics, and the conception of forms and ideas, as the foundation of known reality.  The subjective experience of the mystic, as espoused by the sages of the east over the millennia, was summarily rejected, and the age of science had begun.

 


[1] “The fifteen tractates of the Corpus Hermeticum, along with the Perfect Sermon or Asclepius, are the foundation documents of the Hermetic tradition.  Written by unknown authors in Egypt sometime before the end of the third century C.E., they were part of a once substantial literature attributed to the mythic figure of Hermes Trismegistus, a Hellenistic fusion of the Greek god Hermes and the Egyptian god Thoth.  This literature came out of the same religious and philosophical ferment that produced Neoplatonism, Christianity, and the diverse collection of teachings usually lumped together under the label “Gnosticism”: a ferment which had its roots in the impact of Platonic thought on the older traditions of the Hellenized East. There are obvious connections and common themes linking each of these traditions, although each had its own answer to the major questions of the time.”  From http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/herm/h-intro.htm.

[4] A mechanistic view of the world as described by David Bohm, See “The Essential Bohm”, Ch. 3.

[5] Among other things Socrates is Socrates is attributed with the creation of what is called “Socratic dialogue” or “Socratic method”.  Socratic Method is a form of inquiry and debate between individuals with opposing viewpoints based on the presentation of dialogue between two individuals who ask and respond to each other’s queries and theses in an effort to elucidate truth or the validity of an argument.  This form of exploration into matters of truth and validity, which formed the basis for logic and reason which followed it, can be found in many of Plato’s works.

[6] Xenophon was a Greek historian and philosopher from Athens, and a contemporary of Socrates, living circa 430 to 354 BC.  He is known for his writings on the history of his own times, preserving the sayings of Socrates, and descriptions of life in ancient Greece and the Persian Empire.

[7] “Sophism in the modern definition is a specious argument used for deceiving subj-obj-mpeone.  In ancient Greece, sophists were a category of teachers who specialized in using the tools of philosophy and rhetoric for the purpose of teaching arete — excellence, or virtue — predominantly to young statesmen and nobility.  The practice of charging money for education (and providing wisdom only to those who can pay) led to the condemnations made by Socrates (through Plato in his dialogues, as well as Xenophon‘s Memorabilia).   Through works such as these, Sophists were portrayed as ‘specious’ or ‘deceptive’, hence the modern meaning of the term.  The term originated from Greek sophizo “I am wise”; meaning “wise-ist, one who does wisdom, one who makes a business out of wisdom” and sophós means “wise man”.  From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sophism.

[8] According to Timon of Phlius and later sources.

[9] According to some texts Socrates was actually given the opportunity to escape his fate but refused, citing lack of fear of death, as well as a firm belief in the authority of governing law.  The full reasoning behind his refusal to flee is the main subject of the Plato’s Crito.

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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