Can we step out of Plato’s Cave? (Quora)

X  As I remember, Plato spoke of the few that escaped into the bright light of day, becoming (at least temporarily) blinded. That, by itself, has a metaphorical meaning. But if the question is rhetorical, the answer is a conditional ‘Yes’ – that is, by leading the life of a philosopher (‘lover of wisdom’), i.e. following the path of philosophy. That is a lifelong process or journey, in Plato’s terms.

Y  Plato mistakenly thought we could get a Truth by purely mental means and a priori principles.   Not so.  We have to look at, touch, feel, smell, taste and handle reality.

X  Sorry to disagree. First, we don’t know what were his oral doctrines to selected disciples (the 7th letter says something in that regard, while undervaluing the written word). Second, his ontology was non-dualist rather than a scalar one: all the lower steps or stages being incorporated step-wise in the higher ones, till getting to the Good as a first principle (supreme arché) – each step or degree of being, a reflection of the one above, exactly the same as with the five koshas or sheaths of Advaita Vedanta, except that here each kosha is within the previous one and thus becoming subtler and subtler. This would result in contemplation of a unity or oneness – one reality. When Socrates spoke of Diotima, his mentor, he did so reverently, signifying or suggesting something sacred – a spiritual transmission (one might google: Plato’s secret doctrines).


Overview of Western Philosophy – Part 17

(Read Part 16 of the series.)

Morality (part 2)
One way of classifying the various theories is as follows:

  1. Morality might exist as absolute truths – so-called Moral Realism or Ethical Absolutism. Just as we believe that 1 + 1 = 2 must always be true, so perhaps it is somehow necessarily true that we should not kill another human being. This is effectively what Plato believed, with the truths somehow existing in the world of Forms. We discover these principles through philosophical insights rather than inventing them or devising them to suit our own purpose. And they necessarily apply to everyone irrespective of their inclinations or the nature of the society in which they live.In the absence of absolute certainty regarding these truths, we are obliged to act according to what we think they are.In this view of morality, things are ‘good’ irrespective of whether a God decrees them. We ought to be able to see that ‘loving our neighbour’, for example, is going to be beneficial to ourselves and society, whereas committing adultery is likely to upset a few people. We should not really need any outside agency to endorse such attitudes.

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Overview of Western Philosophy – Part 4

(Read Part 3 of the series.)

Part 4 – Sceptics, Epicureans and Stoics


The Sceptics, noting that different peoples had differing opinions on many subjects, wondered how one could ever justify holding a particular belief. Arguments for one view rather than another were founded on unproven premises and there seemed to be no means of ever being certain about anything. They concluded long before Kant in the 18th Century that we could have no real knowledge about the nature of things and believed that in situations where we were essentially ignorant we ought not to make judgements. This course of action (or perhaps we should call it ‘inaction’) was thought to lead to peace of mind. The outcome was that adherents behaved in whatever way those around them behaved and did not really believe in anything themselves  (what we might now call cynically!). Again, this philosophy offered some consolation to those seeking escape from a difficult life – don’t worry about the future since you can never know anything about it anyway. In fact, the above description seems remarkably similar to the way that the modern generation seems to behave so that it has clearly lost little of its force as a philosophical outlook on life. Continue reading

Overview of Western Philosophy – Part 3

(Read Part 2 of the series.)

Part 3 – Plato, Aristotle and the Cynics

Socrates is famous for claiming that ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’. If we simply go through our lives seeking pleasures for their own sake without ever looking for some sense of purpose and meaning, then we might as well not have existed. The hedonist’s retort to this is that, if we spend all of our lives searching for significance and fail to find any (whether or not there actually is one), then we have wasted our opportunity to enjoy it while we are able. The fact that many claim that there is a purpose, and that they themselves have realised this, is not really any help. Most of such people will be held by us to be deluded religious fanatics and their opinions will carry little weight. If there is meaning then it does seem that we must discover it for ourselves, perhaps by systematically examining all of the claims and deciding whether they are in any way justified. Continue reading

Overview of Western Philosophy – Part 2


(Read Part 1 of the series.)

Part 2 – Metaphysics

Metaphysics, as the study of the questions of ‘life, the universe and everything’ is known, fell out of vogue in the twentieth century, when the attitude arose that most of what had previously been thought to be intransigent problems were not really problems at all but arose through our inability to formulate the problem correctly. Once we used language properly, it was argued, the difficulties would disappear. Many recent philosophers have not even addressed the sort of fundamental questions that are being asked on this site. In this respect there is a similarity with science. There was a time when an enquiring mind could range over the entire domain of what is now thought of as ‘science’, becoming expert in many areas and making new discoveries. The amount of material that was written down and accepted as proven was minimal. Over the past few centuries, the rate of investigation and discovery has accelerated and it is now possible to conduct novel research in only a tiny area of specialisation. In the 3rd Century BC, Aristotle’s multi-disciplined enquiries have already been noted. By the 20th Century, most of the philosophy in England was devoted to analysing the meanings of sentences! Continue reading

‘ego’, self, and metaphysics – Part lV

In the Buddhist perspective, the ego or self as ordinarily considered in Western traditions (i.e., as soul or person), is a non-self, actually a non-entity (anatta). Hence the suffering, which stems from an experience -ultimately illusory- of separation and vulnerability.

Here we have to consider two things. First, according to Mahayana Buddhism, Adi-Buddha, equivalent to Dharmakaya – the highest metaphysical, or divine, level – represents that unique Being or Divine ‘State’, pervading all manifestation as Buddha-nature; and second, the notion of the Self (Atman, derived from the Hindu Vedanta) is not only compatible with that view, but also with that of the Spirit in Christianity and in Islam.

As to the soul (metaphysics and theology), though intrinsically perfect or whole in itself (one could add: in ‘primordial man’ –the purusha or Hiranyagarbha of Hinduism)- it experiences imperfection, self-limitation, anxiety and doubt in its state of (aparent) separation -the ‘fallen state’. Being, not just potentially, a ‘focal point of the Universe’, yet it becomes, through ignorance and self-will, the subject of illusions, attachments, and passions which lead to that predicament. Its condition is thus ambivalent; it can orient itself upwards (or towards the centre) – to ‘holiness’ and integration – or downwards, pulled by its ‘lower nature’ (nafs in its lower stages, according to Sufism). The end result will be either self-denial, or self-assertion; self-giving, or ego-centeredness. Inevitably, this latter tendency, based on ignorance, can only lead to an unwanted result: dispersal, disintegration, and suffering. Alas!, on the whole, if not in principle, psychiatry is not interested in this distinction or dichotomy; but let not anything else be said about this at this point.

From the viewpoint of advaita vedanta, all of what is described in this paragraph – and what follows – pertains to the empirical, relative (ontological and epistemological) level: mithya (or vyavahara), in other words. Continue reading

Revision of ‘Review of article on Shankara’ – part 4

Under the section ‘Tarka vs Sruti’ the more or less unconscious devise (upadhi) of removing the subject from the ‘picture’ aimed at understanding the world is broached, and the author (RB) quotes E. Schrödinger in that connection: “It became inherent in any attempt to form a picture of the objective world such as the Ionians made”. And so, “…the desire for understanding the world through our imperfect sensory knowledge invariably leads to certain, frequently overlooked, assumptions”.

It is curious that the first sleight of hand – by ‘primordial man’, the demiurge of mythology and Platonic philosophy – consisted in carrying out a scission within reality so that subject and object would emerge in opposition to each other: God and man (the Garden of Eden), the One and the many. A second scission was done by philosophical, or ‘thinking’, man, by removing the human subject altogether – provisionally, for the Ionian ‘physiologoi’ knew what they were doing, though, it is related, Thales of Miletus fell once into a ditch while absorbed looking at the firmament’s stars in utter wonder. Certainly, this device – or both combined – made possible all the empirical sciences, literature, art, and everything we know about the world. If there were no division or separation (no adhyasa and it’s attending ‘names and forms’), there would be no ‘world’. Allusion was made to this parallel mythological account previously, as well as to the kind of ignorance that became knowledge (with small case). Continue reading

What is death – part 3 (Transmigration)

The wheel of transmigration

Although whatever is understood by transmigration or reincarnation does not strictly belong in this discussion on the “problem”, or the “reality” of death, it is so entrenched in people’s minds due to cultural and religious accretions, that a short account of it is not altogether out of place here. In the milieu of Hindu and Buddhist traditions reincarnation occupies the main doctrinal position in their exoteric or “religious” aspects, apart from belief in and worship of a deity or deities, and second only to the doctrine of karma – to which it is intimately related. Death of the body – the ‘gross body’ – is a foregone conclusion once it is irreversible (biological death).

A conventional account of reincarnation is as follows: ‘as for the jiva-atman carrying these vrittis, if during his lifetime the individual had performed some special acts of merit (punya) or demerit (papa), then the jiva-atman would proceed to heaven or hell. After spending his special karma-phala there, he comes back to the earth’. A more elaborate description is that once the seeker realizes nirguna Brahman he/she merges with Him/It, thus attaining immediate liberation (sadya mukti)’.Those who are eager to go beyond paths [the journey of life here and hereafter] tread no path’ (com. on Mu U. lll.2.6). ‘Just as the footmarks of birds cannot be traced in the sky or of fish in water, so is the departure of the illumined’ (Mahabharata). These two quotations are taken from ‘Methods of Knowledge’ – According to Advaita Vedanta’, by Swami Satprakashananda, p. 299. Continue reading