Plato and Opinions

Is everything said just an opinion? 

Mostly yes, except for mathematics, which is not theory-dependent. If you are appalled at reading this, wait a second. 1) All scientific statements are theory-dependent and subject to further developments in the empirical sciences. 2) In ordinary life what is considered true, objective, common-sense statements (e.g. London is the capital of England) are true within the parameters of empirical life.

From the metaphysical perspective, however – for instance, that of Plato – things are quite different, e.g. what is a physical object, whether natural or man-made? What is ‘true opinion’? What do the senses tell us and how to relate them to the Intellect (nous)? In this higher, metaphysical, order there is, following Plato, only one (ultimate) truth: that arrived at through contemplation of ‘Ideas’ or archetypes, themselves reducible to the one supreme Idea, ‘the Good’. This is the only thing that merits the name of real knowledge according to Plato and is not transferable from person to person.

All interactions between people can be considered at most ‘true opinion’ (except, as said, consensual, empirical truths for the most part). Plato found ‘true opinion’ to be lacking in epistemic support; in the end, he even made a joke about it, rather than ending with the usual ‘aporia’ (indeterminable). A similar account of truth v. belief or opinion can be found in Eastern metaphysics.

 Enlightenment, for Plato, can only be effected through the contemplation of the highest Idea, the Idea of the ‘Good’, which involves having led a life in accord with that supreme end.

If one has in view Advaita Vedanta in that respect – opinion (or ’true opinion’) – the ready answer lies in vyavahara/vyavaharika, which refers to the empirical life as a whole, where everything is relative. In this realm can we not say that everything in human interactions is just an opinion, except, say, for the words of a real jñani?

8 thoughts on “Plato and Opinions

  1. I think the main problem with opinions is their inevitable link with the ego. People die for their beliefs! (Often killing others first!)

    Here are several quotes:

    1. Nothing is more conducive to peace of mind than not having any opinions at all. The human mind treats a new idea the same way the body treats a strange protein; it rejects it. (P. B. Medawar)
    2. Do not seek the truth. Only cease to cherish opinions. If you wish to know the truth, then hold no opinion for or against anything. To set up what you like against what you dislike is a disease of the mind. (Seng-Ts’an)
    3. (My favorite!) To be positive: To be mistaken at the top of one’s voice. (Ambrose Pierce)

    According to Advaita, of course, the mahAvAkya-s are NOT opinion, but statements whose truths are to be validated by the jIva. Which means re-cognized to be true by the Consciousness-buddhi ‘mixture’.

  2. Here is another quote:

    “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.” ― Noam Chomsky, ‘The Common Good’

    • Great quote, Rick, Advaita is no different from other belief systems.

      But Dennis has always made it clear (to me at least!) that the dogmas of Advaita are the boundaries of vigorous debate on this website.

      Not the surreptitious strategy Chomsky outlines.

  3. Quite right, Shishya. Boundaries limiting debate can have their uses, but they can also limit understanding and, as Chomsky points out, are an effective means of asserting and maintaining control over others. A worldview structures the mind, which affects the way the world is experienced and how one feels in a general way and on a daily basis. Beliefs and attitudes contained in any basic worldview only “prove” themselves within the worldview itself, so proof is always circular and relative-only relevant to those who share the premises within the worldview. Without the ability to critically examine those premises from “outside”, while remaining aware of one’s own, there can be in my view no real dialogue or growth in understanding.

  4. We have an excellent age-old metaphor in the ancient Indian tradition that is similar to what Chomsky was referring to. It talks about the “freedom or free will” enjoyed by an individual (jIva) in the world. And the metaphor is, yes, you guessed it, a cow being tethered to a peg with a long rope for grazing.

    But it does NOT speak of the realms that Advaita talks about.
    I cannot believe that Dennis would ever imply that sort of metaphor for Advaitic teaching.

    First of all, if a ‘dogma’ ever comes in, even as a ‘bound,’ Advaita ceases to be!

    Secondly, when he said in his comment, “Which means re-cognized to be true by the Consciousness-buddhi ‘mixture’,” the strange thing is the irrepressible fact that the “validation” by the jIva happens, strictly speaking, by self-effacement – much like the fire that self-destructs itself the moment the faggot that it ignited ends!

    So Chomsky and his quotes may stay in the time-space-causational world, but Advaita transcends it.

    • Ramesam, here is Dennis’s response to a comment I linked to a Krishnamurti passage…what exactly do you think this is? Dogma? Truth by assertion?
      Dennis Waite on August 10, 2022 at 07:31 said:

      I have no wish to ban anyone! But equally, I do not want to argue with anyone wntho has a totally different background of understanding. This is a group for posts and discussions on Advaita. I leave the inter-discipline arguments to academics!

      So, Shishya, could you please explain what you are trying to say using the axioms of Advaita together with normal reasoning. From a quite fundamental point of view:

      Do you agree that Advaita says that Brahman is changeless, infinite etc and therefore cannot act/know/enjoy and so on (since there is nothing else)? And, in particular, Brahman cannot ‘experience’ anything? And do you agree that the fundamental assertion of Advaita is ‘I am Brahman’? Even now? I.e. I do not have to do anything, indeed cannot do anything, to ‘become’ Brahman?

      In which case, could you please explain how it is possible for me to ‘experience’ Brahman?

      Also, if the process begins with ‘you’ not experiencing ‘Brahman’ and ends with ‘you’ experiencing ‘Brahman’, how is that not duality???

      Note that meaningless misuse of words of the English language, such as “Experience is not the means to experiencing, which is a state without experience.” is not acceptable as an answer!

  5. Ramesam, I’d suggest that Chomsky’s ‘necessary illusions’ is a continuum of the primary illusion – that of the ego. At the first level, there is the ego and its accoutrements – personal success, family etc. And then at the next level it is identification with a social group, and then national identify.

    Chomsky rightly discriminates and detaches the outer layers of conditioning and illusiion. Advaita the innermost layers. I wonder whether the innermost falsehood can be dispensed with if the outer ones haven’t been seen through.

  6. I suggest that the name given by Advaita to the ‘outer layers of conditioning’ is pratibandha-s…

    So, yes, it is possible to ‘see through’ the innermost layer but still be bound to some degree by the prArabdha of everyday life.

    But please don’t start another discussion on this – just refer back to the 8-10-12 part series on pratibandha-s!

    (I may well not repond further on this for a while anyway as I’ve just tested positive for Covid and am feeling rather less than 100%! I guess the body is quite close to the inner layer!)

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