Plato – a non-dualist philosopher?

Q (Martin): Was Plato a monist or a dualist?

I am not so sure. At the top of the pyramid of knowledge, the summum bonum or supreme Good reigns by Itself: it is the supreme archetype (arché) or nous. Plato’s is a scalar ontology, the lower steps or hypostases being subservient to the higher ones (like the 5 koshas of Vedanta and the 5 levels in Sufism). Contemplation only can afford such view. I think that would make Plato a monist – or non-dualist.

A (Tom McFarlane): Despite Plato’s Theory of Forms, which is widely viewed today as a form of dualism, there is good reason to believe that Plato was not a dualist and did not view his Theory of Forms as his final position.

In fact, none other than Plato himself demolished the Theory of Forms in his Parmenides dialogue. In the first half of that dialogue, he has the character of Parmenides point out to the young Socrates all the problems and contradictions that result from such a dualistic theory.

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Can consciousness exist without time? 

From the viewpoint of Advaita Vedanta (and I believe also zen and Dzogchen), time is not just something elusive, but ultimately unreal – only an idea or concept. The same can be said about the concept of ‘now’, which cannot be elucidated or measured in any way. ‘Now’ can only be a symbol of eternity, immeasurable but always present. ‘Eternity’ itself is a symbol or slanted conception of reality or existence/being, which is timeless. For the absolute time does not exist. Consciousness alone is real and, thus, timeless. Stated differently, ‘what is never ceases to be; what is not never comes into being’ (Shankara). Parmenides, Gaudapada, and Shankara were strong in that position.


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

Being is Reality

All things exist. We cannot conceive of non-existence as different from existence, for even non-existence, in order that it may convey any sense, must become a content of consciousness. And consciousness must be.

Existence is the minimum to which things can be reduced, without which even thought is impossible. Everything relates to existence of some kind, and there is no thought of non-existence. To argue along the lines of Parmenides, existence is that which does not admit of any change. We cannot think what is not, for what is not cannot come into being, either from what is or from what is not.

If what is comes from what is, we would be stating something which we ourselves do not understand, for what is includes all things, and there is no such thing as the production of what is from what is. What is, again, cannot come from what is not, for what is not has no meaningful value. To posit the relation of what is to what is by way of causation involves a tautology, and to conceive of the coming into being of what is from what is not, is absurd.

There cannot be something other than what is, for what is, is the all. Even supposing that there is such a thing as the coming into being of one thing from another thing, we would have to admit that nothing other than what is can come into being, for we cannot add anything to what is, and anything added must itself be a part of what is.

There cannot be anything exceeding what is, and what is not, again, cannot come into being. That which is cannot increase, and cannot also decrease, for it is always. If something is to be removed from what is, so that the latter may be lessened, what is removed should be either what is or what is not. What is cannot be removed from what is, and what is not cannot, again, be removed from what is, for it means nothing at all.

The concept of dimension, again, is possible only when there is spatial separation of one thing from another. But even space is included in what is. So what is cannot be diminished in any way. And it cannot be increased, because we cannot add anything to it other than itself.

Existence is the whole reality. It does not admit of either addition or subtraction, production or change of any kind. In order that it may move or change, there should be space; but space is not outside it. True being has no origination, no change, and so no end. This being must be equally present everywhere, with no less or more of it anywhere. It is that which is.

As being is indivisible, it cannot conceive of a real distinction of things in it. All things are being. If there are things other than being, they must be non-being. Even becoming has meaning only when it has being. If being is to be divided, we may have to introduce some other distinguishable and distinguishing element in it, which would be nothing but non-being.

Being is reality.

from The Philosophy of Life by Swami Krishnananda, The Divine Life Society.

What is Death – Part 2

In the case of the human being, is death – whatever meaning we give to it – an ending, a transformation (in psychological terms), a recombination of parts (physics and biology), or a transfiguration, such as what is called reincarnation, transmigration  or metempsychosis (religious tradition)? Is it terminal, or a new beginning, a renewal – in someone of the senses enumerated above?

Or is death simply illusory? In the restricted sense we are now having in view (related to a human being), what is the meaning of ‘death’ – a question which, whether it has a precise answer or not, must have been asked countless times, at least ever since one or more individuals started to ask these kinds of questions, that is, to philosophize? It is frequently said that according to Plato philosophy begins in wonder. With such a broad view or approach of the problem we can appreciate how many possible answers, or rather areas of research and inquire are open to ourselves. We saw that, whether a (“short-lived”) event or a (gradual) process,  death can be defined in simple terms in what concerns the body, in fact the body of any organism, as was stated in Part 1. Going beyond this, and entering directly into the realm of philosophy – the philosophy of Vedanta in particular – the problem is also simplified by just saying that the only ‘things’ that ‘die’, or are annihilated, are forms, phenomena, which are impermanent. Essence or substance, being changeless, does not die. Continue reading