Socrates and Plato - Session 15 (14 September 2001)

I asked the question as to what is dialectical reasoning. And I asked you an example of this reasoning to be found in The Life Divine and Anandmayi found out an example in the second paragraph of The Life Divine, so I had said that I shall read this second paragraph and once more we shall do this exercise in what sense is it dialectic reasoning. So if you open the chapter number I, paragraph number two:

These persistent ideals of the race are at once the contradiction of its normal experience and the affirmation of higher and deeper experiences which are abnormal to humanity and only to be attained, in their organised entirety, by a revolutionary individual effort or an evolutionary general progression.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine - I: The Human Aspiration

Anandmayi said that this is an example of the dialectical reasoning and I have defined dialectical reasoning as follows: It’s a process of reasoning in which one set of ideas is set against another set of ideas for comparison so that the implications of the first set and the implications of the second set are contrasted so as to arise at a third set of ideas either way of synthesis or way of completion of the entire chain of reasoning or else for continuation of a similar chain which can go on and on and on. This is the nature of dialectical reasoning. So to repeat it’s a chain of reasoning in which one set of ideas is set against another set of ideas so that the implications of the first set of ideas are compared with the implications of the second set of ideas in order to arrive at a third set of ideas which is a synthesis or a completion or which is a further chain of similar reasoning which can go on and on and on. In other words there is no dialectical reasoning if there is no comparison; it’s the essence of the matter. In every dialectical reasoning there is a comparison. One set of ideas to be compared with another set of ideas, you compare and contrast and when you do this something happens and there is a generation of a third set of ideas. Now this third set of ideas is either a synthesis or a completion of the chain of reasoning or it may be a starting point of another chain of similar reasoning. Very often it is said dialectical movement is a presentation of a thesis and antithesis resulting in a synthesis where you stop or it itself becomes a beginning of another series of thesis antithesis and synthesis; thesis, antithesis, synthesis and on and on and on this is the process of a dialectical reasoning. Anandmayi rightly pointed out that this particular statement which we read out just now is a good example of dialectical reasoning.

Now let us see how it is so. There must be two sets of ideas otherwise there is no dialectical reasoning, one set of ideas set against another set of ideas. Now let us see what is the first set of ideas? Anybody can tell me the first set of ideas. Yes Anandmayi. Good. There is first a set of ideas appropriate to normal experience and then the set of ideas appropriate to higher experience, there is contrast between the two. What is the normal experience and what is the higher experience? The implications of the normal experience and the implications of the higher experience and the two are contradicted that is what Sri Aurobindo says: “These persistent ideals (Now these ideals are already referred to in the first paragraph namely God, Light, Freedom, Immortality) These persistent ideals of the race are at once the contradiction of its normal experience and the affirmation of higher and deeper experiences (this is the contrast. Now this is actually the beginning of dialectical reasoning. Now if you read the whole paragraph you will find a complete chain of reasoning. You take normal experience and abnormal experience, higher experience, the implications of normal experiences are that the material world as we see it and the way in which we see it is all that is there that is normal experience. The higher experience gives you the ideas of God, Light, Freedom and Immortality. Now the two are in contrast. Now the argument starts: If the normal experience is the only experience then the ideas of God, Light, Freedom and Immortality are contradicted and therefore they are invalid. Normal experience if it is the only limit and nothing else is available then these ideas being contradictory of normal experience they are invalid, therefore Sri Aurobindo says: To the ordinary material intellect (in the same paragraph if you see towards the middle of the paragraph you will find the sentence) To the ordinary material intellect (you’ve found that sentence) To the ordinary material intellect which takes its present organisation of consciousness for the limit of its possibilities, the direct contradiction of the unrealised ideals with the realised fact is a final argument against their validity.” So since these ideals are contradicted by our normal experience therefore normal experience says these ideals are invalid, it’s the second step of the argument, first is the contrast then the argument now comes the stage of synthesis. You have now two propositions before you, therefore Sri Aurobindo says:

But if we take a more deliberate view of the world’s workings, that direct opposition appears rather as part of Nature’s profoundest method and the seal of her completest sanction.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine - I: The Human Aspiration

When there is a contradiction you now make an argument, you take a deliberate view that is to say as I told you the quintessential metaphysical argument. The quintessential metaphysical argument is an argument which seeks the meaning, ultimate justification. So the argument is—why should there be this contradiction at all, what is the meaning of this contradiction? So when you raise this question about the meaning of this contradiction then Sri Aurobindo says you will find that this contradiction is only a method of nature to arrive at a greater affirmation, to arrive at a synthesis. The method of nature is to create two sets which are contradictory to each other and then to move forward towards the synthesis therefore the very fact that there is a contradiction it does not mean therefore that one is valid and the other is invalid. Farthest standpoint is ultimately these contradictions will be bridged, would be synthesised, you arrive at a synthesis. So this whole paragraph is a good example of dialectical reasoning, we have done it earlier. It is good to revise from time to time because it will give a good exercise in metaphysical thinking.

Now we go back to Plato. We referred yesterday to the great pronouncement of Plato: philosophers should be kings, or the kings should become philosophers, and secondly those who are only philosophers or those who are only kings they should become prepared to stay aside; only if you obtain this position Plato says you should be able to evolve the light of day. Now this was his conviction, Plato’s conviction. This conviction was not merely intellectual; he made a few attempts to realise the ideal of his vision, he was dynamic enough to realise his ideal as a result he undertook two journeys to Sicily. He went to Syracuse in Sicily which was ruled by Dionysus the II. There was a king, Dionysus II. So he made a journey to Sicily and employed himself in the task of training Dionysus the II in order to make this king a philosopher so he applied his own philosophy in action. In the first journey he had to undergo such humiliation, it was a failure actually. Dionysus the II first of all invited him, he was respected, honoured and ultimately he was thrown out, Plato was thrown out and the condition came to such a pass that he was sold in the market as a slave. You can see the condition of the man that he was ready to undergo such a humiliation, he need not have gone at all but his conviction was so great that if he could make one king a philosopher a new movement could start. So he went to Sicily. Actually there was one advisor of Syracuse, a king who was known to Plato so he persuaded Syracuse the king to invite Plato. So Plato went there with the hope that he can make him a philosopher so he started the training. It was a very interesting story. One day you read the story of his training Dionysus the II. But ultimately the king was not converted to the philosophies, he was actually humiliated and sent out and ultimately he was sold in the market as a slave and he escaped death by being ransomed by someone. Somebody passed by who knew Plato and he bought him and he was ransomed otherwise he would have been killed. If he had not in his heart the great consideration for the future of human progress he would have declined the second invitation of Dionysus, afterwards Dionysus relented and he felt greatly prick of his conscience and he said and he invited him again and Plato would have said: no, one experience is enough but his own conviction was so great that he went the second time also. Of course he failed in his attempt, again second time also he failed again but his vision of the ideal state remained up to this day an inspiration to many thinkers, visionaries, statesmen and servants of mankind. Even today many people still believe that this vision of Plato should be realised. This is the dynamic aspect of Plato: how he was an active reformer not only a thinker but a reformer however Plato is pre–eminently a philosopher. He was a mathematician and gave a high place to mathematics in his system of education. In fact it was written in his academy: ‘One who does not know mathematics need not enter here.’ That much was the importance he assigned to mathematics because according to him if you want to be a philosopher you should first be a mathematician and there is a great reason behind it which we shall see when you read the next part. Why he felt that knowledge of mathematics is necessary to enter into philosophy. He was an educationist, a great literary artist, a social and political thinker, a Law–giver, a utopian and in a sense even a theologian but all these were his subordinate and supporting aspects none supreme or equal to his philosophical personality. Philosophy is the very soul and breath of Plato, his mind is constantly fixed on the supreme idea of the Good; this is the kernel of Plato. If you ask the very heart of Plato it is the idea of the Good. What is his idea of the Good we shall see in the next paper but this is the soul of Plato. If there is one thing that Plato contributed to the history of thought it is his idea of the good. He is constantly engaged in reconciling and harmonising universal ideas. His constant task is to reflect and meditate upon the real and differentiate it from the phenomenon and the appearance. This is actually the definition of philosophy you might say. Philosophy begins when you distinguish between appearance and reality, as long as you take the world as it is you are not a philosopher. The moment you suspect that there is something else than what is visible to us, philosophical thinking begins.

So Plato made a distinction between appearance and reality in this process he developed what is called the theory of ideas and the supreme point of his theory of idea is the concept of the idea of the Good. Now what is this, how he arrived at this is the substance of the second paper. So now we come to the second paper—The Theory of the Good.

The concept of the Good is the culmination of Plato’s philosophy. There is according to Plato a distinction between Reality and appearance the former is the universal and the permanent, the latter particular and transient. The former is the object of true knowledge, the latter the object of either imagination or opinion. We shall stop here now and reflect upon it, it’s a very important statement. The appearance is naturally what appears, what appears is appearance. Now anything that appears is what is presented…

(Now anything that appears is what is presented…) You begin to inquire what it is. You will find it disappears. That is how this statement is correct, that's the mark of appearance. The moment something is given to you and you inquire what is it? There is some time gap, isn’t it? Appearance and you ask the question where is it, what is it? That which was there disappears, why? Because everything in the world is in a flux, if you look at this fan it is running now. You try to fix it and ask what it is. Before you even ask and finish your question, what was there earlier has disappeared, something else has come up, the scene that you are seeing now at this moment before you have finished your question has changed. Now this is of course visibly running fast but the world as it is does not seem to be running so fast therefore my statement does not seem to be so very correct but you actually ask the question truly, you’ll find that this is the situation, this is so. Let us take a piece of matter. This is a piece of matter, when I touch it I feel resistance, I feel it to be solid but actually when you try to see what it is you will find that it consists of very small atoms. It is nothing but a conglomeration of atoms. Now these atoms if you still see more clearly each atom will be found to be in constant motion. If you ask physicists (physicist is one who knows the science of matter) if you ask him he will say that every atom is something electric in character there is energy which is spinning fast. Every atom has a nucleus and has something orbiting around it, it’s a play between proton and electron and electrons are constantly in flux. Now as a result, you do not actually see this flux, you feel this is very stable but when you examine you’ll find that it is in a constant flux, moving even faster than even the fan is moving. You don’t actually see it here. So this solidity is only in appearance, not reality. The solidity that you see is only an appearance, it’s not what is really there. Actually if you see the atoms which really are there it’s in a constant flux and there is so much hollowness. Here I feel to be really solid but actually in the atomic movement if you see the atoms really flying it is quite in a flux and they are flying so fast, every moment your vision of it before you even try to fix it, it is gone. You are in the next phase and the moment you try to catch it, it is in the next phase, it is moving so fast, it vanishes even before you touch it, catch it.

A very nice sentence of Sri Aurobindo describing this, if you open chapter number IX in The Life Divine, page number 73, towards the end of that page there is a sentence: “There is nothing there that is stable. All that appears to be stationary is only a block of movement, a formulation of energy at work which so affects our consciousness that it seems to be still, (it is something like the fan if it runs very fast you will find it is still. So because energy is moving so fast it seems to be still. Actually it is moving extremely fast)somewhat as the earth seems to us to be still, somewhat as a train in which we are travelling seems to be still in the midst of a rushing landscape.” If you are seated in the train and if you see outside you will feel that the outside is running and you are stationary although actually speaking it’s the other way round, your train is moving, landscape is the same it doesn’t move but you feel that you are stationary and the landscape is running fast. This is the condition in which we are with regard to everything that we see in the world. We have therefore the beginning, the moment you begin to think in this fashion, you begin to see what is real; you begin to be a metaphysician that is a mark of philosophy. The heart of philosophy is metaphysical thinking which examines what appears and you ask: is it really what it appears to be or is it something else.

Now Plato concluded: the whole world, not only this object or that object but the entire world is in a constant flux, constantly moving. It’s like a river; you watch a river, what happens? You cannot step into the same river twice, we think we step into the same river but if you really examine you never step twice in the same river because water has flown away, isn’t that so? Water is constantly flowing so how can you enter into the same water twice. This was a famous sentence of a philosopher called Heraclitus. Heraclitus was much before Plato and he had mentioned ‘You cannot enter or step into the same river twice’ the moment you step once the river has flown away, it has gone, new waters have come. According to Plato the whole world is like that river, constantly in flux and before you can pronounce ‘yes, this’ it has gone you cannot catch it, you cannot even say it is, can’t even say it is not because it was there. Therefore Plato says all that appears at the most you can describe as it is, it is not and that which is not how can you know? You remember Parmenides. I had given you a famous sentence of Parmenides; you remember that sentence long, long ago. You cannot even conceive what is not that is impossible; you cannot even conceive what is not that is impossible because that is impossible because it is not there how can you conceive even. So that which is not cannot be conceived. Now anything that you see if it is in a flux, constantly changing the moment you try to fix it and see what it is, it is gone, so how will you describe it, in what way can you say it is. So Plato, conscious of the fact that at least for a moment it appeared before you, he said you have got to say it is and the next moment you say it is not. So he described the world as that which is, it is not, is, is not. Now that which is not cannot be known what can be known is that which is. Now this world which is, which is not, you can’t say can’t be known, you can’t say it can be known because it is, it is not. So he said it can’t be called knowledge, he said it can only be called opinion. He made a distinction between knowledge and opinion. Knowledge is of that which is that which is, which is not is only an object of opinion. Now having arrived at this conclusion he says that if this world were the only thing in the world then it would be only a world of appearance but now let us see his argument. In order that there is an appearance there must be something which appears. Let us repeat this argument: In order that there is an appearance which is not there must be something which appears. If there was nothing at all it would not even appear. So behind appearance there must be something which appears the appearance by itself is, is not but that which is behind the movement, behind this flux there must be something which is. This is a small argument but a very important argument in philosophy. This will be your companion for years and years and years, this argument, keep it with you, reflect on it, and meditate on it. It’s a very simple argument but it’s something on which you can contemplate on and the more you contemplate the more the sense of wonder will arise in your consciousness. If you later wonder as you reflect on it you feel you are on the right track. You repeat this argument again in your mind the world as it is given to us is in a flux. I am repeating the same argument. The world as it is given to us is in a state of a flux, it is fluctuating, constantly moving, there is a movement even then that which seems to be stable is actually moving as I gave you the example of the table which may seem to be stable but if you analyse it is full of atoms and all atoms are in a constant movement of electricity. Everything in the world is in a constant flux and this flux can be described only as something which is, which is not this is the only way in which you can describe, before you grasp it, it is already over, finished, it is gone, it’s in a flux. Everything in the world is so mobile that the moment you try to get it and fix it and see what it is, it is gone, it has vanished. Some poet might say even if it is gone even before it is born, it is so much in mobility that it is gone even before it is born, it is so fast, it vanishes before it is caught, it vanishes before it is born you might say. This is the first statement.

Now second statement but in order that there is this movement and there is this appearance there must be something which appears. Now this is the step of the argument which has to be examined, which has to be reflected upon. If there was nothing then even appearance would not have come about, nothing does not exist, if it does not exist it does not even appear even for a moment therefore there must be something. Now in order that there is something that must be. If it must be, it must be permanent. Only that which is, which does not become is not, is only that which is. If it becomes is not it is not therefore the conclusion is that behind the movement there is something which is, now that which is permanent and that according to Plato is Reality, is real. The world is an appearance but that which is behind it is real.

Let us see The Life Divine once again, page number 74 which we were reading just now continues.

But is it equally true that underlying this movement, supporting it, there is nothing that is moveless and immutable? Is it true that existence consists only in the action of energy? Or is it not rather that energy is an output of Existence?

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine - I: The Pure Existent

Here Sri Aurobindo puts a question mark just to lead you to this conclusion that if there is an output there must be something from where it is the output. So the conclusion is that there is. You cannot explain the appearance unless there is something behind it. Appearance exists; the appearance is there before you therefore there must be an existence behind it which is not moving this is the conclusion. Appearance is, we do see the appearance, if there is appearance there must be something behind it that which appears and that which appears must be motionless, it must be stable, really stable that which does not move. That which is motionless, that which is permanent is real. I am reading The Life Divine at the same time because I want to show you that this argument which Plato has made long, long ago is such a powerful argument that Sri Aurobindo also uses that argument after how many thousands of years, it’s the same argument although much more refined. If you read The Life Divine chapter, it is a Platonic argument basically but put forth with all the other data which have been accumulated. One day we shall read this whole chapter and you will find what an improvement is upon Plato’s own argument. But basically it is the Platonic argument. All that is in the world is in a flux, in such a flux that before you can grasp anything in it, it is gone therefore it is not. Therefore the only way you can describe it is it is, it is not but if it is, it is not; it must have originated from that which is because if there is not anything from which it emerges you have to explain, ask from where has it come? So you have to find a base for it, if it is an output, it must be the output of something stable. So the conclusion is that the experience itself proves that there is something which is stable. The appearance is of motion but motion itself proves that there must be motionless. Motionless is the base from which the motion arises. You may not see the motionless, what you see is only the movement but what you see proves that there must be a motionless reality. This is the essential Platonic argument. It’s a very short argument but it has stood the test of time. Plato was born in 427 BC, so let us say he wrote all this around 400 BC, so 2400 years ago he wrote this argument and even today, of course there are many disputes about this argument but nobody has been able to completely refute it. And as I said Sri Aurobindo was writing this he has restated this argument of course in a much more ample manner. In fact I have the habit of saying this argument is the first and the last lesson of metaphysics. It is not only the first lesson of metaphysics but also the last lesson. If you just have this argument in your mind and if anybody says what is metaphysics? The first statement of metaphysics and the last statement of metaphysics, it is nothing but this. There is one very sentence of Sri Aurobindo, only one line which I will read out to you which concludes this whole thing again chapter number IX, page number 75, you look in the second paragraph: “Existence without quantity, without quality, without form is not only conceivable, but it is the one thing we can conceive behind these phenomena.” Appearances are phenomena. The only thing that you can conceive “it is”; it is not, you do not conceive. When you say: it is, it is not, there is no firm conception, conception is gone; it is, it is not, so you have not been able to conceive it. So the only thing that you can conceive is that which is stable, which is. So existence without quantity, quality, without movement, something which is behind the appearances is the only thing that you can conceive, the only thing that you can rationally conceive is existence, pure existence,—stable, immobile. Right? This sentence is the first and last sentence of metaphysics. Once you have studied it you can now close the book and say we have now done metaphysics, all the rest is simply spinning out of it and you can spin a lot the whole book is a spinning actually but the basic substance, basic argument in metaphysics is barely this much that which is not cannot be conceived that which appears is, is not, therefore not be conceived, cannot be denied at the same time, it is conceived, it is not conceived. What appears is conceived is not conceived because it is, it is not; the only thing you can conceive is existence which is and which is permanently there. This conclusion, this whole argument is the purely metaphysical argument. So this is you might say I have touched the heart of Plato and presented to you. We shall now continue the spinning of Plato.