Dr Steven Vogazianos-Roy
"Dialectics: an all-time launching pad for the quest for harmony"
If there is a principle in the long list of those discovered and put forward by world philosophical thinking that has not been seriously challenged, this is dialectics, the power of interaction between two opposite concepts, a theory fathered by the Greek philosopher Heraclitus and later serving as a vehicle for Socrates’ reasoning out firm rules for defining all concepts, as well as for his student Plato’s all-out bid to fathom the nature of absolute truth, to be wholly grasped only, according to him, through the adoption of his theory of Ideas. The essence of dialectics and a rule at the same time without any detectable loopholes is that the main attributes of an entity can be wholly utilized, if coupled with those particular ones only existing in an entity opposite to the original one, as only these attributes can supplement them and consequently be supplemented by them, a process leading to a harmonious integration of the two initially contrary entities, eventually helping them to function properly and fulfill the essential role of their existence. Plato has extended the role of definitions from what was for Socrates merely regulative of thought into a theory of objectivity of concepts, which virtually is his theory of Ideas. He founded his doctrine upon the view that truth means the correspondence of one’s ideas with the unequivocal facts of existence. Knowledge, according to him, means knowledge of the truth and it can only be in the form of concepts. If a concept is true, it can only be so on account of the fact that it corresponds to an objective reality. This made him assume that there must be general ideas or concepts outside one’s mind, of which the concepts in human mind are mere copies and that only conceptual thought, based exclusively on the power of intellect, can provide us the general, objective knowledge of something, which is therefore the sole truth about it, unlike sensation whose objects have no true reality. This sole truth about any entity in the Universe Plato calls an Idea and can be formed and defined by sheer reason, through including what is common to all objects which are copies of this idea, and excluding those points in which they differ. There is only one Idea for each class of objects, abstract and solid alike. Each and every Idea is an absolute substance, that is, it is self-caused and self-determined; they are also universal, since each of them refers to no particular entity but to the general, ideal, concept of all forms of existence belonging to the same category; the Ideas are also perfectly rational and objective notions which have reality of their own account, independently of any mind and, since they can only be conceived through a strictly rational definition which accounts for all the common aspects in one class of objects, it follows that their nature can only be expressed in words by such a definition which must always be the same, since it describes the Ultimate nature of any Idea. It follows that Ideas are unchangeable and imperishable and always carrying the essentials, not the particulars, of each entity, which means that they are not liable to improvement and therefore are perfect, totally unsusceptible to the influence of time and space. Aristotle, one of Plato’s students, observes that Plato’s theory of Ideas has three sources, the teaching of the Eleatics, of Heraclitus and of Socrates. From Heraclitus, Plato took the notion of the state of absolute Becoming which he identifies with the world of sense that conveys to us a pattern of continuous changes to the world entities, conveyed to us by our constant sensations which therefore cannot, unlike reason, provide us with a safe identity, as a result of the constant state of flow in our impressions of things, of the entities we perceive. From the Eleatics Plato took the idea of a sphere of absolute Being which can only be conceived through sheer intellect. That’s exactly what the difference is, according to him, between the Ideas, which can only be reached through reason, and our experience of the world, which can only be gained through senses. The Idea always is, and never becomes. The object of sense always becomes, and never is. From Socrates Plato took the doctrine of the concepts which are always the outcome of a carefully rationalized analysis, resulting to a definition. He then proceeded to bridge over the gap between the Eleatic Being and the Heraclitus’ sphere of constant Becoming, via the Socratic conceptual definition, putting it forward as the only tool by means of which human mind can arrive at the ultimate notion of any entity, that is, at what he calls an Idea. The very fact that human beings can judge particular things to be imperfect, even though the ideal models for comparison, that is the Ideas of which they are imperfect versions, cannot, according to Plato, be revealed to them through the channels of deceitful sense experience, suggested to him that the standard we all already have, with reference to which all sense-conveyed things fall short, represents the traces left upon our souls and called up by thought, from a previous existence. This is his famous theory of recollection, according to which the human soul, before its union with the body and the world of sense, lived in the realm of Ideas, in a dimension of true reality, beholding and storing their changeless, immaculate splendour. It’s only through thought that we can establish connection with this realm in earthly life, and this Platonic doctrine, by bestowing to the mind the power of getting nearer to the truth through constantly transcending particular objects, adumbrates an instrumental principle, taken up time and again in later global philosophy; namely, that the mind is the source of interpretation of all universal things which cannot be reduced to any mere collection of sense particulars, and only through its power the individual can attain to a full comprehension of the Ideas which, like scientific laws, bear a universal validity, and are distinguished from the particular events which are its mere expressions. It cannot escape one’s attention that all the above aspects of Plato’s theory of Ideas are functional only through the law of Dialectics, as the two realms, that of Ideas and the one of sense impressions are, according to this theory, in a constant state of interaction and interrelation, rendered feasible through the tools of conceptual analysis and definition which define the extent to which the latter realm participates in the former. It should be stressed at this stage, that, by asserting, contrary to the individualism of the Sophists and the materialistic atomism of the scientific philosophers, that the world’s truth resides in its universal and abiding significance, Plato affords it an ethical as well as well as teleological dimension; by attaching to his Ideas an objective validity and by holding them to be the ultimate standards, i.e. the ideals, of each sense-borne entity and event which can only get their significance by reference to the world of Ideas, Plato’s doctrine seems to postulate a demand for an ethically significant world where all individual facts and things should tend to improve and, in so doing, ultimately reach, and be integrated in, the eternal and immutable wholeness of their ultimate models, the Ideas. This is made clear when he claims that all things in the Universe have been ordered with a view to the preservation and perfection of the whole and that every creation is for the sake of the whole and with the purpose of helping its life to prosper, as it is for the sake of the whole that everything was created (laws, 903). The problem, however, arising from Plato’s theory is that, by exalting so much the supersensible world of Ideas, he downgrades the world of senses beyond all measure; he does likewise to the body, as the carrier of senses and therefore unable to communicate with the sublime world of Ideas, being riddled with the ravages of material needs and pleasures, diseases, fears and follies, which totally confuse the soul and prevent the human being from ever setting its intellect in motion (Phaedo, 66, 79). He holds the same disdainful attitude towards any patterns of state issues and social life as well all mundane affairs, as regards their importance to a philosopher’s life (Theaetetus, 173, Republic, 496), believing that only philosophy can liberate, to some extent, human mind from the shackles of earthly impurities of which soul will only be totally stripped off in another and truer life where philosophers alone will be admitted outright, the rest having first to undergo purification and reincarnation. The dualism thus ensued between the world of Ideas and the world of senses is marked by too sharp a distinction between them to allow their intelligible connection, hindering the very process of Dialectics whose essence serves as their cornerstone. Plato seems to have realized, in his later life, the problems this aspect of his doctrine had posed as a result of requiring man to grasp the essence of Ideas through purely intellectual, sense-free, effort; so in his Parmenides and Timaeus dialogues he addresses these objections by taking, for the first time, into account the problem of the physical world of science and postulating over against the genuine and positive world of the Ideas, a second principle with at least a negative kind of reality standing for the phenomenal world to which he now concedes a real dimension, yet of a negative nature, as a result of the inadequacies of its sense-borne manifestations. He attempts to explain as well as vindicate the existence of the phenomenal world through its union with the true reality of the world of Ideas, postulating this development as the ultimate goal of the material world, by means of which all principles and forces of Dialectics interaction, functioning at their best as if marshaled by an all-governing, divine Intellect, inject order and harmony into the chaotic state of Not-being, reflected in the negative reality of mundane things; he thereby promotes the universal cause of all individual things existing for the sake of the preservation and perfection of the Whole with which they must be ultimately harmonized, as no particular thing of the material world retains any real validity away from this all-embracing Whole. The role of the physical world of science seems to match this overall pattern, as sciences tend to reveal to us, through exposing the rules of nature that it is through the harmonious interaction of opposite entities, that is, through the law of Dialectics that life in the universe is kept in balance. With this somewhat revised version of his doctrine, Plato has managed to retain the deeply teleological and ethically significant explanation of the world as it can be understood that, since it is through order and harmony that the various parts aim at their union with the Whole and ultimately at their as well as the overall perfection, such an outcome can legitimately enough be looked upon as the Ultimate Good for all parts concerned and the overall World Order. It is in this context that the idea of God must be comprehended in Plato’s doctrine, as a supreme entity, that is, which is identical with the Idea of the Ultimate Good, granted that all conceptions of Him as the creator or the product, albeit the ultimate one, of the Idea of the Good, would totally fly in the face of Plato’s overall theory, since both God and the Idea of (Ultimate) Good can only be conceived as equally ultimate, primordial, self-existent realities which cannot owe their existence to each other or any other authority. There are indeed certain expressions in Philebus which seem clearly to assert this thesis. It has, however, to be understood that God, in that case, is not a personal God at all, since the Idea is not a person, and the expression God can only be conceived, in Platonic terms, as a figurative term for the Idea of Goodness. So it could be claimed that Plato’s teleology culminates in the Idea of the Good which serves as the ultimate explanation of all other Ideas, and of the entire Universe. This virtually means placing the final ground of all things in perfection itself which in turn may be taken to mean that the universe is inspired by, as well as founded upon, these perfection principles which it then strives to fulfill, moving perennially towards the perfect end governed by these principles. Nowadays, Dialectics is as much apropos as it has always been. It can play an instrumental role in man’s bid to address successfully many problems made worse by the chaotic state of circumstances in the everyday’s struggle for survival and enhancement of the influence of one’s profile and status. Man must wake up to the sharp distinction between facing his opponents with a view to benefiting from their knowledge while holding his ground and facing them with a view to compulsively refuting, virtually to the point of complete obliteration, their overall views, resistance and even, on many occasions, very existence. Human beings must appeal to Dialectics ,when matching their wits against those of their rivals, whose main principle is that each entity’s carries its merit as a result of that of its opposite and that the attributes missing from one opponent but present in the other should be seen as those either of them is in want of and as supplementing each other’s reservoir of knowledge and overall condition and, consequently, that the rivalry should be seen as a vehicle for bridging over human differences and leading to a harmonious synthesis of their attitudes and a co-operation which will put their overall potential into a better account. Man> should hold on to these principles of>Dialectics all the time, rather than be motivated by lower interest and passions, such as greed for individual profit and power. After all, progress has always fed, and always will feed, on the process of construction, not destruction. The power of Dialectics beckons to us, through the ages, to heed to this call. Time presses harder than ever before. We must rise to the occasion. Literature
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