Being and Non Being Part 11

Many who might read this discussion on being or not-being or about movement and rest, might wonder why anyone would even bother with such a discussion. It would thus be prudent to consider why these topics are discussed at such length and what value they confer.

At all times in history, certain people have become disenchanted with their lot in life and get an inkling that there is something more to life then what meets the eye. They might question the values of their neighbours and themselves and realize that the answers they get do not satisfy their inner yearning. Life just does not seem to make sense. This feeling of despondency might, if one is fortunate, lead to questions being put to the mind within. Who am I, what is the purpose of my existence and what is my relationship to the world around me?

As soon as these questions arise in the mind, it sets the person on a quest to discover answers to these fundamental questions. He might seek out books on the subject or seek out a teacher. Whichever path one finds oneself on, it is important to develop a capacity to discern whether the answers to these questions themselves are true. This is what set all seekers after Truth on the path of discovery and Socrates and Plato were no different. He was on a quest to know, and he would question all and sundry, and if the answer did not make sense, he continued to ask what many believed to be awkward questions. The Oracle of Delphi is said to have claimed that there was no one wiser than Socrates, to which Socrates replied that either all were equally ignorant, or that he was wiser in that he alone was aware of his own ignorance. His comments and questions made Socrates a reviled person in Athens at the time by certain members of that society who believed he went against the current beliefs of the time.

In this spirit of discovery, our journey now continues with the quest to discover more of the qualities of movement and rest and how this relates to being and not being. Parmenides and his followers held that motion is only perceived but cannot actually exist. He professed that from our human point of view there are two aspects to the study of the universe of which we must be aware, on the one hand how we see it, and on the other how it must really be. Motion is a fact from our point of view, but Parmenides argues that as far as things must really be, it is logically impossible that motion could exist as we perceive it.

The Stranger sums up where they are in the discussion, and they agree to question those who speculate upon the nature of being as follows: first let us assume them to say that nothing is capable of participating in anything else in any respect; in that case rest and motion cannot participate in being at all. They both agreed that this would be impossible because everything is instantly overturned, as well the doctrine of universal motion as of universal rest, and also, the doctrine of those who distribute being into immutable and everlasting kinds; for all these add on a notion of being, some affirming that things ‘are’ truly in motion, and others that they ‘are’ truly at rest.

And now, if we suppose that all things have the power of communion with one another—what will follow? Then motion itself would be at rest, and rest again in motion, if they could be attributed to one another. But this is utterly impossible. For, surely, either all things have communion with all; or nothing with any other thing; or some things communicate with some things and others not. Then two out of these three suppositions have been found to be impossible. Everyone then, who desires to answer truly, will adopt the third and remaining hypothesis of the communion of some with some. This communion of some with some may be illustrated by the case of letters; for some letters do not fit each other, while others do. And the vowels, especially, are a sort of bond which pervades all the other letters, so that without a vowel one consonant cannot be joined to another. They further agreed that the ability to know what letters will unite requires an art and that art is grammar. And the same would be true of music and other arts.

And as classes are admitted by us in like manner to be some of them capable and others incapable of intermixture, must not he who would rightly show what kinds will unite and what will not, proceed by the help of science in the path of argument? And will he not ask if the connecting links are universal, and so capable of intermixture with all things; and again, in divisions, whether there are not other universal classes, which make them possible?

THEAETETUS: To be sure he will require science, and, if I am not mistaken, the very greatest of all sciences.

STRANGER: How are we to call it? By Zeus, have we not lighted unwittingly upon our free and noble science, and in looking for the Sophist have we not entertained the philosopher unawares?

THEAETETUS: What do you mean?

STRANGER: Should we not say that the division according to classes, which neither makes the same other, nor makes other the same, is the business of the dialectical science?

THEAETETUS: That is what we should say.

STRANGER: Then, surely, he who can divide rightly is able to see clearly one form pervading a scattered multitude, and many different forms contained under one higher form; and again, one form knit together into a single whole and pervading many such wholes, and many forms, existing only in separation and isolation. This is the knowledge of classes which determines where they can have communion with one another and where not.

THEAETETUS: Quite true.

STRANGER: And the art of dialectic would be attributed by you only to the philosopher pure and true?

THEAETETUS: Who but he can be worthy?

STRANGER: In this region we shall always discover the philosopher, if we look for him; like the Sophist, he is not easily discovered, but for a different reason.

THEAETETUS: For what reason?

STRANGER: Because the Sophist runs away into the darkness of not-being, in which he has learned by habit to feel about and cannot be discovered because of the darkness of the place. Is not that true?

THEAETETUS: It seems to be so.

STRANGER: And the philosopher, always holding converse through reason with the idea of being, is also dark from excess of light; for the souls of the many have no eye which can endure the vision of the divine.

THEAETETUS: Yes; that seems to be quite as true as the other.

To revert to my opening comments, what has here been confirmed that to arrive at the truth of how the universe is structured and what our role is, we need a process to uncover this. For it is currently clear to see that mankind, despite the so-called advances in science, has lost the ability to take their cue from nature and the universe and have failed to understand and follow natures laws. We do not fully grasp how nature contrives to order the true science of optics, architecture, medicine and all the other sciences that combine to order this universe. We have even forgotten how to live together in a mutually beneficial manner. What is being here suggested by this dialogue is that only the philosopher (note philosophy in Greek is made up of two words meaning the love of wisdom) who is skilled in the art of dialectic (the Socratic technique of exposing false beliefs and eliciting truth through question and answer) is capable of fully understanding both himself and his role and relationship to the universe.

This does not confer propriety on the Socratic system, as ancient Greece drew on the wisdom of the Egyptians, the Persians and others and if we learned to question other traditions, we would find clues to this Holy Tradition imbedded in all traditions. We just need to learn to ask the right questions. Next week we will look at how the philosopher may hereafter be more fully considered if we are disposed; but the Sophist must clearly not be allowed to escape until we have had a good look at him.