The philosophical school of thought I follow draws on many sources, and one of them is in the Eastern tradition. Sanskrit terms are used to create an abstract model of “the subtle realm”.
Navigation through this world is not through maps or images of things that can be found in the physical world of the senses. A map shows named places or things in relation to similar others.
But that sort of knowledge is useless in finding one’s way through an abstract realm. For example, where might one find an image or map of the maxim “treat others as you wish to be treated”?
It is thoughtstuff, but something that underlies law, religion, government, and simple social discourse.
There are three sources – or “graces” – for this sort of knowledge:
- Intellect or “nous”. In theory, we can logically arrive at all subtle knowledge. Starting with 1 + 1 = 2, for example, we could work our way through arithmetic and mathematics, and geometry, simply by thinking logically.
- The teacher. A lot simpler to have someone just tell us things. We can then use our own intellect to verify what is said.
- Records. Textbooks or essays, where someone writes down, perhaps with diagrams, the knowledge we need to find our way through the realm of abstract entities.
These three sources, used in combination, can tell us everything we need to know. The process is how we, as a human society, manage to progress. There is more to the subtle world than any one person can deduce in a lifetime. We build on the work of others, and we gain understanding.
This is why I enjoy reading and discussing Plato so much. Plato wrote down the dialogues of his teacher Socrates, who was in himself possessed of impressive intellectual powers. Socrates examined the subtle world through his own logical processes and turned it over in discussion with his fellows in Ancient Greece.
The Socratic method of dialectic reveals the truth, through logical processes, enabling the reader to follow along. The genius of Plato is that he was able to make the process not only comprehensible, but entertaining,
We therefore have all three “graces” at once. Socrates using logic in his arguments, which we may follow and later use for our own purposes. The teacher-student relationship exposed through dialogue, and the recording of wisdom through Plato writing it down.
Reading Plato in a group and discussing it at intervals works best, I find. It takes a lot of work to read through a dialogue cold and get the full understanding. Having others to talk it over with helps a lot.
Quite often I’ll read a passage out loud and though the words have passed through my brain from the paper out through my mouth into the air, I’ll have no idea what they meant. Being able to chew over some of the harder concepts is key.
There’s an added bonus to studying Plato. Do it often enough and the techniques of dialectic become second nature. The cosmos is not quite so opaque as it was before. Dialectic gives the practitioner tools for understanding, and for helping others see the light.
I wish it were taught in schools. Children would be better equipped to find truth, and less easily conned or deceived. There would be more harmony and fewer disputes, because part of the process is making sure one understands the views and arguments of the other person before examining their logic.
If the view of the other stacks up better then your own, then Plato tells us to discard yours and take up theirs. The person who defends an illogical or incorrect position simply because it is theirs is not just a fool, but a waster of time.
I won’t pretend to be a master of dialectic. But I’m working on it.