Beyond Plato’s Philosopher King
By Dr. N. V. Kulkarni
Text of paper submitted to the VI. World Congress of the International Christian Studies Association: ‘Science and Religion: The Missing Link’ hosted by Pepperdine University Malibu, California, USA. [Aug 2004]
I come from the land of Vedas. My spiritual heritage is Nimbargi school, founded by Saint of Nimbargi in the lineage of Revananath of Nav nathas. My spiritual teacher – Prof. R. D. Ranade, M.A. D.Litt., one of the greatest mystic-philosophers of the twentieth century. He was first professor of philosophy at Allahabad University, then Dean of Arts Faculties and retired as Vice Chancellor. He established his academy at Nimbal, a village in Karnataka state, where truth seekers from all over the world came during his lifetime and continue to do so.
He rose to international fame, first in 1926 and then in 1933 with his monumental works – A Constructive Survey of Upanishadic Philosophy and Mysticism in Maharashtra.
The books were hailed as unique contributions, by such luminaries as M. Jacobi, Dr. Garbe, M. Winterntz, J. M. Muirhead, J. B. Pratt, to name a few.
Prof. Ranade states in the preface of his book on the Upanishads, “Upanishads contained not one system of philosophy, but systems of philosophy rising one over another like Alps over Alps, and culminating in a view of Absolute Reality, which was worthy of the fullest consideration of our contemporary Philosophers of the West. With that end in view and in order that the Upanishadic philosophy might be made intelligible to the Western mind, I boldly struck out the plan of presenting it according to the methods of Western thought, so as to make it understandable and appreciable by those who were trained to think according to those methods.
The trend of the present volume is to show how all the teachings of Upanishadic Philosophy converge towards the realization of the mystical goal.
Rational mysticism, which has been hitherto regarded as a contradiction in terms, must now be a truism. The author shall feel his labours amply rewarded, if he finds that his exposition of the Upanishadic Philosophy makes a contribution, however small, to the realization of this ideal.”1
I have come here, which I trust is as willed by my Master, to revive the interests of you esteemed scholars of the West, assembled here, in the rich heritage of Indian thought and ideals which gaze beyond Plato’s Philosopher King for a theonomy proclaiming one God, one World, one Humanity.
The Role of Plato’s Worlds in the Scientific Field
Imre Lakatos (formerly Professor of Logic, University of London.) states, “….. the rationally reconstructed – growth of science takes place essentially in the world of ideas, in Plato’s and Popper’s third world, in the world of articulated knowledge which is independent of knowing subjects, …..one cannot understand the history of science without taking into account the interaction of the three worlds.”2
Paul Feyerabend (Prof., University of California, Berkeley) states, “It is in this third world that the growth of knowledge takes place and that a rational judgment of all aspects of science becomes possible. ….. and the rules which create order in the third world may be entirely inappropriate for creating order in the brains of living human beings, unless these brains … are put into the third world …..”3
Let us see what these three worlds contain. I find Roger Penrose’s description4 very acute and I shall follow the same.
The first world we know most directly is the world of our conscious perceptions. Yet it is the world we know least about in any kind of precise scientific terms. It contains happiness, pain, perception of colors, earliest childhood memories, love, understanding, ignorance, revenge, knowledge of various facts and fear of death. It contains mental images of chairs and tables, and where smells and sounds and sensations of all kinds intermingle with our thoughts and our decisions to act.
The second is what we call the physical world. It contains actual chairs and tables, automobiles and T.V. sets, human beings, human brains, actions of neurons. It is the world of sun, moon and stars, so also clouds, hurricanes, rocks, flowers, butterflies and at a deeper level molecules and atoms, electrons and photons and space – time, cytoskeletons, tubulin dimmers and superconductors. The connection of the world of our perception with the physical world is mysterious.
There is also one other world – the Platonic world of mathematical forms. It contains Lagrange’s theorem, Euclidean geometry’s Pythogorean theorem, natural numbers, Gassmann product, non Euclidean geometries, infinite numbers, non-computable numbers, recursive and non-recursive ordinals. Maxwell’s and Einstein’s equations, mathematical solutions of chairs and tables as would be made use in virtual reality, simulations also of black holes and hurricanes.
Its existence rests on the profound timeless and universal nature of these concepts.
Roger Pernose explicitly states in his book “The Large, the Small and the Human Mind that – Platonic world contains other absolutes, such as the Good and the Beautiful, but I shall be concerned here only with the Platonic concepts of mathematics 5,” – but we are not.
For us, the Platonic world contains absolutes, such as Good and the Beautiful as pointed out above. These absolutes, Forms or Ideas are Eternal. For Plato, Idea of Idea is God. They are unchanging, unlike particulars, i.e. the phenomenal world – subject to change and decay. This is the reality behind the material world. The eternal and immutable ‘patterns’ behind the phenomenon.
As pointed out by Paul Feyerabend, growth of knowledge and science takes place in this third world. Growth is required for progress. Can we define progress?
I find A. C. Crombie’s definition a complete and all comprehensive one. I quote, “The concept of progress expresses an attitude to man’s place in time and history, to the relation of his past to his future, that is both descriptive and prescriptive. It involves insights both into the progress of knowledge and its uses and into the possibilities and sources of knowledge, and also into the sources and progress or regress of happiness, power or moral virtue. The concept implies a desirable direction, hence the possibility of deviation, and value judgments, about what ought and ought not to have been, and to be, done in man’s dealings with nature, with himself and his fellow creatures, or with God. In other words, the concept of progress is at once profane and sacred, at once epistemological, cosmological and religious, in that it implies belief about knowledge, about what exists, and about man’s origins, expectations and responsibilities within whatever is accepted as the scheme of knowledge and existence.6”
Crombie has emphasized progress entails value judgments.
And what can be these value judgments? I turn to Feyerabend again. He states,
“The sciences especially are surrounded by an aura of excellence which checks any enquiry into their beneficial effect. Phrases, such as ‘search for truth’ or ‘highest aim of mankind’ are liberally used. Undoubtedly, they ennoble their object, but they also remove it from the domain of critical discussion.”
“It seems to me that the happiness and full development of an individual human being is now as ever the highest possible value. This value does not exclude the values which flow from institutionalized forms of life (truth; valour; self-negation; etc.). It rather encourages them but only to the extent to which they can contribute to the advance of some individual. What is excluded is the use of institutionalized values for the condemnation, or perhaps even the elimination, of those who prefer to arrange their lives in a different way. What is excluded is the attempt to ‘educate’ children in a manner that makes them lose their manifold talents so that they become restricted to a narrow domain of thought, action, emotion. Adopting this basic value we want a methodology and a set of institutions which enable us to lose as little as possible of what we are capable of doing and which force us as little as possible to deviate from our natural inclinations.”7
Let us examine Plato’s solution for this.
In book V of the Republic, Plato remarks, “until Philosophers are kings … and political greatness and wisdom meet in one ….. cities will never have rest from these evils, no, nor the human race, ….. and then only will this our state have a possibility of life and behold the light of day …..”
Reasons for philosophers to rule
The city in which the destined rulers are least eager to rule, will inevitably be governed in the best and least facetious manner, and a contrary result will ensue if the rulers are of contrary disposition.
“This can be done by ‘invent(ing) for the destined rulers a life better than ruling ….. for only in such a city will the rulers be those who are really rich, not in gold, but in a wise and virtuous life …..”8
….. there is a faculty residing in the soul of each person, and an instrument enabling each of us to learn; ….. (and) so must this faculty, or this instrument, be wheeled round, in company with the entire soul, from the perishing world, until it be enabled to endure the contemplation of the real world, and the brightest part thereof ….. the form of good.9
For when habituated, you will see a thousand times better than the residents, and you will recognize what each image is, and what is its original, because you have seen the realities of which beautiful and just and good things are copies …..
The revolution of a soul, which is traversing a road leading from a kind of night-like day upto a true day of real existence, and this road we shall doubtless declare to be true philosophy.10
The person chosen for this task should be, most steady, most manful and most comely . Noble and of resolute character. He should possess good memory, a dauntless demeanour and a thorough love of work, temperance, fortitude, loftiness of mind and all the separate virtues.
Training of the would be Philosophers
All who are above ten years old in the city must be dispatched into the country, and their children must be taken and bred up beyond the influence of that common character, which their parents among others possess, in the manners and laws of true philosophers …..11
They must first be trained in gymnastics and music. Music teaches a kind of harmoniousness by means of harmony, and a kind of measuredness by means of measure. They must also be taken on horseback within sight of actual war, and that any safe occasion they must be brought into the field and made to taste blood …..12
Then they must be taught sciences. Science by nature leads to reflection.
He must learn arithmetic, because, ‘who are destined to take part in the weightiest affairs of state to study calculations and devote themselves to it, not like amateurs, but perseveringly, until by the aid of pure reason they have attained to the contemplation of the nature of numbers – not cultivating it with a view to buying and selling, as merchants or shopkeepers, but for the purpose of war and to facilitate the conversion of the soul itself from the changeable to the true and real ….. it evidently obliges the mind to employ pure intelligence in the pursuit of pure truth.
Then he must study geometry both plain and solid …. Larger and more advanced part of the study tends to facilitate our contemplation of the essential form of good ….. compels the soul to transfer itself to that region in which is contained the most blissful of that real existence which it is of the highest importance for it to behold.13
The fourth is astronomy. Here he is not to trouble himself too much about the actual heavenly bodies, but rather with the mathematics of the motion of heavenly bodies. For pursuing astronomy with the help of problems, ‘will convert the natural intelligence of the soul from a useless into a useful possession.’14
But the coping-stone of these for sciences is to be dialectic method, which carries back its hypotheses to the very first principle of all in order to establish them firmly; unless a person can strictly define by a process of thought the essential form of the good, abstracted from everything else, and unless he can fight his way as it were through objections, studying to disprove them not by the rules of opinion, but by those of real existence, and unless in all these conflicts he travels to his conclusions without making one false step in his train of thought – unless he does all this, ….. he will neither know the essence of good, nor any other good thing ….. he should continue constantly and strenuously devote to study of dielectrics for five years.
The total span of education can be laid out thus:
Gymnastic, music and other sciences upto the age of twenty years.
Then they must receive higher honors. The detached sciences in which they were educated as children must be brought within the compass of a single survey, to show correlation which exists between them and the nature of real existence. And when they are thirty years, they should be raised to higher honors and try them in order to see who is able to divest himself of his eyes and his other senses, and advance in company with truth towards real existence. Then upto thirty five years age resigning every other pursuit the dielectric has to be acquisitioned ….. thus thirty five years are spent in habit and exercise to form virtues of soul.
Thereafter for fifteen years, as soon as they are fifty years old, those who have passed through all temptations, and who have won every distinction in every branch whether of action or of science, must be forthwith introduced to their final task, and must be constrained to lift up the eye of the soul and fix it upon that which gives light to all things; and having surveyed the essence of good, they must take it as a pattern to be copied in that work of regulating their country and their fellow-citizens and themselves, which is to occupy each in turn during the rest of life; and though they are to pass most of their time in philosophical pursuits, yet each, when his turn comes, is to devote himself to the hard duties of public life, and hold office for their country’s sake – not as a desirable but as an unavoidable occupation; and thus having trained up a constant supply of others like themselves to fill their place as guardians of the state, they will depart and take up their abode in the islands of blessed. And the state will put up monuments to their memory at the public expense, and offer sacrifices to them as demigods, if the Pythian oracle will authorize it, or at least as highly-favored and godlike men.15
Why so much importance to philosophers, Aristotle is crystal clear on this issue. He states, ‘highest happiness is only open to philosophers. Happiness lies in virtuous activity which comes from habit, and perfect happiness in the best activity which is contemplation’. He further adds, ‘It is open to man to increase the element of Divine in his nature, and to do so is highest virtue.’
Plato’s contemplation of divine objects ….. essential form of good ….. real existence finds its culmination in Aristotle’s Theoria. In fact Aristotle regards this as his ideal.
I quote from Prof. R. D. Ranade’s monumental work, ‘The Bhagvadgita as a Philosophy of God Realisation’.16
“Those who have read Aristotelian ethics know the great stress which he lays upon the contemplative life. This contemplative life is not very different from what the Bhagvadgita calls Jnana Yoga.
Jnana may be looked at from two points of view, intellectual and mystical. Jnana does not refer to mere intellectual knowledge but refers to that mystical knowledge beyond which there is nothing else to be known. As pointed at in Chapter VII, verse – 2 of Gita.”
Yoga is a kind of activism – Underhill17 calls this state as divine osmosis, ‘Psychologically it is an induced stage where the mystic, ‘apprehends the supra-sensible by immediate contact, and knows itself to be in the presence of the “supplier of true life. Such contemplation – Jnana Yoga such positive attainment of absolute is the whole act of which visions of poets, the contacts which the scientists make with the third world of Plato on the verge of their discoveries, the intuition of philosophers, give us hints.
This activism is succinctly conceptualized by the Greek word theoria. In the first place it means vision of perception, secondly, it means intellection or knowledge, and thirdly it means ecstasy or illumination. Jnana, mystical illumination inducing ecstasy is divine knowledge which unfolds itself to the mystic. A philosophy of Jnana may be called a philosophy of theoratism as per Prof. Ranade.
Coming back to Aristotle, Prof. Ranade says, “His great contribution as found towards the end of his Metaphysics, as well as his ethics is the concept of theoria, the beatificatery contemplation, which according to him, is one of the characteristics of God, and which a man has to imbibe to certain extent. In fact, Aristotle regards this as his ideal. It may be paralleled by what Spinoza later on called Amor intellectualies Dei (intellectual love of God). It is true, he says, that none but God can live in mere contemplation alone, but it would behove man in his highest state to imitate that kind of theoria. Finally, he makes a very important statement. It is only when we are contemplating scientifically, philosophically, intuitionally, and on a higher level, that our mind can go up to theoria. It is in such cases that we can dispense with the society of others, and our ultimate ideal then would be to live the life of God alone. The theoria need not necessarily be Godly, it may be human. Human theoria is a part and parcel, or a fraction, of that great Divine Theoria and that is the ideal at which our metaphysical or ethical life must aim.
Plato’s contemplation of divine objects – essential form of good – real existence which shines forth to the faculty residing in the soul can be equated to human theoria.
A realized soul is partaking Divine Theoria. As a consequence, having established his identity with the Absolute, the One, the All. Immediate effects of this identification are, in the words of Prof. Ranade, “entire abatement of bodily excitement, the resolution of all doubts, the obtainment of infinite power, the enjoyment of illimitable joy, the destruction of all fear and the fulfillment of any end that may be contemplated by the mystic.
In the words of Badarayana, the famous commentator on Vedas, the released soul becomes an overlord. Merely by willing it, he can get any desire fulfilled. All his forefathers are elevated to divinity by his mere power of will.
The Aiteriya Brahmana of the Rig Veda proclaims this
(साम्राज्यं भौज्यं स्वाराज्यं वैराज्यं
पारमेष्ठ्यं एकराज इति)
[Samrajyam Bhoujyam Swarajyam Vairajyam
Parmeshthyam Ekraj Iti]
Meaning, “O Gods proclaim him as overlord and overlordship, as paramount ruler and father of paramount rulers, as self ruler and self rule, as sovereign and sovereignty, as king and father of kings, as supreme lord, and supreme authority – the suzerain of all creation hath been born.” (Translation by A.B. Keith)
According to Badarayana, such is the ideal king. Prof. Ranade, in his book, ‘Vedanta : Culmination of Indian Thought’18 states –
Badarayana holds the ideal of the philosopher-king and in a much more intensified form than Plato. Plato had held that, “Until philosophers are kings ….. and political greatness and wisdom meet in one ….. Cities will never have rest from their evils, no, nor the human race ….. and then only will this our state have a possibility of life and behold the light of day.” If Plato’s ideal of a philosopher-king ever comes true, there would be the contingency of many philosopher-kings each ruling his own Republic. Such a multiplicity of philosopher-kings might not lead to concord and harmony. Moreover it would be well-nigh impossible to determine the primus inter pares in this multitude, who may establish harmony. But the ideal of Badarayana, the overlord of all suffers no compeer (ananyadhipatih) and has omniscience, omnipotence and bliss. He is the one sovereign (Ekarat), the Vedic Hymn proclaims, who has sway over all that exists and down to eternity. It is he who enjoys real svarajya-the Atmanic imperishable bliss-as the saint of Nimbargi used to say. Thus, far from being poli-centric or even cosmos-centric the ideal visualized by the ancient Rsis at the dawn of human history is the kingdom-immortal (Amrtam purim) which transcends the limits of here and now.“
The great Samkaracharya, who fought for the uniqueness of Jnana – Divine Theoria – uncontaminated by Activity – of which God only is capable, was himself one the greatest intellectual activists the world has ever seen. Having travelled throughout the length and breadth of India, having established his monasteries at different places and having devoted his life to the fulfillment of his philosophical and spiritual mission. Samkarachyara set himself on a pedestal to which people can only point, but which they can scarcely reach. One has only to remember that it becomes the mission of such a realiser to spread the gospel of God whenever and wherever it becomes possible for him to do so. One God, One World, One Humanity should be his maxim, Theopolity (“The Aiteriya Vedic” song) which praises its glories his doctrine, for verily this philosopher saint is very ectype of God.
Man integrates himself by meditation just as by action. But he should not be content with contemplating the beauty of the ocean, of the mountains, and of the clouds, the masterpieces of the artists and the poets, the majestic construction of philosophical thought, the mathematical formulae which express natural laws. He must also be the soul which strives to attain a moral ideal, searches for light in the darkness of the world engaged in human theoria, marches forward along the mystic way, and renounces itself in order to apprehend the invisible substratum of the universe.
Finally, I place flowers at the feet of the lord in the words of Brena Dunne who is coordinator of the International Consciousness Laboratories (IRCL) and the Academy of Consciousness Studies “Development of new modes of conceptualization that will permit accommodation of intuitive, creative and mystical dimensions of consciousness within the purview of science would not only retain for science the resilience and adaptivity necessary for its continued relevance and utility in the burgeoning age of information, but would raise the scientific method to its rightful place as one of the triumphs of transcendent human achievement”.19
- Constructive Survey of Upanishadic Philosophy – R. D. Ranade, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bombay, 1968 preface page 1&2.
- Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge – Imre Lakatos and Alan Musgrave, Cambridge University Press, 1999, page 180.
- Ibid page 218
- Shadows of Mind – Roger Penrose, Oxford University Press, 1994, page 412
- The Idea of Progress edited by Arnold Burgen et al Walter de Gruyter, Berlin 1997, page 48
- Imre Lakatos and Alan Musgrave, 1999, page 210
- History of Western Philosophy – Bertrand Russel Routledge, London, 1995, page 135
- Plato’s Republic – Translated by John Llewelyn Davis, Wordsworth Classics of World Literature, 1997, page 232
- Ibid 229/230
- Ibid 233
- Ibid 257
- Ibid 252
- Ibid 240
- Ibid 244
- Ibid 256
- Bhagavadgita as a Philosophy of God Realization – R. D. Ranade, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 2001, page 175
- Mysticism – Evelyn Underhill, University Paperbacks, London, 1960, page 333
- Vedanta The Culmination of Indian Thought – R. D. Ranade, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai 2001, page 177
- Intuition – The Inside Story, edited by Robbie Davis Sloid and P. Sven Arvidson, published by Routledge, London, page 128