Thursday, January 10, 2008
Heavens and earth
The School of Athens was painted by Raphael sometime in 1510-1511. Here you will find all the philosophers of ancient times. The center figures are Aristotle (384BC-322BC) and his teacher Plato (424BC-347BC). Aristotle is pointing to the earth, reflecting his belief that knowledge was derived from experience, that materia prevailed over idea, that physical reality dictated our existence. Plato, on the other hand, points to the heavens, suggesting that in fact the opposite is true that the ideals shaped and configured our material world. These two philosophical currents, materialism of Aristotle and idealism of Plato shaped the Western philosophy through the ages, culminating in Hegel and Kant, Hegel influenced by Aristotle and Kant by Plato. Kant once said, ‘I am not saying anything new. I am only organizing and conceptualizing what Plato said in ecstasy.’
Of course, these philosophical trends were more complicated to be coined just by the names of ‘materialism’ and ‘idealism’. After all, both Aristotle and Plato knew very well the absurdity of oversimplification. The world is driven by both the physical earth-grounded elements and non-earthly, non-material elements. That is why ideals that cannot be materialized or realized in the real world are not relevant. It was Jose Ortega y Gasset , the great existentialist, who suggested that a theory that is incapable of being put into practice should be deleted and replaced with another. In other words, the theory that fails the practical experiment is not a good theory. That is why, there soon came the disillusionment with Communism. Marxist ideology, a theory, failed the practical experiment of mankind.
We all dream. In fact, the prerequisite of success and achievement is dreaming. Without dreaming, we do not have a clear vision where we are going, and why we are going. Without dreaming, we do not even have willingness to make a step forward. Dreaming entails passion, obsession, some degree of mental frenzy and restlessness. Nothing is impossible. Generally, the sky is the limit. But dreams that are not capable of being materialized in the world we live in, are not good dreams. Specifically, we all know that the world and society erect many barriers to our individual ideals day after day. Also, the lifespan of a mortal human being, the limitations of our physical existence are internal barriers that we simply are not in control of. So, there are external and internal barriers to realization of our dreams. What do we do then? Do we stop dreaming? Do we stop obsessing over our ideals? Do we simply give up? If Aristotle points to the earth, does that mean we should only settle for what is around us, forsaking Plato’s direction to the heaven?
That is the constant human struggle and no one of us will have the answer. Each of us will formulate own response to this ‘Aristotle-Plato’ dichotomy. But one thing is clear, without dreaming there will never be hope for better. Without hope for better, there is no meaning in life. But because there is a wide gap between the real world and our dreams, dreaming takes a lot more courage than you think. When you are crawling in the darkest tunnel with no light ahead, fearful to fall into the unseen pit ahead, in that darkest hour, if you can envision in your mind that light ahead, and smile, continuing to walk, that is courage, that is strength, that is spiritual power.