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Platonic Dialectic

Preparatory Study

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     Dialectic is a phenomenon which must actually be experienced before it can be fully understood. Attempting to make Dialectic clear to persons who haven't participated in its reality is like trying to convey an adequate idea of sight to a person born blind. Those discerning enough to seek out true information about, prepare for, and then actually experience Dialectic interchange, become members of a small philosophical fellowship.

     Dialectic's reality is so vast and unfathomable that we need to develop word seeds that we can plant and make grow into the living actuality. A rejuvenation of the word "Dialectic" can bring its reality into our experience, its sense of camaraderie, interpersonal interchange, astounding discoveries, and higher states of consciousness.

     Dialectic is a phenomenon that traverses the borderland between ordinary experience and Higher Awareness. The concepts commonly used to explain it have placed it on an outlandish platform that distorts its meanings and drags it down into hackneyed stereotypes.

     We must discard all concepts associated with Dialectic that bear any relationship with conventional clichés such as "argument," "conversation," "discussion," "debate," "refutation," or "cross-examination." These conventionalized, lethargic words are often excuses for following the line of least mental resistance. So we'll find word-descriptions that can travel vigorously, those that possess the aspect of rough-and-ready hiking clothes instead of stilted vestments or pompous academic robes. Dialectic has been terribly tarnished by the multitudinous self-appointed philosophical "experts" who assume they understand what it means--without in the least grasping its actual, deeper reality.

     Our ongoing study of the phenomenon of Platonic Dialectic is an integral part of our quest to understand the elemental nature of reality. Plato's philosophy only makes sense to persons who commit themselves to the search for truth and wisdom, recognizing that there are vast continents of ignorance within their psyche which they need to illuminate and transform. Only if they have an intense desire to understand the veiled aspects of reality will Plato's teachings have any appeal for them.

"Who then are lovers of wisdom (philosophers)?

Those who seek to discern the ultimate nature of reality."

Plato, The Commonwealth (475e)



Dialectic As the Art and Process of Attaining Understanding

     The central question about Plato's use of the dramatic dialogue form to present his ideas is how this form provided him with elements which were crucial to his goals. Plato wanted to explicate specific ideas and procedures, to help students understand all aspects of Reality, and he intended to provide a dramatic structure which would both engage readers and enable them to participate in a simulated event to learn how to practice Dialectic.

     When we ask ourselves what the predominant subject matter of Plato's dialogues is--something we seldom think about--it's clear that Plato's teachings involve the essence of human beings. Persons are more than objects--in some way we could say that persons are not objects at all. So humans cannot be studied as we would cabbages or telecommunication systems, and any profound teaching must be couched in a form which allows us to intermesh with persons as conscious subjects.

"We cannot discover the nature of man in the same way that we can detect the nature of physical things. Physical things may be described in terms of their objective properties, but man may be described and defined only in terms of his consciousness. This fact poses an entirely new problem which cannot be solved by our usual modes of investigation. Empirical observation and logical analysis, in the sense in which these terms were used in pre-Socratic philosophy, here proved inefficient and inadequate. For it is only in our immediate intercourse with human beings that we have insight into the character of man. We must actually confront man, we must meet him squarely face to face, in order to understand him. Hence it is not a new objective content, but a new activity and function of thought which is the distinctive feature of the philosophy of Socrates. Philosophy, which had hitherto been conceived as an intellectual monologue, is transformed into a dialogue. Only by way of dialogical or dialectic thought can we approach the knowledge of human nature. Previously truth might have been conceived to be a sort of ready-made thing which could be grasped by an effort of the individual thinker, and readily transferred and communicated to others.

"But Socrates could no longer subscribe to this view. It is as impossible--says Plato in the Republic--to implant truth in the soul of a man as it is to give the power of seeing to a man born blind. Truth is by nature the offspring of dialectic thought. It cannot be gained, therefore, except through a constant cooperation of the subjects in mutual interrogation and reply. It is not therefore like an empirical object; it must be understood as the outgrowth of a social act. Here we have the new, indirect answer to the question 'What is man.' Man is declared to be that creature who is constantly in search of himself--a creature who in every moment of his existence must examine and scrutinize the conditions of his existence. In this scrutiny, in this critical attitude toward human life, consists the real value of human life. 'A life which is unexamined,' says Socrates in his Apology, 'is not worth living.' We may epitomize the thought of Socrates by saying that man is defined by him as that being who, when asked a rational question, can give a rational answer. Both his knowledge and his morality are comprehended in this circle. It is by this fundamental faculty, by this faculty of giving a response to himself and to others, that man becomes a 'responsible' being, a moral subject."

Ernst Cassirer, An Essay on Man

Dialectic's Life-Saving Power

      We find it difficult to understand Plato's astonishing estimation of dialectic's power: among other things that it allows one to gain entrance to the higher world of Truth and Goodness. The reason for Plato's exceptional esteem for dialectic was that he had personally experienced its elemental, life-saving might. He realized that had he not entered into a relationship of ongoing dialectical interchange with Socrates he would, undoubtedly, have been murdered by the ruling cabal in Athens.

      Following the turmoil of the war with Sparta in 404 BCE, a short eight month oligarchical tyranny known as the Thirty Tyrants governed Athens. Two of Plato's relatives, Critias (his mother's uncle) and Charmides (his mother's brother) were members of this cabal. Within a few years, a civil war replaced the Thirty with a new and most radical mobocracy--which its advocates called a democracy.

      Plato had observed the ruling junta trying to implicate Socrates in their criminal machinations by ordering him to arrest Leon of Salamis. In the summer of 403 BCE the Greek navy had barely been able to stave off a defeat at the hands of an enemy. The victory cost the navy twenty-five ships and four thousand lives; the commanders of the fleet were charged with criminal negligence for not trying to rescue their men. At that time Socrates had been a senator and a member of the executive committee. Certain political leaders demanded that the commanders be convicted en bloc by a unanimous vote, suspending the regular legal processes. The question of whether or not to suspend the regular procedures finally came to the executive committee. Socrates alone stood firm, even though all its members' lives were threatened. However, Socrates's protest was overruled, the military leaders were tried and condemned in a body, and six of them were executed.

      When a new government came into power, Socrates refused to participate in arresting a rich man--Leon of Salamis--whose property the government wished to confiscate. Leon was seized and murdered, and Socrates' refusal to participate created bitter enemies for him.

      When he first met Socrates, Plato had been headed for a regular political career that would most likely have ended in his assassination. Since some of his family had been members of the Thirty Tyrants junta, Plato would have been equally--or even more--tainted in the cabal's eyes than was Socrates. At the time of his meeting Socrates, Plato was almost totally oblivious to his own personal peril in this regard, assuming he could pursue a political career without thought of danger. By entering into dialectical interchange with Socrates he became aware of this peril and gave up his illusions about a regular career in politics, choosing instead to fight against tyranny through creating a specially-designed philosophical programme.

      When Plato then saw Socrates being illegally charged by these same ruthless men, falsely accused of heresy and corruption of Athenian youth, and given a sentence of death by a fake democratic mob, Plato realized even more clearly that his association with Socrates--especially their dialectical interchanges--had saved his very life.

      Without the experience of genuine dialectical interchange most if not all persons are (whether they realize it or not) on a collision-course with catastrophe of some sort: outright death brought on by some form of intellectual and moral laxity or a meaningless "life" worse than death, mere senseless survival ("one damn thing after another").

      We can take the example of two persons whose lives were saved by their good fortune in finding another person with whom they could enter into dialectical interchange. The man had been a controlling, presumptuous jerk who mouthed off at inopportune moments, alienating others and creating enemies for himself. Had he not met a woman with whom he could enter into dialectical interchange, he would undoubtedly have suffered personal calamity. The woman in this illustration, before meeting the man, had been highly intelligent, but had allowed herself to become something of an over-logical, scolding harridan. By learning to enter into genuine dialectical interchange with the man, this woman rescued herself from mere existence of a shrill, dismal nature. This couple saved themselves from personal disaster through their search for and discovery of another person with whom they could engage in dialectical interrelation. They then went on to develop transcendent qualities and capabilities enabling them to gain greater understanding of both the terrestrial and metaphysical domains.

      Any two extraordinary persons possessing the intellectual and moral capabilities that make it possible to join in a dialectical relationship, will experience this same kind of ontological (life or death) encounter: their ongoing dialectical interchange will totally transform, and thus literally save, their lives.

      This is one of several reasons for the statement at the beginning of this essay that you must have experienced dialectic to understand it. Unless you've developed a dialectical relationship with a person possessing this prodigious expertise, you could not possibly understand its life-saving quality and you will not have the intellectual and emotional awareness of having changed your thoughts and actions in a manner that literally saved your life from utter destruction.

Dialectic As Personal Transformation

     One of the major procedures in Platonic Dialectic is elenchus: involvement of the Dialectic participant in self-improvement, confrontation with a self whose irrational attachments to appetite and ego are exposed and overcome. Elenchus comes from the Greek word for "examine" or "investigate." In both the Meno and Book I of the Commonwealth, Plato compares elenchus to a Mystery initiation ritual, indicating that it plays a complex role in the experience of the teacher and student.

     Elenchus is today frequently misdefined as "cross-examination" or "refutation." It's actually the process of revealing inconsistent, unproductive, or thoughtless beliefs, characteristics, or ideas and substituting true and sound understanding. Socrates revealed self-contradictions in a participant's belief system to help him to, among other things, guard against erroneously accepting another person as an expert. He also revealed beliefs that the participant didn't know he had, to determine their invisible influence on him. In Plato's dialogues, elenchus involves purging the soul of internal and external obstacles that interfere with learning and transformation. The purpose of elenchus was to help the participant become aware of his ignorance and redirect him towards a virtuous life, beneficial to his soul.

"Plato, through his use of the dialogue form, invites the reader to ask questions and to look and listen for answers, invites him to participate in a dialogue in which Plato's own writings play the role Socrates plays within the dramatic world of the dialogues. This invitation is not to be taken lightly; for if accepted it commits the reader to 'much close study . . . and a long companionship'; it is nothing less than an invitation to obtain a philosophical education by participating directly in philosophy."

Herman L. Sinaiko, Love, Knowledge, and Discourse in Plato: Dialogue and Dialectic in Phaedrus, Republic, Parmenides

     Personal progress occurs in and through the transformative elements of Dialectical interchange. The Socratic elenchus is no mere intellectual discussion, but a discovery of the deeper aspects of one's self--which is why so many reject it, but also why it can lead to a genuine transformation of the psyche through self-knowledge. It is the actual rebirth of the participant's selfhood into the realm of Reason and the search for truth that makes Dialectic not merely an investigative but a transformative and even a kind of spiritual practice. If the participant persists in the Dialectic process, she finds herself transported out of her "accidental and irrational arbitrariness" and reconstituted in the light of Higher Awareness. She will also begin to discover and remake her self-identity in the values of higher rational processes and self-direction. She will discover that the pursuit of knowledge has involved her in the values and virtues of understanding and in the participant community of that way of life.
". . . What is at stake in conversation with Socrates is not only the topic of this particular exchange, but the opportunity for other conversations and indeed for the whole rich social relationship of his educational-dialogical circle. The call to commit oneself--one's thought and ultimately one's life, as Nicias suggests--to the test of the elenchus is also a call to involve oneself in . . . membership in rational community with Socrates. What Socrates offers is not only thought, but friendship, not only discourse, but shared values and a shared life. One does not engage in the practice of Socratic dialectic as a solitary individual, but as one among others, equals in the epistemic/educational community. The failure of so many of Socrates' partners to persist in the elenchus is a turning away not only from exercizing their own reason, but also from the opportunity to join in a community of people committed to reason. It must have been puzzling to the young Plato that anyone would choose against membership in that more beautiful city." 1

     Dialectical interchange does not involve Socrates teaching virtue as a doctrine but the activation of a mystical process which provides the opportunity for a participant to gain a deeper understanding of his own moral beliefs, to the recognition that his ideas are inconsistent and that he "doesn't really know what his values are." Ideally this process will burst his inflated ego and encourage him to make a commitment to a life of reason. It encourages him to learn to think for himself and abandon abject reliance on self-appointed authorities. The participant learns to examine his actions in relation to ideas and plans supported by evidence and experience. Continually examining his ideas and behavior, he learns to examine whether or not what he believes he knows is really something he knows.

"The philosophic endeavor, as represented by Plato, begins when we are faced with a value problem, that is, with a difficulty which requires our attention because it appears insoluble according to our current values. Philosophy proper starts with the realization that our values are inadequate to the situation we face, and it proceeds to search for new and better ones."

W. T. Schmid, "Socratic Paideia: How It Works and Why It So Often Fails," Paideia

     In Plato's dialogues, Socrates doesn't attempt to coerce a person into self-evaluation and a rational life-style. The participant learns--or doesn't learn--to prefer truth to personal contentment, ethical behavior to safety and ease. The participant must make the choice for himself.

" . . . On this view, Socrates' ethics would emerge out of and reflect the practice of rational inquiry itself, the values of moral-philosophical discourse. Socrates' ethics may then be understood as the substantive embodiment of the formal principles of such discourse and mutual involvement: the primacy of the good of truth over superiority or honor or safety or physical desire; the commitment of the rational inquirer to values of moral courage, intellectual humility, and dialectical fairness; the willingness to suffer 'punishment' (refutation), if such punishment or refutation is warranted, rather than do it to another, if it is not; the realization of personal interest and the common good; and the imperative of applying one's findings to the conduct of life. Socratic ethics, on this view, would be the idealized extension of the norms required by and created in the very practice of dialectic." 2

     Plato chose the dialogue form to express his teachings because it allowed him to portray Socrates as a person who not only talked about such values as virtue and self-knowledge, but to exhibit them in the ongoing drama of the dialogue. In the Hippias Major, Socrates is unable to persuade Hippias to recognize and acknowledge his own self-contradictions and conceits of wisdom. At that point, Socrates states ironically that he, unlike Hippias, cannot rest easy with eloquent and beautiful speeches about beauty and virtue, because he, unlike Hippias, is held to account for his beliefs by an inner persona who is always cross-examining him.

"He is a very close relative of mine and lives in the same house, and when I go home and he hears me give utterance to these opinions he asks me whether I am not ashamed of my audacity in talking about a beautiful way of life, when questioning makes it evident that I do not even know the meaning of the word 'beauty.'" (304d.)

     The dialogue form allowed Plato to represent Socrates as a person who engaged in constant self-examination. Plato taught that human beings learn to live lives of excellence by imitating and affectively identifying with a model. That was why Plato suggested that degrading and devolutionary social forces--such as we now suffer from in TV and radio--should be eliminated from a genuine commonwealth. Plato's dialogues represent Socrates as the paradigm of intellectual and moral excellence, a practitioner of philosophy, a genuine lover of and seeker of wisdom. Readers of the dialogues learn to follow Socrates' example and thereby become philosophers of high intellectual and moral attainment.

The Enigmatic Dialectic

     In previous essays we've discovered what an enigmatic and complex phenomenon Plato's Dialectic really is. Dialectic is, among other things, an extraordinary kind of shared mystical experience in which a Perennialist Master--such as Socrates or Plato--serves as a psychagogic midwife, overseeing the process of the divulgence of, the bringing into being of new elements: ideas, feelings, inspirations, and images. As is clear from the Phaedo and other dialogues, Plato believed that we can only discover truth when we are in our higher consciousness.



          Plato made a profound distinction between the ordinary visible world and the higher invisible, supersensible world in which only mathematics and Dialectic can operate.

     It's a formidable challenge to comprehend Plato's conception of the extraordinary difference between the realm of ordinary reality and the intelligible realm, between the powers of everyday sense perception and the higher powers of mathematical reasoning and Dialectical discernment. We accept this challenge because we discover that his unique conception of the realms of being and knowledge allows us to understand aspects of reality which no other system of thought can provide.

"Understand then," said [Socrates], "that by the intelligible realm I mean that which Reason itself apprehends by the power of Dialectic, treating its deliberations not as axioms but literally as hypotheses, underpinnings, footings (like steps of a stair), and springboards so to speak, to enable it to rise to that which requires no assumptions and is the starting-point of all knowledge. And after attaining to understanding, Dialectic apprehends the elemental inferences of its insights, and so, making no use whatever of any object of sense, proceeds by means of Forms and through Forms to its conclusions which are Forms."

"I understand," [Glaucon] said; "not fully, for it is no slight task that you appear to have in mind, but I do comprehend that you mean to distinguish the realm of ordinary reality and the intelligible realm, which is apprehended and investigated by the science of dialectic. You see the intelligible realm as


containing truer and more precise apprehensions than conjectures about the objects of the so-called arts and sciences whose assumptions are arbitrary starting-points. And though it is true that those who study the objects of these sciences are forced to use both thought and sensation, because they do not go back to a genuine first principle, but proceed from hypotheses, you think that they do not truly understand these objects, even though, given their assumptions, they seem to them to be intelligible. And you seem to me to call the activity of mathematicians thought but not understanding, thought being intermediate between opinion and understanding."

"Your exposition is most adequate. Thus there are four powers of the soul, corresponding to the four subsections of our line: Understanding is the highest, thought second, belief third, and conjecture last. Arrange them in a ratio, and consider that each shares in discernment to the degree that the subsection it is set over apprehends truth."

Commonwealth VI: 511b-e


     One of the most important insights we receive from Plato's discussion of the immense difference between conjecture, belief, knowledge, and understanding is that Dialectic is, in part, a science used by select persons to achieve surpassing comprehension of the Forms through the attainment of a higher state of consciousness. Dialectic is not, therefore, merely ordinary conversation, discussion, argumentation, cross-examination, or debate. Dialectic puts its participants in touch with an invisible, supersensible domain beyond ordinary reality. But, even though Plato makes it clear that Dialectic is a preternatural 3 phenomenon inexplicable by ordinary means, unenlightened persons continue to insist on trying to explain it in everyday terms.

"And so with dialectic; when a person starts on the discovery of the absolute by the light of reason only, and without any assistance of sense, and perseveres until by pure intelligence he arrives at the perception of the absolute good, he at last finds himself at the end of the intellectual world, as in the case of sight at the end of the visible."

Plato, The Commonwealth VII

Dialectic As Locating Our Consciousness In a Higher Realm

     Plato's teaching of the Divided Line is so extraordinary, so different from the common conception of human life and thought, that we find it difficult to credit that he is actually saying what he says. Plato's philosophy, even after all these centuries, remains an esoteric tradition because people refuse to believe that his ideas mean what they declare. Unimaginative, unintelligent scholastics attempt to place Plato's concepts on the Procrustean bed of academic dogma, trying to cut off the parts of his thought that don't fit their preconceptions and fixed categories.

     First, we must realize that in Plato's figure of the Divided Line, the line itself represents Unitary Reality. Plato is saying: there is only one Reality. That One Reality is composed of the Visible Realm and the Invisible Realm. We live in a Reality which contains both the physical, changing world and the eternal, changeless world. Most people have their consciousness only in the visible world of everyday conjecture and belief; but a few--the philosophers--also experience the invisible world through mathematical reasoning or Dialectical understanding.

     Plato's Phaedo explains that a person who seeks wisdom enters the eternal realm through philosophy: dissevering the soul from its communion with the body and locating one's consciousness in the intelligible world.

"I hold that the true votary of philosophy [the search for wisdom] is likely to be misunderstood by other men; they do not perceive that his whole practice is of death and dying . . . When the soul exists in herself, and is released from the body and the body is released from the soul--death, surely, is nothing else than this . . . In matters of this sort philosophers, above all other men, may be observed in every sort of way to dissever the soul from its communion with the body . . .

"When does the soul attain truth? . . . Must not true existence be revealed to her in contemplation, if at all? . . . And contemplation is best when the mind is gathered into herself and none of these things trouble her--neither sounds nor sights nor pain nor any pleasure--when she takes leave of the body, and has as little as possible to do with it, when she has no bodily sense or desire, but is aspiring after true being . . .

"If we would have pure knowledge of anything we must be quit of the body--the soul in herself must behold things in themselves; and then we shall attain the wisdom which we desire, and of which we say that we are lovers . . .

"True philosophers . . . are always occupied in the practice of dying . . ."

     The eternal, changeless realm is not something which is experienced only after we undergo physical death--the permanent severing of the soul from the body. It's possible to make contact with the Higher World through learning and practicing Dialectic.

"Dialectic is the only philosophical method which seeks for wisdom by anagogically 4 transporting our foundational underpinnings so that our Higher Self ascends to the Origin."
Plato, The Commonwealth VII, 533d

     Since there is only One Reality, philosophers locate their consciousness in the same Reality as other persons, but with wider awareness. While experiencing the terrestrial world they also have the capability of perceiving and acting in the transcendent world. It is One Reality, we must keep that in mind, but those who practice Dialectic are able to discern more and apprehend higher facets of that One Reality. So the experience of the Higher World is not a physical withdrawal from Reality, but an ascension to its transcendent aspect and level: a
double consciousness.

We grasp this phenomenon by comparing a black and white and a color image of the same "reality."

     The black and white image represents the ordinary world and the powers of apprehension commonly experienced by persons in that world. The color image represents the power of apprehending the same world at a higher level of discernment.

     A person's reality is composed both of her terrestrial existence and her eternal being. She enters the terrestrial realm from her state of eternal being; lives throughout her physical existence, usually without awareness of her primordial being; experiences physical death; then re-enters the state of consciousness of her eternal being. Person A (in the image below) lives only in the visible, physical world during her earthly existence. Person B (a philosopher in Plato's sense) lives both in the physical world and through spiritual death (dissevering her Higher Consciousness from her lower consciousness) makes contact with the Higher Realm of eternal being.

     We must avoid interpreting the Higher Realm of eternal being as some kind of "heaven" located in another "place." Plato's Divided Line teaching indicates that there is only one universe, one reality.

"There is but one reality. It is all-inclusive, but in degrees. Its highest expression on earth is consciousness, the self-aware I-Am of man. Consciousness, in degrees, is the one and only reality."

Betty White and Stewart Edward White, The Unobstructed Universe


Those who've experienced physical death live in the same reality as do we who are now experiencing physical existence. Those who have passed on experience the Higher Realm in terms of what they were able to accomplish while in earthly existence. If they achieved higher intellectual, moral, and spiritual qualities during earth life, they experience the realm of eternal being as a joyful abode where they continue to evolve. Those who failed to achieve these qualities experience the Higher Realm as a place of self-discovery, remorse, and arduous correction.

"Plato's is . . . a philosophy of catharsis, ascent, realization, transformation of the way of feeling, of willing, of acting. Plato uses philosophy as a method for raising us above the conflict-ridden and contradictory world of the sensible to the harmonious world of Being, which is our original home."

Raphael, Initiation Into the Philosophy of Plato


     There are thus two diverse approaches to human existence:

  1. Concentrating on the present moment, each day for itself and the devil take tomorrow; believing that human existence is all there is to personal reality; assuming that one is not accountable for his actions

  2. Realizing that a person is accountable for his actions; understanding that he is an eternal being who should act during physical life in a way to develop intellectual, moral, and spiritual qualities to further his personal evolution

    Understanding that there is only one reality, one universe and that it is possible to learn how to contact the Higher Realm through various portals or media: literature, painting, music, poetry, drama, nature, Dialectical interchange, etc.


"There exists a faculty in the human mind which is immeasurably superior to all those which are grafted or engendered in us. By it we can attain to union with superior intelligences, finding ourselves raised above the scenes of this earthly life, and partaking of the higher existence and superhuman powers of the inhabitants of the celestial spheres.

"By this faculty we find ourselves liberated finally from the dominion of destiny, and we become, as it were, the arbiters of our own fates. For, when the most excellent parts in us find themselves filled with energy; and when our soul is lifted up towards essences higher than science, it can separate itself from the conditions which hold it in the bondage of every-day life; it exchanges its ordinary existence for another one, it renounces the conventional habits which belong to the external order of things, to give itself up to and mix itself with another order of things which reigns in that most elevated state of being."

Iamblicus, The Egyptian Mysteries


Dialectic As Constitutive 5 of Being

     From studying Plato's Divided Line, the Allegory of the Cave, and other teachings we discover that Dialectic is not just a process of interpersonal interchange, but constitutes an aspect of reality itself. Dialectic and the Forms dialectic allows us to discern are constitutive of our very being.

"This, then which gives to the objects of knowledge their truth and to him who knows them his power of knowing, is the Form or essential nature of Goodness. It is the cause of knowledge and truth; and so, while you may think of it as an object of knowledge, you will do well to regard it as something beyond truth and knowledge and precious as these both are, of still higher worth. . . . So with the objects of knowledge: these derive from the Good not only their power of being known, but their very being and reality; and Goodness is not the same thing as being, but even beyond being, surpassing it in dignity and power."

Plato, The Commonwealth


     Plato's teachings of the Divided Line and the Cave explicate not only the various levels of apprehending Reality but the diverse modes of being, from lower to higher. Each of the various levels is seen to be a lower mode of being in terms of the higher modes of being. So, for example, from the perspective of the ordinary world of physical existence, such phenomena as shadows, reflections, illusions, delusions, fantasies, hallucinations, visual anomolies, and psychological and physical possession are seen to possess a lower kind of reality. We say, for instance, that hallucinations and visual illusions are not "real."

     The mode of being aspect is represented in the Divided Line teaching by each mode possessing a longer extension than the one immediately below it and the Allegory of the Cave teaching represents the four modes of being in terms of the person becoming not only more capable of comprehending reality but also of possessing a more independent mode of being.

     Possession is the extreme lower point on a continuum (see right) in which the highest achievement is identification with a Higher Positive Power.

     Possession refers to:

  • Domination by something: as a negative spirit, a passion, an obsession, an addiction, or a fixed idea
  • A psychological state in which an individual's normal personality is replaced by another
     Plato taught that Dialectic as a constituent of being is the quintessential mode of transformative interchange which leads to apprehension and understanding of the physical world and Higher Reality. Plato's concept of Dialectic (dialektikos) is based on the word logos meaning "divulgence" and dia which means "through." Dialectic, then, is the divulgence of reality to a conscious subject through a medium and the concomitant transformation
6 of reality, the conscious agent, and the medium. Dialectic is transformative interchange.

"The illusion from which we are seeking to extricate ourselves is not that constituted by the realm of space and time, but that which comes from failing to know that realm from the standpoint of a higher vision. We are at length restored to consciousness by awakening in a real universe, the universe created by the One Mind as opposed to that perversion of it which has been created by our egocentric selves. We then see the visible world as the expression of the immanental life of God, the Divine in manifestation. In relating ourselves to it we live in that Presence subjectively in the depths of our mystical being. And in the properly integrated personality the two processes have become one."

Lawrence Hyde, The Nameless Faith


Dialectical As a Means of Apprehending the Higher Mode of Being

     As with earlier thinkers, Plato was attempting to understand the primary essence of being. The Greek concept of physis (fusis) refers to the process of reality emerging into being, a self-revealing reality which is constantly unfolding, opening up, manifesting itself to consciousness and enduring.

     This understanding of being is a part of the Perennial Tradition. Both Eastern and Western Perennialist masters teach that The One activates the mysterious arising of being out of non-being. The divulgence of reality to consciousness occurs as a primordial, emergent, opening-up illumination. Dialectic involves a person discovering the absolute by the light of Higher Reason only, without any assistance of sense, persevering until by pure intelligence he arrives at the understanding of the Absolute Good, finding himself at last at the end of the intellectual world, as in the case of higher discernment moving beyond the visible realm to the invisible.

     This expanded meaning of Dialectic is distinctly illustrated in social reality.

"It is important to keep in mind that the objectivity of the institutional world, however massive it may appear to the individual, is a humanly produced, constructed objectivity. The process by which the externalized products of human activity attain the character of objectivity is objectivation. The institutional world is objectivated human activity, and so is every single institution. In other words despite the objectivity that marks the social world in human experience, it does not thereby acquire an ontological status apart from the human activity that produced it . . . Man is capable of producing a world that he then experiences as something other than a human product . . . The relationship between man, the producer, and the social world, his product, is and remains a dialectical one.

". . . Man (not of course, in isolation but in his collectivities) and his social world interact with each other. The product acts back upon the producer. Externalization and objectivation are moments in a continuing dialectical process, which is internalization (by which the objectivated social world is retrojected into consciousness in the course of socialization) . . . It is already possible, however, to see the fundamental relationship of these three dialectical moments in social reality. Each of them corresponds to an essential characterization of the social world. Society is a human product. Society is an objective reality. Man is a social product. It may also already be evident that an analysis of the social world that leaves out any one of these three moments will be distortive. One may further add that only with the transmission of the social world to a new generation (that is, internalization as effectuated in socialization) does the fundamental social dialectic appear in its totality. To repeat, only with the appearance of a new generation can one properly speak of a social world."

Peter L. Berger & Thomas Luckman, The Social Construction of Reality


     Dialectic utilizes various media to produce diverse "worlds" of transformative interchange.

"Myth, art, language and science appear as symbols; not in the sense of mere figures which refer to some given reality by means of suggestion and allegorical renderings, but in the sense of forces each of which produces and posits a world of its own. In these realms the spirit exhibits itself in that inwardly determined dialectic by virtue of which alone there is any reality, any organized and definite Being at all. Thus the special symbolic forms are not imitations, but organs of reality, since it is solely by their agency that anything real becomes an object for intellectual apprehension, and as such is made visible to us. The question as to what reality is apart from these forms, and what are its independent attributes, becomes irrelevant here. For the mind, only that can be visible which has some definite form; but every form of existence has its source in some peculiar way of seeing, some intellectual formulation and intuition of meaning."
Ernst Cassirer, Language and Myth


"All progress leads from the more material to the less material; until at length it conducts us into regions where reality is perceived without the use of any laborious material structure at all. You yourselves know that individuals of higher mentality do not always have to pass through a material experience. If they are cognizant of its cause and effect, they can grasp it without painstakingly suffering it: they do not need the laborious material structure to see its reality. It is the same way in the still higher levels beyond. You are all leading up to a consciousness of reality without its material shadows, its material reflections, its material manifestations, as aids to comprehension."

Stewart Edward White, Across the Unknown


Dialectic As Transformative Interchange

     We gain understanding of the world by interacting respectfully with it, instead of attempting to put her "on the rack," as Frances Bacon maintained, coercing her to give up her secrets--just as a heretic is put on the rack and gives up his apostasy.

     For reality to transform him, a subject has to open himself to the true essence of the unknown divulgence, he has to want to know by being awake to reality, he has to allow reality to transform him. On the other hand, for reality to be positively transformed by a subject, he has to have true understanding of reality and has to possess positive qualities.

     For true Dialectic to occur between external reality and a human being, that person must remain in a state of reverence toward the unknown opening-up illumination, not falling prey to the will-to-dominate that which divulges itself to him, but remaining all ears and eyes for the summons of the awe-inspiring phenomena. The genuine philosopher does not want to get hold of or to possess unknown reality by forcing it onto the Procrustean bed of his pre-conceived concepts or categories. He seeks instead to get himself into the frame of mind appropriate to the revered phenomenon--one which renders him open to its summons and makes his vision clear for its beckonings. If he manages to comply perfectly with the unknown reality he will catch sight of its truth, which will release him from the chaos of delusion.

"It might be said that the scientific approach has most often been: 'I shall make this phenomenon yield its secrets', while the Sufic attitude is: 'Let the real truth, whatever it may be, be revealed to me'.

"The former is the 'heroic' mode: attempting something with insufficient knowledge, the latter the 'self-evolution' mode: fitting oneself to perceive that which is to be perceived."

Idries Shah, The Commanding Self


     The true philosopher does not want to take conceptual possession of unknown reality, to concretize and stratify it, to put it into a straitjacket of abstractions, contrived pictorial images, or scholastic structures. Pedants with a restricted viewpoint attempt to fragment reality, calculate it, and objectify it within the strictures of factional dogmas and ideologies.

      Practitioners of Dialectic do not want to take possession of Reality, rather they allow the Unknown simply to occur in the pristineness of its mystery. Instead of trying to manipulate Reality by means of our concepts we attempt to open ourselves and allow our being to become clear-visioned. In this way our spiritual essence becomes truly worthy of understanding unknown Reality and is in accord with it.

     We can best realize our ongoing quest for self-improvement by participating in dialectical interchange within ourselves and with philosophers: persons who aspire to and achieve wisdom. Self-transformation occurs when a subject engages in reflection, meditation, contemplation, reasoning and Dialectical interchange with others. We increase our self-awareness by becoming progressively conscious of the elements of our internal reality: self, consciousness, feelings, thoughts, reflection, aspirations, ideals, and Higher Self. Self-transformation is a power which creates a separation between ourselves at the moment and what we aspire to become. We do not know ourselves fully until we express our inner being in thoughts and actions. We can most fully express ourselves to others who are self-aware and capable of participating in Dialectical interchange.

     Plato believed that life without self-awareness is not worth living. Understanding is constitutive of human existence. As Plato made clear, self-knowledge is an achievement of a very few. Most persons will not allow their desire to know its full range of freedom, so the sense of wonder often ends in blind routine. Their refusal to understand eventuates not only in the loss of reality but also in the loss of the self: intellectual and spiritual suicide. The result is the close-mindedness of the over-sophisticated intellectual or the opportunism of "practical men" who content themselves with a curious mixture of animal faith and ideological fervor.

     Personal error is in part a failure to engage in interchange with others. Reality--including the opinions of others and your own conscience--can inform you of your unethical behavior. It's necessary to engage in Dialectical interchange with intelligent others to realize full self-awareness. Divulgence of your personal essence requires interchange with intelligent--and sympathetic--co-participants. Only through self-expression in Dialectical response to divulgence and inquiry from intelligent others, do we discover who we are.

     Self-transformation includes the ability to explain how one changed from state A to B, from belief A to belief B, from assumptions A to assumptions B, from values A to values B, from process of transformation A to process of transformation B (e.g. a self-correcting process of learning). To engage in self-transformation we must possess capability in an ongoing process of self-discovery and self-betterment. My actions become fully mine when they are part of my conscious experience and they become more effectively mine when I understand precisely what I'm doing when I'm gaining understanding.

     We attain self-knowledge most comprehensively in Dialectical interchange by co-participants utilizing a common language of spiritual inspiration. Dialectic becomes a continuing mode of relating and interchanging with others, particularly those capable of philosophical understanding. The extra-normal element of Dialectic comes into play when participants realize that they are co-creators of ontological events and other phenomena.

                   
I want Something with a side order of Nothing

"Take some more tea," the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.

"I've had nothing yet," Alice replied in an offended tone, "so I can't take more."

"You mean you can't take less," said the Hatter: "it's very easy to take more than nothing."


"The power of elevating the highest essence of the soul to contemplation of that which is foremost in Reality, with which we may compare the raising of that faculty which is the very light of the body to the sight of that which is brightest in the material and visible world--this power is given by comprehensive study and pursuit of the arts of Dialectic."

Plato, Commonwealth VII, 532c





Notes

1 W. T. Schmid, "Socratic Paideia: How It Works and Why It So Often Fails," Paideia

2 Ibid

3 Preternatural: exceeding what is natural or ordinary, inexplicable by ordinary means

4 Anagogical: from the Greek anagein: to lift up; the word denotes any element (entity or experience) through which a person's actions, thoughts and feelings are lifted up from worldly sense experience to realize an experiential participation in the spiritual realm.

5 Constitutive: entering into the essential nature as a formative element or necessary attribute; making a thing what it is; tending or assiting to constitute; elemental, essential

6 Transformation: marked change in the appearance, form, nature, character, function, or condition of an element