Thursday, August 7, 2008

Dialectic and Dialogue

I forget who it was that first said that everything is connected. A good friend of mine came to the conclusion when he was younger and he told me about it. I'm coming to believe it myself. I'm sure it's one of those maxims that, sooner or later, everyone ends up discovering if they look hard enough. About a year ago, I read a phenomenal book by Francisco J. Gonzalez called 'Dialectic and Dialogue: Plato's Practice of Philosophical Inquiry', and I promised myself to re-read it in a year's time. Here we are a year later and I finished reading it last night. Reading this book has lead me to believe there are connections between Philosophy and Buddhism. Buddhism is probably one of the more philosophical religions Humanity came up with over the last few millennia, although many Zen masters will tell you that Buddhism cannot be examined like Philosophy can.
Plato had Socrates share his revolutionary points of view and ideas with men he admired and with students looking for a new way of perceiving the world. It's all about perception in Buddhism as well. What a person sees with their senses is not the reality -- it's part of reality, but not the whole thing. For one to know the entire reality, one would have to see the object from countless points of view. Plato's Socrates, on the other hand, accepts with some resignation that since we cannot 'know' an object this way, all we can do is learn facts and details about the object and use that as our basis of 'knowing' an object or an experience.
One word Gonzalez uses constantly is aporia: a difficulty encountered in establishing the theoretical truth of a proposition, created by the presence of evidence both for and against it. Socrates, unable to confirm or completely prove his ideas before the Sophists he seeks to vanquish, ends everything in a draw. Personally, I don't think the Sophists took his ideas seriously, or anything seriously, for that matter. It was safer for them not to take a stand on something they believed -- I personally find it hard to believe that Socrates' critics believed in anything except trying to bring him down by trapping him with words.
Words and labels are all we have to communicate with, and Homo sapiens is too social an animal to keep from communicating with others. Here is where Buddhism and Plato part company, as far as dialectics is concerned. Words and labels serve their purpose of communication, but they also tie a person down with a constant identity, and Buddhism is all about merging the I, thus losing the identity. Labels especially keep the I from merging. Still, there are too many connections between Philosophy and Buddhism to ignore.
Time to gush over the book in a physical sense. Well-written and thought-provoking, I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Plato's work. Apparently, this book presents an alternate view of Philosophy, so be sure to give yourself a few weeks to enjoy this treasure.

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