Another sharing for the day from the Blue House of Via-HYGEIA, the forewords by Tim Addey to the trail-blazing and essential work by professor Algis Uždavinys. ‘Dr. Uzdavinys reminds us about the many antique voices that claimed an Egyptian source of classical philosophy (Isocrates, Plato, Iamblichus, Proclus, etc.). The greatest value of his book may be in pointing out that even if discrete pathways of transmission might never be mapped, the structural resonances between Egyptian and Greco-Roman philosophical aims are striking.‘ (Leonard George, Capilano University-North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada-review for ‘The International Journal of the Platonic Tradition’ 4 (2010) pages 75-108).
‘This book issues a serious challenge to the orthodox view of philosophy, and its accompanying narrative of development. Ancient understanding viewed reality as a series of descending steps, starting with the most ineffable and most simple which is first unfolded through divinity and then moves down through varying conditions of existence — the highest of which are closest to the originating simplicity and are purely intelligible, but the lower being increasingly complex and changeable, ultimately becoming perceptible to the senses. These lower conditions of existence were not rejected as evil or illusive, but they were seen as deriving their worth and trustworthiness from their relation to the highest. Each plane of reality had its answering correspondence in the nature of the human being. Since the highest levels possessed the greatest intelligibility and stability, it was here that philosophers sought to centre the art and science of philosophy. For this reason philosophy was seen as an interior discipline which allowed a conscious and active participation in a divine and intellectual drama — in more modern terms it was considered to be a spiritual path, or a yoga of enlightenment.
But at some point in the passage between the ancient and modern era, this view of philosophy and its purpose was largely lost, and today we find that that what is still called philosophy has allowed its centre to slip down the levels of reality. And, of course, the human faculties upon which modern philosophy is based are necessarily at the lower levels of thought: where philosophy was meditative, contemplative and even unitive, it is now confined to a narrow form of logical reason — forever stuck in the temporal world. Reason, once valued as a launching point to the realm of eternal intellect and thence super-eternal divinity, is now an end in itself. Modern philosophy has lost its nerve: like a pilot who no longer trusts his aircraft the forward thrust of reason races us along the ground but is never transferred to an upward movement into the free air.
We now have the worst of both two possible worldviews: modern philosophy, generally speaking, no longer values metaphysics and theology (it considers both to be purely constructs of the human mind, with no basis in reality) and yet since the material world is no longer thought to be a manifestation of providential divinity, modernism cannot rid itself of a deep suspicion that body and matter are ultimately empty of goodness and meaning. We do not need to accept the present errors: what has been diminished by centuries of neglect can be restored.
This book is not the start of a radical reappraisal of western philosophy and its origins, but it is by far the most coherent and strongest call to this task that has been written in recent times. Once we step back with its author and examine the external and internal evidence for European (in other words Greek) philosophy having grown out of that of the Egyptians, the unbiased reader must conclude that it is incredible that any other possibility should have been entertained. Why should the writers of antiquity have so consistently claimed that the best of their wise men had visited and learnt from the priests of Egypt unless there was a widespread and deeply held reverence for that land and its teachings?
To appreciate how philosophy’s origins have been so thoroughly misrepresented, we need to follow Algis Uždavinys’ exposition of the way in which the true and original nature and purpose of philosophy has fallen from both the scholarly and the common view over these many centuries past. And while ultimately the failure to recognise the Egyptian roots of western philosophy may be considered as a problem largely confined to historical accuracy, the failure to understand its nature and purpose has had — and still has — the most profound, extensive and worrying consequences for the whole of humankind. This is why ‘Philosophy as a Rite of Rebirth’ is such a welcome contribution to the thought life of today.
As with every radical change of position in any subject, there are likely to be details which will need to be readjusted once the dust has settled, so to speak, and other thinkers have added their own efforts to the task of exploring this new vista. Clearly the challenge this book lays down to the philosophers of today is to consider the very essence of philosophy as a participation in divine reality and, therefore, its activities as being primarily those of inner vision rather than mere logic. Once this position is seen as valid — and this may take time, as inner vision is itself a discipline which requires gradual development — we can then move back across the writings of the tradition dating from between its Egyptian and Neoplatonic phases in order to consider them in this light. At present several writers, for example, see Plato himself as part of the movement away from divine vision towards the limitations of purely logical reason.
We need to ask whether this is really so, or whether modern rationalistic schools have so thoroughly misrepresented him as a sceptical logician that this has been accepted too readily by those who are moving towards this radical revision of philosophy: if this questioning is approached with an open mind, we may well find that Plato’s dialogues, replete as they are with passages of mythic images, with descriptions of Socrates in meditative states, and with their constant references to traditional myth and initiation, are in reality central to philosophy as rebirth. This is an exciting exploration awaiting further research and deep thought.
Leaving this aside, we can see in ‘Philosophy as a Rite of Rebirth’ that a sympathetic exploration of Ancient Egyptian high culture so clearly connects with the last flowering of Greek philosophy in the teachings of the late Platonists as well as with Eastern doctrines that we must again consider the now unfashionable concept of the existence of a perennial and universal philosophy. The truths of this philosophy, as Thomas Taylor says, “which though they have been concealed for ages in oblivion, have a subsistence coeval with the universe, and will again be restored, and flourish, for very extended periods, through all the infinite revolutions of time.”
Tim Addey, October 2008
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