(What follows is a very rough version older essay written in the late 80's and revised in the early 90's, which is being revised for Inner Sage Tao.  The first paragraph is part of the new material and the older essay is marked off to identify it. More new material follows though it is rough working out of the new ideas which tries to bring more of the Confucian perspective into the essay.  It was being prepared for a series of lectures  planned in 2002, some of which may eventually appear here.)

 

On Wisdom and Happiness

 

In this essay we will ask some important questions about Life and Happiness and investigate some very compelling answers.  In ancient Western Philosophy the goal of life was viewed to be happiness.  Now what this was and how it was to be achieved were at first a bit controversial, but over a course of a few hundred years a remarkable agreement was reached and it was reached because these ideas were the ones that survived the test of a thousand arguments and came out victorious.  There were a few problems as we will note and interestingly it is in Eastern Philosophy that the solutions will be found.  The result is a synthesis that in its basic formulations is simple enough for a child to understand, but is rigorous enough to appeal to the most intellectually demanding adult.

 

(Beginning of older essay)

 

What do  you want  from life?  Some people might answer this question easily.  Wealth, power, fame, the right person with whom to share their life.  Others may not have such ready answers, but for our purposes it doesn't matter whether you have ready answers or not,  we simply  wish to  look in  a very  general way at what people want and also how to get it.  People  often talk  of their goals and  how they intend to achieve them.  In our discussion we will be talking about means and ends.  By ends we mean  our goals and by means the way in which we intend to achieve them.  It’s a  funny thing  about means and ends.  They seem to form chains.  Think about this one  for example:  someone wants money, to get  money they need a job, to get a job they may need special training so they go to a school.  Here's how  this might  work in real life.   The  child of  a friend has just graduated from High School.

 

You might ask them "Well what is your goal now?"

 

And they might reply "I am going to college"

 

"What will you do after college?", you might continue.

 

And you friend's daughter  may reply,  "Well after  I get my MBA I'm going to become an investment banker on Wall Street."

 

"Oh really"  you say  "and why  an investment  banker of all things?"

 

"So I can become filthy rich."

 

You see  means  and  ends.    Is  the  notion  of  Chains of Motivations becoming  more concrete  to you?  One goal becomes the means to another and on and on.  You might well ask  yourself "Is there an  end to  this chain?   Is  there something that is not a means to some other end?"

 

Well there could be.   Try  this little  thought experiment.  Ask yourself  the following  questions (your  exact answer is not important so feel free to answer  in whatever  way seems  best to you now):

 

Why would someone want to be rich?

 

Why would someone want to be famous?

 

Why would someone want to be powerful?

 

Why would someone want to marry "the right person"?

 

Why would someone want to be happy?

 

Did the last one kind of throw you a bit?  Did you find that it was relatively easy to answer the first four questions and the last was  different?   Take the first question for example.  It's easy to think of reasons to be rich.  To have freedom  to do what you want.  To have luxuries of one sort or another.  To show that nasty Harvey Littleblott from old Nackrattle High School that you could make it big.

 

And what  about famous?   Well  to have  the Maitre'd at the Chez Onery say as  he sees  you approach  "Ah Monsieur Strutstuff how good  of you to patronize our humble five star establishment.  Andre please move the nobodies at  our best  table to  the one by the kitchen  door and  serve Monsieur  Strutstuff a  Remy, on the house."

 

Power  naturally  has  many  rewards  you  might  say  to  a subordinate "Large  Louis, there  is this  little rat  back in my home town, Littleblott  is  his  name,  yeh  that's  right Harvey Littleblott, you  remember me talking about him?  Well I want you to go there and break his arms and  legs and  tell him  Don Geeko sent you, he'll know what you mean, oh boy, will he know what you mean."

 

Examples are hardly necessary for marrying the right person, after all  how else  can you  live "happily ever after" as all of the fairy tales tell us is possible?   Well, what  about our last question?    Why  would  anyone  want  to be happy?  Do you get a growing sense that it is a dumb question?   Try another thought experiment:  You have  just met someone, after the  usual cocktail  party chit  chat you ask them "What do you want in life?",  "Well", they  reply rather  nonchalantly, "I want to  be happy."   Wouldn't  you feel  rather dumb if you then asked "Oh  really, but  why do  you want  to be  happy?", yet you  might have little problem with asking a person who said that they wished to be an investment banker or a  veterinarian or something else just such a question.  And you might take a reply that "Oh I just think that I would be happy being  a veterinarian,  you know helping  the  furry  little  animals  and all that." as perfectly sensible, but what would you think of "Well I want to be happy so I can  be an  investment banker"?   This  might make sense from a person whose severe bouts  of  depression  were  interfering with their  career  plans,  but  that  is  a  very rare exception, and generally speaking you might wonder about the sanity  of a person who would  answer a  question in such a way (of course the person who did answer it that way might already think you're crazy for asking.)

 

Could  we  have  found  our  end  of all ends then?  Does an analysis of all of our  chains  of  means  and  ends  lead  us to recognize as  the final  motive, happiness?  Look a little closer have  you  ever  heard  anyone  say  "I  want  to  be   rich  and miserable.",  or  "I'm  going  to  be  famous  and wretched.", or perhaps "I am going to marry the right  person so  that I  can be tormented for  ever after."?   Never  mind that money seldom buys happiness, or that the famous are  often prisoners  of their fame or that  some marriages  are made  in hell, did any of the people seeking these goals pursue them with  the end  in mind  that they would  be  unhappy?    Wasn't  there  always in the back of their minds, an implicit assumption  you  might  say,  the  notion that "When I have money I will be happy.", or "when I'm famous I'll be happy.", or "When I've married the right person I'll be happy."?

 

Now that you have thought about  the notion  of happiness as the  central  goal  for  which  you are striving, whether you are aware  of  that  fact  or  not,  you  may  be  wondering  what is happiness?   For the moment let's leave a detailed answer to what happiness is to another time.  The book  which we  recommend that you read, Ten Philosophical Mistakes by Mortimer Adler has a long discussion which is simple,  straight  forward  and  very thought provoking.  We think that you will find that reading this book is a very rewarding way to start  thinking about happiness and your goals in life.

 

So  let's  just  assume  for  now  that  it  is a given happiness is  the real  goal to  your life  and go  on to another interesting question:  How do you get Happy?  In order to examine this we're going to excerpt a long quote from a  book of "Ancient Wisdom".  We're sorry that the language is a little old fashioned because it  was translated  in the  Nineteenth Century,  but it is clear enough.   We  have changed the names in it because they are hard to  pronounce  and  might  distract  you  from  enjoying the process of thought being sketched out here.  So for now this is a discussion between Bill and  George.   Bill is  an older  man and George  is  probably  a  teenager,  they  got  together with some friends and some strangers once to  discuss the  meaning of life.

 

In the  place and time where Bill and George lived discussing the meaning of life was an "in" hobby and  people got  together to do it  much  as  Yuppies  these  days involve themselves in Marathon matches of Trivial Pursuits.  Bill  is recounting  his discussion with George  to another  person sometime after the event thus the narrative form.  And as was his wont to do Bill starts off with a question:

 

"... let  me put a question to you: Do not all men desire happiness?  And  yet,  perhaps  this  is  one of those ridiculous  questions which  I am  afraid to ask, and which ought not to be asked by a sensible  man: for what  human   being  is   there  who  does  not  desire happiness?

 

There is no one, said George, who does not.

 

Well, then, I said,  since  we  all  of  us desire happiness,  how  can  we  be  happy?--that  is the next question.  Shall we not be happy if  we have  many good things?    And  this,  perhaps,  is even a more simple question than the first  for there  can be  no doubt of the answer.

 

He assented.

 

And what things do we esteem good?  No solemn sage is required  to  tell  us  this,  which  may  be easily answered; for every one will say that wealth is good.

 

Certainly, he said.

 

And  are  not  health  and beauty goods, and other personal gifts?

 

 

He agreed.

 

Can there be any doubt that good birth, and power, and honors in one's own land, are goods?

 

He assented.

 

And what  other goods are there?  I said.  What do you say of temperance,  justice,  courage:  do  you not verily and  indeed think, George, that we shall be more right in ranking them as goods than in not ranking them as  goods?    For  a dispute might possibly arise about this.  What do you say?

 

They are goods, said George.

 

Very well, I said; and where in the  company shall we find a place for wisdom--among the goods or not?

 

Among the goods.

 

And now,  I said,  think whether  we have left out any considerable goods.

 

I do not think that we have, said George.

 

Upon recollection, I said, indeed I am afraid that we have left out the greatest of them all.

What is that? he asked.

 

Fortune,  George,  I  replied; which all, even the most foolish, admit to be the greatest of goods.

 

True, he said.

 

On second thoughts, I  added,  how  narrowly, have you and  I escaped  making a laughing-stock of ourselves to the strangers.

 

Why do you say so?

 

Why,  because  we  have  already  spoken  of good  fortune, and are but repeating ourselves.

 

What do you mean?

 

I mean  that there  is something ridicules in again putting forward good-fortune, which has a  place in the list already, and saying the same thing twice over.  He  asked  what  was  the  meaning  of this, and I replied: Surely wisdom is  good-fortune;  even  a child may know that.

 

The simple-minded youth was amazed; and, observing his surprise, I said to him:  do you  not know, George, that flute-players are most fortunate and successful in performing on the flute?

 

He assented.

 

And are not the scribes most  fortunate in and reading letters?

 

Certainly.

Amid the  dangers of  the sea, again, are any more fortunate on the whole than wise pilots?

 

None, certainly.

 

And if you were engaged in  war, in  whose company would you  rather take the risk--in company with a wise general, or with a foolish one?

 

With a wise one.

 

And if you were ill, whom would you rather have as a companion  in a  dangerous illness--a wise physician, or an ignorant one?

 

A wise one.

 

You think, I said, that to act with a wise  man is more fortunate than to act with an ignorant one?

 

He assented.

 

Then  wisdom  always  makes  men fortunate: for by wisdom no man would ever err, and therefore he must act rightly and succeed, or his would be wisdom no longer.  We contrived  at last,  somehow or other, to agree in a general conclusion, that he who had  wisdom had no need  of  fortune.    I  then  recalled to his mind the previous state of the question.  You remember,  I said, our making  the admission  that we  should be happy and fortunate if many good things were present with us?

 

He assented.

 

And should we be happy by  reason of  the presence of good  things, if  they profited  us not,  or if they profited us?

 

If they profited us, he said.

 

And would they profit us, if we only  had them and did not  use them?  For example, If we had a great deal of food and did not eat, or a  great deal  of drink and did not drink, should we be profited?

 

Certainly not, he said.

 

Or would  an artisan,  who had  all the implements necessary for his work,  and did  not use  them, be any he  better  for  the  possession of them?  For example, would a carpenter be any the better for  having all his tools and plenty of wood, if he never worked?

 

Certainly not, he said.

And if  a person  had wealth  and all the goods of which we were just now speaking, and did  not use them, would he be happy because he possessed them?

 

No indeed, Bill?

 

Then, I  said, a  man who  would be happy must not only have the good things, but  he must  also use them; there is no advantage in merely having them?

 

True.

 

Well, George,  but if  you have the use as well as the possession  of good  things, is  that sufficient to confer happiness?

 

Yes, in my opinion.

 

And  may  a  person  use  them  either  rightly or wrongly?

 

He must use them rightly.

 

That is quite true, I said.  And the wrong  use of a thing is far worse than the non-use; for the one is an evil, and the other is neither good nor  an evil.   You admit that?

 

He assented.

 

Now in  the working  and use  of wood, is not that which gives the right use simply  the knowledge  of the carpenter?

 

Nothing else, he said.

 

And   surely,   in   the  manufacture  of  vessels knowledge is that which give the right way making them?

 

He agreed.

 

And in the use of the goods of  which we  spoke at first--wealth and  health and  beauty, is not knowledge that which  directs us  to the  right use  of them, and regulates our practice about them?

 

He assented.

 

Then in every possession and every use of a thing, knowledge is that which  gives  a  man  not  only good fortune but success?

 

He again assented.

 

And  tell   me,  I   said,  O  tell  me,  what  do possessions profit a man, if he have neither good sense nor  wisdom?    Would  a  man be better off, having and doing many things without wisdom, or a few  things with wisdom?    Look  at  the  matter  thus: If he did fewer things would he not make  fewer  mistakes?  if  he make fewer mistakes would he not have fewer misfortunes? and if he  had  fewer  misfortunes  would  he  not  be less miserable?

 

Certainly, he said.

 

And who would do least--a poor man or a rich man?

 

A poor man.

 

A weak man or a strong man?

 

A weak man.

 

A noble or a mean man?

 

A mean man.

 

And a  coward would  do less than a courageous and temperate man?

 

Yes.

 

And an indolent man less than an active man?

 

He assented.

 

And a slow man less than a quick; and one  who had dull perceptions  of seeing  and hearing  less than one who had keen ones?

 

All this was mutually allowed by us.

 

Then,  I  said,  George,  the  sum  of  the matter appears to  be that  the goods of which we spoke before are not to be regarded as goods in  themselves, but the degree of good and evil in them depends on whether they are or are not under the  guidance of  knowledge: under the guidance  of ignorance, they are greater evils than their opposites, inasmuch  as  they  are  more  able to minister to  the evil  principle which  rules them; and when under  the guidance  of wisdom  and prudence, they are greater goods: but in themselves they are nothing?

 

That, he replied, is obvious

 

What then is the result of what has been said?  Is not the result--that other things are  indifferent, and that wisdom  is the  only good,  and ignorance the only evil?

He assented.

 

Let us  consider a  further point,  I said: Seeing that all  men desire  happiness, and  happiness, as has been shown, is gained by a use, and a right use, of the things of  life, and  the right  use of them, and good fortune in the use  of them,  is given  by knowledge,-- the inference  is that everybody ought  by all means to try and make himself as wise as he can?

 

Yes, he said."

 

Well that  seems to  be relatively  straight forward doesn't it?   There are  a few  sticky points.   One wishes, for example, that Bill had declared how exactly  they had  managed to identify Wisdom  and  Good  Fortune,  but  I  think  a little thought will clarify the matter.  Almost  everyone  must  have  heard  the old saying  about  a  fool  and  his  money and how they quickly part company.  And it should be  fairly obvious  that a  wise man will make better  use of  good fortune  then a fool and that in averse circumstances a wise man will be able to  make the  most of them, whereas a  fool will  be overcome by them.  However, I think that the key to  the  matter  is  the  "good"  in  "good  fortune" for remember that  Bill, has basically shown that Wisdom or Knowledge is the only good and ignorance  the only  evil and  that anything else is  only good or evil depending on how it are used.  If that is the case then wisdom by itself can be considered  good fortune because it  is the  only thing  which by itself can be considered good fortune, but anything  else which  we may  try to  call good fortune such  as wealth,  power or whatever, is only good fortune if it is accompanied by Wisdom, for as  Bill noted  anything else if used foolishly may turn out to be a curse in disguise.

 

Some readers  may have  been wondering what Bill's real name was and who wrote this book of Ancient Wisdom.   Well Bill's real name was  Socrates, and this material was written by Plato.  It's from a  dialogue that  Plato wrote  called "the  Euthydemus", as translated by Benjamin Jowett in the 19th Century.  We will  be  talking  more  about  Plato in future lessons, but some people may be surprised that we  use him  and call  his dialogues Ancient Wisdom.  They may also be surprised that Plato's thinking is so easy and straight forward.   Well,  not all  of it  is, but much  of  it  is  just  a  rigorous examination of everyday things which are available  to  anyone  who  will  simply examine their  own  life,  which  process of examination leads to certain conclusions, some of which  are very  "far out"  as they  used to say.    This  process  of  self-examination and questioning Plato called Philosophy, which is simply Greek for the Love of Wisdom.

 

Now we should make one  thing  clear,  what  Plato  meant by Philosophy and  what most  moderns mean by Philosophy are not the same things!  The  following from  Raphael Demos  may give  you a better picture:

 

"The public likes to paint for itself a picture of the philosopher as living  in Olympian  detachment from human affairs.  But Plato's philosophy did not arise in a  vacuum;  it  was  occasioned  by  his  contact  with immediacy.   And his  ideal of a philosopher is that of the philosopher-king..."

 

"...  for  Plato,   philosophy   was   not   merely  an intellectual exercise  but a cleansing of the mind from error and the freeing of the soul from conceit...

 

"We are apt to separate thought from practice, and technical  study  from  personal  problems.  Plato does not.  Furthermore, we are apt  to separate  reason from emotion.    Plato  does  not.    Reason  is  not merely detached understanding;  it  is  conviction  fired with enthusiasm.  The highest rapture possible to man is the rapture of the contemplation of the ideas.  The pursuit of knowledge is animated by the eros for the ideas; and the final truth cannot be  conveyed  by  concepts.   So Plato has  recourse to  myths and  allegories and vivid unforgettable images, in order  to convey  the ultimate truths.   His thought  is both  technical and mystical; his style both  abstract  and  poetical."  (From Demos'  introduction  to  The  Dialogues of Plato translated by Benjamin Jowett, Random House, 1937)

 

Many people have very  erroneous ideas  about Plato  and his influence,  not  the  least  of  these  is  your  average college professor of philosophy!   Unless you  have taken  graduate level courses on  Plato you can safely forget anything that you believe you know about the man and his work, it is probably wrong anyway.

 

What  Plato  advocated  might  almost  be  characterized  as "Mystical  Humanism",  to  contrast  it to the "secular humanism" about which we hear  so much.   What  could we  mean by "Mystical Humanism"?    The  idea  that,  in its essential character, human nature was divine and that the highest and most truly  human life was a  life of  divinely inspired  wisdom.  And what would be the result of this life  of divinely  inspired Wisdom?   Of  course a truly happy life.

 

Some people  may wonder what the relation of happiness is to "Enlightenment".  Well have  you  ever  heard  anyone  say  "I am searching  for  enlightenment  so  that  I  can be unhappy."?  Of course not.  "Enlightenment" like every other goal  in human life is for  happiness.   Still there is always the vexing question of what is  Enlightenment?    We  will  be  examining  that  in some upcoming lessons.

 

For right  now I want to look at the question of what Wisdom might be.  I propose to you that Wisdom is doing the  right thing at  the  right  time  in  the  right  circumstances for the right reason.  Now this  definition is  a little  repetitive, obviously doing something  at the right time, under the right circumstances can be included under the notion of "doing the right  thing", but I wanted to make those aspects very explicit.  If you want to you can think of wisdom simply as doing the right thing for the right reason.

 

Why do  I define  Wisdom that  way?  It seems fairly obvious that Wisdom must have something to  do with  the notion  of doing things  right,  after  all  we  call  someone who is always doing things the wrong way foolish or stupid or  ignorant, but  why the insistence on  "for the  right reason"?  Well have you ever heard someone when responding to the news of someone's  success say "Oh, they were  just lucky"?   Could we possibly compare the wisdom of an investment banker who made millions on wall  street to someone who won  the lottery?   Could  we ever  say, with a straight face that is, that they were both equally wise  in the  ways of money, just  because  they  now  had  the  same net worth?  Of course we couldn't.  So wisdom seems to imply knowledge,  though perhaps it is not identical with knowledge.

 

Well then  knowledge of  what and to what purpose?  Could it be knowledge of anything?   Could  it be  knowledge of  your Aunt Tilly's birthday  for example?   Well,  while it might be wise to remember your Aunt Tilly's birthday  (especially  if  you  want a  good birthday  present yourself!) that knowledge itself cannot be called wisdom.    We  did  say,  however,  that  remembering Aunt Tilly's birthday  could be  wise, why is that?  Well it's because you know that if you forget her birthday  she will  be very hurt.   So it  is this knowledge that your forgetting her birthday can be hurtful to her that makes your remembering it  wise.   Could this special knowledge for which we are looking then be a knowledge of causes and their effects?  Certainly that is a major  part of it, maybe all  of it,  for certainly the "doing the right thing" part of  our  definition  means  causing  the  desired  effects.   And certainly we may say about something that has undesirable effects that it was a "stupid" or a "foolish" thing to do.

 

So it would  seem  that  Wisdom  has  something  to  do with knowing "how things work", since knowledge of cause and effect is  the basis of understanding how things work.  And knowledge of how things work  is very  useful.  I mention this because some people have the  notion  that  wisdom  is  something  very  esoteric and removed from  everyday life.   Granted  certain aspects of wisdom may  be  very  removed  from  ordinary  experience,  others  like remembering  Aunt  Tilly's  birthday  are  at  the  very  core of everyday life.

 

Wisdom could be called  knowledge translated  into action so as to  achieve results,  but if our intent is happiness can these be any results?    No,  because  any  result  might  not  lead to happiness.   Here we must distinguish between knowing what can be done in a situation and knowing what should  be done  in order to bring about a particular result, in this case happiness.

 

So we must distinguish between mere technical knowledge, the knowledge of what is  possible in  a situation  from wisdom which would tell us not only what the many outcomes are in a situation, but which one is the most desirable in light of our goal.

 

Some of you may wonder if ancient wisdom  whether Plato's or anyone else's  is of use today.  The book by Mortimer Adler which we mentioned above helps to clarify  that point  and in  the next few lessons  we will explore some of these issues also.  Some may wonder why we only go back a mere 2500 years to Plato, why not to "Ancient Egyptian Wisdom" or the "Wisdom" of ancient India or the Far East, perhaps even the channeled "Wisdom" of ancient Atlantis or Lemuria?   For  the moment  we will  leave the question of the "Wisdom of the East" for treatment at some other time.  And to be frank we  don't consider  "channeled" material to be of much use except in very circumscribed circumstances, such  as when  it can be verified  in a  practical fashion.   As  for  ancient  Egyptian,  Sumerian,  Jewish  or  whatever "Wisdom" the  simple truth  is that, for good or ill, when you go back too much before Plato you don't find much wisdom.   You find a lot  of mythology,  you find  texts of religious rites, you may even find  some ancient  astronomical observations,  but what you don't find  is a  coherent Philosophy, just fragments.  Religious rites don't tell  you  explicitly  what  the  performers  of them believed, you have to interpret the rites.  What standards do you use to interpret them?  Mythology doesn't tell you how  the people who told  and retold  these stories interpreted them, you have to do it yourself.  How do you do this?  It is very easy  to come up with pseudo  interpretations based upon a process of reading myths or rites  anachronistic  elements  from  our  own  time and thinking.   This very  tendency to  see, not  merely, the ancient world but the middle  and far  east through  very tainted "tinted glasses", is hard to avoid and requires a disciplined mind and a fertile imagination.

 

Our  purpose  is  to  provide  you  with  the  most reliable material and to show you where this material  comes from  so that you can  investigate the matter for yourself if you are not happy with the way we deal with the material.   So  far as  we can find the  earliest  significant  body  of  reliable  material  is  the dialogues of Plato and  as you  will find  out it  was just these dialogues  and  the  teachings  in  them  which  were  to provide inspiration  to   generations   of   "mystics” practically  from  Plato's  time  to  the  end  of  the Eighteenth Century.  How it is that the importance of Plato to understanding the Western  Tradition of Religion and Mysticism has been lost and forgotten at the end of the  Twentieth Century  is an interesting story in  itself and  one which we will examine in greater detail in the next few lessons.

 

So to review what we have said so far.  Happiness is the end for which  we do  all things.   Every goal which we pursue is for the sake of ultimately achieving happiness and if  we forget that fact and  concentrate too  much on  sub-goals we may find that we cannot achieve  Happiness.    The way  to  achieve  happiness is through   wisdom.      The   fool   may  stumble  upon  momentary satisfactions, but he  cannot  live  a  happy  life.    Wisdom is knowledge translated  into action  so as  to achieve results, but not any results will do,  for Wisdom  must not  only ask what can  be done  but what  should be  done.   As far  as we are concerned one of the best guides to Wisdom  are the  dialogues of Plato and  the writings  of his  followers and those inspired by him (this includes Aristotle).  You will find  as you  go through the next  few months  that Plato's  thought inspired not merely a  noble ethics and moral code  but  also  provided  the fundamental insights into  the nature  of the universe which were to form the basis for the theory and practice of Religion and “mysticism” for centuries.  Indeed it  could  be  very  cogently  argued  (and we will shortly) that without Plato or someone like him, the religious, scientific and moral history of the Western world, and possibly the world in general would have been vastly different.

 

(End of Older essay)

 

Material for the new ending of the essay, mostly a series of extended notes.

 

Confucianism and Platonism

 

Why focus on Confucianism and Platonism?  Where is Indian thinking in all of this?  The Answer is simple.  A person who understands the Plotinian version of Platonism will have no difficulty understanding the details of either Hindu or Buddhist thought, for whatever reason the late Platonists have so much in common with Indian thinking that cultural influences moving one way or another are often suspected.  More importantly, in the Greek formulations the element of rational discussion is explicit and the writings much more approachable for that reason. Classicism reaches the same conclusions with more rigor and less appeal to authority.

 

Regarding Buddhism Wallace in NP and Indian Thought, p. 115 says that they: “... generally state their views dogmatically and appear to regard them simply as following from the nature of the Absolute, Plotinus generally argues his position at length and usually takes as his starting point the arguments of earlier Greek philosophers.”

 

And with Greater clarity:

 

Regarding Hindu scriptures Wallis says P. 115 “... the Bhagavadgita is obscure in the extreme, Plotinus’s (sic) meaning can be grasped without undue difficulty.”

 

Why not Taoism?  Confucianism is Taoism.  The texts of Laotze and Chuangtze are criticism from another wing of Taoism and are, in the case of Lao a political critic and in the case of Chuang a critique from the perspective of individualism.  The meditational disciplines of the religious taoists have merit, but like the high disciplines of Buddhist or Hindu yoga, or for that matter the Egyptian Theurgy of Iamblichus, are matters for specialists willing to spend years in training.  Confucianism turns life into training and does so in a way that most people will not find a burden, but rather an enhancement.

 

To be Rational means to use logic as a tool for clarifying issues, to make explicit ones presuppositions and also ones evaluative procedures that are not strictly logical, i.e. Occam’s razor is an evaluative principle not a logical principle.  Idiosyncratic elements must be identified and clearly labeled as such and where faith is required, such as faith in scientific progress, it must also be identified and its probabilistic nature examined and clarified, i.e. does belief in the possibility of artificial intelligence require such a leap of faith as to be more properly classed with say, belief in the possibility of perpetual motion machines?  To be rational all leaps of faith must be kept at a minimum at the risk of the whole structure being classified as an “irrational” belief structure.

 

To be Mystical means to assume and evaluate everything from a transcendental perspective.

 

Rational mysticism implies using reason not as a confining box, but rather as a tool for erecting a conceptual scaffolding which allows one a larger and more comprehensive view, it is the traditional mode of Western philosophy from the late Roman Empire to 1800.

Romanticist mysticism is a type of irrationalism that grew out of the German Romantic school of the early 1800's.  It is a radical departure from classical mysticism which is rational, but following a philosophical version of Gresham’s law has forced classical mysticism out the running.

 

 

It may seem strange at the beginning of a new millennium to be putting forward the wisdom of Confucius, but I hope that by the end of the short essay the reader may share some of the authors enthusiasm for this ancient philosophy.  What do I believe that Confucianism offers the reader and the modern world?  Right now we are in a worldwide crisis, a crisis that manifests in many ways from political unrest, civil strife and crime to ecological problems and one of the things that is needed most is an approach to all of these things which can reach across religious and cultural barriers and into the hearts of all people.  I believe that a new Confucianism can offer just this possibility to the world.

 

In part Confucianism can do this because in spite of how it has been interwoven with the traditional religious practices of China, Confucianism is fundamentally not a religion, but rather an existential philosophy which is capable of speaking to any one right where they are now.  It is relatively free of Metaphysical baggage and can thus appeal to the modern agnostic, yet at the same time it is fundamentally religion friendly and has been the root training of deeply religious Chinese for centuries and just as it has been the basis of creating sincere, capable Buddhists and Taoists for centuries it can help Christians and Jews and Muslims and people of any particular religious persuasion agree on moral values outside of a particular religious revelation.

 

By the same token Confucianism offers a philosophy of personal growth and development which is at the root of a lot of the success of the Asian world today.

 

What do I mean by Platonism?  It is the doctrines of Plato as understood by the middle and Late Platonists, and by late Platonists I mean the thinkers usually called Neo-platonists, and as particularly exemplified in the writings of Plotinus.  I fully realize that from the academic perspective of the past 200 years this means that I am talking about Neo-platonism, but Neo-platonism was a pejorative term invented in the early 1700's in order to isolate and stigmatize the late Platonist as both decadent and irrational.  I reject it for that reason and because it tends to hid the real relationship between Plato and his late interpreters.  The term Neo-platonism is not wholly uncalled for because in a lot of ways Neo-platonism is a powerful synthesis of Plato and Aristotle with the best doctrines of the Stoa assimilated also, but in this regard the Neo-Platonists were only following through the lead established by the middle platonists, who were not stigmatized as decadent or irrational for their efforts to harmonize Plato and Aristotle.