Philosophical Midwifery and the Struggle for Excellence in Homer

This paper was first presented at The First World Olympic Congress of Philosophy in Athens-Spetses, from June 27th to July 4th, 2004.

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By Pierre Grimes, Ph. D. 
Revised for the web by Sean P. Orfila

The shadows on the wall in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and the Upper World are the man-made icons of man that we have been led to believe are our ideals, but they are merely shadows of justice flickering on the wall of the cave.

The mystery we will explore is why we accepted images for our reality and why they have the power to transform our lives. The craft that fashions and supports these images are the work of sophistry.

The issue before us is to discover how we were persuaded to believe as true what is manifestly false and how we can learn to be free of such sophistry.

Challenging such sophistry is the time-honored goal of Platonic philosophy and it is this that makes Philosophical Midwifery a major part of a philosophy whose goals are at once spiritual and rational.

The good life is open to all through the participation in mind for this is what illumines our struggle to achieve our highest and most profound excellence, arete.

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50 Questions for Mastering the Art of Philosophical Midwifery:

By Pierre Grimes, Ph. D.

The following questions are challenges to both the philosophical community and the wider intellectual community and can be considered as central to a mode of philosophical counseling called philosophical midwifery.

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The Dialectic in Plato’s Republic

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By Pierre Grimes, Ph. D.
Adapted and edited for the web by Sean P. Orfila

Philosophical Midwifery as a mode of psychotherapy is based, in part, upon Plato’s rationalism and his dialectic, both of which are explored in depth in his Republic. In the Republic, he builds an imaginary city-state as a contemplative model for the philosopher’s “ascension to reality” (521D), producing in him “the image and likeness of God” (501C).

It is this ascent that is called true philosophy. Whether the political reality of that city-state exists now or in the future is of no concern to the philosopher (592B).

To achieve that end, Plato outlines a threefold goal:

  • To gain an understanding of the mind (533B; 534B);
  • To understand and experience the Idea of the Good (508E; 526E) and
  • To achieve a vision of the Good itself (519D; 540A).

While they are all achieved through the dialectic, this article will only examine an aspect of the first: understanding the mind.

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A new paradigm shift to a Platonic world is gathering force

Among the ideas that moderns are taught to belittle and dismiss off hand are the ideas of the soul’s survival after death and the claim that when the soul is separated from the body it encounters a vivid and intelligible reality that is compassionate and just.  While these old Platonic ideas are given a artful and dramatic presentation in Plato’s Republic, in the Tale of Er, they are not part of our cultural view.  Obviously it runs counter to the scientific paradigm of knowledge that dominates our education and culture. Well, things are changing in a fundamental way.
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We have a new book to recommend:  Proof of Heaven, which is a scientist’s case for the afterlife  based upon his own Er-like experience, authored by Dr. Eben Alexander.  He clearly outlines his case and in doing so he discusses the weaknesses of the scientific hypotheses he had been taught. He realizes the far reaching implications of maintaining that the after-world is truly real and has its own integrity.  Not only has he come to realize that our everyday world is a reflection, but, indeed, it is a reflection of a higher, vital, compassionate multifaceted intelligible reality.

Saturdays at the Park with Pierre

So today, March 9th I arrived at the park late and there was a discussion already taking place. I was posed several questions.

One of which was if the Apology, or more correctly Defense of the Fables of Homer which Proclus wrote would be acceptable if it were effective, although it may not be exhaustive of all points of attack—since for example it leaves out completely the points against imitation that are argued in Book 10.

I didn’t think so at that moment although later I agreed. The other question was about one of those points that Proclus hadn’t defended—Helen’s hatred of Zeus and decision to “beguile” or “deceive” him.

Nobuya had raised that question and I also had added to the argument thatthe Gods are not to deceive in word or deed—one of the norms in Book 2 following which tales are to be written towards the education of the guardian youth.

Pierre made a comparison with the model of Eve seducing or “beguiling” Adam and leading him to his downfall, the proximate cause of evil. And here is Hera apparently in the same role. But there is good evidence in Homer’s Iliad  that both Zeus and Hera grew following the lovemaking on Mount Ida.

Proclus gives an account in his “Apology” that cites their assimilation and conversion upon the higher, Cronos and Rhea as models. It is said to lead to their perfection. So, the archetype for seduction leading to lovemaking in the Iliad is the cause of perfection, yet the seduction in the Bible and especially in the understanding of it the many have of it is viewed as the downfall of man.

In this exploration a rather curious question was asked, is the practice of courage necessary for lovemaking and Ingmar gave a precise and, to my mind at the time, complete account of it from Book 4. Yet I was troubled and said he was leaving two things out—the relationship with what had been said about Zeus and Hera and the way the parts of the soul came together.

What I ended up haltingly recalling though was the definition of Justice at the end of Book 4 where Plato sets the excellences, Wisdom, Courage, Justice and Sophosune or soundmindedness together. The model was so clear to my mind, it was almost shining, yet my recall was lame.

Ingmar, I think you left out the “power” and began your account of courage with faith. And the united power resulting from the soul as one makesthe state as I described it at the time, a tantric love state, in which the powers of the soul of each part of the soul are united and there is a vertical impulse toward the radiant light of Being and beyond to the Good, the One.

Hmmm . . . any thoughts?

Dreams and the Philosopher

By Pierre Grimes, Ph. D.

It is generally agreed among philosophers and those in the social science that in Plato’s Republic, the training of the philosopher king includes such topics as arithmetic, geometry, harmony, astronomy, and the dialectic, but only a few know that there is another necessary study that Plato says reaches truth.

The truth he refers to is not a general kind of knowledge as with those other studies but a knowledge personal and particular to the individual. Those studies of the philosopher, even the dialectic, do not bring him any closer to the Delphic “know thyself”. Thus, after these general studies are mastered there is still the need to learn personal things about oneself the ignorance of which can have tragic consequences.

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The Dream Master and The Pathologos

By Pierre Grimes, Ph. D.

Those who are led through our way of exploring dreams gain an understanding of themselves, their reality, and the profound nature of the role of the Dream Master. This approach is philosophical rather than psychological because it is a non-interpretive method that draws all the material for the exploration and analysis from the subject, bringing a recognition of how false beliefs are at the basis of one’s problems. The conclusions reached through this method are tested and verified when they are applied to the individual’s own experience. Thus, the exploration of each dream takes the form of a structured dialogue designed to uncover a subject’s belief system and as such it is a rational method.

Analyzing the content of many people’s dreams brings the realization that man is only partly aware in his waking life of the problems, failures, as well as the victories of his waking life. In the waking world that means that dreams play a vital complementary role in man’s psychic life. Equally, since the method of analysis makes this conclusion obvious, the method itself plays a critical role in dream work. For, in learning about dreams the dreamers learn not only about their personal lives, but learn a method of analysis that has far-reaching consequences. Once the method becomes second nature to dreamers, they apply it to other areas of their lives and learn to anticipate the occurrence of problems, find themselves more fully aware in their lives, and recognize more fully what they had previously ignored.

Dream analysis shows that dreams often carry a theme across many dreams, that there is a significant linkage between dreams, and that later dreams correct or modify the conclusions made in earlier dream analysis. The dreamers learn that the maker of dreams must be aware of the dreamers’ personal past since it uses their past history as the material for the dream; that it can artfully select key images from their past to represent the message of the dream; that is has a grasp of what they themselves have ignored from their waking world and reminds them of its significance both in terms of their present life as well as its implications on their past history. The dreamers realize that the maker of dreams must be awake to their life and is even awake in their life in a way that they themselves are not. This brings a greater realization to the dreamers that something beyond them, that is yet present to them, has an intelligibility that works for their personal good and, hence, is providential in its vision. This maker of dreams we call the Dream Master because its mastery is profound in its understanding and most artful in its production.

The dream master presents a special kind of problem to the dreamer, for the failures and successes that are ignored in the waking world become the subjects of the dream. The analysis of dreams discloses this special kind of problem as having its roots in beliefs about oneself that have been formulated in our early youth but which were never articulated and therefore cannot be recalled by the believer. These beliefs have their origin in early experiences in one’s youth, during occasions when families disclose their fundamental and emotionally held beliefs about life, about themselves, and about family members. From them one draws one’s own conclusions, in private, about oneself and the nature of reality. These beliefs are the root cause of our problems because these beliefs are always, in principle, false. These beliefs are never discussed in the family but live as milieu beliefs and taboos within the family.Invariably, these beliefs were shared when we ourselves were in the state of mind or approaching a success that threatened or challenged the beliefs of the family authorities. Thus, later in life, whenever we face analogous situations or states of mind that would threaten those family beliefs, we withdraw and find a solution that preserves or can be reconciled with those family taboos.

These beliefs are given the stamp of authenticity and are made believable because they were revealed by authorities who gave the appearance of being most caring, genuine and sincere. It appeared that they thought enough to share their fundamental convictions and, so, to reject the belief would be tantamount to rejecting them, leaving one to face the possibility of exile and loss of affection. Thus, while these beliefs shape an image of ourselves and our reality, they are, in principle, false and irreconcilable with our highest ideals. These false beliefs are called the pathologos because they are “sick beliefs.” The pathologos’ are the causes of our sense of dissatisfaction and failure in life. When one’s possible achievements are in contradiction to these beliefs, then blocks are experienced that either compromise one’s achievements or precipitate one’s failures.

The dream presents these blocks and sets them within scenes that show their common dynamic and structure within the history of our life. Through analysis we can unlock those personal blocks to our achievement of excellence and come to a way of analysis that opens up the possibility of leading a more rational life.

The Signs of A Pathologos Problem

By Pierre Grimes, Ph. D.

We have explored the idea that a pathologos blocks one from attaining one’s most significant and meaningful goals but we have yet to define the signs of a pathologos problem. Equally, we have reached the point where we can understand that the pursuit of goals which are less meaningful produce less blocks and that the pursuit of lesser goals are attended with less negative experiences, and we have also shown how these lesser forms are variants of the more fundamental expression of the pathologos; but we have not fully discussed the significance of the relationship between the pathologos and the manifestations of its numerous forms and varieties.

Before discussing the signs of a problem we need to review a few things. First, in the acceptance of the pathologos there is a self-imposed limiting view of the self. This acceptance of a narrow and limiting idea of the self permeates the world view of the subject and whenever the moment is perceived and interpreted as analogous to the pathologos the drama unfolds. It is because this interpretation limits the range of our possible choices and our conduct to the form of the pathologos that we say our lives are fated by the pathologos; for to whatever degree the pathologos is in force to that degree it determines our fate.

Second, in freeing ourselves from the pathologos we can once again ask, “Quo ?” -“Now, where are you going?” Releasing ourselves from the binding power of fate we are able to seriously ask, “What now?” Indeed, we can then ask if there is some higher purpose to life consistent with what has brought us our freedom from our fate. The classic way of approaching this question is to ask, “Being free of our fate, is there a destiny for each of us? Does man have a destiny beyond struggling to be free of his fate?” But, we may ask, “what are the signs of being fated, or of being caught in the power of the pathologos?” And, “what possible way can be say we have a destiny and what signs can we point to that suggest our destiny? Where shall we turn?” It was this interest that brought many to the Delphic oracle, but its prophetic voice was silenced many years ago and to revive it would be a reversal of the most major kind.

We can say this much: there is no mystery about discovering the nature of a pathologos problem because if you are not pursuing the noblest of goals you have a pathologos problem. Whatever convinced you that you can’t or shouldn’t strive for such an ideal is the pathologos belief. It is that belief that undermines one’s choices and distorts one’s style of life as it depreciates one’s goals.

The signs and characteristics of encountering the pathologos with these secondary goals are:

  • setting secondary goals as if they were primary;
  • making practical issues the significant goal of one’s life;
  • the failure to achieve one’s goals with excellence;
  • not preparing adequately for goals;
  • loss of concentration and energy;
  • inability to resist distractions;
  • blaming others, excuses, for not achieving;
  • being unable to maintain the goal;
  • functioning ideally in crises but experiencing stress, anxiety before and after such events;
  • and, letting opportunities go by, sabotaging opportunities for success.

Thus, there are essential differences between goals and dreams. When we speak of some one having goals in philosophical midwifery we mean that the goals are of such a kind that to attain them it is necessary to go through some process, some steps, or some stages. If there are no processes or procedures to gain the goal it is not likely it can ever be attained; it then remains unattainable existing only as a dream.

Equally, there is a difference between experiencing difficulties and the pathologos because it is natural to encounter difficulties in the pursuit of some goal but not so for the pathologos. Sacrifices, hardships and various struggles are to be expected and they vary with each goal, but the pathologos blocks the attainment of goals, creates struggles that are not part of the reality, repeats mistakes of the past, while its roots are unknown.

In the quest for those most meaningful goals one can expect that there will be many manifestations of the pathologos. It is important to chart each of them and relate them to the stages or levels that have been identified to reach such goals. Each of these manifestations would then become the object of an exploration in philosophical midwifery and the set of these manifestations would then be traced back to the experiences that helped shape these formative pathologos beliefs. The unity of these beliefs is the pathologos and that unity will always be expressible in terms of a basic and fundamental idea of the self.

With the rejection of much of those false beliefs a new and more mature quest can begin into the most fundamental question: what after all is the nature of this being we call Man? Is Man a mere collection of beliefs and opinions or is there something more? Does the process of philosophical midwifery bring one to recognize that we can be rational and that this rational method and way of seeing is the start of a better way of being? Does that way of being lead to the mystery of our existence?

Indeed, we can say that philosophical midwifery uses our pathologos problems to introduce us to the need for a rational way of seeing. If there were a pill that could magically remove the pathologos we would still use our method because through it we learn a way of understanding. We can see that even in the worst of man’s conditions there is still rationality, but it is of a restricted kind. The difference between the wisest and the worst among us is that worst don’t know their premises are false when they act out the implications of their ignorance. These are the one’s who fail to comprehend just how much of their life is determined within fixed boundaries.

Warning: The Inherent Risks of our Program

Challenging one’s fate opens one to a new vista, a new kind of life, and that life can be an unfolding of one’s destiny. To whatever degree one leaves the confined and predictable patterns of pathologos behavior to that very degree there is an openness to the unknown. The unexpected is the rule not the exception. The inner development of man moves in unexpected ways, it creates opportunities, and can restructure everything in one’s life. While it is likely that inner growth will bring about changes in the outward circumstances of one’s life it is a certainty that it will transform one’s most basic values and worldviews and with that kind of change relationships are also perceived in a new and vital way. Anyone who embarks on a path of self growth should know this to be true and if they don’t they soon will discover it.

Before anyone decides to enter this program they should realize this fact and fully accept the responsibility for their own development. It is impossible to play safe and embark on the journey of self discovery. Our program is not a safe plaything. Without accepting totally and unconditionally the responsibility for one’s own growth this program will contribute little if anything to your life.