Thursday , 14 December 2017
Highlights

PYTHAGOREANISM

By MIAN AKHLAQ-UR-RAHMAN

Life as it progressed on its voyage of evolution it as a part of functional distribution acquired and spread out in innumerable forms and shapes, finally taking the human form. All the past and diverse experiences became the a priori instinctive intuition of the human being. So that when he lying under a promontory suddenly opened his eyes to a strange, unknown, and alien world he was not completely out of place what to do. When the stone on which and the promontory under which he lay grew hot he instinctively crawled out and when under the shade of a tree feeling good he stayed. When the pangs of hunger arose in his stomach he instinctively looked around and taking his cues from animals and birds feeding on different objects sought out the same to satisfy his hunger and thirst. Small possible experiments that he carried began to increase and enhance his empirical knowledge that he would employ for the solution of his day-to-day problems. This set of knowledge, empirical in nature was the first rudimentary form of scientific empirical knowledge. Suddenly one morning, the fineness of the scene distorted and an ugly storm entered the scene destroying everything that came in its way. This was bigger than and beyond his knowledge, something beyond his ken. This including the Sun, the Moon, the day, the night, the seas, the seasons, and all others of this kin, could not be won over it seemed but with propitiations, supplications and soothing rituals. Deities these became and rudimentary forms of religious disciplines spread out. Every moment and every step of man’s march ahead added to these two aspects of human activity till in time he having prepared enough mentally reached a point where he could reflect on his own position, with this began speculative thought in his life. The three fields often overlapped each other and were not discernable, except religion of course, as distinct disciplines until quite later when the human beings had sufficiently progressed in thought.

In Greece the earlier philosophers from Thales to Anaximenes, including Anaximander, were busy with their speculative abilities in locating the basic element that made the whole universe, water, ethereal matter, or air. Pythagoras having visited Babylonia and Egypt, two highly developed religious communities, brought in Greek thought the notion of religion and mysticism. There was a discipline in nature, he professed and in proof presented the concordance and harmony in musical notes. Soul is immortal, however men need to free it from earthly bondage and transmigration through purity, contemplation and disinterest with the world, which was gross and turbid. He professed the unity of God. All living things are kindred he said. Men and women are equal. Property should be held commonly in a common way of life. Knowledge is only for the sake of knowledge. He introduced mysticism in Greece.

In the part of the world called Greece, we encounter for the first time what was already being practiced for centuries in Babylonia, Egypt, Syria, India, and China, in one form or other, religion, in the practices of the Orphic Sect and in the doctrines of the Pythagoreans. The Orphic beliefs in transmigration of souls, transmigration of human souls into animals, salvation from the miseries of reincarnate lives through mysticism and rituals were adopted by the Pythagoreans with little ritualistic variations. Where they differed from this mysticism and what brought philosophy in their ranks was the belief in salvation from reincarnate lives through intellectual pursuits, scientific exploration, and speculation.

If we tend to think, as we do, of the things around us qualitatively the difference between things become pronounced as we cannot find qualities that would be common to the whole existence, however there is one thing that is the universal quality of the whole existence, that is, that it is numerable and that the thought of an innumerable world is inconceivable, so numbers became the core of the Pythagorean philosophy.

Number one is the beginning they propounded. They identified it with fire around which, abandoning the earlier geocentric philosophy, all the planets including the earth revolved, while earth revolved on its own axis also. This heliocentric philosophy was later rejected by Aristotle in favor of the earlier geocentric one. From number one are born even and odd numbers. In quality the even numbers were unlimited for the possibility of unlimited division in them, and the odd numbers were limited in quality being not unlimited in divisional possibilities. From the unlimited come forth the limited, thus creating in form the limited beings. The ten sets of opposites in the Pythagorean system of philosophy are, One and Many, Even and Odd, Limited and Unlimited, Straight and Crooked, Right and Left, Good and Evil, Light and Dark, Masculine and Feminine, Rest and Motion, Square and Oblong.

The concept of the transmigration of the souls, something that probably seeped into Greek thought from the eastern religions, was based basically on the desire of man either to achieve perpetuity or to have in him something, some element that death cannot end, and an element as perpetual as the Creator of the universe. We do not realize that if Human Consciousness had not developed to a stage where reflective thought was possible human beings would not have become reflectively and objectively aware of their selves and of the inseparably associated angst, which made men look for some perpetual element in their persons that would take away from them their fear of extinction after death.

The Pythagoreans were right to conceive that if the existence had to flow out of the unlimited the creation had to be limited in forms to have the innumerable wide variety of limited individual beings. Creating beings limited through forms is thus an essential element of creation. We humans too when we externalize out thoughts give limited tangible forms to them; otherwise their conception would not be possible.

In my opinion the Pythagoreans were partially right when they propounded that the numbers had not only quantitative but also qualitative significance. However, the idea was neither properly conceived nor properly conveyed, rather, it was embedded in the shroud of mysticism. Though its followers were prosecuted for interference in state politics and for trying to enforce their religious doctrines and regimen on the state and its people, Pythagoreanism is the first idealistic account of the primal element, creation, and existence, and order and harmony in the world.

Plato heavily borrowed from the mystical philosophy of Pythagoras. The doctrine of successive reincarnations and learning only being a recollection, the doctrine of kinship, the doctrine that one can become like something by thinking more and more about it, and the doctrine that philosophy in reality is preparation for death and for immortality, in Plato owe to different Pythagorean principles along with the account that the universe was formed by the laws of harmony.

Note: The writer, an ex-government servant, writes on all aspects of the social milieu. He has written three books on social philosophy. Three books of his English poetry have been published. Presently, he is the President of SACC (South Asian Columnists’ Council).

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