Month: December 2015

Artisan Philosophy Workbooks and Method


Part 1: Artisan Workbook Method                                p. 1

Part 2: Summaries of Workbooks                                  p. 4

Part 3: Plato and the Artisan Philosophy Method         p. 14



Part 1:

  • 1: This brochure contains a catalogue of philosophy books- or more exactly workbooks- available from Artisan Philosophy Workbooks. It also outlines a method of doing philosophy by means of workbooks.


  • 2: A workbook, as we understand it, is a text produced by an author who believes he knows something of value which he hasn’t been able to convey adequately in a text, despite his repeated efforts. But he feels, at some stage, that the workbook can do some good, in its interim form, if made accessible to some readers.

A workbook is a text that both reader and writer are working on in honest way, focussing on their thoughts, not on the words in the text.


  • 3: The ten workbooks listed below in §6 and summarized in Part 2 by their authors, do the usual philosophical thing, that is, try to define, analyze or at least give an account X or Y. But more distinctively, and following Plato’s account of instrument 3 in the Seventh Letter [=7th], they (especially numbers 1, 3 and 7) try to produce the clearest empirical example of the thing, and examine it at first hand, as a crucial step in obtaining knowledge of the thing itself.

For an essay on the Seventh Letter, which touches on the workbook method in the context of Plato’s Seventh Letter, see Part 3 below, ‘Plato and the Artisan Philosophy Method’.


  • 4: Published works tend to have too much armour, to be too bullet-proof. But surely the primary purpose of a written work should be to help the reader or student not protect the author or teacher. And the author-teachers believe they can stay closer to their own thinking, its genuine or honest nature by not trying to satisfy the formal conditions of publication, which can be too focused on linguistic perfection and pedantic perfection of footnotes.


  • 5: A workbook is not only more exposed but also more personal (so less formal and social) than most published work- so like Plato’s Seventh Letter.

So while it is less polished and finished than most published works, a workbook should be more alive and living for the writer and so more likely to be so for the reader as well.


  • 6: All ten workbooks listed here are in A5 size, plainly printed and simply bound in stiff paper covers. For summaries of the ten, see Part 2 below. Workbooks 1-9 are by David Berman; number 10 is by Brian Barrington.

1 Manual of Experimental Philosophy, 42,000 words, 10 euros.

2 Penult ΨΦ,  65,000 words, 15 euros.

3 Handbook of Tea-tasting, 12,000 words, 5 euros.

4 The Essential Berkeley, 68,000 words, 15 euros.

5 Irish Philosophy: Past and Future, 9,000 words, 5 euros.

6 The logic and credibility of after-death existences, 50, 000 words, 10 euros.

7 The Philosophy of Coffee Tasting, 14,000 words, 5 euros.

8 A. J. Ayer’s posthumous evidence for life after death, 13,000 words, 5 euros.

9 Plato and the Φ workbook method, 25,000 words, 10 euros.

10 Five Great Ways of Thinking,  33,000 words; 10 euros.


One or more of these workbooks can be obtained by emailing  or


  • 7: Ideally, a workbook should be used in one-to-one personal discussions with its author. But discussions could also be by emails, skyping and some personal contact, as in workshops or seminars, which would be following the method used in workbook number 1, the Manual of Experimental Philosophy. And in the case of workbooks 3 and 7, the workshops are likely to include tea and coffee tastings.  However, the arrangements for teaching would need to be reached by mutual agreement and would be provisional or interim, like this brochure and the workbooks themselves.


  • 8: The Handbook Tea-Tasting and Philosophy of Coffee-Tasting, workbooks 2 and 7, are in line with Plato’s high evaluation of artisans or craftsmen in the Seventh Letter and also Rep bk 10, in contrast to his low evaluation of poets; (also see Plato’s discussion of the cook in the Theatatus, 178e and Berkeley’s helpful reflection on it in Siris, sect. 253). And this is one reason for calling what we are doing artisan, rather than commerical, philosophy. Another reason is that it operates on a small scale.

But the authors do not rule out that at some future time they might try to have one or more of the present workbooks published more widely.


  • 9: A caveat that needs to be mentioned is that while there should be no difficulty obtaining the physical workbooks, there might be in having discussions with their authors, depending on the demand and the limitations of time. And while the authors see one-to-one or small group discussion as a crucial part of the workbook method, there is no obligation on either party to go on past the point where it seems to be working.


  • 10: For those who might consider using the workbooks as a philosophy course, we would suggest the following sequence:

Numbers 1—2- 10—3/7–4—5—8—6

There could also be two or more sub-sequences: so an experimental sequence would be: 1, 3 and 7.

Another more theoretical one would be:  2, 10, 4, 5, with 6 and 8, or with 6 and 8 on their own.

Each of these could then be followed by workbook 9, which aims to give an over-view of all the preceding workbooks.

A simple formula for charging would be: 30 euros for one-to-one teaching (or 20 euros concession); and 10 euros per person for group teaching.





Part 2: Summaries of the ten workbooks by their authors; numbers 1-9 by Berman; number 10 Barrington:


Number 1: A Manual of Experimental Philosophy, 2009, revised and corrected 2014, 2015:

This workbook is possibly the first introduction to disciplined introspection in over 100 years.  It also aims at teaching and justifying the introspective or direct experiential method in philosophy and psychology by means of four do-able experiments.  The first concerns what is seen if the experimentor is in a completely dark environment or wearing an eye-mask, blocking out all external light.  The second is about interupting desire.  The third, which Bertrand Russell called this ‘famous argument’, is the three containers of water experiment, developed most fully by Berkeley.   The fourth experiment is on mental images, although probably its most distinctive contribution is the account of those who have no imaging ability when awake.

Another distinctive feature of this workbook is the connections it draws between the introspective method in philosophy, psychology and psychoanalysis, and the suggestions it offers about the possibility of self-analysis, or making the unconscious conscious, without an analyst.

The main guiding principle of this workbook is that philosophy can still be done in the fruitful way of the great philosopher-psychologists, from Descartes to Mill, i.e. in the arm-chair, but not through conceptual or linguistic analysis, but in a first-person psychological way.


Number 2: Penult ΨΦ , 2010, 2011, 2014 with a revised and enlarged Introduction:

This workbook, the Penult ΨΦ, has two chapters, each of which has a section of supplementary notes or elaborations.   Chap. 1 is metaphysical, chapter two broadly epistemological; the data for both being drawn from three sources: (1) the great philosophers [i.e. their writings and also scholarly writings on them] (2) the direct or immediate experience of those now doing philosophy and trying to understand themselves, and (3) the evidence of strong, distinctive strong minds.  One principle of this work is that if psychology goes deep enough it becomes metaphysics, once idealism is accepted, although an idealism broad enough to accommodate materialistic minds.

More than any other workbook, I think this one represents the culmination of my teaching over its last twenty years.  As it is also the most central and foundational, it is summarized at the greatest length.

As chapter one sets out what I consider to be the three main metaphysical types- the dualistic, monistic and socio-linguistic- so chapter two sets out in detail the two main sensory types, the tactual (or tt) and the visual (or vt). Using this typology, I then present what I believe is a new argument for immaterialism.

More specifically, chapter one tries to show that looking closely at the history of philosophy reveals two most basic but opposing metaphysics. These are materialistic monism and mentalistic dualism, the first going back to Anaximander but especially Democritus and importantly shown in Hobbes and Spinoza, and, in more recent times, in William James; the second going back to Anaxagoras, then most profoundly developed by Plato, then Descartes and Berkeley in more recent times. But while these recurring metaphysics are basic as theories, more basic still- according to the broad, Neo-Berkeleian idealism of the Penult- are the opposing minds or mental types and experiences from which they arise.  And while I do think I produce a new argument FOR Berkeley’s immaterialism in chap. 2- set out most succinctly in sects 3 and 8- I should make clear that I also produce a new argument AGAINST it, which goes with Neo-Berkeley, as set out in workbook 4, the Essential Berkeley.  As this is likely to be confusing, I should say something about this here by way of clarification, which should also help as a supplement to the summary (below) of the Essential Berkeley.

First, I should point out that while the new argument supports Berkeley’s immaterialism, this applies to the restrictive aim of showing that (commonsense) physical objects, such as apples and hats, which commonsense people believe exist independently of them in space, are mind dependent.  How I do this is to argue that these physical things are constructed from either visual sense-data combined with a tactual image, or tactual sense-data, combined with a visual image- the first experienced by visual types, like Locke, the later by tactual types, like Bertrand Russell; and that these, taken together, shows that all physical things are mind dependent.

However, AGAINST Berkeley, I maintain that the constituents of these physical things are neutral sense-data or objects, the given, which do or can exist in themselves, because the experience of monistic minds like Spinoza,  Hume and James.  Hence Berkeley’s immaterialism or idealism, taken in the broad or unrestricted sense, is mistaken, since these sense-data or objects are experienced but not by minds distinct from them, as Berkeley holds.  So while these objects are not experienced dualistically, they are experienced in a monistic way, as object experiencing object.  And this is consistent with my broader or revised or Neo-Berkeleian idealism, which is close to James’s Radical Empiricism, according to which X exists if it can be experienced, that is, in any which way, by any kind of experiencer.  For Berkeley, perception or experience was wrongly restricted to the dualistic mode, which is the way of his type.

So the truth involves bringing together Berkeley with James and Hume, the dualistic and monistic types, and accepting what they agree on, which is about themselves and their respective experience, and rejecting one thing they each deny, which is not about themselves but in fact about the alternative type, which they have little or no experience of.  So, as I try to show in workbook 4, Berkeley knows he experiences or is conscious of his own mind and its perceiving by a reflex act and inner feeling, which seems contradictory and impossible to Hume, who (with James and Spinoza) experiences himself as a flow of objects or sense-data, emotions, images, etc., which seems impossible to Berkeley.

And a similar misunderstanding, based on typal difference, needs to be unravelled in the case of the two sensory types, examined here in detail in chap. 2.  For the tactual type (or tt) experiences (commonsense) physical objects as tactual sense-data, combined with a structuring visual image, and hence believes that he SEES physical objects;  whereas the visual type (or vt) has the vice versa experience, and so believes that he TOUCHES physical objects .  And this makes each judge that what is in the external world are physical objects.  But what hasn’t been noticed is that they are each holding to this commonsense realism for opposed reasons or causes, and so Neo-Berkeley holds that, in this respect, they are both wrong (which I call the Maupertius move), whereas they are right in what they each hold in regard to their own respective sense-data, their most direct and so most certain experience.   So again, the principle is that each type should be regarded as right about what it directly experience and knows.  So the tactual type is right about tactual sense-data and the visual type about visual sense-data as given or evidently existing.

Probably I should also note that while I think that I have a new argument against Berkeley’s unrestricted immaterialism, as based on types, the conclusion of the argument is not new, since articulated by many 20th century sense-data theorists, according to which sense-data are neutral, as not being mind dependent.  To be sure, many of these theorists also said that these collections of sense-data should not be regarded as the material things, but only representations of them.  But the important thing for my purpose is that Berkeley himself says in Principles of Human Knowledge  (PHK), sect. 23,  that if an object could be shown to exist in itself, then that would constitute a refutation of his immaterialism, which I think I have accomplished, drawing on Hume and phenomenalism, or more exactly on phenomenalistic minds like Hume especially, but also James and Spinoza.

So my Neo-Berkeleian position is that all human beings are and must be able to perceive commonsense objects, like apples, but tt are able to experience their tactual qualities more truly and the vt the visual more truly, and the phenomenalist all qualities as sense-data, whereas the dualists experience them (because condition them) as mind dependent.  So Hume does not get his phenomenalistic experience normally or commonsensibly, but only when (as he famously says) he enters ‘most intimately into what I call myself’, at which time he always stumbles ‘on some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure’. Hence he thinks that all ‘mankind are nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions’.  But Berkeley’s most intimate experience, because dualistic, gives him an experience where mind is conditioning and perceiving the objects perceived.  So while they are closer to sense-data, they are not as close as Hume’s sense-data.


Number 3: The Handbook of Tea-Tasting, 2010, 2014:

The Handbook asks: Is the unexamined cup of tea worth drinking?  Among its main topics are: Plato’s three mental types;  retronasal-olfaction, which, with the three-step procedure for identifying it, is perhaps the central topic of the workbook; the story of the Three Wishes and Types and four true tastes; typologies and the diversity of experience; and the smell- and taste-types, using tea tasting to do philosophy in a hands-on, experimental way.  A Postscript has been added on the essential taste/flavour of tea and coffee, which links this workbook with number 7, on coffee tasting.


Number 4: Essential Berkeley and Neo-Berkeleian Idealism, 2014/15:

This work aims to do two things.  The first is to present Berkeley’s essential philosophy and its development.  This is done in the Text, which contains an abridgement of nearly all Berkeley’s writings, from 1707 to 1752, and in my editor’s Introduction, which precedes the Text, where I try to show that at the centre of Berkeley’s philosophy is the core dualism from which his larger philosophy unfolds.  Simply stated, this core dualism is the awareness that I am a mind different from the objects I perceive, an insight which Berkeley clearly sets out in sections 1 and 2 of his Principles of Human Knowledge and most of his other philosophical works.  The larger philosophy is then developed by Berkeley in a two-fold movement: the first trying to show that matter does not exist; the second, that the space left empty by immaterialism can only be filled by God, who does what matter was supposed to do in the world.

But while Berkeley’s larger philosophy is admirably simple and coherent, it has now become more a museum piece, of continuing importance historically, but not a living philosophy.  Hence the second aim of this work is to show how it can become a living philosophy once again.  How?  First, by going back and more deeply to the core dualism; then by arguing that both immaterialism and God should be shed; and finally, by showing how the human mind, which remains after this radical shedding, divides naturally into two types, one monistic, consisting only of ideas or objects, the other dualistic but even wider in scope than Berkeley himself allowed, since able (in principle if rarely realizable) to experience an other human mind as directly as it experiences itself.  This is what I call Neo-Berkeley, which, I suggest, Berkeley himself was tending towards especially in his last philosophical work Siris, 1744.


Number 5: Irish philosophy: past and future: 2014/15:

I can summarize the main aims and elements of this workbook, which was originally written as a keynote lecture, by explaining my title. By Irish past philosophy, I refer to the one and only period when Ireland was at the cutting edge of world philosophy.  This was the golden age, which was born with John Toland’s Christianity not Mysterious (1696), grew with the answers to his challenge from Peter Browne, William King and Edward Synge, and culminated with the work of Hutcheson, Burke and especially Berkeley, and came to a close in the late 1750s.

The golden age, I try to show, resulted from the clash or interaction of two tendencies, that of the enlightenment and the counter-enlightenment; which can be most directly seen in the Chart of Irish philosophy, which is inserted in this workbook.  However, the inspiration for this essay is that underlying each of the two tendencies is something deeper, which comes out in the two greatest thinkers of the period, namely, Toland, the father of Irish Philosophy and Berkeley, its greatest son.

And so I suggest that the inner nature of the enlightenment tendency is Toland’s monism and the counter-enlightenment Berkeley’s dualism, which I try to show by exploring the ways the two philosophers deal with three issues: (1) the brain and its relation to consciousness, (2) naturalistic history and (3) life after death; who I suggest should be seen as two beacons or guides for the future of philosophy and spirituality in Ireland.

–Additional related material is now being added, for example on the Molyneux problem as showing types.


Number 6: The Logic and Credibility of after-death existences, 2014, revised 2015:

I begin by setting out what I take to be the seven or eight most serious forms or scenarios of after-death existences; these are (1) a disembodied realm of Heaven & Hell; (2) reincarnated persons; (3) resurrection of bodies; (4) pure indivisible minds; (5) world of Gods, demi-gods or Forms; (6) Brahmin consciousness, Moksha or Nirvana; (7) dream-image world; (8) oblivion or extinction.  Along with setting out the logic and some history of after-death existences [=ade], I also introduce the case against ade, as well perhaps their greatest critic, namely David Hume and his essay against Immortality.

I then move into a more autobiographical mode, in which I briefly describe how I came to be interested in this subject, and how I came to see that those holding (8)- which is the present educated consensus, and was previously my position- are in the grips of an illusion- understood in the Freudian sense- an illusion of mortality.  Whereas I came to see that options 1, 2, 4, 5 and 7, are more feasible than is now generally allowed; and scenario 3, which is most widely and fervently accepted nowadays, by Fundamentalist Christians and Muslims, turns out, ironically, to be least credible as well as tending to occlude the other more credible options.

Hence what is probably most distinctive about this work is that while its attitude to after-death existences is positive, this does not come from a commitment to any established religion- indeed, if anything, quite the opposite.  Another distinctive feature of the workbook concerns dreams, and especially the crucial idea that just as when we normally dream we do not know we are dreaming, so, according to various writers, the dead (at least the recent dead) do not know that they are dead.  What follows from this idea is the hypothesis that the most plausible way to understand the next life is as dream imaging, which is, in fact, broadly held by various religious traditions and has also been developed in a clear way by the Analytic philosopher, H. H. Price.

In chapter four, I examine the account of reincarnation of the idealistic philosopher, John McTaggart, which I believe is, like the dream-image theory, plausible yet largely ignored by present-day philosophers and those interested in reincarnation.

Then in the next chapter, I look closely at the work of another largely ignored thinker, Emmanuel Swedenborg, and his extraordinary account of the next life, which presents in detail one of the three important sub-forms of scenario 1 (the others being by Plato and Dante), having argued in chapter 3  that combining it with Price’s account of the next life as dream-image can enhance both theories.

Looking back on what has been said in chapters 1-5, and glancing very briefy at what is presently the most popular source of ade, namely Near Death Experiences, or NDEs, I then try to reach a conclusion about the credibility of ade.


Number 7: The Philosophy of Coffee-Tasting, 2015:

This little book begins by looking at recent developments in coffee drinking, especially the so-called Third of the Three Waves of coffee, and also the first book devoted to philosophy and coffee, Coffee Philosophy for Everyone, 2011. Probably my main criticism of the Third Wave and present expert theory of coffee tasting is- to put it somewhat dramatically- that while it does not throw the baby out with the bath water, it manages to look carefully at virtually every part of the baby but her face.  Put more specifically: instead of focusing on the two actual tastes of coffee, i.e. bitterness and sourness, the Third Wave and expert theory regards bitterness as a flaw, while praising acidity or fruitiness, which I argue is in fact sourness under another description.

Moving into a more positive mode, I then present a more inclusive theory of coffee tasting which not only aims to bring back tastes to their proper and central place, but also shows the importance of taste types- the sourists and the bitterists- based on the two true coffee tastes.

Having offered what I think is an empirical or hands-on way getting into philosophy through coffee tasting, I then conclude by drawing on this work to support the empirical (as against the conceptual) way of doing philosophy, a way which was (unsuccessfully) championed by William James and Henri Bergson at the beginning of the last century.


Number 8: A. J. Ayer’s Posthumous Evidence for Berkeley’s idealism and Life after Death:

An early version of this essay started as a lecture to my JS4 class in 2005, which I gave in subsequent years, revising it each year up to 2013, with a major change of direction in 2011, and more recent revision in Sept. 2014.  Although it was not intended as a workbook, I now think it is one.

It outlines some important history of philosophy, especially the debate between Berkeley and Hume, so is relevant to the Essential Berkeley (workbook 4); but even moreso to (workbook 6) the Logic and Credibility of after-death existences.


Number 9: Plato and the method of Φ workbooks, 2014/2015:

The first chapter of this workbook prints most of this brochure; the second chapter prints my essay, ‘Plato and artisan workbook method’, which, in effect, uses Plato’s Seventh Letter as its workbook.

Workbook 9 is also more elaborate, detailed and personal than that essay. Just as I believe there is something special about the Platonic text (or composite text used in the essay, so I think there is something special about this ninth workbook.  For one thing it offers some kind of overview of the workbooks, so can be considered an over-arching guide or workbook.


Number 10: Five Great Ways of Thinking, 2015:

This workbook [by Brian Barrington, who contributed to the Manual, workbook 1] explores the relations between five great ways of thinking – (1)  the common-sense way, (2) the artistic way, (3) the scientific way, (4) the religious way and (5) the philosophical way. The book hopes to show that each of these domains of thought has its own logic, its own proper place and its own legitimacy. Various subdivisions within these five ways are also investigated. Philosophy is divided into (1) Philosophical Scepticism, (2) Philosophical Pluralism (also called Philosophical Humanism), (3)Philosophical Dualism (also called Philosophical Spiritualism) and (4) Philosophical Monism (also called Philosophical Naturalism). Each of these philosophical modes is examined in turn. Various historical examples of Philosophical Dualism and Philosophical Monism are then juxtaposed in an attempt to clarify the distinction between what the author holds to be the two most essential philosophical types – for example, Platonist Dualism is contrasted with Buddhist Monism, Christian Dualism with Daoist Monism, Islamic Dualism with Hindu Monism, Cartesian Dualism with Spinozist Monism, and so on. A unique way of allowing for the possibility of both Philosophical Dualism and Philosophical Monism is then discussed. The book ends with an allegorical myth intended to illustrate the two fundamental possible paths to wisdom, or the two alternative ways to philosophical salvation.


Part 3: Plato’s Seventh Letter and the Artisan Method

By Berman


  • 1: It seems reasonably clear from Plato’s dialogues, and especially from his Seventh Letter [= 7th], that he thought the best way of doing philosophy was in a discussion between a teacher and student which proceeded by question and answer, sometimes called dialectics or the dialectical method.

Negatively, Plato was against the idea that it should be done through written works, especially those that are in more rather than less permanent form. At times, he even seems against doing philosophy in any linguistic form, even spoken. So, as he puts in his 7th (342-3): ‘owing to the inadequacy of language… no intelligent man will ever dare to commit his thoughts to words, still less to words that cannot be changed, as is the case with what is expressed in written characters.’ (also see Phaedrus, 277-8). Why? Because, as he says in the 7th (343), words are ambiguous and philosophical discourse is particularly ambiguous, hence the intelligent reader of a philosophical text is bound to have questions, but if he asks the text for clarification, ‘the text simply returns the same answer over and over again.’ (Phaedrus, 275).

It might seem from this that Plato believed that the intelligent man should never write anything in philosophy. And that is what he says. But that can’t be what Plato has in mind, given his own great texts, including the very ones in which he is so critical of texts. So while it is clear that he thought that writing is a very flawed medium for philosophy, he could not have thought it was entirely worthless. And this is also my attitude, as I try to show in this brochure. So one positive element in some texts is that they can evoke questions in certain minds, which can begin the dialectical process. The fundamental flaw, as Plato makes clear, is that the text can’t itself (or can’t easily or finally) answer the questions: it just keeps repeating itself. But if, having evoked a question in the mind of its reader, the reader can ask his question of the author, then the flaw can be overcome, at least to some extent. And this is how I recommend the texts, or workbooks, presented in Part 2 of this brochure, since their authors are in a position to answer questions arising from them, and so gloss or interpret them. And this is what I also try to do here for Plato own written words, so using his text as a workbook.

To be sure, a critic might object that since Plato clearly says that the intelligent man or philosopher should not dare to write, I should not be twisting his words in this respect. But surely, Plato is also as clear and emphatic that words are flawed, so those very words must be flawed; and what makes them so flawed, according to Plato, is their inflexibility; so given that, I believe I am being true to Plato’s thinking- his more serious and true thinking- in understanding them in a flexible way.

What I am not being is a faithful, literalist interpretor of him, a Plato scholar in the way a Fundamentalist Christian is in respect to the Bible. Putting this somewhat differently, I am following Plato in giving primacy not to language but to what is in his mind, his thinking, understanding, reasoning, so trying to get to, as he says in the 7th, 342-4, the intelligent man’s ‘most serious thoughts…[which] remain stored up in the noblest region of his soul or personality’, rather than in what he writes or even said.

Of course, one would like to get the text or workbook as perfect as possible, but I agree with Plato that not only can it never be perfect, so must always be interim or provisional, or work in progress- and for both the reader and the author- but it is unlikely to be better than a living teacher and student working together, face to face, one-to-one, through spoken discourse, using questions and answers, which can produce what he describes as the sparks and illuminations in their minds. So spoken discourse is by its nature superior to written, but that is supposing the philosophical guide is an able and genuine philosopher. If not, a student might be better working with a great text of a great thinker on his own, becoming himself the living answerer of his own questions, so using the text- as I hope I am doing with the 7th- to initiate ‘sober discourse within his own mind’ (7th, 340).

But I believe I am also doing something else here, namely directing those interested in philosophy to a truly great but unappreciated philosophical text, possibly the greatest, i.e. 340-345 of Plato’s 7th, clarified by what he says in the Phaedrus (esp 375-378) and Republic (esp 596-603); so a kind of composite text. Moreover, by using it here as my workbook, I think I am showing what can be done when a philosophical text is used as a workbook.


  • 2: But why (you might ask) do I use Plato’s 7th as my primary text and workbook? I would say: Because it comes from arguably the greatest force and mind in the entire history of philosophy. [And for me, the fact that Berkeley became a Platonist towards the end of his life (see Part 2, workbook 4) adds considerable weight to thinking that if any philosopher had found the truth, and the way to it, it is Plato.] Also important is that in the 7th Plato is describing in his own person, not in a dialogue, how knowledge of the truth, of the real things themselves or Forms (although he doesn’t use this term in the 7th) is attained. Of course, the catch is that he does this in words, and also tells us how hard and unlikely it is to attain the truth. We also need to acknowledge that there are some scholars who doubt if the 7th is by Plato. But still you might think that given what it promises, and that it was taken to be by Plato as far back as Cicero, that the 7th would be one of the most famous and most studied texts in the history of philosophy; yet most philosophy students don’t know it at all. And I think that even some Plato scholars are unaware of how closely it is connected to his Phaedrus and Republic, the former arguably his most accomplished text, the latter probably his greatest philosophical work.

Of course, in the best of all possible worlds, one would hear Plato himself describing how to gain knowledge of things in themselves, and answer any questions arising from what he says- so have him as one’s personal guide. The next best thing would be to have Plato’s texts glossed by a great philosopher, which I believe is what we have, to some extent, in B’s Siris (see Part 2, workbook 4).   But in the absence of both of these desiderata, I suggest that a feasible option is working with what Plato has left us as a guide and workbook, which is what I am doing here, which I believe has helped me to move in the right direction and might help you.

What is the right direction? This comes out in Plato’s 7th, in his account of the three instruments (342), the word, definition and empirical representation, followed by a fourth which is understanding and knowledge of the fifth, the fifth being the real thing itself. So the right direction is getting as close as possible to the fifth, to what really exists. But stating it that way is likely do little more than evoking an interest or questioning attitude. To go further we need to elucidate these five elements, which Plato does by using an example from geometry, the circle.

So first there is the name ‘circle’, then the definition, which would be ‘the thing whose extremities in every direction are equidistant from its centre’ (342). In his Phaedrus, 265-6, Plato is almost certainly giving an account of instruments 1 and 2, when he mentions ‘the two methods of reasoning’, the first of which consists in collecting scattered particulars into a single generic term’, the name, which is then subjected to definition by genus and species, which definitional operation should follow the skillful butcher, as Socrates nicely puts it, who is able to observe the ‘natural articulation’ or joints of the animal he is carving.   Then there is the third instrument, the empirical representation or exemplar or image of a circle which can be produced in two ways: by using a compass or a lathe, so visually or tactually.

These, then, are the three instruments, which more generally I see as characterizing our world, the Cave (as described in Rep bk 7), but at its epistemic best, or next best at least, since much better than our normal use of words and experiences of things. But though the next best, these three instruments are by no means good enough, since, as Plato indicates, philosophers should be aiming at going beyond them to the fourth instrument, which is the knowledge of the real thing in itself, the fifth, the real circle or Form of the circle. How this can or should be done, he says, is by the teacher and student subjecting the three instruments to questions and answers, in ‘good faith and without envy’, so rubbing the instruments together, which can then produce a spark or sparks of knowledge and illuminate the thing itself. [Which is what Socrates did for Meno’s slave boy.]


  • 3: Drawing on this image of the spark (in the Hamilton translation of the 7th) helps us to see that for Plato there seem to be two main stages of philosophical attainment. The first stage (mentioned in 340b-d) is when someone, touched by this ‘divine spark’, becomes ‘on fire with enthusiasm for philosophy’, which makes philosophy congenial to him and fits him for its pursuit’. Indeed, philosophy appears to him so desirable that he ‘must follow it with all his might if life is to be worth living.’ And it was wanting to see if this was the case with Dionysius 2, whether he had this initial spark, which Plato tried to establish straightaway when he came to Syracuse for the third time. And what he found, when he tested this by setting out his philosophical method as a whole to Dionysius was that Dionysius had not been touched by the 1st spark and so was not on fire or in love with philosophy. Plato nicely contrasts this state of love and enlightenment, produced by the genuine 1st spark, with what is gained by an external light, like the tanning produced by the sun on the skin.

Then there is a second spark, first mentioned in 341c-d, which I take to be based on the first, but more desirable and difficult, which Plato returns to in 344b. It (or what arises from it) is also described as a fire, but one which, when once operative, is not quenched or forgotten, for, he says, ‘it lies within a very small compass’, and is of ‘the first and highest principles’. As mentioned above, this second spark and stage is when teacher and student work cooperatively in a question and answer mode, rubbing the three instruments together which does get at the fourth, which is the knowledge of what really exists, the fifth. As Plato himself puts it in 344b:

It is only when all these things, names and definitions, visual and other sensations ?, are rubbed together, and are subjected to tests in which questions and answers are exchanged in good faith and without malice when finally, when human capacity is stretched to it limit, a spark of understanding flashes out and illuminates the subject at issue.

This is the goal of the philosophical desire produced by the 1st spark and fire. What happens in this second phase is that a new spark is produced which leaps out and kindles a new fire, which ‘once it is born there nourishes itself thereafter’ (341).

I think this is at least generally what Plato has in mind, but what is not so clear, among other things, is how far the 2nd spark, fire and illumination that comes from it extends. That it includes knowledge of the ‘first and highest principles’, which I take to be certain basic Forms, seems likely. But what is not clear is what Forms are included.

As I understand Plato, the initial stage of the 2nd spark is fundamental, which seems to fit with it being of ‘first and highest principles’, and knowing at least one thing (or Form) that really exists. What would that first basic thing or Form be? My suggestion is that it is one’s real or true self, which in the Cave one perceived as a shadow, as Plato indicates in Rep. 515a, but which early on outside the Cave can be seen more truly reflected in a pool of water (516a). And this would fit with Socrates’s imperative, Delphic desire to know himself. Then, from that knowledge of one real thing, the philosopher could go on to know many other real things, such as the Form of the circle, which would be the next and broader phase of the 2nd spark, fire and illumination.

That Plato thought there was a certain order in knowing the Forms is indicated by what he says about the Good, namely that it is the most difficult and so the last and possibly the most crucial Form to be known. According to Rep. 539f, it should, ideally, be known at about 50, when those fitted for it have completed 15 years of military service or working in some civil capacity for the guardians. Previous to that, Plato says, they had had five years of philosophical training, that is in dialectics, so from about 30 to 35- not any younger for then they would (as Plato says) treat dialectics as a game, as puppies do with a rag they play with. Then if that goes well, and also the 15 years when they work as auxilaries to the guardians- they get to the final phase, now age 50 (perhaps significantly, a typical time of mid-life crisis) when they are ‘conducted’ to see the Good, the final Form to be seen, because in seeing it they not only become complete philosophers, but they now pass from being auxilaries and of the spirited class, and become guardians, since now they are able to rule, or help in the rule, of the city by means of the Good as the pattern to be guided by.


  • 4: The most judicious account of the 7th, as far as I know, is that in W.K. Guthrie’s admirable History of Greek Philosophy, where he says that the 7th, ‘if genuine, is Plato’s last philosophical testament [and] nothing less than a short apologia for his whole life and thought’ (vol. 5, p. 403). This is not to say that I agree with everything Guthrie (who I met in TCD in the late 1960s) says; for example, I think he is mistaken that Plato thinks that philosophical work should be carried out by a ‘group’ of men (p. 410), rather than by one teacher and student, working dialectically.

I am also not sure whether he is right (p. 404) that for Plato ‘we cannot discuss nor think without words’. I agree we can’t discuss or communicate with other minds without words (although even here Guthrie might be wrong if there is telepathy); but I am not at all certain that we, or I, or at least some of us, cannot ourselves think without words, which would be a kind of auto-telepathy. To be sure, Guthrie does offer textual evidence for his claim concerning Plato, by quoting what Plato says in the Sophist 263e, that thought is silent conversation.

What I would like to suggest here is a compromise position, which is that while absolute non-linguistic thinking is impossible, it is a matter of degree, so there would be thinking that has only the barest, minimal symbolic element or words, which would be knowledge of the fifth. Whereas, on the other extreme, there would be thinking which is dominated by words, and where there was little or no psychic element in the mind. This would be human, all too human or social thinking (so-called) which is fully in the Cave, and is typical of what I describe in my Penult (workbook 2) as the thinking of the socio-linguistic type.

So instrument 1 and the fourth (and possibly the fifth) are like opposites, the first most linguistic (humanly social, linking humans through communication) the fourth most psychic (see 342c) or god-like; hence Socrates’s question to himself at the beginning of the Phaedrus, whether he is more Typhonic or more god-like; Typhon being the last of the Titans, with hundreds of heads, so a composite of many beings, whereas the fifth being necessarily ONE (Rep X); see below.

In Rep VII, Plato mentions that the chains that keep us chained in the Cave are feasting, drinking, sex (also mentioned in the 7th, 326d), but I think the chains that are even deeper than these bodily and appetitive chains are those chains which bind all humans together as humans, that is, language- so Typhon with we as his heads.


  • 5: Typhon:

What I think Socrates is asking at the beginning of Phaedrus (230) is: Am I only a human being, one of Typhon’s heads, which is going to be replaced by another when I die, either completely or by my being reincarnated? Or am I something more, which could separate itself from Typhon, from (see Rep VI) the human beast, the polis, demos, and be a semi-divine being with an essence? [On this, see above, workbook 6, scenarios 3 and 5.]

The severing or separation [perhaps like individuation in Jung] is done in various ascetic ways, Plato suggests, but probably the deepest is separation from language, the underground roots which unite us and make us one with Typhon’s other heads.

[Is there anything more alluring, intoxicating, delicious (like a sweet desert) than the pleasures brought about by human communication- in conversation over a drink or meal, or party, or reading, listening to the radio, watching a film, etc? All of which make us feel connected and human?]


  • 6: Scholars agree that it is not easy to understand the philosophical digression of the 7th or fit it in with Plato’s other works. For one thing it seems to go against the idea that what the philosopher should aim at is formulating the best possible definitions. But the 7th is clear that definitions (instrument 2) are low on the five-element totem pole, certainly lower or coming before the fourth, which is knowledge of the fifth or the fifth itself. Definitions also come before, at least in order of presentation, empirical representations or exemplars (instrument 3); but it is not certain, given what Plato says in the 7th alone, whether he thought definitions were epistemically inferior to instrument 3, as they are certainly inferior to the fourth and fifth. However, I believe they are, and that this is hugely important, because it shows Plato’s sympathy for the empirical-experiential, as against the definitional, which I think can be equated with the conceptual (or that which is more linguistic than psychic, as I explain above in §4).


Now judging from Plato’s specific example of the circle in the 7th, as well as other things he says, the empirical study he regarded as perhaps most important was geometry. (My own empirical focus is on taste and smell, especially in tea and coffee [workbooks 3 and 7], and also the introspective experiments in workbook 1.)

However, since the early 20th century, philosophers have seen themselves as experts in analyzing language, concepts and argumentation- and so closer to logicians and mathematicians, but mathematics understood as apriori or non-empirical. Whereas from Plato’s account of instrument 3 and what he says about poets in the Phaedrus and especially in Rep X, I think his idea of mathematics and geometry was more empirical than we now take them to be, and that the philosopher himself needed to do empirical work on them. So he was closer here to Berkeley and J.S. Mill- although ultimately he thought the philosopher needs to go beyond the empirical, to the knowledge of the real things, and not back to linguistic definitions and concepts. I think this is most clearly shown in Rep X, (596-603), but that it is implicit in the 7th.

In short, the constructor of definitions and analyzer of words (instrument 2), who does not try to master instrument 3, is like a poet, who produces works which only imitate those of the craftsmen. To be sure, unlike craftsmen, these expert languifiers have an almost magical ability to create belief and praise of their work by their shrewd understanding of how to work with words and appearances.

For Plato, the craftsmen are more honest and valuable producers than the poets and I would say linguistic philosophers, because their concern is not with words, appearances, belief or persuasion, but getting close or closer to the essence of the thing itself, and not what the thing is like (343a and 343c). So in the 7th, the craftsmen would be those who know how to produce a very accurate visual or tangible circle. In the Rep X, these craftsmen are carpenters who know how to construct good or useful tables and couches, which they do partly by consulting those who use tables and couches (601).

They also get closer to the primary producer of the thing itself, than the definers, poets, Sophists and (I would say) most present-day philosophers, who work primarily with language and concepts.

In Rep 597b, Plato says that the things themselves, which are ‘in the natural order of things’, which I take to be the Forms or the fifth, ‘are, I imagine we’d say, the work of a god’. And Forms are what a genuine philosopher aims to know, according to the 7th, by working with his teacher or student in a question and answer way, rubbing the first three instruments together to attain knowledge of the thing itself and, I think, knowing and becoming a semi-divine bleing- and so getting closest to God or a god, a truly real and perfect being.

But how, we are bound to ask, can the Forms be eternal if they are created by a god? So does Plato really believe in a divine producer, or is this just what ‘I imagine we’d say’?   This might fit with how we human minds can be shadowy, transcient beings in the Cave, but also percipients of an array of Forms, so already in the realm of Forms.

On this, see workbook 6; also my ‘Absolute and Final Desire: Plato or Buddha’, in Desire: the Concept and Practical Context, eds T. Airaksinen and W. Gasparski, 2016; also Guthrie, p. 412, who cites Thaetatus, 176b and Phaedrus 249d, to which I would add Phaedrus 230 and Socrates’s question at the beginning of the dialogue as to whether he is closer to being Typhonic or like a gentle god. Also see Rep 497c and esp 500c-d and Phaedo 67-9, and the third scenario of after-death existence in workbook 6. This, I take it, is the absolute or final desire of the dualistic type.


But how are we to understand what Plato has in mind by the movement from instruments 1 to 3, to something different in 4, but even more different in 5? Here I think we can be helped again by using Rep X, esp 602-3, where Plato points out the variability in our perception of things. So things appear to have different sizes close up or far away; also in and out of water. And it is understanding and using this variability or relativity of appearances which enables the languifiers to produce (almost magically) belief in their hearers or readers. However, the craftsmen operate differently; their concern is not with appearances and persuasion but actually getting close to the things themselves, which is shown in the utility of what they produce. And the way they achieve this is not only by asking the users (of chairs) about what they desire or need, but also by their mastery of empirical geometry and mathematics, using instruments such as the compass, ruler and weighing scales, or, as Plato says, ‘measuring, counting and weighing’, which have ‘proved such a wonderful help to us’ (Rep 602d). So the craftsmen use the precision tools, which enable them to make really useful chairs and not just produce written works which have the effect of making their readers believe (or make believe) they are seeing chairs.

However, while this shows the superiority of the craftsmen over the languifiers, poets and linguistic or conceptual philosophers- as well as their affinity with empirical scientists- they (and we) still seem to be within instruments (1) to (3), and so, as I interpret Plato, still within the Cave. However I think we can see the move to (4), and so beyond both language and empirical representations if we focus on Plato’s example of the circle in the 7th and how the craftsmen or empirical geometers work through the two mediums of sight and touch. For it is, as Plato says, by drawing with a compass and using a lathe, they produce two kinds of circle- visual and tangible- each of which can be empirically perceived, but both falling short of the necessarily ONE circle. Hence producing circles which are both visually and tangibly most empirically perfect, and also knowing there is but one real circle, enables the philosopher to know he is still in the Cave, but is getting closer to knowing the one real circle.


[Note: Historically, this real circle seems like the abstract general idea of a circle, as famously described by Locke, but also famously derided by Berkeley. For early Berkeley, of the New Theory of Vision, 1709 and Principles, 1710, there is no ONE abstract general circle, which is both visual and tangible. Rather, there are visual and tangible ones. However, the later B, of Siris, 1744, changed his views under the influence of Plato. On this, see my Essential Berkeley workbook.]

So what this shows is the value to the genuine philosopher of producing two species of circles which are most perfect empirically, so both visual and tangible ones, and no doubt other geometic figures as well, with, to be sure, the help of definitions, also by consulting those who use them, and so with his teacher or student rubbing together these functions to get beyond both words and empirical representations and so ultimately outside the Cave, to the things themselves.


This element of this dialectical method seems to be shown not only in Plato’s example of the circle, with the visual and tangible circle rubbed together, but perhaps also in Rep 435, when the soul and the state are both seen to have the 3 analogical elements of appetite, spirit and intellective, which when rubbed together reveals the (common) idea of justice- which is underlies both, just as the circle in itself is shown in what is common in the empirical production of visual or tangible circles. [Also worth mentioning here is that we humans live in two basic worlds or manifestations, the awake and dreaming; on this see workbook 6.]


Until and unless a philosopher perceives/knows the real circle, I think that, according to Plato, he is still doing only empirical geometry (so in line with Berkeley and Mill). To perceive/know the real circle (or any geometric figure or indeed anything) is to leave the Cave, so be touched and illuminated by the 2nd spark.


A philosopher who does not go this way and attain the 2nd spark, according to Plato, would still be not much better than a mere talker, or worse, a mere writer. Hence the importance of doing and working with empirical material. Similarly as Plato says about himself in the earlier, autobiographical part of the 7th, (328), if he was to take himself seriously as a political philosopher, he had to do more than just talk about it. He had to act, which in his case meant travelling to Syracuse to try and bring his key idea of the philosopher-king into reality in the person of Dionysius 2. To be a mere talker or languifier, then, is to be a windbag (as Schopenhauer said about Hegel), rather than a true philosopher, who, it is reasonably clear from Rep X, is closer to the artisan or craftsman than to the non-empirical user of words, even though such artful use of words can be extremely impressive as well as persuasive, and is almost certainly at the basis of human power and supremacy on earth.

So the craftsman who knows how to construct a chair is, according to Plato, superior to and a better role model for the philosopher than the poet who is able to write a fine, even moving poem on the subject of chairs. Why? Because the poet is further removed from the thing itself than artisan whose chairs are representations, whereas the poems of the poet are representations of representations- which could also be the case, I think, with the philosopher’s definitions.


[Note: We forget that all or most of the great, famous philosophers had a second empirical string to their bows: that B was a great empirical psychologist; Descartes an anatomist and physiologist; Hume an historian; Locke a medical specialist; Spinoza a Biblical scholar and lens grinder. Philosophers, mainly since Kant, are academics, lecturers, without the second empirical specialty to their bows. Even Nietzsche was a philologist.

However, where even most present-day philosophers come close to having an empirical, second string to their conceptual bows is in the history of philosophy, which has to be partly an empirical study. However, in my workbooks I take this one step further than even most specialists in the history of philosophy, in studying the great philosophers not only as theorists but also in a psychological way. On this, see esp Penult, workbook 2, chap. one.

–Also see my workbook on Ayer, number 8, who was clear and adamant that philosophy had not any empirical content of its own, but was only philosophy OF science or philosophy OF art, etc.- until his dramatic NDE a year before he died.]


So one crucial point in the above is the importance and value of the empirical representation (in comparison with the definitional or conceptual) in Plato’s account of philosophical knowledge, and that by the empirical he understands being able to construct/produce/create X, as in the case of the circle (which shows another overlap between the Rep and 7th).


  • 7: One thing which has stood in the way of seeing the greatness of the 7th is that it is composed of two elements: one written for the adherents of Dion, the other for posterity; so one in the Cave and time, the other about the eternal world of Forms. Plato was a man living at a certain time in the world, but he was also, perhaps uniquely, in the other world. In the first, as he admits in the 7th, he ‘was worsted’ (333). But if this is subtracted, then his work can be seen as perennial and divine, his Testament (as Guthrie puts it).

And even in that part of the 7th for posterity, there are also two opposing tendencies, one working to show how attaining the truth is possible- crucially expressed in 341c and 344b- the other how extremely difficult it is, because instruments 1 to 3 are naturally or intrinsically imperfect, and even 4, which is itself perfect cannot be adequately communicated. So the situation is similar to what Plato says about the ideal state in the Rep, that is not impossible but most unlikely to be realized in this world.


  • 8: I believe that Plato did experience what he talks about in the 7th with Dion, who is the subject of much of the 7th. So he did get to the fifth, real things, and out of the Cave, and that in the 7th Plato is doing the incredibly difficult thing of putting this momentous experience into words, and in so few words, which I think can be helped by supplementing them with bits from the Rep and Phaedrus.

I believe that this can also be applied to what Berkeley talks about in Siris and what Spinoza talks about in his Ethics; although as a monist I think that Spinoza got out of the Cave from a different exit and into a different realm than Plato and B. See my Penult, workbook 2, chap. l, and workbook 6.


  • 9: If we suppose that Plato has gotten out of the Cave, then surely any right-minded philosopher would want to get as close as he could to either Plato’s thoughts as inscribed in his mind [or to Spinoza’s, depending on his type and desire]. So he should want to use the philosopher’s text as a workbook.

Yet, since what truly exists, the knowledge of the Forms, cannot be communicated, there is little to be gained by focussing on certain terms or formulas. What can be more readily communicated is how difficult, nigh impossible it is- which Plato does in most of his philosophical digression in the 7th, i.e. 340-345 (which is my workbook here), but also how it MIGHT be attained, and which Plato expresses in 341c, 343e and 344b, which I think he knew from his own direct experience with the other mind he was closest to (324a, 335b), i.e. his best student (327a-b, 328b), Dion.

However, the point is not to get obsessed with scholarly side issues, but to find and EXPERIENCE and ATTAIN the treasure, what the second spark, fire and illumination reveals. So it is like finding an imperfect map for an amazingly valuable treasure. Dialectical work has to be done in understanding the map and getting to the treasure (or treasures).


So the first question is: Do you believe there is an amazing treasure, which is something greater than is to be found in this world, in Plato’s case, the knowledge of the fifth, the real; which would be getting out of the Cave?

Second question: Do you believe there is sufficent reason to believe that the map maker (the author of the 7th) got to the treasure, and is trying to describe it in the map?

My answer to both questions is Yes.





Walter Hamilton (ed and trans), Phaedrus and the Seventh and Eighth Letters, Penguin Books, 1973. [I have also consulted four other translations of the 7th- by George Burges, 1853, J. Harward, 1918?, R. G. Bury, Loeb edition, 1929; and Glenn R. Morrow, in Plato, Complete Works, ed. by Cooper, 1997]

  1. Guthrie, A History of Greek Philosophy: Plato; vols 4, 1975, vol. 5, 1978.






Dublin: Artisan Philosophy Workbooks, 1 December 2015.