The prophet Daniel speaks as a seer: “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever. » (Dan. 12,2-3)
This saying refers to the « wise » and to the “righteous”. It is not just a question of knowledge, but of justice, of a wisdom that is less human than divine. How to reach it? How to access these high places?
Many are those who doubt their own divinity, those who have never turned their eyes to the splendour of intelligence, of wisdom. There are even more who prefer the mist of the senses, the thickness of the bodies, to the thin acuity of the soul.
How would they achieve the wisdom and justice that Daniel is talking about?
Plato, who was not a prophet, but no less a seer, advises us to meditate unceasingly on death.
“Either in no way can we ever acquire knowledge, or it is for us only once we have passed away.”i
The way to be as close to divine knowledge as possible is to have as little trade as possible with the body. Going to the limit, we deduce that death only is the kingdom of true knowledge. This is the « immense hope » that Socrates joyfully shares with his afflicted friends, shortly before drinking the hemlock.
What is this hope based on? It is based on an idea as anti-modern as possible: « We are divine beings ». How can such a statement be made? “Because, momentarily deprived of our heavenly abode and homeland, that is, as long as we are on earth God’s substitutes, we are constantly tormented by the desire of this heavenly homeland and no earthly pleasure can console in the present exile the human intelligence desiring a better condition.”ii
This immense hope, without reason, is based – it is a paradox – on the sole activity of reason.
Marsilio Ficino gives this explanation:
“The hope of immortality results from a surge of reason, since the soul hopes not only without the help of the senses, but despite their opposition. That is why I find nothing more admirable than this hope, because, while we live incessantly among ephemeral beings, we do not cease to hope.”iii
These unreasonable ideas have been shared by thinkers as diverse as Zoroaster, Hermes Trismegistus, Orpheus, Aglaopheme, Pythagoras, Plato… They have created schools of thought, their disciples have proliferated: Xenocrat, Arcesilas, Carneade, Ammonius, Plotinus, Proclus…
On a philosophical level, Socrates’ argument seems to have a certain scope. Reason says that there are only two hypotheses: either knowledge is not possible at all, or it is only possible after death.
If we decide to ignore the Socratic, resolutely optimistic point of view, absolute horror would therefore resemble this: to see clearly with the eyes of pure reason the absurdity and inanity of a human condition, capable of reason, and capable of drawing from it the most crazy, most absurd hypotheses.
iPhaedo, 66 e
ii Marsilio Ficino, Platonic Theology Book XVI