Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

On Heraclitus

Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

On Heraclitus

Article excerpt

"What is it that breathes fire into the equations?"

Stephen Hawking

LUCRETIUS, AFTER HE HAS EXPOUNDED THAT NOTHING comes out of nothing and nothing goes into nothing, and there are only bodies and void, turns to three pre-Socratics: Heraclitus, Empedocles, and Anaxagoras.(1) He characterizes Heraclitus, clarus ob obscuram linguam, as having a bright principle (fire) and a dark account; he says of Empedocles, than whom Sicily nil ... habuisse praeclarius ... videtur, that his principles (the four elements) are as bright as his song about them; and he says of Anaxagoras, who must resort to quaedam latitandi copia tenvis, that his principles are as dark as his account. He then turns to himself; he borrows brightness from Empedocles and darkness from Anaxagoras and turns Heraclitus reside out: he has a bright song about completely dark principles (atoms): clarius audi. nec me animi fallit quam sint obscura.(2) Without denying the difficulty of putting together Heraclitean fire and Heraclitean logos, which seems intended to formulate a problem rather than a solution--it is nothing less than a demand that the causality of things and the equations that model their motions be one and the same--I would like to bring some clarity to the Heraclitean logos and make it at least as bright as his fire. Heraclitus's logos is nothing but his name for thinking when it is philosophic. If Heraclitus did not coin the word philosophos, he is the first we know of who used it.(3)

   Fragment 1

   Of this logos being always [true], human beings are always uncomprehending,
   both before they hear it and once they hear it; for though all things are
   becoming in conformity with this logos, they look like the inexperienced,
   experiencing both words and deeds of the kind that I explain, when I divide
   each thing in conformity with its nature and point out how each thing is;
   but all other human beings are as unaware of all they do when they are
   awake as they forget while they are asleep.

Heraclitus begins his logos with a logos about either logos itself or his logos. This logos is both his and not his. It is in three sections. In each of the sections, there is an opposition between the logos or Heraclitus and other human beings and their words and deeds. In the first section the eternal being of the logos is opposed to the ever-recurrent becoming of its misunderstanding; in the second section, the experiences of men, which are experienced as if they were not experienced, are opposed to Heraclitus's explanation of their experiences; in the third section, Heraclitus is opposed to all other men, for he is aware of what he is doing while awake, and they are not, but they are as unaware when awake as they are forgetful of what they were doing when asleep. In the first two sections, the opposition between Heraclitus and everyone else is explicit, in the third section it is not stated that Heraclitus is as aware as he is awake, has no private understanding, and does not forget.(4) The first section of Heraclitus's first logos is in three parts, of which one part characterizes the logos and two parts all men. The second section is in four parts, of which two characterize the logos and Heraclitus and two all men. The third section is in two parts, both of which characterize all other men. There are, then, altogether nine parts of his speech with an invisible tenth part:

Heraclitus                        All other men

I Of this logos being always      Ia) [always] they become
                                  nonunderstanding (axunetoi)

                                  Ib) both before ... and ... once

IIa) for though becoming ... in   IIa) they resemble inexperienced
accordance with the logos         (apeiroisi)

IIb) such as I ...                IIb) experiencing
                                  (peiromenoi) ...

III [blank]                       the sort of things

                                  IIIa) but they are unaware
                                  (lanthanei) . … 
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