Thursday, November 02, 2017

HERACLITUS a tentative construction

. HERACLITUS a tentative construction

D. R. Khashaba

In this paper I try to reconstruct out of Heraclitus’s disjointed fragments a plausible synoptic outlook. Such an attempt is not only risky; it is outright foolhardy especially in my case with my confessedly elementary knowledge of Greek. My only excuse is that I present this not as a contribution to Heraclitus scholarship – I hope I am not that mad yet – but as an attempt to outline a reasonable metaphysical view of my own from intimations suggested by dabbling in Heraclitus’s obscure oracular phrases.

I venture to say that we do not go far wrong if we say that Heraclitus was the first metaphysician (pardon the anachronism) in Western thinking, leaving aside Chinese and Hindu thinkers for the moment. Thales and Anaximenes were cosmologists. They tried to think out how all things came out of some primitive stuff. Xenophanes was more of a philosophe: he would have been quite at home with the thinkers of the Enlightenment.

But Heraclitus sought to understand how there could be anything at all rather than nothing. And in trying to find an answer to that question he did not look for a primal thing or stuff from which the world could be worked out, nor even for a primal Chaos, which would be an existent thinng, leaving the metaphysical question unanswered or rather unasked: for in philosophy it is the question that opens up vistas for endless exploration.

In seeking the first origin and beginning of all things Heraclitus did not look for a thing – neither stuff nor god – but for a principle: the Logos, the nearest thing in Western thinking to the Tao in Lao Tzu’s thought . The Logos is not a thing, not even a primeval mind, but a creative principle. Yet thus far we are still leaving things hanging in the air.

Heraclitus speaks of the need to follow (dei hepesthai) Logos and complains that though Logos is common, people live hôs idean echontes phronêsin, as if they owned their thinking privately. I find this highly significant. If and when we follow reason we would be following the common understanding (Logos). It is this common understanding .that puts us in touch with what is real. Seek as we may, we will never find a criterion of reality other than its being intelligible, open to the understanding. And it is this that supports and justifies our finding in the Logos, which transcends being, the origin of all being.

Further, I find this supports and is supported by Heraclitus’s looking for reality and understanding not in any external thing or in a god external to the world but in his innermost being, in his soul.

It may not be out of place here to clarify my view of the nature and limits of metaphysical thinking. From what I have already said above it is clear that I maintain that metaphysics seeks to delineate an outlook in which we find the world and life and in particular human life intelligible. The whole quest of metaphysics takes its course within the individual mind. Thus a metaphysician is entitled to say: Here is a vision in terms of which I find the world intelligible. I believe that the fatal error in which most metaphysicians fall is to claim that the vision they present is the one true vision. Kant was right when he asserted that pure reason cannot tell us anything about the actual world. Metaphysicians who claim that they disclose the reality of the world are superstitious dogmatists.

What use then is metaphysics? I maintain that neither science nor philosophy can speak of reality. Yet we cannot live without metaphysical philosophy, unless we are content to live in a totally meaningless world.

That Heraclitus insists on the eternity and absolute autonomy of the cosmos is made amply clear when he asserts that the world was made by neither god nor man. I go back again and again to this point because, in my view, the acceptance of Being (Reality, World, Cosmos, what you will) as an ultimate mystery is the essence of Metaphysics. To suppose any determinate beginning to the world, be it Aristotle’s Uncaused Cause or the Big Bang, lands us in absurdities. To the question “How did the world come about?” the only sane answer is “We don’t know”. But of the many metaphors in which that sane answer may be attired, two give me satisfaction. (1) Ultimate Reality is Eternal Creativity or Creative Eternity. (2) Ultimate Reality is Love, for Love is a ceaseless outflow, an eternal act of giving. In deference to Heraclitus I will also accept his pur aeizôon, ever-living Fire .

Many philosophers have given good answers to the metaphysical question. The fly in the ointment in every case has been that they present their metaphors as if they were factual reports about the actual world. Only Plato was free from this error since he gave his vision in myth and metaphor. In the light of the outline I gave above, Heraclitus too may have been free of this error.

D. R. Khashaba

November 2, 2017

Posted to xnd


Blogger WordsPoeticallyWorth said...

Greetings from the UK. I enjoyed reading.

Thank you. Love love, Andrew. Bye.

3:59 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home