The waters around us have definitely grown, the constitutional crises du jour are flowing faster than we can step into, the times are changing and the battle outside is raging. It was another weekend of street protests, even in Nashville (in front of our Senators’ offices at West End & Murphy). Robert Altman’s Nashville seems more timely than ever, Hal Phillip Walker more electable than ever, as our nation’s newly-staffed National Security Council now excludes the National Security Adviser and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs but somehow has room for the guy who said “I’m a Leninist. Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal, too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”
Heraclitus was the Heidegger of his time, presumably indifferent to complaints like Aristotle’s about his ambiguous syntax and cryptic aphorisms. Gottlieb gives us examples, some curious and others fairly clear, including:
- Death is all things we see awake; all we see asleep is sleep.
- Lifetime is a child at play, moving pieces in a game. Kingship belongs to the child.
- As they step into the same rivers, other and still other waters flow upon them.
- War is father of all and king of all.
- The way up and down are one and the same.
- It is disease that makes health sweet and good, hunger satiety, weariness rest.
- Much learning does not teach understanding.
- It is in changing that we find purpose.
- Time is a game played beautifully by children.The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change.
- The content of your character is your choice. Day by day, what you do is who you become. Your integrity is your destiny – it is the light that guides your way.
- The people must fight on behalf of the law as though for the city wall.
- Wisdom is to speak the truth and act in keeping with its nature.
- Allow yourself to think only those thoughts that match your principles and can bear the bright light of day.
- The soul is dyed the color of its thoughts.
- The sun is new each day.
- What was scattered gathers. What was gathered blows away.
His main question was a serious one: how can language and thought hook onto the world? Through “touch,” somehow, presumably meaning that a prerequisite of knowledge is some form of perceptual immediacy. That doesn’t sound absurd to me, but it does seem to block the possibility of inferential knowledge. Again, we’ve got to ditch the armchair and the classroom and go out into the world we seek to know.
Zeno, like so many philosophers before and since, was trying to subvert our confidence in common sense with his paradoxes. It leads too often to confusion and unacceptable consequences, so a good dialectician walks us back from paradox to a reconsideration of our first premises. Socrates was a better one than Zeno, says Gottlieb, because the former had constructive intentions while the latter just wanted to defend his mentor Parmenides.
As for the Achilles paradox, I still prefer the Diogenes solution: solvitur ambulando: just walk away. A few quick strides will cover an infinitude of minute distances.
Among the problems we might ponder and possibly solve today: Should philosophers be deliberately enigmatic and impenetrable? Can an obscure epigrammatic statement really be profound? Or should philosophers always strive for prosaic clarity?
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