16 February 2007

A Private Logos?

My own question in approaching Dan Graham's article in SEP was, I suppose: What is state-of-the-art in Heraclitus studies? What is dispositive today for someone working in ancient philosophy?

I was prepared to be awoken from my dogmatic, Guthrian slumbers.

Yet I found the following, simply in the section on "Flux" (3.1):

1. Graham displays a confusion about the terms of his discussion: Is the 'Platonic interpretation' not sustainable (because it is 'uncharitable'), or is it sustainable, but 'less profound'? (We can put aside the question of whether it is uncharitable to Plato, Barnes, Guthrie, et al., to interpret them as being so uncharitable.)

2. Graham begs the question, insofar as he dismisses, without argument, Plato's report in the Cratylus as an 'interpretation', and does not ex ante regard it as a contender for being a genuine 'river fragment.'

3. He fails to recognize that Plato, in the Cratylus, intends to report two utterances of Heraclitus, not one, and that the first is apparently an utterance which precisely expresses a doctrine of flux.

4. Graham assumes, without good reason, that Heraclitus could not have made two statements about rivers.

5. He imputes an implausible (and anachronistic) view to Heraclitus, involving 'structures' that 'supervene'.

Why is this view implausible, even as an interpretation of the one fragment that Graham recognizes as genuine? Rivers don't have any supervenient structure. They are simply the waters that compose them, and any 'structure' they have is purely extrinsic, belonging properly to the riverbeds that they fill. This is especially evident in questions of the 'individuation' of rivers (which must go along with talk of 'the same'): Suppose two forks, the Rio and the Fleuve, merge into a single river: then is it the Rio which now continues, or the Fleuve, or neither? The decision is obviously conventional.

Suppose someone were to urge on you this philosophical view: "Things that lack unity may be put aside; but those that possess unity have exactly the sort of unity one sees in a river--and this includes you and me also." Why wouldn't you understand that as a doctrine of flux?

(I don't see, so far, how the fact that Heraclitus elsewhere refers to how things are 'measured' counts against this, since the most natural sense of 'to be measured' is, I take it, that some form or quantity be imposed accidentally and extrinsically--as in a river.)

Now all of this disappoints me insofar as Graham's article is part of an encyclopedia. What is an encyclopedia except the consolidation, if not of knowledge, then at least of opinion which is authoritative? (In contrast, KRS's "The matter is hard to be certain about" looks much more appropriate.) And once again I must bring in the viewpoint of students: Won't someone who has little Greek, and is unfamiliar with the scholarship, reasonably regard Graham's view as authoritative?

If I am wrong about any of these things, refute me (please).