16 March 2007

Goodbye to Heraclitus?

Mindful of the law of diminishing marginal returns, I think that after today I'll move away from Heraclitus. But first a brief word about that passage on "Ontology" from the SEP article, which I had thought I would give fuller attention.

Its main argument is that Heraclitus, in using images of birth and death, is affirming that generation and perishing truly occur, since "[t]he language of birth and death in the world of living things is precisely the language used in Greek metaphysics for coming to be and perishing".

But there is no discipline of "Greek metaphysics" when Heraclitus writes, nor any norms of usage of the sort that this argument requires, nor even--I would say--no clear understanding of what could count, strictly, as generation and perishing, until Aristotle works this out.

Thus, it seems best to interpret Heraclitus' images of birth and death, in terms of what he says about birth and death, and he apparently denies that these are entirely distinct ("as the same thing there exists in us living and dead", "mortal immortals, immortal mortals").

Graham would retort, I suppose, that one must then hold that the change that everything is supposedly undergoing, on the flux interpretation, is "at most a limited kind of change".

But why is that a difficulty? "Limited change" (i.e. not generation or perishing) is still change.

Yet of course addtionally on the flux interpretation fire underlies this "limited" change, and fire, as Graham says is "a better symbol of change than of permanance". --Well, indeed. And, again, what is the problem here for the flux interpretation?

"But fire needs fuel!"-- Does it? Always? But even so: take its fuel to be something that is (in some "limited" way) not-fire, and hold that fire always coexists with not-fire. Call the view that results "paradoxical" if you wish, or say, rather, that it is entirely in the spirit of the flux interpretation.

And I leave with the thought with which I entered upon this topic. Is an encyclopedia article on Heraclitus possible? Or must such a thing be one doubtful interpretation among others?