The sun is new each day -- heracltitus

HERACLITUS ON THE LOGOS

by Gordon L. Ziniewicz

1. Heraclitus says, "One must follow what is common; but, even though the Logos is common, most people live as though they possessed their own private wisdom." (Fr.2) The common is what is open to all, what can be seen and heard by all. To see is to let in with open eyes what is open to view, i.e. what is lit up and revealed to all. The dead (the completely private ones) neither see nor hear; they are closed. No light (fire) shines in them; no speech sounds in them. And yet, even they participate in the kosmos. The extinguished ones also belong to the continuum of lighting and extinguishing that is the common kosmos. The dead touch upon the living sleeping, who in turn touch upon the living waking. (Fr. 26)

2. "Those who are awake live in the same world, while those who are asleep withdraw to their own private worlds." (Fr. 89) Yet the waking and the sleeping are connected; they all belong to the same process that stretches between divine intelligence (completely wide-awake) and death (completely closed off). The wide-awake are most open to what is common; the dead are absolutely private; the foolish (waking, yet sleeping) are somewhere in between. The sleeper who closes his eyes is close to the dead. The eyes are privileged for Heraclitus (Fr. 101). Daylight is the common that reveals the kosmos (spreads it out before the eyes). Darkness, the opposite of daylight, is the great concealer. It takes back what the day gives. But day and night must be taken together; they are part of the same. Day is the opening and night is the closing of the same world. As a flower opens, then closes, so does the kosmos open (spread out), then close (contract).

3. But what are they waking open to? They are open to what opens up and what is opened up, what lights up and what is lit up. To awaken is to meet the dawn, to rise up to greet what is itself rising. "The sun is new each day." (Fr. 6) Each dawn and each awakening that opens to the dawn is a surprise, a miracle, a rekindling in measure of the cosmic fire along with the rekindling of the spark of intelligence within the soul. The "sun-candle" is lit, and a visible kosmos, a world, lights up, emerges, unfolds. Why the kindling keeps happening over and over again remains mysterious, unexplained; but it is a surprise that can be counted on. And the waking ones see the connection of it all. What the truly seeing perceive is that the visible kosmos of day and the invisible kosmos of night are the same kosmos. The true account, the true explanation (logos) is that day and night are inseparable. To have one's eyes wide open is to recognize that approaching (coming-to-be) and departing (perishing) are not cut off from each other, but are indivisible aspects of the same. Waking/sleeping is an opening/closing that corresponds to the opening/closing of the kosmos. The eyes open and close to a world that opens and closes.

4. Thus, the waking participate in a common light, in a common sight. The sleeping are not dead; they can hear a little. The dead can neither see nor hear. The sleeping have a role in what happens. Private though they are in their withdrawal and their closing, they still partake in the common, though they do not think they do. Absolute privacy and isolation is impossible for the living. The belief in a "private wisdom" is an illusion. Nevertheless, for Heraclitus, it is better to be awake than to be asleep. Furthermore, "One should not do things and say things as if one were sleeping." (Fr. 73) Many people, who do not know what is going on, walk and talk in their sleep.

5. Any closing up before what is common (there for everyone to see), is a retreat into what is private (hidden). Indeed, in the scheme of things, there is a time for waking, and there is a time for sleeping. But to be awake is better than to be asleep; to be alive is better than to be dead; and what is common is better than what is private. "Politically" (which means "publicly"), what is common - nomoi (laws and institutions) -- must be followed and guarded carefully; the idiosyncratic must be avoided and discouraged. A city of sleepwalkers is not a city. Certainly, for Heraclitus, waking/sleeping, common/private, living/dying -- all the opposites -- are necessary and inseparable. But there is no doubt that Heraclitus prefers the light to the dark and seeing to blindness. He is no "idiot" (i.e. private).

6. Heraclitus abuses those who do not see and hear for themselves, but rely on the report of others or the fictive power of imagination. "I prefer what can be seen, heard, and perceived." (Fr.55) Fable and empty information do not constitute truth for Heraclitus. Historia and mythos do not give us the true account or meaning (logos) of things. Heraclitus rebukes the historians (such as Hecataeus) and the storytellers (such as Hesiod). He warns, "Let us not guess about the things that are most important." (Fr. 47) Speculation, without direct experience of what is there to observe, is idle. Theories are many; there is but one true account (logos) which is common to all.

7. On the other hand, direct experience is not enough. Not all seeing sees the "meaning" of what can be seen. True seeing does not see things as isolated. True seeing does not isolate this event from that event, this arrival from that departure. True seeing takes into account the whole account shown in and by the kosmos. True seeing sees things as a whole. True seeing is synoptic seeing that sees together as belonging together the totality of coming-to-be and passing-away as an eternal and mysterious cycle. Heraclitus verbally jostles the waking yet sleeping ones to make them open their eyes, to sense with insight (bright perception) the undivided sense or meaning (logos) of the cosmic process: the inseparable unity of coming and going, fire being lit and fire going out. This anyone can see, if one will only overcome private preoccupation, fire oneself up a bit, and open one's eyes to receive the common light.

8. Most people are so wrapped up in themselves and their private interests that they do not grasp the "public" meaning of what they are doing; they miss the point of the whole. Heraclitus is polemical and abusive because only strong speech can penetrate nearly deaf ears. Speech that rouses people to take account of the true account of all things has to be alarming speech. It is important, after all, to be awake when truth is dawning. Nevertheless, full perception (wisdom) is impossible for humans. They always touch upon the sleepy, the deaf, the blind. Only "divine wisdom" is fully synoptic. Yet humans can be seekers of wisdom, strive to avoid thoughtless perception, and awaken each day more fully to the new world.

9. Information by itself is not insight. Yet Heraclitus says that it is good to learn about many things. (Fr. 35) The point is to grasp the true meaning of information, to experience things as full of meaning. This means to find the truth revealed in day/night, coming/going, and all the opposites as it applies to the smallest event. It is to perceive that all things are part of the play of time, are temporal (and temporary). Nevertheless, most people miss the point of the whole; they grasp things separately, but not as part of the whole. They shun death and pain in favor of life and pleasure, not seeing the connection between the opposites. They miss the meaning of what they see. (Fr. 56) It is as if they had no experience at all. (Fr. 1) They refuse to see the obvious. To those who have no sense, the Logos makes no sense. It is a riddle to them. And Heraclitus, who speaks like the kosmos, full of oppositions and apparent contradictions, also makes no sense to them.

10. The visible kosmos is the eternal fitting-together of temporary beings. It holds things together (in unity) as it spreads them apart (diversity). The unity of things is not a static harmony, but a dynamic equilibrium based on regulated tension. Like the eye of a hurricane and the center of a flame, the beauty and stillness of the kosmos exist because of powerful opposition. What is seen is a stable instability. What is common is war. "One must see that war is everywhere, and conflict is a good thing." (Fr. 80) People oppose conflict, not seeing that war implies peace and peace implies war.

11. Nomoi too are common. The meaning of a city is its nomoi; for the nomoi are the shared fitting-together of the humanly diverse. They bind together the freely opposing. This unity within diversity is also reflected in language, itself a part of custom. Words contending with words and speech struggling with silence end up as beautiful and harmonious speech. For the most part, nomoi are revealed in the give and take of citizens' speaking and debating together. The waking attend to common, public, "political" things. Even at night, some must be waking and watchful. Someone must be awake, even if he must light a candle to see. In a sense, a city of sleepers (where everyone sleeps) is not a city at all. In another sense, both sleeping and dead also belong to the city. Rites for the dead are protected and made secure by nomoi. The dead, the living sleeping, the living waking who get up in the night, the wide-awake who see the common lighted world -- all belong; all are necessary. The true account that makes sense of the whole accounts for everyone.

12. The wide-awake soul is like the bright world it faces. It is an aroused soul, a fiery passionate soul. It is attuned to and receptive of the striving/stillness (fire) of the brightly lit kosmos. People see insofar as they are. The wise soul, like the kindling/extinguishing kosmos, requires both fire and measure. Fire needs control (moderation, self-control); for fire out of control (conflagration) destroys. "The sun will not go beyond its limits." (Fr. 94) On the other hand, human hot-headedness or arrogance "should be doused even more than a conflagration." (Fr. 43) The blazing of the kosmos is always enough; it is measured. The blazing of the wise soul is also always measured. The tension/tuning of the wise soul is attuned to the tension/tuning of the kosmos. As the world shines, so is the measured soul enlightened. The kosmos is the beautiful order of measured intensity. The temperate soul is a measured intensity. The visible kosmos is a timely spontaneity (a child at play). The wise person acts and speaks with timely spontaneity. As the "lightning-flash steers all things," (Fr. 64) so the wise soul "flashes through the body as lightning through the cloud." (Schleiermacher, Fr. 63) This flash (of reason -- phronesis or practical wisdom) steers and guides the action and speech of the wise person.

13. The foolish, on the other hand, are not "bright." They are not used to light. They do not understand the dawn, and they are afraid of the dusk. They are never on time for the timely. They are "present, yet absent." (Fr. 34) They are never where they are; and they have little fire (besides drinking too much). The soul is a hearth, a warming fire that gives off heat and light. It is fired by the cosmic fire. Too much fire -- fever or anger -- and the soul burns up. Too little fire -- as in the foolish and the tipsy -- and the soul does not understand what is seen and heard. The dimly lit soul cannot steer the body. Thus, one often stumbles at night. The sleeping need no light to guide them; they do not stir. The dead are cold, like old ashes in an unused hearth.

14. Heraclitus perceives the meaning (logos) of things. An early riser who fills his soul with the intelligence that surrounds him, he shouts to wake up his sleeping fellow citizens. He tells them to listen not to him, but to the Logos. (Fr. 50) Heraclitus points beyond himself to the common (available) Logos which anyone can see. His manner of speech -- clearing/obscuring, revealing/hiding -- mirrors the subtle discourse (Logos) of the kosmos. He both speaks and keeps silent; his words are measured carefully. His sayings, by binding what is apparently contrary and by identifying what is apparently different, reveal the same vital tension shown in the kosmos. Thus, words taken together (gathered) are whole and not whole, a sense (meaning) which is being brought together and brought apart, which is in tune and out of tune; out of all words there comes a logos and out of a logos all words.


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Copyright © 1997 - 1999 Gordon L. Ziniewicz
This page last updated 10/14/12

Please note: These philosophical commentaries, though still in process, are the intellectual property of Gordon L. Ziniewicz. They may be downloaded and freely distributed in electronic form only, provided no alterations are made to the original text. One print copy may be made for personal use, but further reproduction and distribution of printed copies are prohibited without the permission of the author.