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PATER ETHICÆ: Heraclitus and the Birth of Ethics

Utrecht_Moreelse_Heraclite

A certain coldness fills Ionian philosophy.  These founding fathers of philosophy greatly concern themselves with the underlying connection of the universe and with the connection between the mind and the world, but they ignore the implications of their considerations in the realm of personal life, which forms moral philosophy.  Pythagoras discusses the proper life for man, but he does not base it upon his philosophical system.  It remains for Heraclitus of Ephesus to extend his metaphysical and epistemological system to man’s life and to form conclusions on how man ought to life from his system.

Pythagoras’ concern with right living stems from his belief in metempsychosis, while his concern with metaphysics stems from his conviction that numbers form the cosmos.  No link exists between these two branches of his thought, and the presence of two Pythagorean schools proves this disjuncture.  The ἀκουσματικοί followed Pythagoras as a divine sage, condemning all innovation; this naturally placed them at odds with the μαθηματικοί, who embraced Pythagoras’ passion for research and developed much of his thought into the system which history calls “Pythagorean.”  This system is characterized by the rigid mathematical order of numbers, while the sayings which the ἀκοθσματικοί revere contain ludicrous prohibitions and injunctions, viz. “Do not stir the fire with a knife.  Rub out the mark of a pot in the ashes.  Do not wear a ring.  Do not have swallows in your house” (Cohen, Curd, and Reeves 2011, 58C6).  Pythagoras prohibited the breaking of bread because of the judgment of Hades, because it brings cowardice in war, and that the whole universe begins from breaking bread (Cohen, Curd, and Reeves 2011, 53C3).  If the ἀκουσματικοί with their strange moral code considered the μαθηματικοί fake Pythagoreans, one can easily see that Pythagoras’ system of living and his metaphysics have nothing in common.

Heraclitus’ ethics come from his metaphysical concept of the λόγος.  The λόγος serves as a governing principle for the universe (Cohen, Curd, and Reeves 2011, 30).  As the governing principle of the universe, it naturally governs men.  All men, therefore, have an obligation to seek the λόγος, as he says “it is necessary to follow what is common…the λόγος is common” (Cohen, Curd, and Reeves 2011, 22B2).  Professor Khan states that Heraclitus links right thinking with self-knowledge, which is knowledge of the λόγος (Khan 1989, 121).  Having linked knowledge of the λόγος with right thinking, Heraclitus declares the necessity of right thinking: “it belongs to all people to know themselves and to think rightly”( Cohen, Curd, and Reeves 2011, 22B116) and “right thinking is the greatest excellence, and wisdom is to speak the truth and act in accordance with nature while paying attention to it” (Cohen, Curd, and Reeves 2011, 22B112)  Thus one can see that how Heraclitus links his metaphysics with the individual man by seeking the fundamental law of the universe in his own life.

Heraclitus reinforces this point by linking human law with divine law.  He states, “those who speak with understanding must rely firmly on what is common to all as a city must rely on law” (Cohen, Curd and Reeve 2011, 22B114) while earlier he says “the λόγος is common” (Cohen, Curd and Reeve 2011, 22B2).  He continues in the same fragment to say, “All human laws are nourished by one law, the divine law” (Cohen, Curd, and Reeve 2011, 22B114).  The word which he uses for nourish, τρέφω, indicates not only nourishment, but also containment (Liddell and Scott 1996, s.v. “τρέφω”) Therefore, he declares that human law has a sense of origination and containment within the λόγος.  Having linked the two, it is no small extension, in view of the earlier exhortations to follow the λόγος, to see that Heraclitus considers man obligated to conform himself to human laws.  Professor Wheelwright also declares, “The one divine Nomos is not essentially different from the one divine Logos” (Wheelwright 1968, 87).  Heraclitus seems to prove Professor Wheelwright’s veracity when he says, “The people must fight for the law as for the city wall” (Cohen, Curd and Reeve 2011, 22B44).  One cannot fight for something unless he has submitted himself to it.  By linking human law with divine law and by entreating men to obey it, Heraclitus further joins his metaphysical constructs to his ethical concepts.

Heraclitus also speaks of dry souls, and he links these with the λόγος.  He considered fire to be the closest physical representation of the λόγος, so the man who lived closest to the λόγος would be the driest.  The lesser things are wet, because water is farthest from fire; furthermore, he states, “for souls to become water is to die” (Cohen, Curd and Reeve 2011, 22B36).  He then states, “The dry soul [is] wisest and best” (Cohen, Curd and Reeve 2011, 22B118).  If the dry soul is wisest and if the wise soul is the one which conforms itself to the λόγος, which has been proven above, then the dry soul is the best soul.  With this conclusion in mind, Heraclitus condemns drunkenness (Cohen, Curd and Reeve 2011, 22B117), since the drunk is both literally and spiritually wet.  This also enables him to forbid greed (Cohen, Curd and Reeve 2011, 22B110), since a desire for material things, which are earthy and wet, will moisten the soul, or draw it away from the pursuit of the λόγος.  These views of the soul lead Heraclitus to startling conclusions about the nature of matter.

Since Heraclitus considers moisture as drawing souls away from the λόγος, he can condemn anything material.  He declares the passions, which originate in the body, something to be condemned because he views material things as wet and thus harmful to the soul.  He even condemns the body without the soul as “more fit to be thrown out than dung” (Cohen, Curd and Reeve 2011, 22B96).  Since a passion is directly linked to the body, he considers hubris as more dangerous than fire (Cohen, Curd and Reeve 2011, 22B43).  If material things are harmful to the soul, he logically states that the best man seeks immaterial things (Wheelwright 1968, 22B85).  One can easily see that Heraclitus’ language of “wet” and “dry” souls enables him to link his moral exhortations to the rest of his philosophy.

To prove how essential he considers the pursuit of the λόγος, Heraclitus condemns men and practices which do not lead men to the λόγος.  He declares that Hesiod, Pythagoras, Xenophanes, and Hecataeus, because they did not have insight into the λόγος, had no worth (Cohen, Curd, and Reeves 2011, 22B40).  He singles out Pythagoras for his “evil trickery” (Cohen, Curd, and Reeves 2011, 22B129), which led men away from the λόγος in pursuit of arcane ἀκούσματα.  In his eyes Homer and Archilochus deserve flogging (Cohen, Curd, and Reeves 2011, 22B42).  He despises Hesiod, whom he says could not distinguish day from night, (Cohen, Curd, and Reeves 2011, 22B57) but claimed to give the causes for many things in the Theogony and the Works and Days.  In the end he rejects all received knowledge, saying, “The knowledge of the most famous persons…is but opinion” (Cohen, Curd, and Reeves 2011, 22B28).  He threatens nightwalkers, Magi, Bacchoi, Lenai, and all members of secret rites with dire punishment because they lead men away from the λόγος in the pursuit of worthless opinion (Cohen, Curd, and Reeves 2011, 22B14).  He holds bacchanalia in contempt because they lead men to worship of fleshy things (Cohen, Curd, and Reeves 2011, 22B15) and declares that those who try to purify themselves with blood are as foolish as those who would try to purify themselves with mud (Cohen, Curd, and Reeves 2011, 22B5).  All these criticisms lead towards Heraclitus’ opinion as a misanthrope, but they prove the importance with which he placed the pursuit of the λόγος.

Heraclitus continues to earn his reputation for misanthropy when he speaks of the average man who ignores the pursuit of the λόγος.  He compares such people with men sleeping and deaf, lacking intelligence and understanding (Cohen, Curd and Reeve 2011, 22B1; 22B34; 22B104).  He calls the man a fool who chases every new way of thinking (Cohen, Curd and Reeve 2011, 22B87).  He calls that the common masses who do not seek the λόγος cattle (Wheelwright 1968, 22B29), comparing men who speak about that which they do not know with dogs (Cohen, Curd and Reeve 2011, 22B97).  Such strong statements leave a bitter taste in one’s mouth, but shock sometimes accomplishes what reason will not.

The close reader of Heraclitus will find a few statements which seem to indicate moral relativism, which would destroy the system of ethics which he develops elsewhere in his corpus.  In the first place, statements placing human opinion in disrepute can be easily explained by the above arguments.  In the second place, Heraclitus often says that a thing may seem so in one case, but not in the other, viz. “The sea is the purest and most polluted water: to fishes drinkable and bringing safety, to men undrinkable and destructive,” and “to god all things are beautiful and good and just, but humans have supposed some unjust and others just” (Cohen, Curd and Reeve 2011, 22B61;22B102).  Yet to use these statements to destroy the entire moral philosophy which Heraclitus so painfully constructs reveals a fundamental error in interpretation. One can interpret them as Thomas does, that all things are good inasmuch as they are joined to the divine (Aquinas, Summa Theologica I, Q.6, iv, co.); for Heraclitus this divine would be the λόγος.  Leading from this, Professor Dortor states, “Heraclitus shows us that ‘good’ and ‘bad’ reflect not properties of the things themselves, but only how things match up with our particular appetites and needs” (Dortor 2013, 40).  Thus one realizes that Heraclitus is no more a relativist than Thomas.

From these examples one can readily see how Heraclitus extends his philosophical system to human life and its right conduct.  Looking at the history of philosophy leads one to realize that he first does this, and Pythagoras only seems to do so.  In his corpus, Heraclitus has not only provided metaphysical and epistemological insights, but also ethical insights.

WORKS CITED

Aquinas, Thomas.  1920.  The Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas.  Translated by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province.  Rev. ed.  Accessed 21 September 2013.  http://www.newadvent.org/summa/.

Cohen, S. Marc, Patricia Curd, and C.D.C Reeve, eds.  2011.  Readings in Ancient Greek Philosophy: From Thales to Aristotle.  4th ed. Indianapolis: Hackett.

Dortor, Kenneth.  2013.  “The Problem of Evil in Heraclitus.”  In Early Greek Philosophy: The Presocratics and the Emergence of Reason, edited by Joe McCoy, 36-54.  Studies in Philosophy and the History of Philosophy, edited by Jude P. Dougherty, vol. 57.  Washington D.C.: Catholic University of America Press.

Kahn, Charles H.  1989.  The Art and Thought of Heraclitus: An Edition of the Fragments with Translation and Commentary New York: Cambridge University Press.  (Orig. publ. 1979.)

Liddell, Henry George, and Robert Scott.  1996.  A Greek-English Lexicon.  9th ed. Edited by Sir Henry Stuart Jones and Roderick McKenzie.  New York: Oxford University Press.  (Orig. publ. 1843.)

Wheelwright, Philip.  1968.  Heraclitus.  New York: Atheneum.  (orig. publ. 1959.)

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Racism and Segregation

The belief that desegregation must occur before African Americans can succeed in society seems to imply racism.  For what does it state other than the idea that when African Americans are left alone, they cannot achieve anything? That they need to be around white people to succeed?  Mr. Bradley has interesting insights into this concept.

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Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World

Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World.

 

What goes around, comes around. Man is not more evil now than ever before, he is just more able.

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An interesting take on WWII

This is an interesting concept, although I would not go so far as to state that the Japs had the right of it.

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Ab urbe condita libri

The History of Rome

By T. Livius Patavinus

I.57

In this permanent camp, as it happens in wars more long than bitter, plenty of men were on leave, yet the nobles were more than the soldiers were: certain royal youths frequently wore out leisure in feasting and revelries among themselves.  By chance while these were drinking with Sextus Tarquinius, where also Collatinus Tarquinius, the son of Egerus, dined, a mention of wives occurred.  Each praised his wife utterly; thereupon with the struggle aroused, Collatinus said that words were not necessary; indeed, in a few hours it could be known how much his Lucretia surpassed the rest.  “Why not, if the vigor of youth is present, do we mount the horses and visit, seeing in person the characters of our wives?  Let it be the surest test for each wife what she should appear to the eyes of her husband at the unexpected arrival.”  They had become roused with wine; “Come then,” all said; with summoned horses, they flew away to Rome.  When first they had arrived there at dusk, they proceeded thence into Collatia, where they discovered Lucretia not at all like the royal daughters-in-law, whom they had seen in a banquet and at play with their peers wasting time, but devoted late at night to the wool among her late-working handmaids sitting in the middle of the house.  The glory of the womanly contest was Lucretia’s.  The husband and the Tarquins coming, and welcomed courteously; the married victor kindly summoned the royal youths.  There an evil lust for raping Lucretia seized Sextus Tarquinius; not only the figure but also the chastity observed incited him.  Then indeed, they returned from nocturnal youthful fun into the camp.

I.58

A few days later, Sextus Tarquinius, unknown to Collatinus, came to Collatia with one companion.  Where courteously withdrawn from the men unaware of his plan, when he was led after dinner into the guestroom, burning with passion, after things seemed sufficiently safe and everyone seemed near sleep, he came to the sleeping Lucretia with a sword drawn and with the left hand having fallen upon the breast of the woman he said, “Be quiet Lucretia, I am Sextus Tarquinius; there is a sword in my hand; you shall die, if you should utter a sound.”  When the woman, startled from sleep, saw no help and death threatening nearby, Tarquinius confessed his love, he adored, he mingled threats with prayers, he influenced the womanly soul in all manners.  When he saw the obstinate woman and indeed, she did not bend to the fear of death, he added dishonor to fear: he said that he would place a murdered nude slave with her dead body, that it may be said that she had been killed in vile adultery.  By this terror, when his vengeful lust had conquered her stubborn chastity, Tarquinius left, savage in the defeat of womanly grace.  Lucretia, mourning at such a great evil, sent a messenger to Rome to her father and to Ardea to her husband, to come with a single faithful friend; they must act, and quickly; a horrible thing had happened.  Spurius Lucretius came with Publius Valerius, son of Volesus; Collatinus came with Lucius Junius Brutus, with whom he was met returning to Rome by chance by the messenger of his wife.  They found Lucretia weeping, sitting in her room.  Tears rose at their arrival, to her husband asking, “Are you well?”  “No,” she said; “For what is well for the woman with lost chastity?  There are remnants of a strange man.  Collatinus, they are in your bed; moreover, there is violated a body alone, an innocent spirit; death shall be the testimony.  Yet give your right hands as a pledge; it shall not be with impunity for the adulterer.  It is Sextus Tarquinius, an enemy last night instead of a guest, who clad with violence here stole a pleasure destructive to me, and if you are men, to him.”  All gave the oath in turn; they consoled the woman sick at heart, by averting the pain from the compelled woman onto the author of the crime: they said that the mind sins, not the body, and he from whom the plan was absent, the guilt was absent.  “You,” she said, “you must see what is destined for him: I free myself, even if free from sin, I am not free from punishment; and then no shameless woman shall live by the example of Lucretia.”  The knife, which she had hidden under her clothes, she thrust it into her heart.  Falling forward onto the wound, the dying woman collapsed.  Her husband and father lamented.

I.59

Brutus, with the others occupied with weeping, holding before himself the knife taken from Lucretia’s wound, flowing with blood, said, “By this blood most chaste before the prince’s injury I vow, and I make you, gods, the testimony that I shall seek vengeance on Lucius Tarquinius Superbus with his criminal wife and the entire stock of his children with the sword, fire, and with every means I am able, and suffer no one else to reign at Rome.”  Then he gave the knife to Collatinus, thence to Lucretius and Valerius, astounded at the strange thing, whence came this new spirit in Brutus’ breast.  They swore as it had been ordained; having been turned all the way from weeping into anger, followed the lead of Brutus already calling him thence to conquer the kingdom.

Find the text here.

 

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De Natura Deorum

The Nature of the Gods

M. Tullius Cicero

II. 150

How truly apt and how helpful a hand of many skills has nature given man!  For the easy contraction and extension of the fingers takes pain in no motion because of the soft connections and joints.  The hand is apt through the application of the fingers for painting, forming, carving, and enticing sounds from bows and flutes.  I The previous for necessity, the following for pleasure, I mean the cultivations of fields and the building of houses, the covering of the bodies, whether woven or sewn, and every craft of brass and iron; from which it is known that we have obtained everything with craftsmen’s hands applied to the things invented by the soul and perceived by the senses, so that we could be protected, clothed, saved, that we might have cities, walls, homes, and shrines.

II. 151

Moreover, by the works of man, that is by the hands, the variety of food is also discovered, and abundance too.  For both the fields bring forth great gains by the hand, that they may be either immediately consumed, or stored and entrusted to time, and furthermore we feed upon terrestrial, aquatic, and aerial beasts, some by capture, others by rearing.  We also bring about transport by our taming quadrupeds, whose speed and strength produce strength and speed in our very selves.  We impose a burden, a yoke, on certain beasts; we use the most acute senses of elephants, the keenness of dogs to our advantage; we coax iron from depths of the earth, a necessary material for fields to be cultivated, we find ores of copper, silver, and gold hidden inside, both apt for use and appropriate for furniture.  We utilize the materials and the cuttings of trees both from cultivated and wild trees, partly for heating the body by applied fire and for softening bread, partly for construction, that surrounded by houses we may banish the cold and the heat;

II. 152

Truly, lumber brings about great advantages for making ships; by which voyages all supplies for life are furnished from everywhere; of those violent things which nature begets, we alone have moderation of the seas and the winds, we enjoy and we use maritime things through skill in nautical affairs.  Likewise, everything of earthly benefit is dominated in man:  we delight in plains and mountains, ours are rivers and lakes, we sow crops and trees; we produce fruitfulness by the application of water to land, we ward, direct, and avert streams; in short, by our hands we attempt to produce in the nature of things a sort of second nature.

Link to original

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Why I dislike the Classical pronunciation of Latin

As a student of Latin, I often come across a problem with which most students of language never have to deal: “How to pronounce it?” As the language has developed, so has its pronunciation. If English is spoken differently in the Americas, England, Australia, and India, the pronunciation of Latin must also be different depending on its region. Yet a survey of Latin pronunciation among modern students of the language will find the “Classical” pronunciation as dominant. According to 19th Century Classicists, this pronunciation has been reconstructed from extant texts. I disagree with the domination of this method.

I do not consider myself sufficiently knowledgeable to judge the scholarship which led to the formation of the classical pronunciation. I rather take exception to the idea that it must be used. Until the 19th Century, every in Christendom spoke Latin with a slightly different accent. Once the classical pronunciation was discovered, the beauty of these various accents disappeared.

Furthermore, the idea that we must use the classical pronunciation because the Romans used it is a faulty argument. In one case, the Romans didn’t always use the classical pronunciation. The Romans of the Middle Ages used the Ecclesiastical pronunciation. In the other case, just because the Romans did something, doesn’t mean that it is best. We don’t speak English as Shakespeare did because the pronunciation of English has evolved since then. To demand a return to English as spoken in Shakespeare’s day would imply that all the English since the 16th Century is somehow faulty, and less than perfect. In the same way, to insist that classical pronunciation must be used, because the Romans used it, implies that any Latin after the classical era of Latin is equally imperfect.

The various regional pronunciations of Latin represent the Latin spoken by such men as Thomas Aquinas, Gregory the Great, Albert the Great, Innocent III, and countless others. The desire to restrict the pronunciation of Latin to the classical is an effect of the relentless Ciceronianism which has largely killed Latin as a spoken language, as Erasmus predicted, which tries to reduce all “good” Latin to Cicero, Caesar, Ovid, Horace, and Livy.

I do not deny that it may be easier to pronounce classical Latin, but I take issue with the desire that all Latinists use it.

P.S., Arcadius Avellanus wrote a great piece on the failures of current Latin pedagogy.

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Pandora and The Blessed Virgin Mary

It is a sad mark of modern society that when men hear of “Pandora” they think of the online expression of the Music Genome project. Someone with curiosity might do some research into the name and find that Pandora means “all gifts” in Greek, and thus conclude that the service is well named, for it does provide many gifts to men. I am quite sure that this is the intention of the founders of this website, but this does not reflect the true nature of Pandora’s story.

Pandora finds her origin in Greek mythology, something which modern man has largely abandoned. Yet the stories of Greek mythology echo through the literature of the Western Civilization.  More realistically than any philosophical or historical work, they communicate the culture of the Ancient Greeks.  Since God never completely abandons His people, the Greek myths also contain aspects of truth recognizable by Christians.  When considered in the light of Christ, the story of Pandora illustrates the prefiguration of the Blessed Mother in the person of Pandora.

Zeus creates the original Pandora as a punishment to men after Prometheus introduces fire.  She comes to Epimetheus, Prometheus’ brother, bearing a jar filled with various “gifts” from the gods; when she opens the jar, she releases every sort of evil into the world, for the gods wish to punish rather than reward mankind.  The only true gift, given by Prometheus, that of of hope, Zeus retains in her jar.  With evils introduced into the world, Hesiod proceeds to describe his view of women.

The Heliconian Shepherd describes women as a “deadly race” which lives among men “to their great trouble.”  He proceeds to describe women as leaches upon the work of men, “with a nature to do evil.”  Even the children which a woman bears bring “unceasing grief…and this evil cannot be healed.”  Without a woman, a man will find himself abandoned in his old age.  By the very story, he makes Pandora the source of evil in the world.  These details, combined with the writings of other Greek authors, show that women had an extremely low position in Greek society.

When a Christian reads the story of Pandora, outrage fills his soul at the callous and misogynistic description of women.  Yet to read carefully into Pandora’s story, one will discover remnants of Eve’s story.  In each case, a divinity creates women for man: Pandora to punish man and Eve to help him.  Both women innocently introduce evil into the world when their husbands should be protecting them.  Both women introduce fecundity into the world.  In the Greek myth, the world’s evils flow from a jar called the amnion which looks like a pregnant stomach.  Thus in the Greek myth, a woman brings evil into the world while concurrently bringing man the only hope for immortality which he may possess, that of children.  Eve also brings evil into the world, an evil which punishes men with death, and through Eve will man find his freedom from death (Gen. 3:15).  It does not take the Christian long to see that Pandora is a faint type of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the New Eve.

Through Hesiod’s treatment of women, the Christian reader realizes a painful truth, that women in ancient Greece suffered a great deal of degradation.  Only the advent of Christ frees women from this burden, for in Christ “there is neither male nor female” (Gal. 3:28).  Yet even in the midst of this degradation, Greek myth contained a faint mist of the redemptive power of femininity which the Blessed Mother would gloriously exemplify.

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