Fragments at an archeological excavation are attended to by being placed in the midst of a circle of instruments and encircled by a group of concerned viewers.
Such has not been the case with the fragments of ancient texts from the Early Greek Philosophers which are often found embedded in other authors texts hundreds of years after their production. Martin Heidegger’s “Early Greek Thinking” gives one the impression that the 4 fragments he discusses is examined by a certain kind of philosophy using certain kinds of instruments designed to force this kind of fragment to give up its meaning to concerned interpreters. Heidegger in Delphic Oracle fashion points out that the process of translating a fragment requires a certain amount of self-translation before the meaning of the fragment is revealed. We moderns, it is claimed, think in terms of having the right attitude toward whatever object we confront or are confronted with, and this does not seem to Heidegger to capture the spirit of the meaning of the fragments which seem to have orbited in a different universe of discourse to ours: one in which one has sought to talk about an all-inclusive reality or being which is the source of all existence and thought about existence.
For Heidegger, we moderns appear to have forgotten something or at the very least appeared to have been transformed into beings for whom our very being is an issue. Only religious thinking appears to have retained this sense of man having fallen from a greater understanding and this not via texts composed of argument and evidence but rather via texts composed of myths, legends, and prophecies. On this view, we once lived in a paradise and engaged in actions which compromised our being in that world and that in turn set us in search of a lost and promised land, set us off on a journey along a road we are still wandering today.
The oldest of the fragments that Heidegger discusses is a fragment of
Anaximander which reads:
“But where beings have their origins, there also their passing away occurs: for they pay recompense and penalty to each other for their injustice according to the assessment of time.”
Readers of the Republic will surely detect an echo of the ancient prophecy Socrates referred to, namely that everything which comes into existence is fated or destined for ruin and destruction. A prophecy which appears to reflect upon the ultimate beginning and end of all things.
An understanding of Language is, of course, an important key for translating the words the Greeks used for Being or reality. But the problem with this requirement is that the Greeks used a language which inhered in a mind, context or landscape of thought which are largely lost to us. Aristotle was one of the key bearers of this tradition of thought and therefore a standard by which to measure the fragments of Anaximander, Heraclitus, and Parmenides. Heidegger questions this traditional assumption, however, on the grounds that Aristotle takes the essence of substance, being or reality for granted in his system of categories.
Aristotle assumes, that is, that the continuum of reality is divided or categorised in the way depicted by his system of categories. Aristotle, Heidegger claims, looks at being through the lens of the proposition which fixes upon what is present and seen as an end in itself rather than as a process of unconcealment: a process in which being presences and thinking originates because thinking in accordance with the process of unconcealment is the thinking of Being. When thinking is not in accordance with this process of unconcealment there is a falling away from reality, as is the case in our modern thinking, according to Heidegger. This is nothing less than a tragedy, a tragedy with far-reaching consequences. Perhaps this tragedy was already foreseen in the fragment of Anaximander cited above. This also cannot but remind the Theologian and Christian of the falling away from the Grace of God and simultaneously give us pause for thought, considering that the theoretical characterization of “the fall” is usually regarded as a product of myth.
Heidegger’s view is that this falling away is a tragedy and who can but mourn the passing away of a value that one does not fully understand. In the fragment of Anaximander there appears to be a vision of a state of disorder prevailing when beings come into existence, and a restoration of order when they pass away.
This appears a reversal of everyday attitudes toward the passing away of valued existences. Fallen man apparently dwells imperfectly in a realm of objectless anxiety—anxious about his own and everyone’s death: events of which he cannot have a complete conception. This is part of the mystery of the prophecy of the oracle that everything which has come into being shall pass away and be transformed into the stuff of the universe from which it arose. Heidegger has an image in relation to Anaximander of someone journeying on a woodpath in the middle of a wood and the path suddenly comes to an abrupt end. What disorder! we exclaim and for Anaximander, this may not be mans justice but it is cosmic justice. Cosmic justice appears then to be an almost divine matter/energy regulation principle searching for cosmic equilibrium: a principle for which the death of man is a part of the chain of necessity, whether or not man knows himself in accordance with the more anthropomorphic challenge of the prophecy of the oracle.
Heidegger also discusses a number of fragments from Heraclitus’ literary remains but the one which is in accord with the anthropological prophecy is the fragment which Diels translates as :
Eugen Fink discuss the fragment above in relation to fragment 64 which Diels
translates as :
“Lightning steers the universe”
which on the face of it appears as a cosmic prophecy. Heidegger and Fink attempt in their discussion to combine these notions with a number of other ideas such as Logos but initially they seek a cosmological description/explanation which attempts to provide us with a Heraclitean holistic understanding of being. Lightning is, of course, not to be identified with an event of lightning in the universe but rather it manifests the light of the universe by virtue of which all things appear. Steering is again not an activity in the universe like the steering of a ship but is rather connected to lightning illuminating the outline and surfaces of things and a holistic “logical”(Logos) connection to thought is also indicated. Thought enlightens and steers through wisdom and rationality—an effortless steering very different to the hard work of the helmsman who is steering a vessel over the waves into the wind in order not to founder on the rocks. It is uncertain whether these fragments would suffice to build a theory of meaning but Snell translates fragment B50 as follows:
“When you have listened not to me but to the meaning, it is wise within the same meaning to say “One is All””.
Heidegger goes on to ask in chapter 2 of “Early Greek Thinking” whether there is an origin of meaning or reason as Logos. In this context he discusses the Greek “legen” which he claims means “bringing together” and “saying and talking”. This latter leads on to an interpretation of the Greek term “lesen” which adds to the above meanings the meaning of laying or putting things together and this cannot fail to arouse images of the classroom in which the teacher gathers things together in order to lay them before the pupil. One might also wish to insist that lessons are events in the world in which saying and talking articulate the essence of what is being talked about or said.
Heidegger is in these texts exploring the very origin of words and the origin of the term Aletheia emerges very early and is interpreted as meaning “to bring into unconcealment”. The pupil hears the lesson when he understands the meaning of the sounds that are being articulated and he tarries or dwells or belongs in the realm of Being that is being talked about. This hearing is determined by Logos. Heraclitus, Heidegger argues is claiming that Logos and proper hearing are the same for us mortals and this hearing is simultaneously Legen. Logos non-instrumentally belongs to a realm of discourse which includes Aletheia and the idea of oneness implied by both these terms. These latter two terms and Logos appear to me to be more philosophically significant than the “binding together” of legein which is susceptible to an instrumental interpretation. The oneness being talked about appears to be “logical”—that which unites opposites and reveals simultaneously. This logical characterization
seems to be very appropriately described in the fragment of Heraclitus which refers to “The road up and the road down are the same”. The road is the One that reveals its different aspects of being traversable in opposite directions. “Legen” as saying and talking needs to be linked in some way to the matter of what is being talked about or said or named, e.g. the road.
This is part of Heidegger’s journey back to the origin of Thought, Language, and Western Thinking and his position is that the thinking of the Being of beings is unique to the Western world. Words here appear to be like the lightning: they steer, illuminate and reveal Being. According to Heidegger “The Fall” away from the understanding of Being occurred sometime after the establishment of this origin. In the course of this transition, language and the lightning of being shifted in its function from expressing oneness and the All, to the instrumental expression where something expresses something else. The arena for all cosmological and anthropomorphic thinking became the arena for the thinker to use language instrumentally to express thought.
During the Pre-Socratic era, the thought of Heraclitus was eclipsed very quickly by the thought of Parmenides and as we all know Parmenides was Plato’s choice of the Pre-Socratic philosophers. Socrates, his pupil, was perhaps closer to Anaximander and Heraclitus. He began his life as a philosopher by investigating cosmological issues and in the beginning he was probably more inspired by the prophecy that all created things are doomed to destruction and ruin, doomed to return to the stuff from which they emerged. As news of Socrates’ wisdom spread even to the oracle at Delphi it seems that a shift was occurring toward the oracular challenge or prophecy to “know thyself”, perhaps as a response to understanding the cosmological and anthropomorphic implications of the judgment “All men are mortal”. In this seismic shift from the cosmological to the anthropomorphic, one detects a shift from thinking about the Being of beings to thinking about the relation of thinking to Being.
Heidegger in chapter 3 of “Early Greek Thinking” discusses exactly this issue in relation to fragment 8 of Parmenides in which it is startlingly claimed that Thinking and Being are the same. For us modern mortals this takes us back to Shields’ claim in part one of this chapter, namely that it is possible to think nothing. If it is really possible to think nothing, one of the primary premises of the Parmenidean argument is overturned. Parmenides was adamant that one cannot think nothing: that without the something that one is thinking about, there can be no thinking. In modern analytical language thought and its object are logically related. Heidegger’s treatment of this issue is consistent with his earlier work. He rehearses the position that separates the elements of the whole—the thought and the object(that which one is thinking about). We have the thought of the cat present at hand and the thought of the cat lounging on the living room mat also present at hand(presented theoretically). In the spirit of this reflection Heidegger
“Seafaring, temple building, conversation at social gatherings, every kind of human activity belongs among beings and is therefore identical with Being”(Early Greek Thinking p80).
This, Heidegger argues, cannot be what Parmenides means. Objects present at hand are part of the whole and at best can only symbolize the One and the All, e.g. through the activity of philosophy, religion, and poetry. Thought in such a context loses its universal steering character when reduced to beings present at hand. The relation “representation” is then called upon to resolve the problem of the relation between the divided elements thought and its object.
Epistemology is then, in turn, called upon to transform what was essentially a metaphysical and logical investigation of reality into a pursuit to know objects present at hand. “Being is being represented”(EGT p82). Thus is born the idealism of modern philosophy which culminated in the Philosophy of Hegel, a philosophy that was determined to stand the philosophy of Kanton its head. For Hegel, it appeared that the road up could be represented as the road down in the stream of thought which had curiously become somehow identical with the Being of beings that were being thought about. Kant, following Aristotle, rejected this Platonic consequence of “a thinker in relation to his thought” that in its turn was in some relation to some part of reality. The idea of thinker thought and object that in itself is a condensation of the relation between things present at hand dominated what Heidegger called the process of presencing in which Being and beings is revealed. Logos, as we saw is related to the hearing of the pupil. Heidegger interprets Parmenides’ opening statement that Thinking and Being are the same in terms of them belonging together but probably not in terms of the modern theory of logical identity which links two terms in virtue of the fact that the predicates of A must be identical with the predicates of B for A to be the same as B: but is this the same meaning of “same” as we find in Parmenides? Logos is also concerned with the saying of Being. It is not just concerned with the object, with what is said. Saying here is concerned with bringing something into view, as lightning does when it illuminates or reveals.
Saying is also concerned therefore with aletheia. Parmenides claims that “Aletheia is a goddess” disclosing all in a natural light. Moira, on the other hand, is the destiny and governing principle of the presencing of All. Both aletheia and Moira are involved in the so-called “appropriating event” where thought is the thought of the Being of beings.
Time is never far from the thoughts of Heidegger given the title of his first major work “Being and Time”. In experience, time is the great discloser of the meaning of events. Fragment 114 is translated by Diels in the following way:
“If one wants to talk with understanding, one must strengthen oneself with what is common to all,like a city with the law, and even more strongly.”
Fragment 100 complements this thought with reference to the clock of the world, the sun, or Helos. We should not, it is argued, think of helos as a measuring instrument of the time of the world but rather that which makes the seasons possible and which brings everything into being. The “fallen” form of thinking presents time as a line and as a bare succession which somehow manages to abstract the content of time from the sequence. Such an abstraction of time is impossible with the seasons which are defined by their content and not by their succession one upon the other. Time is the bringer of things:
“We have seen that the hours and times are not to be taken as a stream of time or as a temporal relation that, subjected to metric leveling down, is measurable and calculable”.
“Helos and times are not to be taken as the empty form in contrast to the content of time, but as filled time which begets and produces each thing in its own time—but rather the times of the day and the seasons. Helos brings forth growth”(EGT)
“A time of” and “a time for” reflect descriptive time and
explanatory/justificatory time. “For” differs from “of” in containing a suggestion of an explanation for, or a justification of the time content. A “time to” on the other hand seems definitively more anthropological and action-oriented and related to the way in which Moira , the goddess of fate and meaning who steers the lightning that reveals what conceals in the darkness of a clearing and uses cosmological and anthropological scales to dispense justice to the satisfaction of Dike, the Erinyes and the guardians at the boundaries of the north, south, east and west. The expressions we find in the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible are in this anthropological spirit: in particular the expression that
“There is a time for every purpose under heaven”.
This is clearly related to the Delphic oracles prophecy or challenge to “Know thyself” in response to the forlorn cries of humans from the wilderness of their existence: cries of “What shall we do?” which are calmly and stoically answered by the words of Ecclesiastes. What follows from this prophecy is a picture of existence in which anthropomorphic choices reveal the importance of freedom for the being for whom his being is in question. For the Heidegger who wrote “Being and Time” human beings dwell in the realm of what he calls the “ready-to-hand” where each instrument and action is embedded in a whole, in a context of involvements which is practically complete: a context of meaning. The teacher teaching in her classroom, the builder building a house, the husband making love to his wife are all activities for the transmission of what Aristotle calls “forms”(or principles). These forms or principles are world-forming and fall under the prophecy or challenge of “Know thyself”. It should be pointed out, however, that this challenge is not a challenge to know myself as an individual but rather a challenge to know my place as a human being in the above context of involvements. It is a challenge to know the forms or principles that drive the world forming process. It is a challenge to understand the world forming moods or attitudes of Ecclesiastes when it is claimed, for example, that there is a time to rejoice(cf the Kantian boundless outlook onto the world) and a time to mourn(cf the Kantian melancholic haphazardness of everyday life).
Emerging from these reflections on the fall of man, the telos of man over the two thousand years since the Pre-Socratics, is a picture of the being for whom his being is in question. What emerges is a portrait revealed by Aristotle, Kant, Freud, Heidegger, and possibly Wittgenstein amongst others. A portrait that is revealed in a dark clearing by a flash of lightning. A portrait that appears to be awaiting a figure like Diogenes to pass by with a steadily burning lantern or awaiting a Platonic sun to rise and gather everything into being and mark out the boundaries of a time-space in the eastern morning, the western evening, the northern bear and the southern boundary stone laid by Zeus. The Platonic sun is a time allotting time according to Heidegger and creates the dimensions of time of having been, being now and coming to be which in turn structures our cosmic understanding of the darkness and lightning and the Ecclesiastical anthropomorphic time for every purpose under heaven. A heaven arching over Dike, the Erinyes, Moira and the guardians in waiting.
Returning to the modern world, Heidegger and Fink together ask the world exploring question “Where is the time that is being referred to when someone says the time is 12 o clock”. With this question “where?” we seem to find ourselves at the boundaries of what can be said of time perhaps partly because it is being said in time. The question stands unanswered and we wait for an answer to descend upon us from the realm of meaning created by Helos, the Platonic sun.