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  • Evidence, Authority, and Interpretation: A Response to Jason Helms
  • Carol Poster

As someone with a long-standing interest in Heraclitus, I am delighted that Philosophy and Rhetoric is providing a forum for an ongoing discussion of his work.1 Although Jason Helms and I do disagree on specific matters concerning Heraclitean interpretation, we are, I think, in full agreement concerning the importance of Heraclitus for both rhetorical and philosophical studies and intend these essays as contributions to what, it is hoped, will be a fruitful ongoing discussion of Heraclitus within the interdisciplinary tradition of this journal. Rather than address many minor points of disagreement superficially, I will concentrate below on close analysis of a few specific issues that I consider paradigmatic of differences in method rather than merely in conclusions.

Panta Rhei (All Things Flow)

That Heraclitus was interested in establishing any sense of orthoepia plays down his insistence on the panta rhei (everything flows). To suggest any final rightness of words would suggest that everything flows but the Logos.

(Helms, this issue)

Actually, I do not use the phrase “final rightness of words” but, rather, describe Heraclitus as “focus[ing] on the problem of correctness of names” and as [End Page 288] “consider[ing] the possibility that one can learn something about the nature of things by examining the non-literal sense of their names” (2006, 15).2 Name is an English equivalent of the Greek onoma (Latin nomen, substantive as opposed to verb or particle), not rhêma (word, verb, phrase) or logos (word, account, speech, saying, story, ratio, reason, etc.). The phrase “correctness of names” alludes to an ongoing discussion among scholars in classics and philosophy about a specific problem in early Greek thought (normally discussed in relation to Heraclitus, Protagoras, Prodicus, Plato’s Cratylus, and Aristotle’s Categories and On Interpretation).

More importantly, Helms seems to think it impossible a priori that Heraclitus might have considered some sort of doctrine of flux compatible with a belief in correctness of names. Ancient evidence, however, suggests that Heraclitus did, in fact, consider stability of logos, correctness of names, and sensible flux compatible in some manner.

For logos as unchanging, dk22b1 begins, “Of the logos that exists always [eontos aiei] uncomprehending are men.”3 Although the syntax is ambiguous, eontos aiei suggests some stability of logos. Sextus Empiricus states that Heraclitus considered the “divine logos” stable and eternal and human reason grounded in its participation therein (Adv. Math. 7.126–33).4 The “commonality” of logos in dk22b2 also suggests some interpretive stability, in the sense of logos not varying with respect to the perception of the individual.

The phrase panta rhei, although solidly entrenched in the reception history of Heraclitus, often as part of a “doctrine of flux,” is not actually a well-attested Heraclitean saying (included in the dk “b” fragments) but, rather, derived from early testimonia. Whether the phrase is a paraphrase, indirect quotation, or Platonic/Aristotelian recasting of Heraclitus is uncertain. The earliest sources are Platonic:

Therefore you [Theaetetus] were quite right in saying that knowledge is nothing else than perception, and there is complete identity between the doctrine of Homer and Heraclitus and all their followers— that all things are in motion like streams [hoion rheumata kineisthai ta panta]—the doctrine of the great sophist Protagoras that man is the measure of all things—and the doctrine of Theaetetus that, since these things are true, perception is knowledge.

(Theaet. 160d) [End Page 289]

Those . . . would agree well enough with Heraclitus that all things move and nothing remains still [panta menein ouden].

(Crat. 401d)

Heraclitus says that all things move and nothing remains still [hoti panta chorei kai ouden menei], and he likens the universe to the current of a river, saying that you cannot step twice in the same stream.

(Crat. 402a)

Nor will he condemn himself and all things and say that there is no health in them, but that all things are flowing like leaky pots [panta hôsper keramia rhei], or believe that all things are just like people afflicted with catarrh, flowing and running all the time [rheumatos te kai katarrou panta ta chrêmata].

(Crat. 440c–d...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-2079
Print ISSN
0031-8213
Pages
pp. 288-299
Launched on MUSE
2008-09-17
Open Access
No
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