Take a Chance!

The elusive Heraclitus seemed compelled to communicate the “Truth” (frag. 1) despite his misanthropic banter. “Most people live as if they have a private understanding” (frag. 2), prone to conflate what is perceived for how things real-ly are. It’s no wonder most people are “absent when present” (frag. 34) and are in  a ‘sleep-like state’ (frag. 1) wandering inattentively and without direction! Things are never quite as they seem, nor are they ever entirely fabricated either! Absolute truth and absolute falsehood as binary opposites don’t fit the playing field for things “are in a constant state of flux” (though this phrase is commonly attributed to Heraclitus – in Greek: τα πάντα ρει – the truth is that it is no where to be found. Mostly this is the product of interpretation where his river fragments – e.g. “you can’t step twice into the same rivers” (frag. 12) – together with his ontology come into play)! It is in the manner of appropriating items for thoughtful reflection that they are usurped and abstracted from their animate and concrete presence in the world that can be faulted for this misappropriation. Appropriating some-thing to be handled, as in picking up a hammer, is wrapped up in its object-ness, as an inanimate, static object which is now and forever (in so long as it remains a hammer and doesn’t lose any of its “essential” properties – like its handle or claw), ushering in the faulty assumption that reality is comprised of enduring objects with essential determinate properties (substance ontology). I won’t get into all the complications and problematics that are involved here, but Heraclitus’s point was that this doctrine would make change incidental to being, which would in turn direct the inquiring mind, set on working out answers to questions like, “who am I?” or “how should I live?”, to looking for the “core”, “fundamental” or enduring aspect of the self or reality. The relations of which animate life is constituted, the process of growth and evolution, would then be mere contingencies. Seen in this light, one would be expected to rise above the so-called random events of life experiences, and adopt something of an ascetic life-style (perhaps), and/or presume the ephemeral (aspects of all things, the world and/or self) to be phantasmal distortions and deceptive. Yet the meaningfulness of life is lived in and for a set of conditions which are constantly being negotiated; who I am is therefore not to be pinpointed on a timeline, or worse, abstracted from it, but founded in the process or act of engaged living. To return to Heraclitus’s derogatory remarks regarding his fellow-man, his point is that most people go through life impersonally, almost like a so-called inert object, subject to the tugs and pulls of causal events. It is thus that most people are the (mere) product of their environment, or ‘the children of their parents’, passively emulating behaviour – chameleon-like –  operational in their social habitat. The act of engaged living does motion to rising above or transcending but this is not an impersonal, detached method as described above and shared by substance ontologists (notably since the time of Plato), but a personal act of self-reflexivity. For the record, Heraclitus was critical of all men – philosophers (our substance ontologists would fall into this group, as would men of his day, including Hesiod, Homer, Pythagoras, and Anaximenes) and laymen alike – but the former group stands in a class above the latter for they at least pose questions that involve acts of reflexivity which is lacking amongst common folk! Still, he thought of them as polymaths (literally “knowing of many things”) – one of encyclopaedic knowledge – who lacked an understanding of the underlying connections that structure and unify the complex network of relations.

So take a chance, but not on Chance! Chance was a simple man whose life was determinant of his knowledge of gardening. His words were not profound metaphors for life; they were not the product of insights, or self-reflective acts of awareness or transcendence. Much like the laymen he took all that was presented to his senses quite literally, unquestioningly, adopting an attitude towards life (as well as a language portfolio) defined by its parameters.

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