Who Knew? Heraclitus Knew!

This blog – EnRoute – home to Philosophy as a Way of Life and Philosophical Counseling, is the thunderous outward workings of my professional voyage and ultimate alienation from the institutionalized or professionalized practice of philosophical discourse. I have said:

It was the university, first as a student and later as a Professor of Philosophy, that was once home to my philosophical engagement with life issues. Initially this was an ideal forum for an interactive, passionate exchange of commonly entrenched concerns but as education came to suffer the ills of institutionalization more and more, and standardized policies replaced the creative, and biophilous dialectical flux that characterized the inter and intra-human exchange amongst practitioners of philosophy, this became an ever alienating experience.

Yet the yearning for meaningful reflection has not waned and the practical application dating back to the Greeks has finally found new footing in Philosophical Counseling. Putting philosophy back on the streets and employing philosophical methods as a form of counseling constitute the two-tier structure of this blog.

To this I wish to add a philosophical hue. In my previous post, Take a Chance! Heraclitus was shown to be something of a misanthrope – he perceived his fellow man to be intellectually sluggish and habituated to a life-style in resignation to his social milieu and perturbed with philosophers of his day for acquiring only a fragmented understanding of things, disparate with the unified cosmic workings of Nature as a singular network of complex relations. His dissatisfaction was not strictly “academic”, however. The insolent, indolent mental predisposition of his neighbors infected their ways of living, or involved adopting a dis-engaged way of life. For he says, “beasts are led to pasture by blows” (frag. 11), “a fool is excited by every word” (frag. 87), and “…they are absent when present” (frag. 34); all distinctively meaningful and yet overlapping with regards to the point of passivity, disconnectedness, and fragmentariness.

The workings of the world carry on quite unaffected by what we believe or value; yet, how humans meaningfully engage in the act of living is manifestly determined by our beliefs about the world. Paraphrasing one of Epictetus’s (A Stoic philosopher dating after Heraclitus) most quoted assertions (perhaps also misunderstood because it is taken outside of the general context of his overall philosophy) ‘we can control our opinions, aspirations, desires and things that repel us’ but ‘we cannot control what kind of body we have, the opinions of others, whether we are born to wealth or poverty’, and confusing the one with the other leads to frustration, anxiety and unhappiness. Hence, Epictetus developed the view that happiness is attainable through the proper understanding of ourselves and the world.

This anachronistic reference helps to bring forth Heraclitus’s view (I will leave a comparison of these philosophical outlooks for another day) that we should accept all that is beyond our control, and assume responsibility for what is. However, assuming responsibility for what is within our control involves coming to an engaged understanding of how things, in fact, are. Things are not simply as they appear; we are not simply the product of our environment; the world is not simply constituted of elements, or combined elements (compounds), or systems of compounds; the World is in its entirety the Absolute and complete manifestation of Logos. Knowing that has a transformative affect on the human condition and the act of engaged living. There is an objective way the world is or evolves that is indifferent to one’s beliefs and values. The world will not bend to our will! However, the beliefs and values we entertain are constitutive of our world – in its etymological sense world or woruld meaning “the age of man” or “human existence, the affairs of life”. So, though the world out there will not kneel to our beliefs and values, adjusting our beliefs in accordance to this knowledge and modify our values in accordance has a transformative impact on ways of living.



2 thoughts on “Who Knew? Heraclitus Knew!

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  1. Thanks for this! Would Heraclitus’s insight remain if one removed the thought (because that’s what I think it is) that the world is indifferent and adopt a more Hegelian posture of an organic union of world and beliefs/values?


    1. Hegel, like many of his contemporaries, were influenced by Heraclitus. Truthfully, it is hard to say if Heraclitus would adopt a hardcore position or not. On one level, he most certainly does postulate Logos as defining the world order, and deride mankind for his narrow, self-indulgent perceptions of the world. However, given that Logos is both linguistically and cognitively meaningful – i.e. Word, thought, reason; hence, the structure of language and thought – it would not be out of the question to entertain the view that there is a more organic union here than I suggest. Still, this would have to be placed in the proper context whereby the structure of language and thought were in a symbiotic relationship with the ever evolving flux of the universe, and not one where the world, as it were, comes to be defined by or affected by our beliefs and values as such.


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