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Qu'est-ce que la philosophie présocratique ?

 | 
André Laks
, 
Claire Louguet

C. Lectures

The Fluctuating Fortunes of Heraclitus in Plato

Mantas Adomenas

Texte intégral

I.

11. Whenever one talks about «Plato’s reception of Heraclitus», one may have in mind several different aspects and layers of interaction.

  • 1 It is curious, however, that in two contexts (Tht. 152c-e and 153a-183c passim, as well as, in an e (...)
  • 2 Kahn 1986.241.

2First of all, a substantive influence that can be indirect and unconscious, which operates through received ideas and the general philosophical background. The assessment of this aspect would involve a major reconstruction of the history of philosophical ideas before Plato and cannot be adequately addressed here1 Besides, if one identifies similarities and parallels between Plato’s and Heraclitus’ philosophical thought as a substantive influence, this raises additional problems that beset Kahn’s influential paper on the question: to what extent do the passages which Kahn identifies as «Plato’s use of certain Heraclitean ideas»2 represent a genuine direct influence? Or are they perhaps the result of Plato’s borrowing of ideas that were current in the general intellectual background? Perhaps some may even be the cases of non-causal parallelism of thought? That is to say, to identify cases of parallelism as cases of influence one has to have either strong internal evidence from the influenced author, or trustworthy external evidence, or an accurate circumstantial knowledge of the philosophical background which would suggest that the migration of the ideas in question was possible solely as a result of direct intellectual contact. In Heraclitus’ case we do not have any of the three.

3Secondly, Plato’s conscious interpretation – i.e., reception-of Heraclitus. As a separate problem pertaining to this aspect, we have to deal with the question of the incongruity of Heraclitus’ representation in Plato-why does Plato ascribe the doctrine of universal flux (πάντα ῥεῖ) to Heraclitus, when Heraclitus appears to have said no such thing?

  • 3 An answer to this question was provided by Irwin 1977. I agree with the substance of his reconstruc (...)

4Thirdly, there is a separate question of how much Plato was indebted to the view of perceptible reality as a flux, which he ascribes to Heraclitus and Heracliteans. And what precisely does he mean by «flux»?3

 

52. It is with this last question that we shall begin our enquiry into Plato’s attitude to Heraclitus. In order to attain a proper understanding of Plato’s stance, it is essential to reconstruct the System of concepts and metaphors in which and through which Heraclitean elements are presented. The governing category here seems to be «flux», with which Plato tends to associate Heracliteanism almost automatically. Yet even such a simple concept as «flux» raises a number of difficulties. I shall try to outline, very briefly, four main axes along which the problems concerning flux crystallise.

  1. Various levels of application. «Flux» as a concept seems to apply both to the condition of the external world in general and to sensible phenomena in particular, as well as to mental and cognitive States.

  2. Apparent inconsistency and discontinuity of use. Plato appears to describe at least two distinct phenomena by that name-viz., both the doctrine which affirms change in the perceptible world, and the doctrine of «radical flux», which affirms that everything changes all the time in every aspect.

  3. There are also historical problems related to the fact that Plato sometimes ascribes to Heraclitus the doctrine of radical flux, which he did not actually hold. This is made even more difficult by the fact that, while he ascribes the radical flux to Heraclitus in the Cratylus and the Theaetetus, in the Sophist (as well as, though slightly more problematically, in the Symposium) he apparently identifies the essence of the Heraclitean doctrine as the teaching about the «unity of opposites», so that in these contexts his reading would seem to coincide with the contemporary communis opinio of Heraclitean scholars.

  4. Finally, there is the difficult question whether, and to what extent, Plato endorses the view of the external world encapsulated in the doctrine of flux. The answer to this question depends, of course, on Plato’s reading of the doctrine of flux as such.

6What I propose here is a reconstruction of Plato’s representation of flux in its metaphorical and conceptual complexity. Rather than starting with the contexts where Heracliteanism is addressed explicitly and directly, I would like to begin by analysing metaphorical patterns that seem to constitute autonomous domains of meaning in Plato’s thought (such as «flux» and the metaphorics of cognitive States associated there-with), and then to proceed to their implications for our reading of Plato’s reading of Heracliteanism.

II. Vertigo

71. In an ostensibly purely satirical passage in the Theaetetus, at the outset of the critique of the Heraclitean position, Theodorus complains that it is impossible to pin down what the followers of Heraclitus say, because, quite in accordance with their doctrine, they do not leave anything stable, neither in their writings, nor in their souls:

  • 4 Here and elsewhere longer passages in English are quoted from Plato’s Complete Works (Cooper 1997), (...)

«They are just like the things they say in their books-always on the move (φέρονται). As for abiding (ἐπιμεῖναι) by what is said, or sticking to a question, or quietly (ήσυχίως) answering and asking questions in turn, there is less than nothing of that in their capacity. [...] There is not so much as a tiny bit of repose (ήσυχίας) in these people. [...] You will never reach any conclusion with any of them, ever; indeed they never reach any conclusion with each other, they are so very careful not to allow anything to be stable (βέβαιον), either in an argument or in their own souls. I suppose they think that if they did it would be something that stands still (στάσιμον)-this being what they are totally at war with, and what they are determined to banish from the universe, if they can.»4²
Tht. 179e3-180b3

8There is also one of the more caustic descriptions of the upholders of the doctrine of flux at the end of the Cratylus. A Heraclitean thinker

«condemns both himself and the things that are to be totally unsound like leaky sinks (πάντα ὣσπερ κεράμια ρεῖ), or believe that things are exactly like people with runny noses (κατάρρῳ νοσοῦντες), or that all things are afflicted with colds (ῥεύματος) and dripping (κατάρρου) over everything.»
Crat. 440c6-d3

9The feature that links these two passages is the fact that flux, the content of the Heraclitean doctrine, is also predicated of the State of mind of the proponents of the doctrine, as well as, in the Theaetetus’ passage, of the formal character of the writings in which it is expounded. Thus we encounter a curious case of self-predication: what is true of the contents of the doctrine is also true of the authors (or of the State of mind of the authors) by whom it is proposed, and of the medium in which it is set forth.

  • 5 One can compare, for example, Plato’s persistent punning on νοῦς whenever Anaxagoras is mentioned – (...)

10One could easily disregard these self-predication passages as yet another instance of Plato’s sarcasm at the expense of his opponents5, were it not for a couple of analogous passages in the Cratylus, in which flux is likewise predicated not only of the outside world, but also of the souls and minds of the proponents of the doctrine of flux. Those passages also seem to offer some insight into the genesis of the flux-doctrine.

11The first, somewhat less explicit passage at the end of the Cratylus suggests, through its memorable imagery, that the proponents of the theory of flux may have fallen into a «Whirlpool», namely, into the flux of things, and are trying to drag us along. That is to say, the universal flux is not the objective State of affairs, but their own particular predicament into which they try to implicate others-it may be that

«the name-givers really did give the names in the belief that everything is always moving and flowing, and as it happens things are not really that way at all, but the name-givers themselves have fallen into a kind of vortex (δίνην) and are whirled around in it (κυκῶνται), dragging us with them.»
Crat. 439bl0-c6

12The implications of this passage are spelt out in more detail in our next excerpt, which is perhaps the most important direct evidence of Plato’s view of what happened to Presocratic thought, and where it went astray:

«The people who gave things their names in very ancient times are exactly like most ouf our wise men nowadays, who get so dizzy (εἰλιγγιῶσιν) going around and around in their search for the nature of the things that are, that the things themselves appear to them to be turning around (περιϕέρεσθαι) and moving every which way (πάντως φέρεσθαι). They do not blame this on their own internai condition (τò ἔνδον τò παρά σϕίσιν πάθος), however, but on the nature of the things themselves, none of which they think is ever stable (μόνιμον) or steadfast (βέβαιον), but flowing (ῥέῖν) and moving (ϕέρεσθαι), full of every sort of motion (ϕοράς) and constant coming into being (γενέσεως). »
Crat. 411b4-c5

13Let us suspend the question concerning the relationship between the ancient «name-givers», with whom the passage is ostensibly concerned, and the «majority of contemporary sages». The passage is relevant to us insofar as it provides a diagnosis of the views of the contemporary sages, that is to say, of the great Heraclitean «school» identified at 402a-c. The passage makes four main points:

    • 6 Unlike Socrates’ own interest primarily in that which is internal and ethical-one may contrast here(...)

    The «dizziness» of which the passage speaks is induced by the particular mode of enquiry practised by «the majority of the contemporary sages» – namely, by their «frequent turning around in investigating the State of the things that exist». The language that describes this mode of enquiry – «frequent turning around»-implies a certain kind of empirical investigation, an interest primarily in the external, physical world6.

    • 7 Cf. τò ἒνδον τò παρά σφίσιν πάθος Crat. 411 cl.

    The «dizziness», a subjective, internal State7 which results from that externally oriented enquiry, is extrapolated onto the nature of things as a result of mistaking the subjective experiences for objective truths.

  1. As a result, the sages perceive the world to be inherently unstable, full of perpetual change and movement.

  2. As the logic of the present passage dictates, the «dizziness» must consist in some sort of subjective «flux». Subjective perception of instability of things is visualised as flux in the soul.

14Thus, in short, externally oriented empirical enquiry by the Heraclitean thinkers produces a confusion in their minds, an experience of instability which is then erroneously predicated of the external world.

 

  • 8 Cf. Tim. 68d2-7, esp. ἔργῳ σκοπούμενος βάσανον λαμβάνοι (68d2f.),
  • 9 See an illuminating exegesis of the passage in Sedley 1997, 331-335.

152. If we look for a comparison in the Timaeus, there Plato not only strongly warns against empirical and experimental enquiry8, but he also provides a theory whereby each of the three parts of the soul is strengthened by its exercise, thus making the soul as a whole resemble the object of one parts attentions. So that «if a man has become absorbed in his appetites or his ambitions»-i.e., in that which is akin to mortal matter-«and takes great pains to further them, all his thoughts are bound to become merely mortal» (Tim. 90b 1-4). On the other hand, if one provides proper care for the highest part of the soul by furnishing it with its proper nourishment and motions-and that can be achieved by following the «thoughts and revolutions of the universe» with which that part has an affinity-then the circular motions in the head, upset at birth, are restored to their «primaeval nature» as the thought conforms to its object (Tim. 90c6-d5)9.

16Two aspects of the passage warrant our attention. First, Plato’s position that the thought becomes like its object, is stated explicitly at 90d4: «We should... bring into conformity with its objects our faculty of understanding». Thus, contemplating the harmonies and revolutions of the heavens allows one to internalise the circular movement in one’s thought. A similar sentiment is expressed at 47b5-c4: god gave us sight

«in order that we might observe the orbits of intelligence in the heavens and apply them to the revolutions of our own understanding. For there is a kinship (συγγενεῖς) between them... So once we have come to know them and to share (μετασχόντες) in the ability to make correct calculations according to nature, we should stabilise the straying revolutions within ourselves by imitating (μιμούμενοι) the completely unstraying revolutions of the god».

17The language of participation and imitation is employed here in order to conceptualise the affinity between the mind and its object.

18The inborn circular revolutions in our head were upset through the exposure to sense perception after birth, as another passage reveals (Tim. 43a6-44c4). Likewise, the passage at 90d tells us that the contemplation of the heavenly revolutions «straightens out the revolutions in our heads, damaged περί τὴν γένεσιν (90dl-3). I am inclined to read περὶ τὴν γένεσιν as deliberately ambiguous, so that it can mean both «around the time of our coming-to-be» (referring back to 43a-44c), as well as, with Sedley, «concerned with the becoming». On the latter reading the sentence translates: «We should correct the corrupted revolutions in our head concerned with becoming by learning the harmonies and revolutions of the whole world» (Sedley 1997, 334 & n. 12). One can then «take the obvious sense of the text to be that it is by focusing our thought on becoming, rather than on being, that we have distorted our intellect s naturally circular motions» (ibid., 335).

  • 10 The same conviction, albeit less distinctly stated, appears at the end of the Simile of the Cave (R (...)

19One conclusion to be drawn from all this detailed physics and physiology of thought is that Plato in his later thought explicitly endorses the idea that thought is assimilated to its object, and that erroneous concentration on «becoming», γένεσις assimilates the mind to its unstable, indeterminate object, thus distorting the processes of thought10. This is also what our previous passage in the Cratylus (411 b4-c5, see §II.1. supra) seems to be saying-that the external, empiricist orientation of the research undertaken by the contemporary Presocratic thinkers leads to the State of internal flux (which is then universalised into ontological statements concerning the world) precisely because the condition of the soul is affected by its object, viz., the contradictory nature of perceptual phenomena.

 

203. The terms of the simile in the Cratylus become even clearer if we look at a very similar warning in the Phaedo against such externally and empirically oriented enquiry, where Socrates dismisses the study of πράγματα «themselves» as a productive way of reaching an adequate account of reality:

«After this [...], when I had wearied of investigating things that exist, I thought that I must be careful to avoid the experience of those who watch an eclipse of the sun, for some of them ruin their eyes unless they watch its reflection in water or some such material. A similar thought crossed my mind, and I feared that my soul would be altogether blinded if I looked at things with my eyes and tried to grasp them with each of my senses (αἰσθήσεων). So I thought I must take refuge in discussions and investigate the truth of things by means of words.» Phaed. 99d4-e6

21The main interest of the passage consists for us in its negative injunction. The danger of «blinding» consists in the soul’s attempt to grasp things directly by the «eyes and each of the senses», without the protection of λόγοι, «arguments». What exactly this «blinding» of the soul consists of can be easily identified if we go back to Socrates’ account of his disenchantment with Presocratic philosophy at 96c. As a «sufficient proof» of his unsuitability for the Presocratic kind of enquiry, Socrates adduces the fact that he was so «blinded» through practising it that he unlearned everything he had seemed to know previously: «This investigation (σκέψνς) made blinded me so much, that I unlearned what I thought I knew before» (Phaed 96c5-7). The surrounding context specifies the state of the soul and the processes of knowledge which later, at 99d-e, are referred to as the «blinding» of the soul.

22First of all, in the passage at 96a5-c7 Socrates specifies that the investigation which attempts to grasp things directly via «eyes and each of sensations» consists in a series of typically Presocratic questions: the nurture of the living creatures, the material stuff by which we think, origin of knowledge and of the senses, the happenings on the earth and in the sky (96b2-c2). It was those studies that finally convinced Socrates, that he had «no natural aptitude at all for that kind of investigation». The «sufficient proof» (τεκμήριον ἱκανόν) of his lack of aptitude is his «blinding», the unlearning of what he thought he knew (96c 1-7).

  • 11 Cf. Heraclitus’ fr. B 60 DK, as well as Heitsch 1991, 280-284.
  • 12 Cf. Crat. 411b6f,: ὑπò τοῦ πυκνὰ περιστρέφεσθαι ζητοῦντες ὅπη ἒχει τὰ ὃντα είλιγγτιῶσιν.

23Furthermore, this curriculum is explicitly introduced as περὶ ϕύσεως ἱστορία at 96a6-7, so there can be no doubt of its Presocratic credentials. Socrates refers to his State, when he was engaged in this Presocratic enquiry, in the following terms: «I was often changing to and fro (ἄνω κάτω μετέβαλλον) in investigation» (96a9-bl). This phrase contains a Heraclitean allusion in ἂνω κάτω11, whereas the verb μεταβάλλω suggests some kind of Presocratic change and/or material transformation. Besides, it is unmistakably reminiscent of the way Socrates characterises the State of the Heracliteans in the Cratylus passage12. This is the final link that establishes an analogy between the Phaedo passage and the diagnosis of the Heracliteans in Crat. 411b-c.

24Thus, the contexts of the Cratylus and the Phaedo reinforce each other here. Plato’s diagnosis of the origins of Heracliteanism is based on typical Presocratic enquiries, such as those in which Socrates dabbled in his youth. Because this type of enquiry approaches the external world directly through the senses, unaided and unmediated by its «reflection» in λόγοι, it induces in its practitioners a cognitive State called «dizziness» or «blindness».

  • 13 There seems to be a deliberate pun on the περί ϕύσεως genre when Socrates says: τελευτῶν οὕτως ἐμαυ (...)

25What is that cognitive State? In the Phaedo passage Socrates, having mentioned the «blindness» that befell him as a result of his περί ϕύσεως research (96cl-7)13, goes on to enumerate the certainties that his Presocratic preoccupations have destroyed: his conception of growth through the gradual accretion of material; of one man being taller than another man «by a head», or ten being greater than eight by two (96c7-e4). Two subsequent passages (96e6-97b7 & 100e8-101b8) spell out the difficulties that he encountered in these conceptions. If, for example, under the old conception number «two» was thought to come about by such processes as division or addition, now the emphasis changes: the same State of affairs is seen as the result of two contrary processes (96e6-97b3). X is equally a result both of F and of its contrary, non-F.

  • 14 Cf. a helpful analysis in Teloh 1975, 19-21 (reproduced, in its essential features, in Teloh 1981, (...)

26Similarly, in the examples discussed in our second passage (100e8-101 b8), when some A is greater than B by C-as when a man is taller than another man by a head, or ten is greater than eight by two-a similar contradictory account applies in two aspects. First, A is greater, and B is smaller, through the same C, and so the identical cause has contrary effects. Furthermore, A is «greater» in virtue of C which is «small(er)», i.e., a cause has an effect contrary to itself14.

27Thus, to sum up, the Presocratic enquiries produce a triple contradiction: identical causes have contrary effects, contrary causes have identical effects, and a cause produces effects contrary to itself. What is important to us is that all those contradictions exhibit a «compresence of opposites». By «compresence» (or, in a Heraclitean context, «unity») of opposites I intend the situation when contrary predicates are predicated to the same subject in a particular sense, or within a certain logical relationship. In the «autobiographical passage» such a logical framework of predication is provided by Plato’s preoccupation with αἰτίαι, so that:

X [causes] both F and non-F;
X [
is caused by] both F and non-F;
F [
causes] non-F.

28This is, admittedly, a deliberately vague formulation, and a step back from the sophistication of the logical analysis employed by Plato in his critique of the Presocratic «aetiology» in the Phaedo. What concerns us at the moment, however, is the connection between such «compresence of opposites» and the cognitive State of «blindness» or «dizziness», for the next context where the State of «dizziness» is mentioned (Tht. 154cl-155d5) shares with the passages of the Phaedo this preoccupation with the impact of the «compresence of opposites» on the soul.

 

294. Theaetetus 154cl-155d5 is a context that deals with the so-called «puzzles of perception». Six dice are simultaneously «greater» than four dice and smaller than twelve without undergoing any increase or decrease. Likewise Socrates, who is now «bigger» than Theaetetus, even though he remains equal to himself, will be «smaller» than Theaetetus when the latter grows up. Despite the ostensibly valid logical principles ruling out a possibility of change in these situations (viz., nothing becomes either «greater» or «smaller» insofar as it is equal to itself; without addition or subtraction nothing either increases or decreases, but remains equal to itself; and nothing can be later what it was not before without undergoing change (Tht. 155a2-b3)), both the dice and Socrates have «changed»: six dice from «greater» became «smaller», and Socrates became «smaller» from «bigger» without changing in size.

  • 15 The confusion arises, according to Socrates, because ostensibly valid logical principles governing (...)

30When Theaetetus at 154cl0-d2 tries to extricate himself from this contradiction, he motivates his attempt by saying «lest I say contrary things (ἐναντία)». That is to say, he is aware that, if he goes along with Socrates argument, he would be reduced to saying «contrary things», he would be reduced to the «compresence of opposites» – to statements that the dice are both «smaller» and «greater», that X is both F and non-F. When Socrates points out to him the importance of the puzzles like this, and suggests that he must have met similar problems before (cf. 155c6f.), Theaetetus’ response is: «I often wonder enormously what these things can mean; sometimes when I am looking at them I begin to feel quite giddy (σκοτοδινιῶ)» (155c8-10). The «vertigo» here is, again, a naturel reaction to the πάθος of the «compresence of opposites», induced as a result of the consideration of the «puzzles of perception»15. Socrates’ subsequent praise of Theaetetus indicates that he regards this state of «wonder» and «vertigo» as conducive to philosophy (155dl-4). We shall see that the protreptic value of «vertigo» will reappear again in other related contexts.

31Thus, to summarise briefly a pattern that begins to emerge: «vertigo» is a cognitive State that comes about as a result of enquiry into the contradictory character of the perceptible world, more particularly, into the socalled «puzzles of perception», and involves a certain Aufhebung, «suspension» of the pre-philosophical certainties concerning the external world in the light of the contradictions that a more rigorous analysis reveals.

 

325. Let us now turn to Book X of the Laws, where, in an eloquent passage, the Athenian Stranger compares the surge of questions which the problems of natural philosophy present to the fast-flowing waters of the river that may induce vertigo in a weaker and less experienced traveller:

«It’s an extremely tricky argument, and we old men must be careful not to be taken in by its freshness and novelty, so that it eludes our grasp and makes us look like ridiculous fools whose ambitious ideas lead to failure even in little things. Just consider. Imagine the three of us had to cross a river in spate, and I were the younger and had plenty of experience of currents. [...] The situation is the same now: the argument ahead runs too deep, and men as weak as you will probably get out of your depth. I want to prevent you novices in answering from being dazed and dizzied by a stream of questions (μὴ δὴ σκοτοδινίαν ίλιγγόν τε ὑμῖν έμποιήση)...»
Leg. 892d2-893al

  • 16 In fact, an earlier remark in the Phaedo notes that it cornes about specifically as an impact of th (...)

33The identity of the subject is unmistakable – they are discussing «investigation into nature» (τῶν περί ϕύσεως ζητημάτων, 891c8f.). We are on a terrain very similar to that of the Phaedo’s «autobiographical passage», and the language of the simile is strongly reminiscent of the Presocratic «whirlpools» in the Cratylus. But, whereas in the Laws the «vertigo» is induced by the arguments of natural philosophy upon the inexperienced, in the Phaedo it comes about as a result of considering the data, and the «puzzles», of perception16.

 

  • 17 Cf. αἴσθησις μηδὲν μᾶλλον τοῦτο ή τò ἐναντίον δηλοῖ (Rep. 523c2f.).

346. Finally, in Book VII of the Republic the «puzzles of perception» are employed without a reference to any untoward cognitive experiences, or to Presocratic thought, but this context proposes the right way to deal with them (cf. Rep. 523al0-525a5). It concentrates on sense-perceptions termed «summoners» (παρακαλοῦντα). They are so called because they «summon the understanding to look into them», for in their case sense experience as such produces no sound result, insofar as it «does not declare one thing any more than its opposite»17. By that Socrates means the rather familiar point that in terms of sense perception, relative properties (such as bigness, smallness, hardness, heaviness etc.) characterise their object no more than their opposite: the middle finger is «big» in comparison to the smaller one, and «small» in comparison to the bigger; the same thing is seen to be «one» (qua that thing) and «unlimited number» (qua divisible into parts) at the same time (see 523e3-524al0, 525a3-5). The most important point in the present context is Plato’s unequivocal statement that the thought-provoking quality of the «puzzles of perception» consists in their having the quality of the «compresence of opposites»: «If something opposite (ἐναντίωμα) to it is always seen at the same time, so that nothing is apparently any more one than the opposite (τοὐναντίον) of [it], then something would be needed to judge the matter. The soul would then be puzzled (ἀπορεῖν), would look for an answer (ζητεῖv), would stir up its understanding, and would ask what it is» (524e2-6).

35Faced with that apparent contradiction for which sense perception cannot account, the soul, employing higher capacities (such as thought and understanding) in a process of dialectical reasoning, goes on to separate a «universal» of each of the opposite qualities, setting those apart from the perceptible. This process merits to be looked into more closely-in the quotation, I substitute concrete qualities by formal markers, and paraphrase Socrates’ questions into statements (simultaneously omitting Glaucon’s interjections):

«The sense [...] reports to the soul that the same thing is perceived by it to be both F and non-F. It is necessary that in such cases the soul is puzzled (ἀπορεῖν) as to what this sense means by the F, if it indicates that the same thing is also non-F [...]. Then it is likely that in such cases the soul, summoning calculation and understanding, first tries to determine whether each of the things announced to it is one or two. If it is evidently two, each will be evidently distinct and one. Then, if each is one, and both two, the soul will understand that the two are separate, for it would not understand the inseparable to be two, but rather one. Sight, however, saw the F and non-F, not as separate, but as mixed up together. And in order to get clear about all this, understanding was compelled to see the F and the non-F, not as mixed up together, but as separate-the opposite way from sight. And it is from these cases that it first occurs to us to ask what the F is and what the non-F is. And, because of this, we called the intelligible one thing, and the visible another thing.»
Rep. 524al-cl3

36This passage helps to locate the cognitive experience to which Plato refers as «dizziness» in his overall theoretical scheme. It corresponds to the soul’s «puzzlement» at the compresence of contraries in the data provided by sense perception. It can lead either to a separation of the universal (as the passage above prescribes), or to the Heraclitean confusion.

 

  • 18 Note that both words used by Plato refer to a «Whirlpool» (ἲλιγγος, δίνη) which in the passage of t (...)
  • 19 This conclusion is also supported by several minor passages where «vertigo» is invoked, but which w (...)
  • 20 Cf. Socrates in Phaed. 96a~101b, education of the Guardians in Rep. 523a-525a, as well as, to some (...)

377. Thus our analysis indicates that the concept of «dizziness» (ἲλιγγος, σκοτοδινία18) is a cognitive «metaphorical concept», comparable to other Platonic metaphorical concepts, such as απορία and, especially, πλάνη. It denotes the confusion and loss of certainty in a soul exposed to ostensible contradictions-contradictions which are mostly associated with the paradoxical character of the phenomena of sense-perception19, and with the «compresence of opposites» structure that informs them. This exposure to the «puzzles of perception» in itself is philosophically Sound cognitive experience and can be protreptic, provided one employs the higher capacities of the soul. It then leads to advances in philosophical education, theory formation and, more specifically, to the postulation of (separate, intelligible) Forms20.

38On the other hand, the Presocratics, confronted with the «puzzles of perception», fail to respond correctly by postulating non-contradictory Forms. Their failure to do so is blamed primarily on their empiricist approach, on the reliance on the senses (Phaed. 96a-100a). They remain at the level of contradiction which would be valid within the limits of sense perception. The Presocratics, however, take the contradiction to be universally valid. This is what the Cratylus means by the extrapolation of their internal confusion onto the world outside: «Most of our wise men nowadays get so dizzy going around and around in their search for the nature of the things that are, that the things themselves appear to them to be turning around and moving every which way. [...] They do not blame this on their own internal condition, however, but on the nature of the things themselves... » (Crat. 411b5-c3).

39However, there arises a problem. If it is this extrapolation that Plato is primarily accusing them of, then the Presocratics ought to attribute to the world the «contradictory character», to describe it in terms of «compresence of opposites». Instead, they talk of all-pervading «flux»: «they think that [things] are never stable or steadfast, but flowing and moving, full of every sort of motion and constant coming into being» (Crat. 41 lc3-5).

III. Fluxus

401. What does Plato mean by «flux»? What is its relationship to the «compresence of opposites»? Conversely, one may ask: In what sense is Heraclitus called the theorist of the flux in the Theaetetus and the Cratylus, and why? How does his doctrine of the «unity of opposites» fit with the doctrine of flux? (We should notice that the theoretical distance between these positions-between «unity», or «compresence of opposites», on the one hand, and the «doctrine of flux», on the other, is also the distance between the views of the «historical» Heraclitus, and Plato’s representation of him as a flux-theorist.)

41On the one hand, in the Sophist Plato proves to be aware of the central role of the structure of «unity of opposites» in Heraclitus’ teaching:

«Later, certain Muses in Ionia [= Heraclitus] and Sicily [= Empedocles] perceived that safety lay rather in combining both accounts and saying that the real is both many and one, and is held together by enmity and friendship. ‘In parting asunder it is always being drawn together’ [= conflation of Heraclitus’ fr. B 51 & B 10 DK] say the stricter of these Muses» (Soph. 242d7-e3).

  • 21 Having complained about Heraclitus’ obscure mode of expression, Eryximachus in his speech attempts (...)

42The «unity of opposites» is invoked in Eryximachus’ speech in the Symposium where B 51 is quoted in a fuller form: «What is in conflict with itself is held together, like the harmony of the bow and of the lyre» (Symp. 187a5f.)21.

43On the other hand, despite this evidence, in the Cratylus and in the Theaetetus Heraclitus appears as a proponent of «universal flux». Paradoxically, the best known utterance attributed to Heraclitus – πάντα ῥεῖ – is also the one that raises the most problems.

  • 22 The attribution of «universal flux» to Heraclitus by Guthrie rests solely on the conviction that Pl (...)
  • 23 As Guthrie, for example, was trying to do (Guthrie 1962, 449-54). See, however, more nuanced accoun (...)
  • 24 See Marcovich 1978, 149, Hussey 1972, 54f., Kirk. 1951, and cf. Taràn 1999, 13-20, 46-52.

44Whereas the motif of the «unity of opposites» and the oracular mode of expression can easily be deduced from the surviving Heraclitean evidence that we possess, the «theory of flux» poses a significant difficulty for the interpreters of Heraclitus22. Since the attempts to harmonise the thesis πάντα ῥεῖ with the rest of the Heraclitean teaching have not proved very convincing23, the most widespread view adopted by Heraclitean scholars nowadays is that Plato either deliberately misrepresented Heraclitus, or drew his knowledge from the wrong sources (e.g., from Cratylus, who is reported to have been Plato’s teacher (cf. Arist. Met. A 6.987a32f.) and who is, according to Aristotle, responsible for the distortion of Heraclitus’ teaching (Met. F 5, 101 Oal3-15))24. Let us, however, examine the Platonic evidence first.

  • 25 See a thorough and most satisfying discussion in Tarán 1999.

45The most clearly stated case for the ‘theory of flux’ is in Crat. 402a8-10: «Heraclitus says somewhere that ‘everything gives way and nothing stands fast’ (πάντα χωρεῖ καὶ οὐδὲν μένει), and, likening the things that are to the flowing (ῥοῆ) of a river, he says that ‘you cannot step into the same river twice’ » (for other references in the Platonic corpus, see Marcovich 1978, 137-9). According to the most widespread reading of this passage, the formulation πάντα χωρεῖ καὶ οὐδέν μένει is likely to be an inference from the following Heraclitean fragment: «You cannot enter into the same river twice» (B 91a DK). At least Cratylus, according to the testimony of Aristotle, deduced his unqualified flux from this Heraclitean saying: «[Cratylus] reproached Heraclitus, who had said: ‘It is not possible to enter into the same river twice’,-for he himself thought that [it was not possible] even once» (Met. F 5, 101 Oa13-15)25.

46If the «theory of flux» is an inference by Plato from the Heraclitean saying «It is not possible to enter into the same river twice», then it seems strange that Plato, for all the references to universal flux that he makes, only once refers to it in connection with the «source fragment», i.e., with fr. B 91a. Even more surprising is that in the Theaetetus, where that allegedly Heraclitean teaching is discussed in some detail, there is no reference to fr. B 91a at all. On the other hand, in the Cratylus, where this fragment is quoted, the «theory of flux» is not discussed, but assumed as a known fact, and its implications are only briefly pointed out in the context of Socrates’ «dream» (439c6-440d4).

  • 26 In its original context it is, in fact, most likely to have been just one more example of the struc (...)

47My tentative suggestion would be that fr. B 91a is not at all decisive for the correct understanding of the «theory of flux»26. In my view, Plato’s employment of Heraclitus’ «river fragment» is secondary – that is to say, the Heraclitean simile provides Plato with a memorable image, through which he expresses a doctrine that is not at all dependent on that image. In fact, in Plato’s treatment of Heracliteanism, «flux» is not even an autonomous and fundamental concept, insofar as it exhibits variety of meanings and applications. To anticipate slightly the subsequent analysis, «flux» in Plato can denote either a situation where relative properties are involved, so that the same X is no more F (in one context) than non-F (in another); or partial change over time, such as that between the healthy and ill Socrates; or «radical flux», which involves an absolute denial of continuity over time, and which implies that everything changes ceaselessly in absolutely all aspects. Insofar as these usages do not form a theoretical continuum (though this is not to say that they are incompatible), and insofar as any particular reference to «flux» is not unambiguous, «flux» cannot be the fundamental self-evident category, the ultimate reference point in Plato’s discussion of Heracliteanism. The important step in understanding Plato’s attitude to Heraclitus and the Heracliteans is to establish the common denominator that connects various applications of flux, and to reconstruct the dynamics and internal logic of Plato’s use of that concept.

 

482. I shall argue that Plato introduces the concept of «flux» primarily as a way of referring to the relative constitution, or context-dependence, of properties. The «change» (that would seem to be an essential component of any «flux») can be either «diachronic» (i.e., change «proper», when the same X acquires contrary properties over time), or «synchronic» (i.e., «change» between the contexts or particular relationships in which and through which relative properties are construed and constituted). Furthermore, «flux» seems to be a negative counterpart of the State of affairs which Plato calls «stability» or «permanence of essence» (βεβοαότης τῆς οὐσίας) (Crat. 386a).

49Generally speaking, cognitive situations like the «puzzles of perception», when the same X is experienced as having contrary properties, F as well as non-F, open two further possible routes of theoretical development. One of them separates intelligible universals, the F and the non-F, from the particular perceptible object X that participates in them both, as Socrates did in the Phaedo (and proposed to do in the education of the Guardians in the Republic VII). Plato’s way of overcoming contradiction is to contextualise it by showing that it is valid only within the realm of perception. The postulation of self-identical Forms provides a non-contradictory account, which puts the contradictory character of reality «in perspective», as it were.

50Presocratic reaction to the contradictory character of reality goes in the opposite direction, as can be seen on the example of Heraclitus’ fr. B 60: «The way up and the way down are one and the same». The Platonic approach would be to insist on the contextualisation of the contrary properties, ascribing them to different «Forms». Heraclitus, on the contrary, uses examples like this (where the same thing exhibits contrary properties in different respects) to argue for the «unity of opposites». That is to say, contextualised examples are used to argue for «pure» contradiction, for F and non-F simpliciter, by dropping the relativising qualifiers. Plato appears to suggest that this happens because of the empirical orientation of the Presocratics: seeing that all the objects of perceptual experience exhibit contrary properties, the Presocratics formulate the law that all the Fs are also non-Fs, or, in other words, «nothing is one thing in itself» (Tht. 152d3). Instead of contextualising, the contradiction is absolutised (in the Cratylus this is described as transferring one’s own confusion onto the world at large, cf. 411b4-c5) and made the fundamental constructive principle of the Presocratic theories.

51Protagoras’ case is more complex. He starts with the same contradictory experience (wind is cold for A and warm for B) and at first successfully contextualises it: it is the qualifiers, «for A» and «for B» that are decisive. His solution is to abolish inherent properties and replace them with relative ones. Within the limits of perception, it is a perfectly legitimate conclusion, as Socrates at least twice indicates in the Theaetetus (152cl-2, 179c2-5). However, just like the Presocratics modelled their understanding of reality on the perceptible world, likewise Protagoras understands knowledge on the model of perception: at 152al-c6 perceptual awareness insinuates itself as the criterion of certainty, and, consequently, the model of perception provides the conception of knowledge: what is true of perception is true of knowledge in general. This leads to the extrapolation of the model of sense-perception to all properties: «man is the measure of all things», no properties are inherent, all properties are relatively constituted, or, to put it slightly differently, «nothing is one thing in itself». With a slightly different emphasis, Protagorean relativism utilises the same anti-Eleatic formula which encapsulates the Heraclitean «unity of opposites».

52«Nothing is one thing in itself» – i.e., nothing is more F than non-F (the «ontological version» by Heraclitus).

53«Nothing is one thing in itself» – i.e., everything is relatively constituted (the «epistemological version» by Protagoras).

54The replacement of «nothing is» with «everything becomes» satisfies the demands of both «schools of thought», and the great «Protagorean-Heraclitean» tradition is formed (cf. its further development at Tht. 152d3 f.). The «Theaetetan» identification of knowledge and perception (represented elsewhere as a consequence, or an expression, of empiricism) plays a crucial role in the formation of both branches-the ontological and the epistemological – of the Protagorean – Heraclitean theory.

55In the Theaetetus, Plato at first synthesises those distinct ontological and epistemological responses into a unified «Theaetetan-Protagorean-Heraclitean» theory, and then refutes it.

 

563. Let us follow the introduction of the «theory of flux» in the Cratylus in more detail. At 385e4-386a4 Socrates introduces Protagorean relativism as an initial hypothesis to articulate the implications of Hermogenes’ theory of «linguistic contract»: «But would you say, Hermogenes, that things are in such a way that their essence is peculiar to each, as Protagoras tells us, saying that ‘man is the measure of all things’, and that things are to me as they appear to me, and that they are to you as they appear to you? Do you agree with him, or would you say that things have a permanent essence of their own?»

  • 27 It is important to notice the repetition of the analogous expressions in both passages-the one in t (...)

57At the bottom of the same Stephanus’ page the position of Protagoras is reduced to Heraclitean «flux». After Hermogenes’ refusai to accept the Protagorean attitude, Socrates summarises their progress in the following way (386d8-e4): «If every thing is not peculiar to every individual, and if all things do not equally belong to ail at the same moment and always [=reference to Euthydemus, cf. 386d3-6], then they must be supposed to have their own proper and permanent essence: not in relation to us, or dragged by us up and down (ἄνω καί κάτω) in our fancy, but they are by themselves, maintaining to their own essence the relation prescribed by nature». The argumentative transition from Protagoras’ position to Heraclitean flux is entirely unmistakable, even if somewhat vestigial; it is confirmed by the expression άνω και κάτω, reminiscent of Heraclitus’ saying «The way up and the way down are one and the same» (B 60 DK)27.

 

584. The more condensed formulation of the pattern in the Theaetetus, however, helps to reassemble the pieces of Plato’s argument that are more loosely interrelated in the Cratylus. If we turn to the discussion that follows after the «indications» (σημεῖα) in favour of the Heraclitean doctrine in the Theaetetus (153a5-d5), we can see that there, too, universal motion and becoming are defined in terms of the relativity of properties: if properties like colour have some being on their own, they «would have their being in an assigned place and abide there, instead of arising in a process of becoming» (153elf.). That is to say, «arising in the process of becoming» is contrasted with the stability of essence, and is just another way of saying that the properties are relatively constituted.

  • 28 Cf. 153e4f.: ἑπώμεθα τῷ ἃρτι λόγω, μηδὲν αὐτό καθαὐτό ἓν.ὄν τιθέντες.
  • 29 The remark at 154a8: ούδέ σοὶ αὐτῷ ταύτòν διά τò μηδέποτε ομοίως αυτόν σεαυτῷ ἔχειν; – does not una (...)

59In what follows Socrates argues that since different properties are differently perceived by different perceivers and even by the same perceiver at different times, they cannot be inherent in the objects, but are instead constituted in the interaction between the agent and the object of perception (153e4-154b6). Socrates assumes the impossibility of stable essences or real properties as a starting point for this argument28. In it he argues that if stable properties are assumed, there follow difficulties involved in the relative properties of the «puzzles of perception» – how the same property, not having undergone change in its absolute value, can be found different in different measurements. It is important that the idea of flux is not used as an argument for relativism29.

  • 30 Cf. ἀλήθειαν ἀποκεκουμμένην 155dl0, ἀμυήτων 155e3, μυστήρια 156a3.
  • 31 It is plausible to suppose (contra Burnyeat 1990, 13, 16f., MacDowell 1973, 131, 137 et al) that th (...)

60Our preliminary hypothesis – that the notion of flux that is operating in this section of the dialogue is actually derived from the relativity of properties, and is neither prior to it, nor essentially distinct from it – is confirmed by the important passage 156a2-c5, where Socrates further attempts to develop the relativist model of cognition. Although Socrates States in a rather hieratic manner30 that ἀρχή, on which everything depends, is that «the universe really is motion and nothing else», it becomes more and more evident that the «motion» is understood in terms of the relativity of experience (in the sense that every meaningful experience is generated in the interaction between the perceiver and the perceived, and exists in relation to them). What follows (156c7-157cl) is an explanation of the mechanism of experience, where Plato employs the features of the Atomistic model of knowledge31. The course of this description, and especially the conclusion at 157a7-bl («The conclusion from all this is, as we said at the outset, that nothing is one thing just by itself, but is always in process of becoming for someone, and being is to be ruled out») provides confirmation that motion is understood primarily in the context of the relational constitution of properties, as a process of interaction between τò πονοῦν and τό πάσχον in which the sensations are constituted. Nowhere does «motion» (κίνησις) appear in the guise of the radical interpretation of «flux», the main feature of which is the denial of identity over time.

  • 32 The relativity of properties is a theme of Heraclitean fragments (or rather paraphrases) adduced in (...)

61If we are correct in supposing that at this stage of the Theaetetus «motion» functions as a part of the complex of ideas centred around the relational constitution of the properties, then it is possible to find a basis for such a treatment of Heraclitus in the surviving body of the Heraclitean material. What qualifies Heraclitus as a predecessor of the relativist theory in the eyes of Plato is Heraclitus’ notion that properties do not exist by themselves but are defined in their relationship either to one another, or to the perceiver. It suffices to quote a few of the most obvious fragments: «The way up and down is one and the same» (fr. B 60); «The sea is the most pure and the most polluted water; for fishes it is drinkable and salutary, but for men it is undrinkable and pernicious» (fr. B 61); «Disease makes health pleasant and good, hunger satiety, weariness rest» (fr. B 111)32. In the context of Heraclitus’ thought these sayings function as concrete examples of the structure of the «unity of opposites» whereby the same object is shown to exhibit the compresence of contrary properties.

  • 33 It is a «becoming» and «motion» in a metaphorical and «synchronic» sense (cf. Burnyeat 1990, 16-8). (...)
  • 34 Of course, Heraclitus’ cosmological doctrine of «regular change» makes the attribution of «flux» to (...)

62Plato, however, is interested in the relational constitution of properties. If properties arise in relationship to the perceiver, they never «are», but are constantly «generated», are constantly in the process of «becoming» (γίγνεσθαι), of «motion» (κίνησις), since «becoming» is a kind of κίνησις (cf. Tht. 181c9-d7). Thus the attribution of «motion» and «flux» to Heraclitus, primarily refers to the doctrine of relativity of properties that is amply attested by Heraclitus’ fragments33. Besides, in several Heraclitean fragments the idea of the relativity of properties is described through the language of change (most notably, fr. B 88: ‘As the same thing there exists [in us] living and dead and the waking and the sleeping and young and old: for these things having changed round (μεταπεσόντα) are those, and those things having changed round again (πάλιν μεταπεσόντα) are these ones», and fr. B 126: «The cold [things] warm up, the warm cool, the moist dry, the dry moisten»). This would explain Plato’s labelling of the Heraclitean teaching as a «doctrine of flux/ change», even if what he refers to is only the relational constitution of properties34. In the discussion of the relativist theory Plato employs «motion» in the context of the relational constitution of properties, and not as a reference to the doctrine that what is true about A at moment x is not true at the successive moment y.

63Thus, it is possible to reconstruct the synthesis of Protagoras’ and Heraclitus’ views into a Heraclitean-Protagorean «school» in the following manner:

  1. x is F in relation A and non-F in relation B. (The Heraclitean example of this statement would be: «The same way (x) is the way up (F) in ascent (relation A) and the way down (non-F) in descent (relation B)». For Protagoras, the same would be expressed by the wind (x) that seems cold (F) to one man (relation A) and warm (non-F) to another (relation B).)

  2. Therefore x does not have a stable essence.

  3. And so x is in motion and becoming (i.e., it is a dramatic way of saying that the properties of x are relationally constituted).

  • 35 That is the meaning of ἀνάγκη τὴν ουσίαν συνδεῖ (Tht. 160b6).
  • 36 One should not mistake 158e-160c for the assertion of «a completely universal thesis of nonidentity (...)

64The postulate of the relational constitution of properties is finally formulated at Tht. 160a-b. It is not possible to be such and such in relation to oneself, to have a quality in relation to oneself (for that would mean stability, property independently of interaction relationship; 160a5f.). Since essence is necessarily relational, exists in relation to35, and since essence cannot be defined in relation to itself (that would exclude constitution via interaction according to the schema ποιούν / πάσχον, cf. 156c7-157cl), properties must be defined in relation to each other (160b8). Plato finishes the description of the synthetic relativist theory and summarises: «It has turned out that these three doctrines coincide-according to Homer and Heraclitus and all this tribe, everything is moving like streams, according to Protagoras the all-wise, man is a measure of all things, and according to Theaetetus, these things being in such a way, perception becomes knowledge» (160d6-e2). So far there has not been a hint at the radical interpretation of flux36.

65Thus we can conclude that «flux» in the way Plato uses it to describe the Heraclitean doctrine is a derivative concept. It is dependent upon the structure of the «unity», or «compresence of opposites», and encapsulates the ontological consequences of the Presocratic/Heraclitean failure to resolve the paradoxes of the relational constitution of properties.

 

665. It remains to consider the final assault on Heraclitean views at 179c7-183c3. It is in this context that the radical interpretation of flux is introduced for the first time in the Theaetetus. In order, however, to achieve the transformation of the moderate flux into the radical, πάντα ῥεῖ must be interpreted (1) in a strong ontological sense, (2) as a continuous alteration in all respects, whereby (3) any continuity between any two diachronic points is denied. Πάντα ῥεῖ does not appear in any of these senses before 179d: flux is (1’) understood primarily in an epistemological connection, as an expression of the relational constitution of properties; (2’) neither continuous nor universal, but episodic; and (3’) employed not as much in a diachronic, as in a synchronie sense.

67We must notice the peculiar mode of presentation of the «theory of flux» (at 179c7 f.). If Plato was previously referring flux to Heraclitus without any qualifications, in this last section he does not refer directly to Heraclitus at all. At the very beginning of the present discussion of the flux he once mentions «Heraclitus’ friends/followers» (‘Ηρακλείτου ἑταῖροι) and (immediately afterwards) refers to «these Heraclitean or, as you say, Homeric and even more ancient [principles]» (τὰΗρακλείτεῖα). In the discussion that follows Plato does not mention Heraclitus’ name at all. A comparison of this passage with the initial exposition of the «ancient theory of relativism», on the one hand, and on the other, with the preceding discussion of Protagoras’ views, highlights this reticence as unusual. It appears to indicate that the radical view of flux that Plato is now discussing does not entirely belong to Heraclitus himself.

  • 37 Cf. 181clf.: δοκεῖ οὖν μοι ἀρχή είναι τής σκέψεως κινήσεως πέρι, ποῖόν τί ποτε ἂρα λέγοντές ϕασι τά(...)

68Plato seems to be saying that the obscurity of expression and the quarrels involved in the interpretation of Heraclitus’ doctrine (due to its obscurity) make it impossible to reconstruct Heraclitus’ original teaching about flux, and to follow, as Socrates was proposing at 179e1f., Heraclitean «lead by tracing it to its source». Therefore Plato’s characters are obliged, «to take over the matter themselves and to consider it as a problem» (180c5f.), redefining the content of the «movement» in question as they do it37. This redefinition is accomplished in such a way as to contrast the proponents of the «flux theory» with the doctrine of the Eleatic school that Socrates suddenly «remembers» at 180d7-9. In opposition to the absolute immovable stability of the Eleatics Socrates posits absolute flux-ceaseless change in all aspects and at all moments of time.

69I suggest that at this point Plato has substituted the «flux» he had imputed to Heraclitus (on the basis of the relational interdependence of properties in Heraclitus’ teaching) with a much more radical interpretation of the thesis πάντα κινείται. In all probability, this is the Cratylean interpretation of Heraclitus’ «river sayings», and it is this interpretation that Plato reduces to absurd conclusions-to the utter impossibility of any knowledge and language (182dl-183b5). The remarks at the end of the discussion-that supporters of the flux have to coin «a new dialect, since there are no expressions for their fundamental proposition now», and that the only proper expression for them to use would be «not even nohow» (183b2-5)-certainly look very similar to Aristotle’s report of Cratylus’views: «Cratylus [...] finally did not think it right to say anything but only moved his finger» (Met. Γ 5.1010al2f.).

70Of course, this is not equivalent to saying that radical flux, when it makes its appearance at 179d f., has no connection to the earlier Heraclitean doctrines. It may be the case that the conceptual, or «narrative», development here follows the historical one-Plato gives a radicalising interpretation to the «moderate» doctrine of flux following Cratylus’ historical radicalisation of the authentic Heraclitean position. Either way, the heart of the matter is that once the relativity of properties is affirmed as a universal principle, once Heraclitus proclaims the unity of opposites as an omnipotent «metaphysical» law, instability of essence has to be universalised. There remains no scope for stable essences, for that would imply that some things fall outside the universal law that «nothing is one thing in itself», and so the doctrine of flux has to be radicalised. The radical flux of Cratylus, Plato seems to be saying, with its concomitant irrationalism, is an inevitable logical conclusion of the Heraclitean doctrine of «unity of opposites», which elevates the relational constitution of properties into a universal principle.

 

716. Thus, to summarise, we have discovered that «flux» is a category that Plato uses on several levels to describe the historical genesis and the internal logic of the Presocratic philosophy-insofar as the tendencies latent in the latter are expressed, at its clearest, through Heracliteanism.

72Presocratic empiricist tendency renders them incapable of resolving the contradictory nature of perceptual reality. Their attempts to resolve contradictions inherent in cognitive experiences lead, by different routes, to universalisation of that contradiction, transforming it into fondamental principle of all, not just perceptible reality. (In that respect the evolution of Protagorean relativism in fondamental traits mirrors the logic of Heracliteanism). The final logical expression of that absolutisation of contradiction is the doctrine of the «relativity of properties»: «Nothing is one thing in itself». To say that «things are in flux» is, for Plato, another way of saying that «nothing is one thing in itself».

73However, once the relativity of properties is posited as the fondamental philosophical principle, the doctrine inevitably leads to its further radicalisation, for it does not allow for any inherent, stable, non-relatively-constituted properties. Everything has to be «in flux», in the process of «becoming» and of being relatively constituted: thus the Heraclitean «compresence of opposites» (interpreted by Plato primarily as the «relativity of properties») inescapably degenerates into the «radical flux» of Cratylus.

  • 38 This approach seems to be more satisfactory than the previous attempts to answer the question why P (...)

74The important result of this analysis is the fact that in using the category of flux (and the complex of metaphorical concepts associated with it) Plato seeks to explain actual philosophical positions in general terms, to analyse the thought processes-and cognitive errors-that led to their formation, and the philosophical necessity that determined the actual historical developments in philosophy38 ·

IV. Appendix: The Heracliteans and the erists

751. In the Phaedo, a diagnosis of eristics is presented in terms very similar to the discussion of the cognitive State of the Heracliteans (cf. § III. 2.-III.4.):

«It is as when one who lacks skill in arguments (περί τοὺς λόγους τέχνης) puts his trust in an argument as being true, then shortly afterwards believes it to be false-as sometimes it is and sometimes it is not-and so with another argument and then another. You know how those in particular who spend their time studying contradiction (o περί τοὺς ἀντιλογικούς λόγους διατρίψαντες) in the end believe themselves to have become very wise and that they alone have understood that there is not soundness (υγιές) or reliability (βέβαιον) in any object or in any argument, but that all that exists simply fluctuates up and down (ἂνω κάτω στρέφεται) as if it were in the Euripus and does not remain in the same place for any time at all.»
Phaed. 90b6-c6

76What, in Plato’s mind, is the difference between the two? Does it mean that the Heracliteans and the erists are, in Plato’s mind, the members of the same group?

  • 39 See references to the currents of Euripus, allusion to Heraclitus’ fr. B 60 DK in ἄνω κάτω στρέφετα (...)

77It is not a full diagnosis of eristics that interests us here, but the formal expression, the mechanism involved in becoming a misologist or an erist, ἀντιλογικός. A misologist arises as a result of continuous exposure to refutations of an argument that one holds to be true. This is an activity in which erists are programmatically involved, as both the logic of this passage, and the evidence of the Euthydemus, suggests. Besides, as it is clear from the Euthydemus, such a practice involves not only a refutation of the primary position, but also a subsequent refutation of the refutation. The dialogue describes in detail the confusion that it induces in the victims of the erists’ attacks. Eristic practice is made possible by the lack of proper argumentative skill, περὶ τοὺς λόγους τέχνη, and its lack consists primarily in the failure to separate prius and posterius, hypothesis and its consequences (as Phaed. 101elf. implies). The objects of the eristic refutation find that every statement that F is also proved to be non-F, and vice versa. This experience leads to a conclusion that nothing whatsoever can be safely and firmly known and affirmed (Phaed. 90c3f.), and, as a further corollary, that everything changes to and fro and nothing remains stable (Phaed. 90c4-6). The formulation of the latter conclusion is deliberately Heraclitean-sounding39.

  • 40 See Heraclitus’fr. B 125: και. ό κυκεὼν διίσταται μή κινούμενος. It is also strongly redolent of th (...)

78So here we seem to encounter Plato’s «genealogy» for eristics, parallel to that of the Presocratics in general. At least the general structure of the process is quite similar: confusion – born out of an inability to confront the contradictory arguments properly – leads to the conclusion that nothing whatsoever can be more F than non-F. Thus we arrive at the Euthydemian position of which Plato speaks in the beginning of the Cratylus: if F is no more applicable than non-F, then anything goes, the truth value of any given statement is equal to any other statement’s (πᾶσι πάντα ὁμοἰως εἶναι ἃμα καὶ ἀεί, 386d4). In the Phaedo the same is expressed-again, in a vaguely Heraclitean manner-through the image of «mixing everything together» (ὁμοῦ πάντα κυκῶντες, 101e5)40.

 

  • 41 See McCabe 2000, 94f.

792. And so it would seem, at the first glance, that McCabe is right when, in her recent study, she equates «controversialists», ἀντιλογικοί, with the Heracliteans41. Both positions deny «permanence of essence», which is another way of affirming «flux», and both ignore the Law of Non-Contradiction.

  • 42 See ουδέ εις περὶ τούτου [i.e., τὶ τῶν ὂντων εύρέίν] λόγος ούδὲ ϕροντίς (Phaed. 101 e3f., cf. also (...)
  • 43 While Heracliteans are considered to be unruly eccentrics, they are still treated as representing a (...)

80There are, however, crucial differences. Even if the end-positions of the erists and radical Heracliteans are fairly similar, the procedures by which they arrive there are distinct. Heracliteanism starts with an enquiry into the physical world, and is led into confusion by an inability to grapple with the contradictory character of the data of sense-perception. Despite the wrong conclusions, however, Heracliteanism is shown at least to be raising the right questions, and the puzzles that were the stumbling stone for the Heracliteans can be a starting point for developing the theory of Forms, provided the right approach is adopted (as in the Phaedo, the Theaetetus, and the Republic VII). Despite the fact that it went astray, the Heraclitean project started as the quest for truth: they are confused «in investigating the way in which things are» (Crat. 41lb7). There could be no greater contrast than that with the erists, who, it is alleged, have no concern to discover the truth of things42. While the Presocratic failure stems from the over-empiricist tendencies of their enquiries, it is still a bonae fidei enquiry, whereas the eristic practice is an extreme case of disinterest in the truth, as the evidence of the Euthydemus amply attests43.

81Besides, while Heracliteanism and Protagoreanism attempt to provide a theoretical articulation of, accordingly, ontological and epistemological implications of ignoring the Law of Non-Contradiction, and to spell out under what theoretical conditions it may be the case that both F and non-F are true of the same X, eristics is a performative practice that stems from an indifference to the question of truth. It is a pessimist reaction to the experience of the fragility of argument, whereas both Heracliteanism and Protagoreanism, however contradictorily, affirm the possibility of reaching an adequate account of the actual state of affairs-even if, as in the case of the Cratylan radicalism, this account is self-defeating: an indefinite «not even nohow» (Tht. 183al0-b5) or a silent gesture (Arist. Met. Γ 1010a7-15).

82So it can be concluded that equating the eristic and Heraclitean positions is unwarranted by our evidence. Our analysis demonstrates that although for Plato «flux» denotes contiguous areas that have a certain common denominator, nonetheless, in the way it is used by Plato, it is a multi-layered concept with internal dynamics and even tensions between its various applications. It figures prominently in Plato’s attempts to provide rational diagnoses, or «genealogies», of the concrete historical philosophical positions held by his philosophical predecessors and rivals. That does not mean, however, that all the attitudes characterised by «flux» of some description – such as Heracliteans, erists, adherents of Protagoras, ancient «name-givers» vel sim. – constitute a unified theoretical (or, as the case may be, anti-theoretical) position in Plato’s mind.

Bibliographie

Adomenas M., 2001, Nature in Flux. Plato’s Réception of Presocratic Théories, Cambridge (Ph. D. Thesis).

Burnyeat M.F., 1990, The Theaetetus of Plato, Indianopolis & Cambridge.

Calvo T, Brisson L. (eds.), 1997, Interpreting the Timaeus – Critias. Proceedings of the IV Symposium Platonicum. Selected Papers (International Plato Studies, Vol. 9.), Sankt Augustin.

Cooper J.M. (ed.), 1997, Plato. Complete Works, Cambridge.

Day J.M., 1997, ‘The theory of perception in Plato’s Theaetetus 152-183’, Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 15, 51-80.

Friedlander P, 1969, Plato. Vol. 3: The Dialogues. Second and Third Periods. Transl, by H. Meyerhoff, London.

Guthrie W. K. C., 1962, A History of Greek Philosophy. Vol. I. The Earlier Presocratics and the Pythagoreans, Cambridge.

Heitsch E., 1991, ‘ἄνω κάτω bei Platon’, Rheinisches Museum für Philologie 134, 276-87.

Hussey E., 1972, The Presocratics, London.

Irwin T., 1977, ‘Plato’ s Heracleiteanism’, Philosophical Quarterly 27, 1-13.

Kahn C.H., 1986, ‘Plato and Heraclitus’, Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy 1, 241-58.

Kirk G.S., 1951, ‘Naturel Change in Heraclitus’, Mind 60, 38-42.

Mccabe M.M., 2000, Plato and His Predecessors. The Dramatisation of Reason, Cambridge.

Mcdowell J., 1973, Plato: Theaetetus. Transl, with notes by J. McDowell, Oxford.

Mansfeld J., 1967, ‘Heraclitus on the Psychology and Physiology of Sleep and on Rivers’, Mnemosyne 20, 1-29.

Marcovich M., 1978, Eraclito: Frammenti, Florence.

Schofield M., Nussbaum M.C. (eds.), 1982, Language and Logos. Studies in ancient Greek philosophy presented to G. E. L. Owen, Cambridge.

Sedley D.N., 1997, ‘«Becoming like god» in the Timaeus and Aristotle’, in: Calvo & Brisson 1997, 327-39.

Tarán L., 1999, ‘Heraclitus: the river-fragments and their implications’, Elenchos 20, 9-52.

Teloh H., 1975, ‘Self-Predication or Anaxagorean Causation in Plato’, Apeiron 9, 15-23.

Teloh H., 1981, The Development of Plato’s Metaphysics, University Park & London.

Wiggins D., 1982, ‘Heraclitus’ conceptions of flux, fire and material persistence’, in: Schofield & Nussbaum 1982, 1-32.

Notes

1 It is curious, however, that in two contexts (Tht. 152c-e and 153a-183c passim, as well as, in an even more sustained manner, Crat. 402a-c passim) Plato makes a conscious interpretative move in that direction, when he suggests that the entire Greek tradition of thought, with the exception of the Eleatics, was characterized by latent Heracliteanism, which permeated the intellectual background so deeply as to influence the structures of language and concept-formation (cf., i.a., Crat. 439bl0-c6).

2 Kahn 1986.241.

3 An answer to this question was provided by Irwin 1977. I agree with the substance of his reconstruction of Plato’s views on flux as a cosmological category, but would like to differ with the overall strategy of his approach, as well as with his reading of the implications of his findings, I shall discuss this in more detail infra.

4 Here and elsewhere longer passages in English are quoted from Plato’s Complete Works (Cooper 1997), sometimes with considerable modification.

5 One can compare, for example, Plato’s persistent punning on νοῦς whenever Anaxagoras is mentioned – see Phdr. 270a4-6, Hipp. ma. 283a4,6, Phaed. 97clf., d6-8, 98b8f.

6 Unlike Socrates’ own interest primarily in that which is internal and ethical-one may contrast here Phdr. 229e4-230a6.

7 Cf. τò ἒνδον τò παρά σφίσιν πάθος Crat. 411 cl.

8 Cf. Tim. 68d2-7, esp. ἔργῳ σκοπούμενος βάσανον λαμβάνοι (68d2f.),

9 See an illuminating exegesis of the passage in Sedley 1997, 331-335.

10 The same conviction, albeit less distinctly stated, appears at the end of the Simile of the Cave (Rep. 518b6-519b5): the evil character of «vicious, but clever» people is said to be the result of turning their soul towards the becoming-whereas «if a nature of this sort had been hammered at from childhood and freed from the bonds of kinship with becoming (τῆς γενέσεως συγγενεῖς), which have been fastened to it by feasting, greed, and other such pleasures and which, like leaden weights, pull its vision downwards (κάτω στρέφουσι τὴν τῆς ψυχῆς ὄψιν)-if, being rid of these, it turned to look at true things, then I say that the same soul of the same person would see these most sharply, just as it now does the things it is presently turned towards» (519a8-b5).

11 Cf. Heraclitus’ fr. B 60 DK, as well as Heitsch 1991, 280-284.

12 Cf. Crat. 411b6f,: ὑπò τοῦ πυκνὰ περιστρέφεσθαι ζητοῦντες ὅπη ἒχει τὰ ὃντα είλιγγτιῶσιν.

13 There seems to be a deliberate pun on the περί ϕύσεως genre when Socrates says: τελευτῶν οὕτως ἐμαυτῷ ἔδοξα πρòς ταύτην τὴν σκέψιν άϕυὴς εἶναι (96clf.).

14 Cf. a helpful analysis in Teloh 1975, 19-21 (reproduced, in its essential features, in Teloh 1981, 119-25).

15 The confusion arises, according to Socrates, because ostensibly valid logical principles governing growth, alteration and identity (see the paragraph above) «fight each other in the soul»: ὁμολογήματα τρία μάχεσθαι αὐτά αὑτοῖς ἐν τῇ ἡμετέρα ψυχῇ (155b5f.).

16 In fact, an earlier remark in the Phaedo notes that it cornes about specifically as an impact of the senses on the soul: ψυχή, ὃταν μεν τῷ σώματι προσχται είς τò σκοπεῖν τι διὰ τοῦ όρᾶν διὰ τοῦ άκούειν ή διἄλλης τινòς αἰσθήσεως, τότε μεν ἒλκεται ὑπò τοῦ σώματος εἰς τὰ οὐδέποτε κατὰ ταὐτά ἒχοντα, καὶ αὐτή πλαινᾶται και ταράττεται. και είλιγγιᾷ ὤσπερ μεθύουσα, ἅτε τοιούτων ἐφαπτομένη (Phaed 79c2-8).

17 Cf. αἴσθησις μηδὲν μᾶλλον τοῦτο ή τò ἐναντίον δηλοῖ (Rep. 523c2f.).

18 Note that both words used by Plato refer to a «Whirlpool» (ἲλιγγος, δίνη) which in the passage of the Cratylus (439bl0-c6) is used as a symbol for the «flux» of the perceptual world.

19 This conclusion is also supported by several minor passages where «vertigo» is invoked, but which we are unable to analyse here due to the considerations of space (Tht. 175c8-d5, Rep. 407b8-c3, Prot. 339b7-e3, Leg. 663b6f., Ep. 7, 325d5-e3). For a more detailed treatment, cf. my Ph. D. thesis (Adomenas 2001, 166f.).

20 Cf. Socrates in Phaed. 96a~101b, education of the Guardians in Rep. 523a-525a, as well as, to some extent, Theaetetus in Tht 154c-155d.

21 Having complained about Heraclitus’ obscure mode of expression, Eryximachus in his speech attempts to explain away the simultaneous compresence of opposites by resolving it into a doctrine of successive stages, whereby opposites are succeeded by one another. On my reading, Plato does not endorse Eryximachus’ reductivist interpretation.

22 The attribution of «universal flux» to Heraclitus by Guthrie rests solely on the conviction that Plato could not err in that respect: «Plato, as knowledge of him would lead one to expect, had a pretty good insight into Heraclitus’ mind, and did not go seriously astray even in the matter of emphasis» (Guthrie 1962, 452 n. 1).

23 As Guthrie, for example, was trying to do (Guthrie 1962, 449-54). See, however, more nuanced account in Wiggins 1982, 7-13.

24 See Marcovich 1978, 149, Hussey 1972, 54f., Kirk. 1951, and cf. Taràn 1999, 13-20, 46-52.

25 See a thorough and most satisfying discussion in Tarán 1999.

26 In its original context it is, in fact, most likely to have been just one more example of the structure of the «unity of opposites» (a river is identical and non-identical to itself simultaneously). Heraclitus’ doctrine of «regular change», with which this fragment can also be associated, is also part of the same context (cf. Tarán 1999, 148-50; see Mansfeld 1967 for connections with Heraclitus’ psychology).

27 It is important to notice the repetition of the analogous expressions in both passages-the one in the Theaetetus and the one in the Cratylus: ἓν μεν αυτό καθαὑτό ούδέν ἐστιν (Tht 152d2f.) and καθαὑτά πρòς τὴν αὑτῶν οὐσίαν (Crat. 386e3); ϕαντασία (Tht 152cl) and φάντασμα (Crat. 386e3).

28 Cf. 153e4f.: ἑπώμεθα τῷ ἃρτι λόγω, μηδὲν αὐτό καθαὐτό ἓν.ὄν τιθέντες.

29 The remark at 154a8: ούδέ σοὶ αὐτῷ ταύτòν διά τò μηδέποτε ομοίως αυτόν σεαυτῷ ἔχειν; – does not unambiguously refer to flux. It follows from the assumption μηδέν αὐτò καθαὐτό ἓν v (153e4) – if nothing is «something» in itself, then neither the perceiver ever is something stable, and the criterion of stability is «to be in the same relationship with respect to oneself».

30 Cf. ἀλήθειαν ἀποκεκουμμένην 155dl0, ἀμυήτων 155e3, μυστήρια 156a3.

31 It is plausible to suppose (contra Burnyeat 1990, 13, 16f., MacDowell 1973, 131, 137 et al) that the understanding of knowledge delineated in this section of the Theaetetus is in its technical details much more Atomistic than it is either Protagorean or Heraclitean (as a whole it is «an amalgam» – cf. Day 1997, 80). For the mechanics of perception, cf. Democritus’ fr. B 9, A 49 DK.

32 The relativity of properties is a theme of Heraclitean fragments (or rather paraphrases) adduced in the Hippias ma. 289a2-b5: «The most beautiful of apes is ugly compared with the human race» (= fr. B 82) and «The wisest of men, when compared to a god, will appear but an ape in wisdom, and beauty and all else» (= fr. B 83). Prot. 334a3-c6, on the other hand, illustrates the transition from Heraclitean-sounding everyday examples that have the structure of «unity of opposites» to the relativism of the Protagorean type.

33 It is a «becoming» and «motion» in a metaphorical and «synchronic» sense (cf. Burnyeat 1990, 16-8). They refer to the fact that properties are constituted in the interaction between the perceiver and the perceived, and not to the diachronic dimension of perception as a temporal process.

34 Of course, Heraclitus’ cosmological doctrine of «regular change» makes the attribution of «flux» to Heraclitus more plausible. However, this doctrine does not explain Plato’s motive for making that attribution. Nor does it provide us with the sense of «radical flux» that Plato attributes to the Heracliteans later. Insofar as Plato’s reading of Heraclitus goes, we must distinguish between the radical interpretation of flux (everything is changing in all aspects at every moment) and the weaker statement that movement and change play an important role in the maintenance of the cosmos. It is the latter conception of flux that we encounter in the exposition of the Protagoras-Heraclitus theory. It can be supported by a score of Heraclitean fragments-a typical example would be κυκεών in fr. B 125, a drink which dissolves into its constituents if it is not kept in motion. It exemplifies a rule of the «coïncidence of opposites» in that it is in motion and «at rest», i.e. stable, at the same time. (It is probable that Heraclitus implied κυκζεών to be a metaphor for the cosmos in general.)

35 That is the meaning of ἀνάγκη τὴν ουσίαν συνδεῖ (Tht. 160b6).

36 One should not mistake 158e-160c for the assertion of «a completely universal thesis of nonidentity over time» (Burnyeat 1990, 18). By this argument, as Friedländer rightly observed, man is reduced into «an assemblage, not being for himself, but always being or rather becoming in relation to something else. Man is dissolved into a System of relations, and the section concludes on the note that there is no such thing as ‘being in itself’ » (Friedländer 1969, 160). That is, substance is reduced to the aggregate of the relational properties. Different episodes («healthy Socrates» and «sick Socrates») represent different syntheses of relational properties, therefore the «healthy Socrates» is «different» from the «sick Socrates». (That does not amount to saying that this dissolution of substance does not finally lead to the conclusion of radical flux. The fact is that this conclusion is not drawn yet.) The prohibition of the use of pronouns and names at 157b3-cl amounts to the establishment of language that would be alien to the idea of stable (that is, existing independently from relational constitution) substance, and not (yet) to the denial of all positive meaning in language.

37 Cf. 181clf.: δοκεῖ οὖν μοι ἀρχή είναι τής σκέψεως κινήσεως πέρι, ποῖόν τί ποτε ἂρα λέγοντές ϕασι τά πάντα κινεῖσθαι.

38 This approach seems to be more satisfactory than the previous attempts to answer the question why Plato had to introduce the category of flux at all Irwins account (see Irwin 1977), for example, takes as its starting point the formulation of the terms of the problem from Aristotle’s testimony in Met A (987a32-b7; cf. also 1078b9-17 & 1086a31-b11), and looks for their antecedents or equivalents in Plato. Of course, in the process of his analysis he modifies Aristotle’s claim that Plato accepted the Heraclitean view of the sensible world, and provides an accurate analysis of the two kinds of change with which Plato operates (namely, aspect-change, or a-change, and self-change, or s-change (cf. ibid., 4-6)). Nevertheless, he maintains that «flux» is a self-evident and irreducible category in Plato’s treatment of the perceptual world. He fails to appreciate the instrumental character of the category of «flux» and to identify the complex of ideas which gave rise to it, and with which it is associated. Thus Plato’s cognitive application of «flux» to describe the State of the soul altogether evades his treatment.
I am especially grateful to Malcolm Schofield for guidance through the dizzy-making arguments of this section.

39 See references to the currents of Euripus, allusion to Heraclitus’ fr. B 60 DK in ἄνω κάτω στρέφεται, as well as a reference to «general theory of flux» in χρόνον ούδένα έν ούδενι μένει. Besides, the formulation at 90c2f. (κατανενοηκέναι μόνοι ότι οὔτε τῶν πραγμάτων ούδενός ούδέν υγιές ούδέ βέβαιον) is very reminiscent of Socrates’ sarcastic description of the Heracliteans at the end of the Cratylus: τῶν όντων καταγιγνώσκειν ώς ούδέν ὑγιὲς ούδενός (440c7f.).

40 See Heraclitus’fr. B 125: και. ό κυκεὼν διίσταται μή κινούμενος. It is also strongly redolent of the Whirlpool image at Crat 439c5f. : οὗτοι αύτοί τε ὥσπερ εἲς τινα δίνην έμπεσόντες κυκῶνται και ήμάς έϕελκόμενοι προσεμβάλλουσιν.

41 See McCabe 2000, 94f.

42 See ουδέ εις περὶ τούτου [i.e., τὶ τῶν ὂντων εύρέίν] λόγος ούδὲ ϕροντίς (Phaed. 101 e3f., cf. also Rep. 539bl-c8). Of course, the same could not be said about the people described in Phaed. 90b6-c6 hefore they become misologists. But while their attitude to arguments diametrically changes in that process, there is no similar radical change involved in the genesis of the Presocratics: they predicate flux to the world because they think this is actually true.

43 While Heracliteans are considered to be unruly eccentrics, they are still treated as representing a phiosophically respectable position, whereas erists are considered a «pitfall» for a serious argument at Tht 163bl-164d 10, 165b2-e4, 167d5-168c2.

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