Tag Archives: Heraclitus

Hostility and Hospitality

After seventeen weekly posts of readings with my annotations, the Pensées of Pascal join two other works that I have blogged about systematically, chapter by chapter or book by book:

  • R. G. Collingwood, The New Leviathan, or Man, Society, Civilization, and Barbarism (1942);

  • Homer, the Iliad, in George Chapman’s translation.

Do three authors belong together, for any other reason than that I have spent time with each of them?

  • For Pascal, the Torah is history, but the Iliad was written too late to be that, and is just a novel (S 688 / L 436 / B 628). It has no concept of law, he says (S 691 / L 451 / B 620), but later Greeks took this and other things from the Jews. I discussed this in “Judaism for Pascal.” For example, Philo Judaeus thinks that when Heraclitus says, “We live their death and we die their life,” this is the death wrought by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in Genesis.

  • Pascal and Collingwood both come to terms with a world of contrariety. Collingwood calls it “a Heraclitean world,” alluding to how Plato has Socrates tell Hermogenes in the Cratylus (402a, Loeb translation by Harold North Fowler),

    Heracleitus says, you know, that all things move and nothing remains still, and he likens the universe to the current of a river, saying that you cannot step twice into the same stream.

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Judaism for Pascal

This blog’s occupation with Pascal may continue four more weeks. Four readings of the Pensées remain to be posted here, with my annotations.

The present post will take up a question raised by the latest reading so far, which is the thirteenth.

In the twelfth reading, to somebody looking for faith, Pascal recommended acting as if he already had it. For the person of today, faced with various options, at least in a liberal society, the question remains (which was asked in our seminar) of which faith to follow. Could the person of Pascal’s day, whether gentile or Jew by breeding, have sensibly considered the option of Judaism as a faith, according to Pascal?

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Automatia

One day during the Trojan War, Apollo and Athena decide to give the combatants a break. The general conflict is to be replaced with a one-on-one. The Olympians induce Helenus to tell his brother Hector to take on whichever of the Greeks is up for it.

Only Menelaus will accept the challenge at first. His brother Agamemnon makes him withdraw. When none of the other Greeks comes forward, Nestor chides them. After a story of his former prowess, he utters the words that Chapman renders as two couplets:

O that my youth were now as fresh, and all my powers as sound;
Soone should bold Hector be impugn’d: yet you that most are crownd
With fortitude, of all our hoast; euen you, me thinkes are slow,
Not free, and set on fire with lust, t’encounter such a foe.

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We the Pears of the Wild Coyote Tree

This is a preliminary report on two recent films:

  • The Wild Pear Tree, by Nuri Bilge Ceylan;
  • We the Coyotes, by Marco La Via and Hanna Ladoul.

The report is preliminary, not because there is going to be another, but because I have seen each film only once, and I may see one of them again. I remember that François Truffaut liked to see films at least twice. I would guess that I read this in The Washington Post, in an appreciation published when Truffaut died; however, he died on October 21, 1984, during the first semester of my sophomore year in Santa Fe, when I would not have been reading the Post. While in college, I did enjoy seeing some films twice, or a second time; Truffaut’s own 400 Coups was an example, a French teacher having shown it to us in high school.

The two films that I am reviewing concern young adults trying to find their own way in the world, in defiance of their elders. We all have to do this. In every generation, some will do it more defiantly than others. Heraclitus can be defiant, he of Ephesus and thus one of the Ionian philosophers, whose spirit I imagine to haunt the Nesin Mathematics Village. A further reason to bring up Heraclitus will be—gold.

Eva Brann, The Logos of Heraclitus, on Marmara Island, July, 2012

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Some Say Poetry

In a poetry review, a remark on being a student has drawn my attention:

In My Poets, a work of autobiographical criticism with occasional ventriloquial interludes, McLane recalls two “early impasses in reading,” freshman-year encounters with Charles Olson and Frank O’Hara. She writes about not “getting it” but wanting to get it, about a desire to get it that was left wanting by code-breaking and analysis and satisfied by hearing and feeling.

This is from the second half of a “New Books” column by Christine Smallwood, in the Reviews section of Harper’s, July 2017. After quoting Smallwood’s review, I want to say something about learning and creating, in poetry and also in mathematics.

Potted palms with plaster farm animals on hillside behind

Kuzguncuk, 2017.11.05

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NL XXIV: The Body Politic, Social and Non-Social

Index to this series

Executive summary (added September 11, 2018): The subject of political theory is the kind of community called a body politic. For the Ancients, this is a society, composed of, for example, the citizens of Athens, excluding women, children, slaves, and foreigners. In medieval times, all human beings in the community compose a body politic, which is thus non-social, though having within it the societies called estates; sovereigns rule by force (e.g. by the bribery called the granting of liberties), but may in turn be ruled, as is the husband, sovereign of the wife. For Hobbes, a sovereign can also rule by authority. An eristic argument would insist that only one of these accounts of the body politic is correct; but the world is in the flux described by Heraclitus, and the way to come to terms with it is not eristic, but dialectic, as described in the Meno of Plato.


Dialectic is the way to come to terms with a world of constant change. On the internet in particular, too many persons engage in eristic, staking out a position like the Greeks at Troy, who built a wall around their ships on the shore and tried to defend it against all comers.

Dogs stake out their positions in the shade,
2017.09.14

In the argument of the New Leviathan, we pass from the family to the state, which Collingwood calls the body politic. This is what political theory must give a scientific account of (24. 1). We consider three phases of political theory:

  1. ancient,
  2. medieval, and
  3. modern.

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NL XXIII: The Family As a Society

Index to this series

Executive summary (added September 11, 2018):

1.
The society at the nucleus of the family is temporary, ending with the death of one of the two members.
2.
The family has a life-cycle, with three phases: (1) before children; (2) after children, but before they have free will; (3) after the children have free will.
3.
The community consisting of husband and wife is now a society. It was not a society when a marriage was arranged by the groom or the groom’s father and the father of the bride. The non-social aspect of a marriage survives in the custom of formally “giving away” the bride.
4.
If today a bride and groom do not quite recognize themselves as forming a society, they may come to do so in time.
5.
Contraception helps clarify that a marriage is normally for the sake of having children.
6.
In order to grow up and leave the nursery, the child must be educated. The work of this is both the child’s and its teachers’. Parents must also allow the child to leave the nursery and join their society.
7.
There are three possible needs, and they are distinct: (1) to have a baby, (2) to have a child, (3) to have a grown-up child.
8.
Any of those three needs is fulfilled by an act of will; there is no parental “instinct”—not a scientific term anyway, though it is used popularly for an appetite or desire.
9.
Born without free will, we are not born in chains either, since this would mean suppression of a will that didn’t exist.

The last chapter was called “The Family As a Mixed Community,” because the family consists of both a society and a non-social part, called the nursery. Now we are looking at “The Family As a Society.” We are not in contradiction, but are in the flux that Heraclitus observed in all existence (24. 62). The inmates of the nursery normally grow and join the society of their parents: the family as a whole is a society in this sense.

Altınova bazaar, Wednesday, September 13, 2017

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Logic (notes on the finger-wagging Cratylus)

The senior essay that I wrote at St John’s College was called something like ‘An account based in Aristotle of the Law of Contradiction’. I do not know now what the point was. I had read the Metaphysics in a preceptorial, so I decided to spend even more time with this book in writing my essay. I remember noting ultimately that humans could indeed be self-contradictory. Hector was an example. To Andromache he described two incompatible expectations: that their son would win renown, and that the boy would die as an infant when the Greeks took Troy. Continue reading

Aristotle on Heraclitus

Along with various fellow alumni of St John’s College (Annapolis and Santa Fe), I am currently reading Eva Brann, The Logos of Heraclitus (Paul Dry Books, 2011). This may inspire some incidental posts, such as the present one, which considers the same sentence about Heraclitus by Aristotle in three languages, mainly because of the oddity of a published Turkish translation. The oddity is in the treatment of opinion and knowledge. The distinction between them is important in, for example, Plato’s Republic; but I shall not really have anything to say here about the distinction as such.

Miss Brann spends III.A (pages 15–19) considering Fragment 50 (by the Diels reckoning):

οὐκ ἐμοῦ, ἀλλὰ τοῦ λόγου ἀκούσαντας ὁμολογεῖν σοφόν ἐστιν ἓν πάντα εἶναι

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