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Heraclitus' Epistemological Views
By: Trix

Heraclitus’ ontology can be interpreted as based either on an incorporeal rationality or on material substance. While both are arguable, it is undeniable that both operate on an account that in either interpretation, the human soul and the world operate on a doctrine of flux.

Heraclitus argues, “all things come about in accordance with the account” so that “all things are one.” Numerous passages demonstrate that Heraclitus believes that all things exist in a state of tension with their opposites, with change eventually occurring on some level. This state of flux is also present in the soul, as he describes: “for souls it is death to become water, for water death to become earth but from earth water comes into being, from water soul.” By arguing that souls engage in cyclic changes with their opposites, Heraclitus can also be interpreted as suggesting that the elements in the soul are corporal substances. Specifically, it can be claimed that this material substance is fire, but it must be recognized that Heraclitus stated that fire is regulated by the account: “turnings of fire: first, sea; or sea, half is earth, half lightning flash.” In both interpretations, the soul and world is always governed by the same account.

Human knowledge, Heraclitus argues, is contingent on man recognizing the account in him so that he can recognize the accounts in external objects. Heraclitus claims to have done this, “I inquired into myself” and labels those who have not as possessors of unknown or foreign souls. Ignorance of the self, Heraclitus states, leaves man with an inability to interpret sensible experiences, as Heraclitus writes, “bad witnesses for men are the eyes and ears of those who have foreign souls” and it is for this reason that “much learning does not teach thought.” As learning is contingent on sensible experience, this is not known unless the account in the objects can be recognized. Such recognition depends on previous knowledge of the account, as Xenophanes argued. Heraclitus differs by allowing the account to be in the soul of man, and so to know the external world man must know his soul. Failing to do so leaves men who “do not understand the things they meet with – not even when they have learned them do they know them.”

However, Heraclitus does not believe that knowledge is complete introspection of the self, as he writes, “philosophical men must be versed in very many things.” While the soul might contain everything in the world, Heraclitus asserts that it cannot be completely known: “you will not find the limits of the soul although you travel all the path – so deep is its account.” Heraclitus seems to be assuming that knowledge must concern everything, and be therefore complete, and this requires sensible experience.

Heraclitus argues, “humans have no insights divine ways have” and that the divine “is day and dusk, winter and summer, war and peace, satiety and feminine.” It is important to stipulate that because “the world, same for all, neither any God nor any man made” god’s knowledge is derived from his sensible perceptions. As Heraclitus also asserts that “those things which are learned by sight and hearing, I honour more” the god’s insights are superior because he has more sensible experience than man does.

While direct experience provides an access to knowledge, it is also important to recognize that Heraclitus believed that such perceptions can “escape our knowledge through lack of trust.” Heraclitus can be referring to trusting the mind, as he claims, “the wise is set a part from all things.” The reason for this can depend on the interpretation of Heraclitus’ ontology. If the world is governed by a detached account, then wisdom must similarly be separate. If, however, the world is a material substance, wisdom must be separate or else it will be regulated by the doctrine of flux, and what is knowledge at one time will be ignorance at another. Heraclitus writes that “wisdom is one thing: to grasp the knowledge of how all things are steered thought all” and the permanence required for this would be destroyed if it was a part of the material world. This might be in response to the argument against relativity that Xenophanes argued, and Heraclitus is responding by claiming that knowledge can be distinct from the ideas presented in the mind. Heraclitus, however, is still assuming that knowledge is only possible because the account in man resembles the account in the external world.

Article Source: http://journal.ilovephilosophy.com

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