Original Tape of Lecture IX
Sources of Creative Power – Spring Semester
[Part I: Heraclitus]
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[Audio file starts here.] … in the framework of our course is perhaps the most difficult task, because the fame of Heraclitus since the middle of the 19th century has grown so considerably that we might rightly suspect that it is a fame for the wrong reasons. And the figure of Heraclitus, who was already called the dark one, the obscure one, in his time by his Greek contemporaries has remained very dark. The light that has thrown on him, since Hegel and Nietzsche partly rather confuses the issue instead of clearing it up. He had a very bad fate. Of all [of] the philosophers we are considering here, he is the least successful one. Almost nothing of his teachings has gone into Western tradition, has been remembered and worked with. Then suddenly in the 19th century he gets to be rediscovered and is made, so to speak, the founder of the most advanced modern metaphysics, the metaphysics of Hegel, a metaphysics that has nothing whatsoever to do with the principle of Heraclitus’ thinking. So it takes up a few of his propositions, transforming them into metaphysical propositions, which Heraclitus himself never did. Since then, there is almost no philosopher who does not think himself a student of Heraclitus, especially the existential philosophers. And there is almost no scientific philosopher or scientist who doesn’t quote him sometimes and [calls] him a very very great figure. This great figure is of cardboard and we have first to burn it in order to find how great Heraclitus really is. And that is a very tedious procedure in a way.
We take him up because we think he is just the opposite. He belongs into our context, namely being a non-metaphysical philosopher. A Philosopher, and of those non-metaphysical philosophers, except perhaps Immanuel Kant, who was that only a sketch, have only been nine; the nine we are considering. From Lao-tze to Jesus of Nazareth, they all have one thing in common. They know that the absolute cannot be known. They never claim to know
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the absolute, though they establish the absolute as a principle. They are the ones that discover the absolute as a principle and by that make it possible to break the framework, the mythical framework of the human mind, prevailing up to their time, where man is contained in the world, is with the world and not yet in the world. Because man is only in the world, if he can separate himself from the world and then relate himself back to the world out of his own free will. If he can do that, then he can claim to be in the world and he can claim to be conditioned by the world to a certain degree and otherwise, to be a conditioner of the world to another certain degree. And this exactly means man’s freedom.
All of them have discovered, have made together this independent declaration of the human mind that takes the human mind out of the framework of myth, of being entirely conditioned and makes it a creative creature. That means, a creature that is not only conditioned but also conditions. This, at surprise, that they all knew and maintained, that this absolute is thinkable for man, that if he were not able to think of an absolute, he cannot be able to transcend everything and also everything as a whole, namely being itself. If he can transcend being itself, he only cannot transcend himself. Himself he can only transcend, as I said, by risking his life for a higher principle. Then he succeeds to transcend himself; before he cannot. But he can transcend the whole of being under the condition that he has this concept of the absolute, of an absolute principle; not an idea, a principle.
That means all of them were non-metaphysicians. But what do I mean by being a metaphysician? I mean, that man loses the capability of creative transcendence, by being so hybrid, that he thinks he can transcend into something absolute and have the absolute. This absolute has turned out to be always either being conceived as matter or being conceived as ideas.
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You have the remanence of that in the American educational system of today, you have the remanence of that in what is called philosophy today, namely the ones are positivists and philosophy is there in order to serve the so-called science and nobody realizes that behind that is a metaphysic they called it the scientific method, but if you analyze a little bit, you find they mean nature. They are, as Sydney Hook called himself, seasoned naturalists. Which means they believe in nature, they believe in matter, they believe to know what being is; to have the absolute. The others, which we see in the second or third brew of tea in the Chicago School, namely they believe that ideas exist. That [did] already Plato. That is the other side, what metaphysics boiled down to. And they think they can teach ideas, that ideas are eternal and they never realize that man relates to matter and things and to ideas and that he makes ideas. So that he is a maker of ideas. And therefore that his ideas can be controlled by himself and that they are not something eternal and absolute. Both claim, they know an absolute.
All of the people we consider here, because we think they are the most modern thinkers — the age of metaphysics is behind us, though we are still in it, and suffer from it — none of them never believed that he could know or have the absolute, the truth, and [they never] preached and deduced from it a whole system of human and cosmological affairs. This point is easy to proof. We have seen it in Lao-tze, Buddha, Zarathustra, Abraham and Homer. It will be easier to proof Socrates and Jesus of Nazareth and Solon. But it is certainly hardest to proof with Heraclitus. Because Heraclitus [is often counted] among the founders of modern science and of science, and science has been developed by metaphysics, it grew out of metaphysics.
But there, scientists come to our help lately. Scientists who are not so easily taken by pseudo-philosophical and metaphysical talk. Like Heisenberg and Schrödinger, modern atom physicists. [A late book of Schrödinger] said, ›I cannot see the point why Heraclitus should really
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have such a big merit to modern science. I my opinion Democritus, who had first the idea of the atom, Pythagoras, who really invented, so to speak, or discovered mathematics as a science — though he had metaphysical concepts, that is okay – and Thales, who first asked, what is the material the universe is built of, have done much more for the development of science itself in Europe than Heraclitus.‹1
That’s a big relief for philosophers to hear such things. Because now we can make a distinction which we have to make first. It is true what Schrödinger says. The immediate influence on science by Heraclitus was very flat, already in Greek times. Let alone in later times. But Heraclitus is not a scientist. Heraclitus is the first philosopher of science. He does not aim to build up sciences, he tries to pave the way for the scientific possibilities of the human mind. What he discovered is this very scientific capability, that science is a capability of the human mind. And he preaches, so to speak, the development of this capability. He discovers it and shows it. He himself never goes in for knowledge. It is strange to hear, this man was supposed to have done so much for sciences sake. If all those learned fools had rather sit down and thought, they might have discovered more. Knowledge is of no avail, that sounds bad in the ears of a scientist. Yet he is interested only in the scientific view of the world. This is strange. He is taken as a cosmologist and if you look into his sayings and you analyze him, you find he is nothing less than a cosmologist. He does not want to explain to us how the cosmos developed, what things are. He just wants to discover one thing: the law of all those things going on.
He has an exact notion of the law, in a very broad sense. First, he calls that ›logos‹. He wants to find out how things go on; a very abstract purpose. He does not ask, what [things are]. He does not claim to know the quality of things. He does not claim to know or want to know the origin of
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things. He just wants to know one thing: ›how does it work?‹ That is the reason why he was not understood in Greece. Because in order to raise that question, he had to discard the one concept that all Greek philosophy — except Socrates, as we will see later — had an accepted [blinding], namely the concept of being. The Greeks had always a definite concept of being as a whole. This concept was either, as the pre-Platonic philosophers, except Heraclitus, — a pre-Socratic philosopher — it was either a principle of being which really was an idea, something substantial, namely water, fire or air, out of that all things have come, or the atom, with Democritus. Or it was the idea, with Plato, which is being, which is the definition of being.
Heraclitus never gives the definition of being. He is not even talking about being. He doesn’t even use the term. He is not concerned with it. That means he knows fairly well that every concern with an abstract concept of being means at once to go the metaphysical way, namely to claim that man is able to get a key to universal knowledge. And he says, man cannot have universal knowledge, cannot have understanding, only God has understanding. Human beings only understand. Progressively step by step, without ever having understanding. That means to approach understanding itself. To approach the concept of being. An absolute runs against his whole thinking, because he states expressively that the absolute cannot be known by man. He says it in a way that sets himself apart from the beginning of his saying from all his companions.
This philosopher has perhaps been even more lonely than Lao-tze was. He has not been understood and he was all alone, poor in Ephesus, which was one of the greatest polis in Greek Asia, hated by all his citizens. Hating his cold citizens himself, taking a super-aristocratic attitude by saying — he wrote in very short sentences, aphorisms, and he is the master of
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aphorisms —; ›One is ten thousand to me, if he be the best‹2. This absolute aristocratic position he takes is a measure to fight his enemies off. About the Ephesians he says, ›May wealth always be granted to the Ephesians. So they can be taken in account for their wickedness.‹3 He wishes them wealth, continued wealth, that it may be found out, how wicked they are. He is a politician too, a statesman. Like we will find out later in Socrates. Politics and philosophy are one with him. So he is not a cosmologist. And if his book, or the fragments we have of it, sounded first as if he was a natural philosopher, he is by no means. He is a man who propagates the scientific mind and that means also to take into account political and historical affairs. He was busy in the affairs of his hometown, till he was thrown out; this lonely man, who could not be understood in Greece because the Greeks had a definite concept of being and it was static.
Parmenides, who brought this concept of being in its most abstract form, being a metaphysician, the greatest perhaps and the most consequent of all Greek metaphysicians, courageous enough to draw the consequence that if being should be the absolute and should be one, then it must not be divided, there mustn’t be no parts of it, so [if there] are parts and we see those parts, it means it is all delusion. There cannot be such a thing as motion. There cannot be such things as single things. Because the concept of the absolute one, that Parmenides pretends to know, excludes that. That is at least the most courageous metaphysician that ever lived, because he drew the metaphysical position from the very beginning almost into its own absurdity. Only that this has not been seen. But he, as such a metaphysician, did much more for the development of science itself than Heraclitus did. Because by
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taking this position, he is the founder of logic, as a science. And Aristotle could never have written the first logic without Parmenides. The step in between is Plato’s dialog »Parmenides« which develops logic as a possible scientific position.4
Heraclitus has nothing to do with that, whatsoever. Because he does not accept any Greek concept of being. He starts, as we say, with a concept of becoming. Now, the Greeks never knew what becoming is. We say becoming to that and all agree on that since Hegel told us so. Unfortunately we have to split hairs once more because Heraclitus does not describe becoming. Hegel describes becoming. Because Hegel is a metaphysician, he takes the process thinking of Heraclitus and pretends that this overall process is being. And ascribes this idea to Heraclitus and we all have followed him, but Heraclitus never said such a thing, that for him becoming is being; he didn’t mention being. For Hegel becoming is being, because he pretends to know the becoming. The becoming is the becoming of the absolute spirit, the world spirit, who changes himself into matter, build that matter up to the human being and the human consciousness. In human consciousness this world spirit comes to the knowledge of himself and now starts to change back. The whole process would then be a process of becoming, because becoming means intention.
Heraclitus does not imply intention. He only describes change, not becoming. Everything is always changing, he says. Everything changes permanently. This change is going on forever and has been gone on forever already. What he tries to find is the law of this eternal change. He does not pretend to know what this change means. He does not describe it as becoming that leads to a definite end or has a definite purpose. He talks so little about purpose that he says, ›it seems that all [that is going on, or God],
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is like a great child that plays a game.‹5 Plays with the world. That is far from describing, from attempting to say that he knows the meaning of being and that he knows being. He does not claim any such thing. He never did.
His search for meaning goes another way; the way of the philosopher — in our definition. That means the man who knows that, he only can love sophia, truth, wisdom, Dao, logos, God; whatever is called the highest absolute principle. That he only can love it and pursue it, but he never can have it. He proceeds as such a philosopher and so he looks at things, as the true philosopher does, not from without pretending that he knows being, that he has the Archimedean point of view, ›give me a point of view standing outside of being and I will move it‹. But that he knows that he is within being. And that the first thing to know would be the immediate experience man has in the world and that is the experience with himself. And so one of his sayings is ›I looked into myself‹.6 As Lao-tze did, who said, ›somebody who never leaves his home and sits there, might well know what’s going on in the world. Why? Because he knows himself.‹7 Socrates will tell us the same thing, Heraclitus is absolutely of all their opinion, that that is the next thing to do. And so he joins the ranks we are considering here, namely the rank of true philosophers who are first concerned with establishing the independence of man in the world, making him a being in the world, and then look further. Then try to establish relations, a step to give in to relations in which we are involved. So he goes step by step.
His highest principle, his absolute, he envisions, he calls ›logos‹. Logos has a different meaning with him as in other Greek thinking. His
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thinking must perhaps have been influenced by the Persians and by Zarathustra’s thinking. Because when he talks about fire, he does not talk about fire as a pre-natural principle as the other philosophers would do who talk about water as this principle. He talks about fire in the sense of Zarathustra: as a purifying principle. It is a symbol for him, for thinking, for logos, for action. He must have been influenced perhaps by Persian thinking. So his concept of logos is not the many-folded, but nevertheless unified concept of all other Greek thinkers. Socrates does not take this concept up at all and he has good reason for it. He never talks in that sense about logos, all others do.
Heraclitus has his own concept. It means: originally, logos [λόγος] comes from légein [λέγειν] that means to put down, colloquial is to nail it down, make sure by words, also speaking, saying a word; word and idea, the same; word and deed, the same in this. This is not the concept of Heraclitus. He really means by logos what we partly mean by law. He means an absolute principle in which we might [take part]. As far as it is an absolute, he says — very sneeringly and that is one other reason why he was called the dark, the confused, the obscure one, and why nobody liked him though he writes most clear —, he says, ›of all the ones I’ve seen, nobody understood the main thing, namely that the absolute one is something absolutely apart.‹8 We have seen that Zarathustra said that too. We have seen that Lao-tze said that too, that Buddha said that too. That the absolute principle is something absolutely apart from all other things and apart from being too. Because all other things together are being. It is something transcending being. This is sometimes called ›God‹ or ›the gods‹ by Heraclitus too. In the colloquial language of the Greeks, in order to make this point clear, to listeners. But what he means is, to leave the question open. He says once ›this absolute one, logos, which is apart from all things, that is the
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This is a position that has been reached not entirely, only almost by two other philosophers, by Socrates and by Kant. After long work of analysis of thought and ideas. They came to that result and never formulated as well. Because Heraclitus always means exactly what he is saying. He never says a word too much, he never says a word less than is necessary. He means this paradox literally. This highest principle, the absolute that man can envisage and should envisage.10 Which is the only one which helps him to transcend all being and by that to realize his own distinction from being. And to become free and creative. This highest principle is willing and is not willing to be called god. He means it is willing and not willing.
The meaning is: It is for human beings equally possible to call this principle god or not to call it god. If you call it god you have made this Kierkegaardien jump into faith, but you have made it on the right point which Kierkegaard could never find — perhaps he didn’t studied Kant enough and Hegel too much. The exact point, where the highest possible result of reason, namely the insight into the necessity of the highest absolute principle which is absolutely apart for reason itself, because otherwise reason does not function creatively. This is the jumping board into faith. If somebody jumps there and calls consciously this highest principle — in which he claims to have no inside with Heraclitus — which he claims not ever to know so that he can’t preach to others, if he calls that god and adores it, it perfectly harmless to human being. It might be helpful to himself. No philosopher could contradict him, because it is highly not only possible but highly probable, highest probable that this principle is god. But we can never prove.
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So here the jump is possible, but if not — the principle is willing not to be called god — even if it is god it is willing not to be called god — because if one gains this principle and lives according to it and towards it, using human reason in its creative possibilities, namely acting for ultimate and not for ulterior motives. Then one cannot act differently from the man who believes, who calls this highest principle god. He will act the same way.
That is the meaning of the saying of Heraclitus, where he makes the scale between philosophical thinking and religious thinking, bringing it to a point where this case tents perfectly in. It has never been done in one sentence and with this clarity before in all thinking, and after it. We have only approached this highest point. All of them have approached of those we handle here, and Kant has approached it most sufficiently too. If you other have inklings about it — but it has never been formulated so absolutely clear as the confused, the obscure, the dark one form Ephesus has formulated it.
This highest principle is thinking, logos, law with Heraclitus, and now he makes his scale. He moves as a true philosopher from within, from the first experience he has with himself, with human beings, form there he distinguishes other beings that are not human, natural beings, physical phenomena and this highest principle. He discovers that in all of them there is logos. Now he gives his step initiations of logos. The divine logos, the absolute principle he says, we cannot reach and cannot have, [only God has] understanding to highest principle. But we can get into understanding, because we also have logos. Now the things that are not human, nature and the cosmos, this process has also logos, it is ruled by logos. He distinguishes three grades of logos: Man — since he is not a metaphysician, and not a mythical thinker — man is not entirely contained in the world. The logos of the world can be found out. Though only step by step but it can be found
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out. It is relatively simple. We can find the principle of the acting of the logos, how God acts, logically so to speak, by the logos in the world. Except man, he can’t find out, he acts by the unity of opposites.
Heraclitus is perhaps going to be of real influence still on modern science, then they will really discover him. Because then they might discover that he never made — as all our thinkers here did not, but he is concerned with scientific matters too — that he never made the distinction between spirit and body, idea and matter. That he never tried to describe a thing as a thing. He says there is no thing. ›You can never go twice into the same river.‹11 The river is not a thing, the river is a going on, it’s a process, it’s a change of occurrences. He does not pretend to know what water is. He means we call that water, we call that fire, but what do we know? What we know is only phenomena. He describes occurrences, sets of occurrences of phenomena in a most abstract language. If modern scientist would read him that way they might gain a possibility to explain their mathematical findings to layman by dropping the terms energy, matter, spirit, and so on, which they are still applying and not knowing how they can describe their modern results by those terms. If they would listen to Heraclitus who never has tried to describe it in those terms, but always tried to describe it in terms of opposites, which can be boiled down to X and Y — as the mathematicians of our time do.
›Way up, way down, same.‹12 Or not the same? Only we distinguish between way up and the way down because we have our purposes. The way up and the way down is the same way. ›War is the father of all things.‹13 By war he means strives, struggle, opposition. Man, woman, everything you can see in nature going on is just that all things acts through all things — if we consider them to be things — that the process is self-balancing all the time. That’s what he thinks about nature. Now he makes a great discovery which
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is almost scientific in this run of thinking. He says: ›All is one, one is all.‹14 He does not mean it mythical, he is not speculating in that mythical way or metaphysical way that always tries to find the unity between the one and all things, all things are one, one is all things and all that nonsense which only leads into more confusion.
He means a very specific thing. That everything, in nature, comes out of fire, and everything can be changed back into fire. He takes fire, or the lightening. ›The thunderbolt steers the world, the universe,‹15 he says. But this saying is funny to say, one thing can be changed into everything and everything can be change into one thing. Fire, he says in another part: Fire acts as to things like gold.16 Everything can be changed into gold and gold can be change into merchandise. So it is with fire. Now well, if Thales was almost right to say ›water is the source of all things‹17 —only natural things — then Heraclitus was more right, when he said radiation is source of all things, because that is what he means by fire. He means, the most efficient motion, action, visible, that we can experience in nature. The most efficient action must be the one that can change itself into every other action and all others can be changed into it — Seems to be almost true according to modern scientific concepts, because we think that much about […] today. That there is a basic atomic power that is in everything, can be changed into everything, and everything, naturally, nature can be changed back into it. So he had the idea, that the logos, namely the law of the universe, is quite simple. Namely, that there must be a single action which is the central action — Zeus steers the universe by the thunderbolt — and that on the other hand, it is a problem of balancing out, self-balance, or by Zeus action, by logical principles which could be mathematical explored, and they are to be mathematically explored. The self-balance into which all those processes of
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actions bring themselves again and again. In both points he was amazingly right, because today we know that these laws, the logos that is contained in nature, in all natural events, is a fantastically simple logos.
We have finally found that the principles this man […], who was interested in describing the human mind’s capability of science, making logos the highest absolute principle, that this alone enabled him to come very near to accept abstract description of principles of modern science. But now, not being a metaphysician nor a mythical thinker either, man is not contained in this logos. Now he talks about man. And he says: ›You may go to the borders of all things, travel as far as you want, you will never come to the end of the human soul ( — let’s not call it soul, the translation is very dubious, of the human being, let’s say the human person, the human principle, to that what man is —). You can travel through all things infinitely, and you will never come to the border of the human being, so deep, so profund is its logos.‹18
The logos of the human being is an infinite logos, not a finite logos, that can be found out. We can find out the law, the logos, of all natural things, step by step. And we are proceeded very far, so far that we can today almost ruin the self-balance of the universe. Bring it out of balance, so powerful we are, and so simple is the logos of natural things, as Heraclitus already knew. But we, doing so, have also thought, that this logos, this scientific logos, of natural science, the logos of things is our own logos; that we are as limited and we can be found out by psychologist, by sociologist, by applying the so-called scientific logical principles to our being. We can [be] calculated, and we can be ruled, and our thoughts can be controlled and must be controlled, we must be subjected to this scientific principle, to the logos of nature, of whom Heraclitus thought so little. But of the logos of man he says: ›You can travel all the way, you will never
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come to the boundary of the logos of man. So profund and so deep is it.‹ It means man has an infinite logos. Man moves according to an infinite intelligence, not to a finite intelligence. He enlarges himself.
He is the first philosopher, even among the greatest ones we consider here, free philosophers, who discovers another astonishing fact, he adds to this discovery. He says the human mind is a self-growing entity. The logos of man expands himself. Here, the principle of freedom of man taken out of its intellectual function, namely logos, is most clearly established. And then again in order to warn man with his infinite logos, because the infinite logos is not the eternal logos. And infinity can never reach eternity. Infinity can never reach the absolute itself. It can only move by the absolute, towards the absolute, and with the absolute. It can never reach the absolute and get hold of it. So now this infinite logos of man is very, very little compared to the absolute eternal logos of God. And he says gods are to men what men are to monkey. ›The most beautiful monkey is ugly compared with the ugliest man.‹19 The most beautiful man —. we should conclude — is ugly compared with the most ugly god, if there is such a thing. And he sets again an absolute abyss, a decisive abyss between nature and man, between man and God.
Now we see the identity with Abrahamitic thinking, I hope. There we have the highest principle called God, the absolute personal God. Then we have man with his infinite logos, who can understand but partly move with him, even be his companion. And there we have man on the other hand set above nature as something different in quality of all other being conclude in the whole of being. Both philosophers, again, do not argue metaphysically. There is no whole that includes everything. There is the whole of natural being and envisioned man who transcends it. And Heraclitus would agree with Pascal, who put it a little bit more paradoxical in a Christian way and said: ›Man is in the cosmos, in the universe one of the smallest and most unimportant things. He is so fragile, a bubble of air injected into his
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veins can kill him. And yet he is greater than the whole of the universe because he knows that he is dying.‹20 Heraclitus was of that opinion too: Man’s soul is infinite. So he did not exclude, he excluded eternity from man’s capabilities, and he would not have agreed with a hereafter that is absolutely different, as the metaphysicians do, where we are in another, namely the absolute world living with God, that could he not have taken this step. But he did not exclude the possibility of infinite life for human persons. He says, we might see and experience strange things when we are dead. Ja, we might. He holds that open also. Because he is not metaphysician, not of the idealistic kind and not of the materialistic kind. He is not an idealistic metaphysician who tries to assure us that we will be an absolute, true as soon as we are dead, and an enteral felicity and thing. But he does not try to tell us, like the materialistic metaphysician either, that we can be sure, that when we are dead nothing else will happen to us. Because we are not sure of it, and we can never be sure of it. He proceeds according to reason, he thinks, he doesn’t pretend to know what he does not know, he is not a metaphysical talker. He is a philosopher who knows what he knows, and he knows what he not knows. And he knows exactly what he does not know and he says so. And he shows us the possibilities that lie in those things [which] we do not know and that we should be aware of them and stick to them, and never dismiss them from our minds because otherwise our minds might become mighty shallow in a jiffy — as they do if they go in for different kinds of modern metaphysics.
The next session we will continue a little bit Heraclitus and try to go over to Solon, in the same session if we can because our time is very short and we have to spend more time with Socrates and Jesus again. So we can only spend little time this course with Heraclitus and also with Solon. So I recommend highly that everybody of you reads these sayings of Heraclitus if there are people who cannot … [Audio file ends here.]
1 Most likely referring to: Schrödinger, Erwin: Science and humanism: physics in our time. Cambridge, 1952.
3 We couldn’t find it in common sayings of Heraclitus. The only reference on the Ephesians is Fragment 121. But maybe Bluecher refers to a German translation: »Möge euch nie der Reichtum ausgehen, Epheser, damit es nicht offenbar wird, wie heruntergekommen ihr seid.«
5 Most likely: Heraclitus, Fragment 52 (79): »Time is a child playing draughts, the kingly power is a child’s«. Blücher is maybe also referring to: Friedrich Nietzsche: Philosophy in the tragic age of the Greeks, or to The Genealogy of Morals (2, 16), where Nietzsche is referring to man as a »lucky shot in the game of the ›great child‹ of Heracleitus.«