07 June 2007

T.S. Eliot

Eliot prefaces "Four Quartets" with two of Heraclitus' epigrams.

Eliot, in his dare-to-be-obscure way, gives only the Greek. I'll give only the English.

"Though the logos is common, most men live as if they had a private source of understanding."

"A road is, upwards and downwards, one and the same."

Wisdom for the 21st century, surely.

Eliot cites Diels for these fragments. Hermann Alexander Diels was an inexhaustible German classicist who collected all the "fragments of the pre-Socratic philosophers" as transmitted to us by later writers, and supporting materials.

Diels' three volumes have become the source for all subsequent students of philosophers from Thales to Protagoras. From "everything is water" to "man is the measure of all things," scholars footnote such sentiments to Diels. And so Diels secured his own measure of immortality by helping to transmit and organize this wisdom (mixed, as all human wisdom is, with folly, but wisdom still.)

Diels, in short, helped bring the earliest philosophers out of the realm of the "private understanding" of an elite into that of the common logos.

Heraclitus would have smiled, while stepping only once into a river.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.