"Thou art Pelias, but I do not salute thee as king. Know that I am Jason, the son of Æson from whom thou hast taken the throne and scepter that were rightfully his."
I could no longer hold myself back. For all the disarray of my current reading projects I dropped an alarming amount of money ($39, my other Kindle books costing rarely more than $3 and never more than $12 - antiquarianism has its advantages) and bought David Oderberg's Real Essentialism. And given a moment I shall rave about it.
But first a pat on the back, because I have managed to finish some things:
- Huysman’s En Route, longish review forthcoming
- Guinn on Manson, ditto
- The two prefaces to Nietzsche’s neglected Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks in Maximilian Mügge’s able enough translation (from a Kindle edition of the collected works, $1.99). I also re-read them in the original (Kindle's Sämtliche Werke, $3.30), or rather most of it as my dryer cycle finished and I had to move on to folding.
What does Nietzsche want with the Pre-Socratics? “…die Polyphonie der griechischen Natur endlich einmal wiedererklingen zu lassen…”, or, to improve on Mügge, “to finally let the polyphony of Greek nature resound again…” As Nietzsche says, neither he nor anyone else has any use for philosophical systems. What he is after is the the great men standing behind those systems, whose way of being shines through those works. For the great man, unlike whatever systems he might produce, is “irrefutable”.
And as with the great man, so with the great culture: in Nietzsche’s philhellenic imagination the Greeks, die wahrhaft gesunden, were such to give rise to the only type of philosophy worth having. It grew “im Glück, in einer reifen Mannbarkeit, mitten heraus aus der feurigen Heiterkeit des tapferen und siegreichen Mannesalters.” (Mügge, improved: “in good fortune, in mature manhood, out of the midst of the fervent joyfulness of the prime of life, brave and victorious.”) If philosophy is to do anything at all, it is to adorn the health of a nation.
Returning to Nietzsche’s evocation of polyphony, he seems to say: consider the two poles of early Greek thought - those of Parmenides and Heracleitus (he doesn’t single them out in the preface, but the conclusion suggests itself). Once we rid ourselves of metaphysical delusions (viz., that the antinomy of radical monism and total flux demands a coherent solution such as the real distinction of potentiality and actuality), these two extremes are not irreconcilable at all but are, as it were, subject and countersubject in the sturdy composition of Greek life. The opposites, as opposites, harmonize.
But something is tickling my memory. Haven’t I heard this somewhere before? Indeed:
οὐ ξυνιᾶσιν ὅκως διαφερόμενον ἑωυτῷ ὁμολογέει· παλίντροπος ἁρμονίη ὅκωσπερ τόξου καὶ λύρης
Men do not know how what is at variance agrees with itself. It is an attunement of opposite tension, like that of the bow and the lyre. (Burnet, but I'll go with it.)
Yes, that’s DK fragment 51 of Heracleitus, one of several on a central theme of his, pointing out the hidden, and even superior, unity underlying what turns out to be merely superficial war and strife.
In effect, is Nietzche not really saying: given a choice of Parmenides, Heracleitus, or some attempted resolution of the two, I’m going with, well, Heracleitus! Or perhaps: the systems of these various Pre-Socratics, being systems, don't have any value, so I am picking that of Heracleitus. That is, Nietzsche's project of overcoming philosophy itself results in a philosophy, and that in import ways repeats one of the very first philosophies we have on record.
Overcoming philosophy - this calls to mind Garrigou-Lagrange’s characterization of Heracleitus:
"The arguments of Parmenides who, invoking the principle of identity, denies multiplicity and change, become from Heraclitus’ point of view, a mere play of abstract concepts, without objective foundation, and the principle of contradiction a mere law of language and of inferior discursive reason, which employs these more or less conventional abstractions. Superior reason, intuitive intelligence, rises above these artificial abstractions, and reaches intuition of the fundamental reality, which is a perpetual becoming, wherein being and non-being are identified, since that which is in the process of becoming is not as yet, but still is not mere nothing." (Reality: A Synthesis of Thomistic Thought (Kindle Locations 10468-10469). Kindle Edition. My italics.)
The original, higher reasoning that does not fall back on the falsification of concepts - this is also the Heideggerian line, isn’t it? More on this perhaps some other time…
(And, yes, I concur that there is a lot more to Parmenides and Heracleitus than "the tradition" would have it. As far as Parmenides is concerned, there's been lots of great work lately by the likes of Patricia Curd and Alexander Mourelatos.)