Thijs de Beus, BA. (University of Utrecht)
Heraclitus' Transformative Philosophy
Heraclitus of Ephesus is a presocratic philosopher who lived around 500
BCE. In antiquity he was known as 'The Obscure' because of the supposed
obscurity of his work. Transformative philosophy is a term to describe a
philosophy in which the message of the philosopher is not simply 'given'
to the reader, but in which the reader has his 'way of thinking'
transformed. The concept of transformative philosophy and transformation
will be clarified in the workshop.
Heraclitus is called 'The Obscure'. I will try to show in the workshop
that he is not deliberately obscure, at least not all the time, but that
the message he wants to get across is 'obscure' and difficult in itself.
This message, which can only be apprehended by insight, as I will explain,
is that most things in nature, and the cosmos itself, is structured
according to a pattern scholars nowaday call the unity of opposites.
Besides being called obscure, Heraclitus is characterized by Diogenes
Laertius, in his Lives of the Philosophers, as a haughty and misanthropic
man. This is, just as his supposed obscurity, something we should not take
too seriously. Apart from the fact that we should not want to reconstruct
a philosophers character from his philosophical text, the image of Heraclitus
as arrogant, haughty, and misanthropic is a result of his 'transformative
strategy'. His, rather harsh, criticism of humans and authorities, poets
and philosophers alike, is functional in the transformation of his reader.
The verbal abuse of 'the masses', the ignorant 'they', is meant to
encourage the reader to distance himself from being a part of 'the masses'
and their debased ways of thinking and acting.
In my lecture I will try to explain Heraclitus' transformative philosophy
by means of example, so as to make clear the process of the
transformation. This example consists in showing the steps of this
process in a kind of theatrical version of Heraclitus' philosophy. I
will take on the role of Heraclitus, the audience will take on the rol
of 'the masses'. Well, to be honest, I am not quite sure how far I will
be taking this renactment: I might keep the verbal abuse to a minimum.
And to be sure, enlightenment and insight is not guaranteed.
I am a Masters-student of history of philosophy at Utrecht University.
Shortly I will be finishing my thesis on the philosophy of Heraclitus,
entitled Heraclitus' Transformative Philosophy. Besides, I am
working on a forthcoming website about Descartes and Dutch Cartesianism.
For the National Protagoras Society, based in Leiden, I do some work for
the Sources for Protagoras, a new, and much needed, sourcebook to be used
at a congres on Protagoras in July.