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.