GREEK SKEPTICISM: HERACLITUS, PYRRHO AND SEXTUS EMPIRICUS
He gives us the concept of the LOGOS, from which we get LOGIC.
This could be influenced by Persian Zoroastrianism, though this is controversial.
Heraclitus is in the very beginning of Greek thinking, in modern day Turkey (the Eastern half of the area we denote as ancient Greece, the half that is not today called ‘Greece’ or on the European mainland). The presocratics were active before Socrates (hence ‘pre-Socratic), about 500s and 400s BCE. We have no writings of Socrates and only fragments of the pre-Socratics. It was in the 1800s, the time of Hegel that the pre-Socratics were given attention and study. Schleiermacher, the most famous protestant theologian, was a big fan of Heraclitus, a major translator of Plato, and his theology is somewhat similar to Heraclitus and Plato: all down here is watery chaos, so we must exalt above all this to realize the Great all or One, symbolized by the sun, which is eternal above all of the species of being it produces.
Heraclitus was born in Ephesus supposedly just before 500 BCE. Ephesus is quite close to Miletus, the home of most of the pre-Socratic philosopher/scientists, but there is no record of Heraclitus interacting with any of them. Both cities were satraps or provinces of the Persian empire, and so it was under the influence of Zoroastrianism (developed about 1000 BCE) and the cultures of the Persian empire. Indeed, though Heraclitus’ thought can be compared to Egyptian and Indian thought to give it a wider context, it is clear that Heraclitus closely resembles Zoroastrianism, while giving it a very Indian like skepticism about the watery impermanent nature of any particular being or perception of being. Heraclitus’ most famous idea is a memorable image: you can never step in the same river twice. Just as a river is always flowing and changing, so is reality always flowing and changing, such that nothing stays exactly the same for any two moments. You step in a river, then step out, then step back in the same river, but it is no longer ‘the same river’.
According to one source, Heraclitus was a king who abandoned the title to become a philosopher. This has been identified as a close resemblance to Indian Buddhism and the story of the Buddha. Both thinkers were ‘mythologized’ as a king who left powerful king position and became a sage, and both believe in the enlightening sun rising above the watery chaos of reality and human perception. Was Heraclitus getting Indian thought through Zoroastrian Persia?
Another reason why famous: Heraclitus vs. his predecessors. He calls the poets (Hesiod and Homer) and the Pythagoreans frauds, and says that there are no permanent truths or laws other than the constant formation of watery chaos by the sun and cosmic fire. Notice that this does not question the set up of the cosmos as we have studied it everywhere (and what the Persians gave to the Eastern Greek city states). This is a psychological skepticism that is criticizing the human ability to know particular things as permanent that are able to be separated from the One and All (the cosmic fire). Only the All is permanent. All the other things are wandering temporal forms. All that we know is that things arise from the energy of the cosmic fire, and then they fall back into the fire and disappear.
Heraclitus even ascribed to the Fire-air-earth-water cosmology, but believed that the particular forms, the species of being that are produced by the cosmos, are chaotic and thus simply forms of life that cannot be boiled down to knowable essences or types. The doctrine can be stated famously, though these are not Heraclitus’ words, “Everything is in flux”.
The cosmos resembles the chaos yet order of the human community centered on authority by spoken word. The LOGOS, the word/plan/order/command, is the formative force in the cosmos, the force of fire and light in the watery chaotic world. The cosmic fire speaks with its ever-present Logos (fire over air) and this brings about the firmament in the chaos (the earth rising out of the water). This process, however, does not bring about eternal or stable beings, but chains of beings that are in flux and interdependent. The whole and the operation of the cosmos has an eternal shape to it, but the shapes that arise out of the cosmos are only temporary. This goes for laws, which Heraclitus have to be defended as if they were city laws. This is sometimes read that Heraclitus thought human law was important and had to be defended, but in fact he is showing that human laws are impermanent like city walls. They may seem eternal and permanent, but as any satrap of the Persian empire knows, empires fall and impressive city states are overthrown and change hands. The eternal word of the fire forever forms the cosmos, but human speech and walls are temporary, and therefore take force and effort to maintain.
Heraclitus is important to the Christian tradition. If a primal speaking of Logos sounds familiar, Heraclitus was a central influence on the Greek and Roman stoics, and the author of the Gospel of John was almost certainly a Greek stoic writing in Roman times. John reads: and the Logos/word was with God (Fire/Cosmos), and God spoke and light was separated from darkness. Speech and intention here are dividing or burning the cosmos into opposites by fire. Our minds do this on a smaller level in an imperfect way, explaining how the cosmos created our minds.
PYRRHO AND SEXTUS EMPIRICUS
Sextus is a mystery. He is supposed to have lived towards 200 CE, 700 years after Heraclitus. He is thought by scholars to have been from Alexandria Egypt. He might be Libyan, thus African, but it has been assumed that he was Greek living in Egypt or Rome. It is thought that he is a doctor because he mentions medical cases to show how sometimes things are good but then surprisingly bad in other cases or vice versa, but there is nothing that proves this.
Sextus is the first Pyrrhoian Skeptic, quite similar to the Jains. Agnosticism of all judgment and plurality of perspective and truth are staples for both. When Alexander fought his way to the border of India, to try to conquer the rich and fertile area, he brought the philosopher Pyrrho with him around 300 BCE. Pyrrho met with some ‘gymnosophists’ in the historian’s texts, and scholars argue whether these were Buddhists, Jains or if either existed yet at the time. Pyrrho witnessed the yoga and extreme penances of the sages, had discussions, then came home and refused to write anything or live in society. People would come to visit him on the edges of town, where he would argue that everything is true and not true, that every perspective is true but also false. His thinking sprouted a school in Alexandria Egypt, a great center of Greek, early Christian and later Muslim thought. We know of this exclusively through the writings of Sextus.
For ex: Sextus calls upon the ‘where there is smoke, there is fire’ example used by Gautama and Aristotle, and then brings up many cases where one would be mistaken to draw the inference. The point is not that it can’t be drawn, but it can never be certain in a particular situation.
The Issue: IS has a temporary and eternal meaning, back and forth, like IS has a whole-part back and forth meaning. (Clinton, Rumsfeld vs. dealing with the real issue)
Pyrrho and Sextus, just like Heraclitus, DO believe in saying things (maybe not writing for Pyrrho), but they do not like saying or judging in the long run, just for short term situations.
Thus, they all believe in a ONE LOGOS, but are skeptical of judgment to FINALLY and COMPLETELY judge the actions and parts of the One.