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2 - Epistemology and meaning in Heraclitus

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 October 2009

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Summary

To further the understanding of the Presocratics, as intelligent beings looking for a theoretical ordering of the world, has been, among the cherished aims of Gwil Owen, one to which he has repeatedly recurred and to which we owe some of his most characteristically illuminating work. To this collection in his honour I offer a set of proposals for the understanding of Heraclitus.

Epistemology: the programme

The hypothesis to be explored claims that at the heart of Heraclitus' thought there lies a remarkable and characteristic epistemology, and that it is this above all that must first be grasped if his account of the world is to be understood. It will help to begin with a statement of what would be agreed about Heraclitus' epistemology by many scholars.

I shall treat as non-controversial the position summarised in the rest of the present paragraph. Heraclitus is deeply interested in the problem of knowledge. He sharply rejects the claims to be guides to knowledge of (a) ordinary common sense; (b) popular and traditional beliefs; (c) much of traditional Greek religion; (d) the older accepted authorities, Homer and Hesiod; (e) more recent claimants of such diverse kinds as Archilochus, Xenophanes, Hecataeus and Pythagoras. Against all these, and in support of his own account of the world, Heraclitus appeals in the first place to the evidence of the senses. ‘All of which the learning is seeing and hearing, to that I give preference’ (B55).

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Language and Logos
Studies in Ancient Greek Philosophy Presented to G. E. L. Owen
, pp. 33 - 60
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 1982

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