Tuesday, July 9, 2013

An undesirable consequence of Heracliteanism

First of all, I like Heraclitus's thought in many ways.  He's famous for saying one cannot step into the same river twice.  He views reality as being in flux, or change, with the exception of the Logos, which is the ordering principle that allows these changes to be intelligible.

Here's where I disagree with Heraclitus.  Nevermind his position that the Logos is part of the universe, as opposed to a transcendent cause of the order found within the universe.  There's also a major difficulty with his notion of everything in a constant state of flux.  He goes further than the Aristotelian, who acknowledges change in things that exhibit potentiality.  Heraclitus maintains that one cannot step into the same river twice not just because it's no longer the same river, but also because it's no longer the same person stepping into it!

Imagine taking this mentality into the courtroom.  "Your honor, I couldn't have committed the crime, because there's no such thing as a person who maintains his identity."  Do you think the judge, let alone an entire jury, would be impressed by such an objection?

The Aristotelian can make sense out of the change that occurs throughout the world by postulating that the form of the person, which is identified with the soul, remains the same, even though the body undergoes steady change.


  1. I've never liked the Aristotelian metaphysical system as applied to conscious beings. The idea that a person is identical to his or her body (more accurately, the "form" of his or her body as opposed to the particles composing it) strikes me as overly materialistic, as does the claim that every aspect of the human mind except for abstract thought is bodily-based. I've always thought that a Cartesian-style dualism makes much more sense and does much more justice to the way we experience ourselves as conscious beings, even if things like final causes and sensory qualities are allowed to exist in the physical world itself.

  2. For what it's worth, I actually hold to Cartesian dualism myself. Hylomorphism, which is the Aristotelian-Thomistic view, is pretty subtle and is not materialistic (see Edward Feser's "Aquinas" for a discussion of hylomorphism), but substance dualism just makes more sense to me. I only mention hylomorphism because it at least makes sense out of an issue that Heracliteanism does not.