Heraclitus Heraclitus’ thought is neither inaccessible nor inconsistent, but intrinsically engimatic and intricate. Not by neglecting it, but by facing this fact can we succeed in making sense of it. (Dilcher 1995: 7) What I understand is excellent, and I think the rest is also. But it takes a Delian diver to get to the bottom of it. (Kahn 1979: 95) It is a hard road, filled with darkness and gloom; but if an initiate leads you on the way, it becomes brighter than the radiance of the sun. (Kahn 1979: 95)
Introduction This chapter offers an overview of Heraclitus’ philosophy and its inspirations for process thinking in organization studies. The main aim is to enable organizational scholars to move beyond merely acknowledging Heraclitus as the founding father of process thinking. The central argument put forward here is that thinking with Heraclitus offers insights into thinking beyond conventional categories and concepts and unsettle our views on organization. His enigmatic and intricate fragments invite us to dive deeper into our organization of thought and understand organization as a generic process. One of the greatest pleasures of reading Heraclitus is that there are only rough beginning and becomings; no endings and ends. What initially confront the reader are puzzlement, disillusionment and unexpected turns. Yet, this obscure style of writing has a subtle and hidden power to animate thought. Rather than passively consuming what Heraclitus has to say, the reader is asked to endure puzzlement and disillusionment which turns back on itself to, to paraphrase one of the opening quotes, become radiant as the sun. The negative feelings of puzzlement and disillusionment unexpectedly turn into a positive force, one that points to what lies beyond one’s thought. For organizational scholars burdened with the anxiety of establishing definitive meaning, assigning clarity to words and developing inert concepts, Heraclitus’ fragments pose insurmountable challenges. For organizational scholars sympathetic to the 1
linguistic turn and those who take their cues from post-structural thinking, Heraclitus offers refreshing insights into process, movement and infusing words with life. I divide the chapter into three main parts. Firstly, I discuss the challenges facing Heraclitus scholars and provide a background understanding for a way of reading Heraclitus that takes linguistic density and resonance seriously. Secondly, I examine Heraclitus’ fragments thematically to elaborate on their meanings and connections. Thirdly, I discuss the challenges facing organizational scholars in reading and engaging with Heraclitus.
On reading Heraclitus Heraclitus of Ephesus was in his prime, i.e. in his forties, around 504-501 BCE. He is supposed to have written a book around 490 BCE, entitled On Nature. However, we are not sure whether he did indeed write a book or whether what we have is a collection of sayings that have been recorded by others. All we have are fragments reconstructed from references to Heraclitus in the writings of various philosophers through the ages. One of the main issues confronting Heraclitean scholars is distinguishing between Heraclitus’ own words from interpretations and misinterpretations by philosophers. As Dilcher reminds us: The ground on which we walk is often thinner and more fragile than would be desirable. If we do not want to risk taking later inadvertent reworkings for the original thought, we constantly have to keep in mind the whole history of ancient thought through which medium we are compelled to grasp Heraclitus. (Dilcher 1995: 7)
Heracliteans are indebted to two Greek philosophers, Theophrastus and Cleanthes, who are important intermediaries in preserving, translating, and distorting, in equal measure, Heraclitus’ philosophy. Theophrastus, who succeeded Aristotle as the head of the Lyceum, wrote The Opinions of the Natural Philosophers in which he interpreted Heraclitus’ work in terms of explanations and causes about things in nature. Cleanthes, successor to Zeno, the founder of the Stoic school of thought, on the other hand was guided by Stoic philosophy in
his interpretation of Heraclitus. He associated and interpreted Heraclitus’ sayings within the Stoic philosophy of the cosmic whole. In contrast to the Aristotelian dislike of vague, confusing and indeterminate phrasings, the Stoic interpretations were also more sympathetic and partial to Heraclitus’ style of writing which is poetic and allusive rather than clear and conclusive. Modern Heraclitean scholarship is indebted to Hermann Diels, who compiled The Fragments of the Presocratics (Diels 1903; Freeman 1946, 1948) in which he collected 139 fragments attributed to Heraclitus. Rather than find a way of organizing these fragments thematically, or because of the insurmountable challenge of definitively identifying Heraclitus’ themes, he chose to order the fragments in alphabetical order of the name of the author citing Heraclitus. Diels’ ordering of the fragments provides a referencing system that is followed by all Heracliteans1. Departing from Diels’ ordering and recognising that an arbitrary ordering suggests that Heraclitus did not offer a thesis, recent Heracliteans have attempted to develop themes that bring together these fragments. Chief among them2 are Burnet (1930), Kirk (1954), Guthrie (1962), Marcovich (1967), and Kahn (1979). It is the latter’s arrangement3 and exposition that this chapter draws on. As Kahn states: ... Heraclitus’ discourse as a whole was as carefully and artistically composed as are the preserved parts, and that the formal ordering of the whole was as much an element in its total meaning as in the case of any lyric poem from the same period. The true parallel for an understanding of Heraclitus’ style is ... Pindar and Aeschylus. The extant fragments reveal a command of word order, imagery, and studied ambiguity as effective as that to be found in any work of these two poets. I think we can best imagine the structure of Heraclitus’ work on the analogy of the great choral odes, with their fluid but carefully articulated movement from image to aphorism, from myth to riddle to contemporary allusion ... The literary effect he aimed at may be compared to that of Aeschylus’ Oresteia: the solemn and dramatic
In this chapter Diels reference is shown as D. [number]. There are several notable non-English Heracliteans. However, without first-hand engagement with their texts, their contributions have not been included here. 3 Kahn offers a new numbering system, using Roman numerals. He also provides a table to cross-reference his numbering with Diels’ numbering. This adds another layer of complexity to reading Heraclitus by asking the reader to go back and forth between the numbering systems to uncover their meanings. All references to Heraclitus’ fragments in this chapter are referenced using both, Kahn’s Roman numerals and Diels’ ordering. 2
unfolding of a great truth, step by step, where the sense of what has gone before is continually enriched by its echo in what follows. (Kahn 1979: 7)
Kahn (Kahn 1979) argues that there are two key complementary ideas in preparing to understand the fragments. Firstly, we assume that each fragment has linguistic density. By this we assume that “multiplicity of ideas are expressed in a single word or phrase” (Kahn 1979: 89). What at first glance may seem to be scattered ideas gather together divergent and discordant connections. As Dilcher remarks: We have first to concentrate with meticulous patience on single statements and even single words. Heraclitus’ philosophy is, for certain reasons, so tersely phrased that no cursory reading will yield an adequate idea. It is vital to penetrate the deeper layers behind the surface meaning. Often the shadings and overtones of particular expressions need to be scrutinized in order to determine their scope. (Dilcher 1995: 8)
One can begin to appreciate the significance of Heraclitus’ ‘terse phrasing’ in understanding his opening words: this logos here being forever men ever fail to comprehend ... (I, D. 1)4. On the one hand the opening words ‘this logos here’ is a standard way of expressing ‘what you are about to read’. However, the use of ‘forever’ is ambiguous. It could mean ‘the is logos is forever’ or it could mean ‘men forever fail to comprehend’. Kahn argues that ambiguities such as these are deliberately used by Heraclitus to hint and to suggest rather than to state explicitly. They force the reader to go back and forth over the same words and uncover hidden depths. As Kahn (1979: 95) argues, ‘it is important to leave open the possibility that the difficulty of deciding between them is itself the intended effect ... the relation between the surface meaning and the hyponoia or ‘deeper sense’ is itself unstable and complex.’ Secondly, we assume that there is resonance between the fragments. By resonance we mean ‘a relationship between fragments by which a single verbal theme or image is echoed from one text to another in such a way that the meaning of each is enriched when they are
Amidst all the debates surrounding the ordering of Heraclitus’ fragments, there appears to be agreement that this fragment is the first.
understood together’ (Kahn 1979: 89). Throughout the fragments there are strong and weak echoes that moves thought from one fragment to another. The effect of resonance is that of proleptic introduction and gradually and circuitous development`, similar in style to Aeschylus’ Oresteia: In its early occurrences the image is elliptical and enigmatic. It is a griphos or riddle whose solution is strung out over the course of the individual drama or the entire trilogy. Significance increases with repetition; the image gains in clarity as the action moves to a climax. Prolepsis and gradual development of recurrent imagery, along with the corollary, movement from enigmatic utterance to clear statement, from riddle to solution, dominate the structure of the Oresteia. (Lebeck 1971: 1)
However, unlike the Oresteia, with Heraclitus’ fragments we are left in suspense about the climax. Each time we move from one fragment to next in a different order, we are encouraged to hear faint echoes of words and images brought back from earlier fragments we passed over. For example, Heraclitus’ use of logos has echoes of several meanings as it appears in various fragments: ‘sayings, speech, discourse, statement, report; account, explanation, reason, principle; esteem, reputation; collection, enumeration, ratio, proportion’ (Kahn 1979: 29). We are also presented with echoes of well-knowing saying and stories that Heraclitus engaged with. For example, the fragment: ‘Most men do not think things in the way that they encounter them, nor do they recognize what they experience, but believe their own opinions’ (IV, D. 17), alludes to Archilochus’ use of ‘in the way that’, and at the same time overturns his meaning. As Kahn elaborates: ... in a fragment of Archilochus (68 Diehl): ‘The heart (thymos) of mortal men, Glaucos son of Leptines, becomes such as the day which Zeus brings upon them, and their thoughts (phroneusin) are such as the deeds (ergmata) that they encounter (enkyreosin)’, that is, their thought is determined by their situation. The first clause of [Heraclitus’ fragment] IV contains, in two verbs and its comparative structure (toiauta ... hokoia ‘in the way that’ or ‘such ... as’) a clear echo of Archilochus’ own words. But Heraclitus echoes Archilochus only to deny what the latter affirms. (Kahn 1979: 103)
Such subtle allusion to well-known stories and sayings resonate throughout Heraclitus’ fragments. Once we accept that the Heraclitus’ text was ordered, rather than being a collection of saying, and we accept linguistic density and resonance, we can begin to 5
connect with the ‘hidden unity’ of all things being one. We are encouraged to move beyond the task of looking for clarity by thematically arranging the fragments, towards a more powerful and hidden unity they signify: ‘... from all things one, and from one thing all’ (CXXIV, D. 10). This requires the reader, not just to passively read the fragments, but to match Heraclitus’ stylistic device of allusion and riddle by complicating one’s engagement with the fragments. We must be “prepared to regard ambiguity not as a blemish to be eliminated but as a meaningful stylistic device to be accepted and understood” (Kahn 1979: 93). There is no doubt that on reading Heraclitus we are faced with his reputation as ‘The Obscure’ and ‘The Riddler’. One important implication from this is Heraclitus’ deliberate attempt to engage the reader of his text, and draw them in to actively participating in comprehending and forever bringing his ideas to life. We are faced with fragments that are loosely coupled together by assemblage of ideas, imagery, word-play and riddles. No clear divisions and dividing lines between themes. We are confronted with “the solemn and dramatic unfolding of a great truth, step by step, where the sense of what has gone before is continually modified and enriched by its echo in what follows” (Kahn 1964 : 190). Some texts precede what is to come, and some texts proceed from what has already been intimated. In the next section we elaborate on some of Heraclitus’ fragments.
Fragments Everything flows As they step into the same rivers, other and still other waters flow upon them. (L, D. 12) One cannot step twice into the same river, nor can one grasp any mortal substance in a stable condition, but it scatters and again gathers; it forms (endures) and dissolves, and approaches and departs. (LI, D. 91)
That his ideas were widely read, discussed and influenced all Greek philosophers is attested to by Plato and Aristotle. We owe Heraclitus’ famous statements, ‘you cannot step into the same river twice’ and ‘everything flows’, to Plato. In Cratylus Plato states: Heraclitus says somewhere that “everything gives way and nothing stands fast,” and, likening the things that are to the flowing of a river, he says that “you cannot step into the same river twice.” (Cratylus, 402a)
Similarly, Aristotle also refers to Heraclitus’ ‘everything flows’ philosophy: They held that in general everything is in a state of becoming and flux, and nothing is stable ... (On the heavens, 298b29) And in fact some thinkers maintain not that some things are in motion and some not, but all things are in motion always, though this escapes our senses. (Physics, 253b9)
Whilst the popularity of ‘everything flows’ is undeniable, since the fragments, particularly, ‘one cannot step twice into the same river’, are interpretations by others, there is sufficient doubt in Heraclitean scholarship to ascertain what Heraclitus meant to signify. There is agreement that fragment L, D. 12 is in Heraclitus’ own words. The more popular ‘one cannot step into the same river twice’ part of fragment LI, D. 91 are not his own words, but the tone of scatters and gathers, forms and dissolves, and approaches and departs in the same fragment is more in keeping with Heraclitus’ mode of expression. It is this we turn to first.
Opposition, transformation and hidden unity The themes of hidden unity, opposites and transformation dominate Heraclitus’ fragments. These themes find their popular expression is the pairing of Heraclitus with Democritus: one the weeping philosopher and the other the laughing philosopher. Although they were not contemporaries, the paring of these opposites captured an interesting theme in understanding the human condition and were popularised as subjects of several painting in the Renaissance era.
One common interpretation of this opposition is the recognition that life is both tragic and comic at the same time. Lutz (1954) draws on a poem in the Greek Anthology to illustrate the juxtapositioning of the two philosophers: Weep for life, Heraclitus, much more than when thou dids't live, for life is now more pitiable. Laugh now, Democritus, at life, far more than before; the life of all is now more laughable. (Greek Anthology III. 9.148, quoted in Lutz, 1954: 309).
Lutz also points to Lucian’s satirical look at philosophers in her Philosophies for Sale, where Zeus auctions various philosophers. Unsuccessful in selling them separately, they are put for action together as a ‘buy one get one free’ offer. Baffled by their contrasting views on life, they attract no bids and remain unsold. The god: day and night, winter and summer, war and peace, satiety and hunger. It alters, as when mingled with perfumes, it gets named according to the pleasure of each one. (CXXIII, D. 67) Cold warms up, warm cools off, moist parches, dry dampens. (XLIX, D. 126) A man is found foolish by a god, as a child by a man. (LVII, D. 79) The same is there: living and dead, and the waking and the sleeping, and young and old. For these transposed are those, and those transposed again are these. (Fr. XCIII) The sea is the purest and foulest water: for fish drinkable and life-sustaining; for men undrinkable and deadly. (LXX, D. 61) It is not better for human beings to get all they want. It is disease that has made health sweet and good, hunger satiety, weariness rest. (LXVII, D. 110-111) The way up and down is one and the same. (CIII, D. 60)
The opposition between weeping and laughing alludes to Heraclitus’ use of opposites in various fragments. Perhaps the ‘bow and the lyre’ fragment is the second most popularized of Heraclitus’ fragments. Along with several other fragments, Heraclitus points to the unity of opposites using subtle variations on the theme. Firstly, Heraclitus refers to succession, change and regularity by pairing day/night, winter/summer, war/peace, living/dead, hot/cold, moist/dry, living/dead, waking/sleeping, young/old. In several of these pairings, one pair succeeds the other. E.g. day turns into night and back again with regularity. Some suggest
one pair overcoming the other, for example, hunger overcome by satiety. Others still suggest disruption and restoration, for example, we are disrupted from our sleep. In all these we perceive the contrast between the pairings and we name them according to ‘the pleasures of each one.’ Each pairing is distinctly different but will change, alter and succeed into the other and back again. Secondly, ‘the pleasures of each one’ hints at the relative experience of opposites. For example, the sea is both pure and foul, for fish and men respectively and man is foolish to god, as a child is to man. Hence, there is no essential difference between the opposites. Thirdly, Heraclitus shows how the opposites, although at first reading can be divided into positive (health, satiety, rest) and negative (disease, hunger, weariness), the negative makes a positive contribution. In other words, by getting what we want, we would be denied the contrast by which we can appreciate the ‘sweet and the good’. This positive contribution of the negative term provides the unity between opposites. The most subtle unity of opposites posed by Heraclitus is between the way up and down being the same. This pairing contains echoes of relative experience of direction, but has ‘the way’ as common without reference to anyone in particular. Here we keep the relativity, i.e. whether the way is up or down depends on your direction of travel, but lose the positive/negative connotation. We can say that the way differs from itself by agreeing with itself. It differs from itself because the way is either going one way or the other, but it agrees with itself because it combines both directions. Heraclitus hits an even more subtle note in his theme of unity, transformation and opposition in the following fragment: They do not comprehend how a thing agrees at variance with itself: an attunement (or fitting together’, harmonie) turning back , like that of the bow and the lyre. (LXXVIII, D. 51)
The use of harmonie contains echoes of several connections to how the unity of opposites fits together. Firstly, there is a physical fitting together of parts. The bow and the string fit physically fit together, are in tension and opposition, i.e. pulling in different 9
directions, and yet appear to be stable and unchanging. It may also signal the use of the bow, as the archer pulls in opposite directions to fire an arrow and how pulling in opposite directions fits together. Secondly, harmonie intimates the unity or agreement or coalition of hostile opponents. Here Heraclitus alludes to the imagery of Harmonie. As Kahn states Harmonie is used: ... figuratively, for ‘agreements’ or ‘compacts’ between hostile men (Iliad. XXII.255, and hence for the personified power of ‘Reconciliation’, the child of Ares and Aphrodite in Hesiod (Theogony 937). So Empedocles could employ Harmonie as another name for Philotes of Aphrodite, his counterpart to Strife or Conflict, the principle of proportion and agreement which creates a harmonious unity out of potentially hostile powers. (Kahn, 1979, ,: 196)
Thirdly, harmonie indicates a pattern of musical attunement, one that is achieved by striking different notes together on the lyre. Unlike the unifying tension of opposition of the bow, the tension of the strings of the lyre is not uniform, but varies to produce different notes and produce music. The three variations indicate the combination of harmonie as technical, political and artistic unity of opposition: crafting materials by joining them together, political coalition by bringing together warring factions, and the art of composing beautiful music. Graspings: wholes and not wholes, convergent divergent, consonant dissonant, from all things one, and from one thing all. (CXXIV, D. 10) The hidden attunement is better than the obvious one. (LXXX, D. 54)
For Heraclitus, opposites form both a unity and a plurality. However, he arrives at this unity and plurality obliquely, rather than directly. As the fragment ‘the hidden attunement is better than the obvious one’ states, ‘the immediate ‘surface’ meaning is often less significant than the latent intention carried by allusion, enigma, and resonance’ (Kahn 1979: 203). Kahn argues that this fragment is ‘one of the shortest and most beautifully designed of the fragments’ (Kahn 1979: 202) demonstrating how the negative term, non-apparent and not obvious, i.e. the hidden, rings true. Furthermore, as the term ‘graspings’ (syllapsies)
indicates, we need to take his words together. If we separate out the sounds, i.e. each syllable, we lose our ability to understand and grasp. In summary, we return to Heraclitus’ river fragment and his depiction as the weeping philosopher which popularly represents his philosophy: As they step into the same rivers, others and still other waters flow upon them. (L, D. 12)
Heraclitus’ use of ‘potamoisin toisin autoisin embainousin’ (As they step into the same rivers) ‘suggests the incessant movement of the river water by the rhythm and assonance of the four words ending in –oisin or ousin, reinforced by the more explicit repetition in ‘other and other waters’... represents the oncoming waters from upstream’ (Kahn 1979: 167). Unity, transformation and opposition are also suggested in contrast between Heraclitus and Democritus. Whereas most paintings depicted Heraclitus and Democritus separately, a painting by Rembrandt is more puzzling. As Lutz (1954) argues, one way to interpret this painting is to see the laughing Rembrandt-Democritus who is plainly visible, painting the sad, hidden and dark Rembrandt-Heraclitus. This interpretation echoes Heraclitus’ suggestion of going in search of knowledge.
Undoing, knowing, being wise Not comprehending, they hear like the deaf. The saying bears witness to them: absent while present (II, D. 34). Although the account (logos) is shared most men live as though their thinking (phronesis) were a private possession. (III, D. 2) Most men do not think things in the way that they encounter them, nor do they recognize what they experience, but believe their own opinions. (IV, D. 17) Not knowing how to listen, neither can they speak. (XVII, D. 19) It belongs to all men to know themselves and think well. (XXIX, D. 116) Speaking with understanding they must hold fast to what is shared by all, as a city holds to its law, and even more firmly. For all human laws are nourished by a divine one. It prevails as it will and suffices for all and is more than enough. (XXX, D. 114)
Knowledge, for Heraclitus, is ‘absent while present’. In his customary way, Heraclitus firstly undoes what we commonly consider to be knowledge before signalling what he means by knowing. Knowledge is not private possession or private understanding, but is shared by all in its absent presence. This common knowledge is common because it is the generic process of organizing rather than knowledge about specific things. We do not recognize or understanding the generic process of organizing, but believe our own opinions. Hence, our common condition is characterized negatively as being deaf to our shared account despite being experienced by all. Whatever comes from sight, hearing, learning from experience: this I prefer. (XIV, D. 55) Eyes and ears are poor witnesses for men if their souls (psychai) do not understand the language (literally, ‘if they have barbarian souls’). (XVI, D. 107) Much learning does not teach understanding. For it would have taught Hesiod and Pythagoras, and also Xenophanes and Hecataeus. (XVIII, D. 40) The teacher of most is Hesiod. It is him they know as knowing most, who did not recognize day and night: they are one. (XIX, D. 57) Men are deceived in the recognition of what is obvious, like Homer who was wisest of all the Greeks. For he was deceived by boys killing lice, who said: what we see and catch we leave behind; what we neither see nor catch, we carry away. (XXII, D. 56)
Not knowing and not being able to understand one’s experience hints at the need to reflect and ‘know thyself’. Heraclitus is also critical of ‘much learning’ which can still lead to not seeing what is commonplace, especially if one relies upon experts, such as Hesiod, rather than preferring to reflect on one’s own experience. This reflection is of what one’s eyes and ears witness is complemented by being able to understand the language. This language can elude the most learned of them all, such as Hesiod and Homer. The example of day/night aims to illustrate how although Hesiod knows the distinction between day and night, he fails to recognise the unity of opposites. As Kahn (1979: 109) elaborates, ‘Hesiod had conceived Night (Nyx) in the manner of early mythic thought, as a positive force which blots out the light of day and the vision of men, as death blots out human life.’ By stating this well-
established opposition between night and day as being one and the same, Heraclitus affirms the unity of, in our terms, the 24 hours. In attacking the expert knowledge of Homer, Heraclitus refers to the riddle that is supposed to have led to his death. The answer to the riddle - what we see and catch we leave behind; what we don’t see we take with us – was known to children, but Homer was blind to this and is supposed to have died of grief in not being able to solve it. The lord whose oracle is in Delphi neither declares nor conceals but gives a sign. (XXXIII, D. 93) It belongs to all men to know (ginoskein) themselves and think well (sophronein, keep their thinking sound. (XXIX, D. 116) Thinking well (sophronein) is the greatest excellence and wisdom: to act and speak what is true, perceiving things according to their nature (physis). (XXXII, D. 112)
Having described knowing as being absent in its presence in shared experience, and having attacked experts of the day for not knowing (the day/night unity) and not seeing (what children can see), Heraclitus ‘neither declares nor conceals’ but points towards wisdom. We are made aware that wisdom is not private and it is not possession of facts. We are also reminded that men should keep their ‘thinking sound’ and ‘know themselves’. Fragment XXXII, D. 112 – Thinking well is the greatest excellence and wisdom: to act and speak what is true, perceiving things according to their nature – points to several ways of understanding ‘thinking well’. Firstly, ‘thinking well’ is a unity of excellence or courage (arête) and good judgment or discretion (sophie). This combination, however, is not one that is personal or private but directed towards what belongs to all and is shared. Secondly, ‘thinking well’ is a unity of acting, speaking and perceiving what is true. Thus, thinking well is a unity of doings, sayings and seeings what is true. The understanding of this fragment turns on the meaning of ‘true’ (alethes). In keeping with Heraclitus’ flux and becoming in unity, alethes has echoes of unconcealment and opening. In other words, ‘true’ is uncovered, recovered and discovered in how we do, say, and see things in their openness. As Kahn summarises: 13
What is distinctive here is the meaning of self-knowledge as recognition of one’s true or hidden self, and the connection of this with knowledge of a universal logos which distinguishes things ‘according to their nature’
By referring to the universal logos Heraclitus we are left with the question of what this logos means which we must learn to speak well, listen well and understand. Although this logos is common to all, the path to uncovering it has many unexpected turnings.
Logos Although this account (logos) holds forever, men ever fail to comprehend, both before hearing it and once they have heard. Although all things come to pass in accordance with this account (logos), men are like the untried when they try such words and works as I set forth, distinguishing each according to its nature and telling how it is. But other men are oblivious of what they do awake, just as they are forgetful of what they do asleep. (I, D. 1) Although the account (logos) is shared, most men live as though their thinking (phronesis) were a private possession. (III, D. 2)
As stated earlier, Heraclitus’ use of logos has echoes of several meanings: ‘sayings, speech, discourse, statement, report; account, explanation, reason, principle; esteem, reputation; collection, enumeration, ratio, proportion’ (Kahn 1979: 29). The meanings associated with collection signal logos as joining or gathering. One can see the resonance of this in the verb, legein, to gather. Heraclitus’ gathering together of words and thoughts to speak in this book is one such gathering. However, as Kahn states: Perhaps no other Greek author – or none expect Aeschylus – has so systematically exploited the possibilities of ambiguity and allusiveness that are implicit in all human speech. The characteristic expression of this ambiguity is in word-play, of which the fragments are full. (Kahn 1964: 193)
Heracliteans widely agree that fragment I, D. 1 are the first lines of his book. In this, the reader is introduced to the logos as being ‘forever.’ We are asked to listen to the logos, not to Heraclitus: ‘It is wise, listening not to me but to the report, to agree that all things are one’ (XXXVI, D.50). The opening fragment continues to connect the forever logos to failing to comprehend, not only once we have heard it, but also before we have heard it. This suggests that the logos is ever-present and available for comprehension but Heraclitus expects 14
his words and works to fall on deaf ears as men fail to uncover what they experience. He signals the tension and unity between universal and available logos and our inability to grasp it. However, there is no ‘it-ness’ of the logos to grasp. In the second fragment quoted above, Heraclitus replaces ‘forever’ with ‘shared’ or ‘common’ to describe logos. If it was separate, it would be available for private possession. Heraclitus warns against such an interpretation. While ‘forever’ may draw the reader into thinking that the logos stands apart from, is objective and exists independently, ‘shared’ and ‘common’ guards against imposing a subjective-objective divide by emphasising that the logos is part of, constitutive and relational. In other words, the logos joins and separates simultaneously. It is constitutive of what is shared and common, and it is forever. This ceaseless unity of opposites reveals the hidden nature of things. As Heraclitus states, ‘Nature loves to hide’ (X, D.123). And it is in ‘thinking well’ about the movement of joining and separating (the bow and the lyre) that we recognize the hidden unity of all.
Heraclitus in organization studies Heraclitus rightly occupies a prominent place in process thinking. Within organization studies, his river fragments and ‘everything flows’ are cited often to develop a processual approach. However, there is little or no attempt to engage with any of his other fragments. There are good reasons why organizational theorists might eschew engaging with Heraclitus’ fragments, chief among them being his infamous epitaph as ‘The Obscure’. However, rescuing him from obscurity requires us to engage with his style of writing which ‘neither declares nor conceals, but gives a sign’ (XXXIII, D. 93). His generic way of thinking echoes and resonates across various fragments, working against the tendency to move from rough beginnings to determinate ends. Rather than reach an end point, Heraclitus encourages thought to join, gather, connect, share, discover, and invent what is common to all.
Organization studies is replete with binary oppositions such as internal-external, power-resistance, stability-change, agency-structure, tacit-explicit, noun-verb. Key among them is the ontological and epistemological distinction between entity and process (Thompson 2011), where Parmenides represents the entitative view and Heraclitus the process view. However, the challenge for organizational scholars is to move beyond fixing Heraclitus’ views to process thinking in opposition to entitative thinking. Heraclitus’ emphasis on ‘shared’, ‘joining’ and ‘common’ invite a deeper appreciation of process, as one that moves beyond binary oppositions. Fundamental to moving beyond binary oppositions is to recognize that Heraclitean process is not an ontological worldview or a principle that transcends. It does not belong prior to our understanding of the world. Instead it participates in the world. It is the interdependence and joining of the opposites that reveals Heraclitean thinking. Each pairing and joining reveals the hidden truth that belongs and constitutes both pairs. The hidden connection prefers to hide, but the task of Heraclitean thinking is to uncover the seemingly separate and demonstrate how the seam together. For example, consider ‘One must realize that war is shared and Conflict is Justice ...’ (LXXXII, D. 80). By saying war is shared or common, and conflict is justice, Heraclitus brings together terms that would not normally be paired. Heraclitus asks us to think about the hidden connection, one that would not reveal itself. The challenge is to understand how the opposition ‘agrees at variance with itself’ (LXXVII, D. 51). In order to understand the pairings of war-shared and conflict-justice, we are looking for how one term uncovers the hidden meaning of the other and vice-versa. The pairing, war-shared, is better uncovered by the term ‘community’, rather than shared (Schindler 2003). By binding war and community together, Heraclitus reveals a hidden connection between the two that is essential for both. Consider, community is war. Community is not the common and shared unity, but hides war, difference and conflict within
it. Community exists and is constituted by holding differences together. ‘Speaking more metaphysically, we might say that the movement that generates community cannot be simply a movement towards oneness, because such movement, were it to find ideal completion, would result in a difference-excluding-identical unity. Instead, the movement must follow two relatively opposed directions simultaneously; it must move at precisely one and the same time towards unity and away from unity’ (Schindler 2003: 429). Thus, community is war. War participates in community. Just as war completes our understanding of community, so does community our understanding of war. What does it mean to say, war is community? One way of understanding this that war is not war if it is not shared by the opposing parties. If the tension between the two warring factions is not symmetrical, we do not have war, but a complete annihilation of one by the other. War is truly war between worthy opponents, ones that are united in the war, but at the same time are opposed to each other. Hence, ‘war is not simply violence but the ritualized struggle that paradoxically generates solidarity, its identification with community reveals what is most profound about war’ (Schindler 2003: 430-1). The challenge that Heraclitus poses for organizational scholars is to move beyond binary oppositions. The movement beyond is not one that singles out one element, entity, and then the other, process. It is to recognise how the pairing works in tension and opposition as one. The opposition is not static, but one that actively constitutes both terms. Each term is relational, that is, they relate to each other as the hidden force that energizes and animates them.
Conclusions If this chapter has succeeded in provoking the reader to deepen his/her understanding of his two famous sayings: ‘everything flows’ and ‘you cannot step into the same river
twice’, and to move beyond these saying and connect with his ambiguous style and his generic process of organization, then it would have served its intention. Heraclitus’ fragments are neither an exposition of a meaning nor a summary of a message. Heraclitus’ philosophy indeed does provoke us to think beyond. Its provocation lies in bringing together the opposites by exploring hidden depths and latent connections. Unlike attempts to disprove, falsify and discard, Heraclitean philosophy asks us to enquire into new meanings without the loss of the tension and opposition that joins and separates in the same movement. The Heraclitean way is to gather together scattered and disperse ideas. Heraclitus’ writings are also important in reassessing our modern arrogance in mastering our world. Knowledge, progress, power and control hides the subtle yet always present truth that “as a man, he will not be wise, but only a lover-of-wisdom, a philo-sophos. It is to this ardent search for insight into the divine unity of all things that the words of Heraclitus would summon the reader. It is such philosophia which constitutes for him true piety” (Kahn 1964 : 203). What animate Heraclitus’ fragments are not particular things, but a generic process of organizing that joins and separates at the same time. The challenge for organizational scholars is to move from thinking about organizations to the organization of thought (Chia 1997). This implies taking language seriously and recognizing the capacity of language to reveal and obscure at the same time. Heraclitus masterfully exploits the ambiguity and connectivity between words through linguistic density, and at the same time alludes to and resonates with broader themes. Yet it is not so much the words and broader themes that he conveys, but the hidden movement within. As Kahn summarizes, ‘It is language itself which, by its dual capacity to reveal and obscure, provides the natural ‘sign’ for the multifarious and largely latent connections between things’ (Kahn 1964 : 193). Surprisingly, what Heraclitus achieves through his fragments is to convey his ideas by affirming what would be perceived as contradictory and illogical connections. His fragments are not an oeuvre, he does not build
monumental theories densely argued over hundreds of pages. Instead, his paradoxical style deliberately avoids the monumental in favour of odd placing of words that are meant to catch the corner of the reader’s eye, inviting him/her to savour different connections and discover new ones. Heraclitus’ fragments provide us with the ‘raw materials or rough beginnings of creative play’ (Cooper 2001: 330). Heraclitus’ writings are indeed strange. Yet, is it not more interesting for thought to wander into the strange than to establish itself in the obvious?
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