Heraclitus, Fragment 55 (D 78)


“Unlike divine nature, human nature lacks sound judgements.” (here Waterfield 2; cp. DK B78, W 61, K 55)

“Human character has no purpose, the divine, however, has.” (Sweet 78)

“Human nature has no set purpose but the divine has.” (K 55)

There is a god’s eye point of view, but it is not ours. Heraclitus seems to equate sound judgments with perfect judgments.

How would the divine nature grasp reality? All at once, outside of time (as Parmenides or later Spinoza appear to want to have it), or only as all-encompassing of what exists at a given time (more akin to Bergson’s or Whitehead’s views)? Can we humans, given our limited perspective, even answer the question that I have posed? Would we have to have divine natures to know what reality is from the perspective of a divine nature? How would Heraclitus know that the divine nature does have sound judgments? How might any human, lacking sound judgments, know that? In other words, how can we know what a divine nature is when all we have is our own limited understanding to know anything–and this limited understanding apparently does not admit fully sound judgment?

One thing is clear: we lack sound judgments. Yet this statement is paradoxical: Do we have at least sound judgment about our lacking of sound judgments? Apparently.

Fragment two might be viewed as foreshadowing the Socratic view of wisdom. Socrates is famously wise for at least knowing what he does not know. Does wisdom perhaps start with a sound judgment about the lack of completeness of the individual perspective? We then have an opportunity to build upon that to achieve if not comprehensive sound judgment then at least better judgement?

Throughout the Fragments, Heraclitus shows himself to view multiple perspectives, even those that might be viewed as contradictory, as combining to form a more comprehensive perspective. But taken together (minus the dogmatic view that each partial perspective is whole) would we end up with a divine sound judgment–or at least a more adequate perspective? Is something like the complementary perspective of multiple incomplete and unsound perspectives if not itself a sound perspective then at least reaching toward a more sound perspective? But this alone would be insufficient surely. For if one is hallucinating, and another not, how might those two judgments be combined for a fuller, more complete one? Perhaps a dialogical model, an openness to rational deliberation with a clear awareness of the partiality of the perspective of the individual would though eventually lead us to greater clarity, to a more sound set of judgments.

In later texts, Heraclitus speaks of wisdom. He also speaks of the universe for the awake as held in common. A starting point toward understanding the world as held in common appears here to be that one recognizes the partiality of the individual perspective. This appears to be a first step toward waking up. In contrast, those who are asleep will not come to hold the world in common, but will live as if in a dream with nothing available to them but their own individual imaginings.

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