Heraclitus, Fragment 67 (D 110-11)


“It is not better for people to get all they want.” (S 110)

“Disease makes health sweet and good; hunger satiety, weariness repose.” (S, 111) (Cp. K 67, D 110-111, L&M, 117).

Kahn links two fragments here that Robinson, Lak and Most, Sweet and most others provide as separate fragments. I offer them together only because I have followed Kahn’s numbering.

The first statement is largely viewed as Heraclitus’ rejection of the well-known saying at Delos, which Aristotle quotes “The sweetest thing is to obtain what one desires” (EE 1099a 25). Most men, in Heraclitus’ view, do not want the good. So getting what they want or all they want is not in fact good for them. In many cases, it is quite the opposite. Taken alone, we might see the first statement as the ancient precursor to Oscar Wilde’s view that that god’s hear the prayers of those they want to punish.

Linking the two statements offers us much more than that. Kahn sees it as linking Heraclitus’ teaching of the complementarity of opposites, so clear in his teaching of nature, to his view of ethics and desire. In Kahn’s reading, desire for the goods mentioned is only possible in the context of existence of oppositions. We want health in light of our knowledge of illness, we want satiety in light of the experience of hunger, we seek rest in the wake of weariness. Desires arise in reference to their opposite, and without their opposite desires would be eliminated. If we only got what we wanted — health, satiety, and repose — we would eventually lose the experience of those goods. A one-sided view of desire, which severs the desired from its opposite, needs to be replaced by a more encompassing vision of the unity of oppositions that is required for the experience of desire and for an experience of good things.




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