Heraclitus, Fragment 68 (D 102)


[[For God all things are beautiful and good and just, but humans have supposed some things to be unjust, other things to be just.]] (S 102, cp. R 102, Kahn 68,

This fragment comes to us via a Stoic commentator on the Illiad, and details about its accuracy are disputed. Robinson and others accept it as a paraphrase.

This statement implies that human judgment on moral matters errs — and that from a god’s eye (true) perspective, nothing is just or unjust, or more to the point, that from that god’s eye perspective everything is just, despite it’s appearance otherwise to humans. From the perspective of cosmic order, the apparently beautiful and ugly, good and bad, just and unjust, are resolved. This aligns with views of the early Stoa that in fact all things occur in alignment with the Logos, that all that unfolds according to a rational order.

Does the view expressed here imply that we thus need pay no heed to morality and law and that we might do whatever we happen to will?  If it does, then it appears to conflict with Fragment  30 (D114) and various other fragments, which clearly enough indicate that Heraclitus thinks a moral code is applicable for humans. Human moral codes (nomoi) are said to be “nourished by the divine order.” Such fragments are indeed often taken to imply even that we are to try to align our moral codes with a higher divine order.

There is a clear tension between these perspectives. Can Heraclitus in fact have it both ways? Are we still to implement and follow norms of justice generally applicable for the lower human perspective, but simply to realize that in the end somehow there is a resolution to apparent conflicts that will live out in ways very real for us? This is essentially the route the Stoa take. This resolves them to work to change what they can for the good as they understand it, but to attempt to learn from those things that they cannot change, as their attempts are always thwarted. There may be wisdom in doing this.

But this by no means eases the logical tensions in the perspective. We are in any case left to wonder on what basis Heraclitus asserts there is an ultimate resolution of good and ill, beauty and ugliness, justice and injustice. No reasons are provided for believing in such an ultimate resolution. Heraclitus quite generally of course affirms that we cannot know the just without the injust, the good without the bad, the beautiful without the ugly. From our perspective, we will know no absolute resolution. But then, on what basis might one have faith that there is an ultimate resolution between these opposites?

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