Heraclitus, Fragment 86 (D 86)


“Because of disbelief, it escapes being known.” (L&M D38)

“Incredibility escapes recognition.” (K 85)

“Disbelief escapes recognition.” (S 86)

[But the greater part of things divine, according to Heraclitus,” escape ascertainment because of (people’s?) lack of belief (or lack of confidence). (R 86)

There are marked variations in this translation. A key term complicating the translation is apistie (disbelief). Various translators (Sweet and Kahn) translate it as nominative; others (here Robinson and Laks & Most) treat it as dative. Robinson explains that he takes the term to be paraphrasing what has been mentioned previous it (“the greater part of things divine”).

The phrase in any case is enigmatic.  Plutarch’s view, that this concerns things divine, is only explicitly acknowledged in Robinson’s rendering. His translation hints at Augustine’s view that one must believe in order to know. In Heraclitus’ case, however, this would not imply a requirement for an openness to divine grace. Heraclitus has no comparable concept. Rather, it would apply in the rather more typically secularly understood manner. The divine perspective is the objective view — the god’s eye perspective. If one does not believe in such an objective view to begin with, then one will not set out to know it. In this rather ordinary sense, knowledge presupposes belief.

The text might be usefully read against Fragment 6, that people often bring their own prejudgments to experience and thus fail to see what the experience may in fact be offering.


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