(On the way to silence?)

Estimated reading time: 29 minute(s)

Although modern man is not particularly inclined to “mystical” Silence, the “absolute” or definitive Silence with which the Thesis of Philosophy ends does not disappoint him beyond measure. Even a pure Intellectual would resign himself to silence if he were sure that no one else would speak with a view to contradict him. On the other hand, the culmination of the philosophical Anti-thesis shocks the modern and deeply disenchants him. In his opinion, no earnest man would want to speak without end, that is to say without goal or end and therefore, basically, to say nothing at all, or at least renounce the very possibility of saying anything definitive, even “true” in the proper sense of the word.

Undoubtedly, the intellectual is everywhere and always sensitive, if not keen, to the joy and the exhilaration that the acting discourse as such can procure, somewhat independently of its “content”. But, nowadays, it is frowned upon to speak for the sole pleasure of doing so, and we decline to see in the speech itself an end in itself.

Perhaps because one remembers too many speeches made in the past so that the mere possibility of “making a speech” as a kind of novelty no longer entices him to wonder much. And if we eagerly seek the new, it is because being able to say something, and even to say it well, appears, if not within everyone’s reach, at least as common enough to be belittled as anything mundane.

But we must not forget that it was not always so. The extraordinary value attributed by classical antiquity to rhetoric cannot be denied, even if we no longer “understand” it. The fact is that the ancient Rhetor considered himself a ‘summit’. All the sciences and philosophy itself were for him only a repertoire of ‘commonplaces’ for his speeches, which it was up to him to develop appropriately. Now, the content of his speech mattered little to him, as did the “Truth” of what he was saying.

Moreover, he took pleasure in developing just as perfectly the “contrary thesis” of any thesis he had previously originated and formed. And this only added to his glory. This glory came solely from “speaking well” and “knowing how to speak”. Indeed, all the Rhetor could wish for was never to run out of themes.

This is precisely what the Heraclitean Antithesis of Philosophy assured him: the River of Heraclitus brought, without ever drying up, water to the mill of Rhetoric and the Heraclitean Fire fed endless “discussions” between the Rhetoricians supporting contrary “theses”. clearly saw this by tracing back to Heraclitus (and beyond him to “Homer”) all the well-spoken, cultivated rhetoricians of his time. We only understand Plato’s anger and, in general, the hatred that the philosophers had for Rhetoric (very virulent hatred still in a Philo) if we remember that in the time of the Sophists, the discovery of good speaking has literally fascinated everyone with its never-before-seen appeal, which prevailed for long centuries, despite the plethora of endless discourses, where the ancient rhetoricians had developed anything and everything with the sole concern of speaking well and, if possible, to speak better to / than others.

We can even say that the whole (parathetical) philosophy of Plato (and Aristotle) was intended to silence the Rhetoricians by telling them something that they could no longer contradict and would have to content themselves with re-saying: – as they see fit, moreover (at least according to Aristotle), if not perfectly fine (as seems to have wished).

However, to achieve this, it was necessary “to refute” Heraclitus by causing the Heraclitean River to dry up and extinguish its Fire; by causing it to act contrary to itself. However, neither nor can accomplish this end, so much so that the endless rhetorical discourse, even that one without a goal or term, reappears even in Kant’s synthetic Parathesis. [[[More generally, by way of a footnote: /// Parmenides’ Silent Knowledge is absolute in that it is both Truth (discursive) and Error (discursive) which, by definition, are mutually exclusive. As for Hegelian discursive Knowledge, it is absolute because it implies both the True and the False, insofar as the latter has completely and definitively ceased to be false, after having been so for a certain time (which is , moreover, a certain or historical time). On the other hand, Heraclitean discursive Knowledge is relative in the sense that it involves both the True and the False, which are everywhere and always mutually exclusive as discursive truths and errors, which change all the time in content or subject, but which remain indefinitely in their reciprocal opposition, the True becomes ‘erroneous’ from the fact that the False becomes ‘truthful’. Finally, the Para-thesis strives in vain to find a discursive Knowledge which would not be relative simply because it would exclude (discursive) Error in favour of the only (discursive) Truth. The set of these truths is meant to be the (discursive) revelation of the True (or Good), which supposedly excludes the False (or Evil) while continuing to oppose it everywhere and always (or oppose it while claiming to have excluded it from everywhere forever.]]]. If nowadays, no one dares openly to take up the Heraclitean Anti-thesis of Philosophy, which exalts the “infinite” or in-definite character of the discursive controversy which it thereby deprives of all meaning, we nevertheless stubbornly refuse to close the discussion, resigning ourselves to repeating what Hegel had said, even when one admits that it is not the “Truth” that one is going to say.

It is also wrong to be astonished that at the dawn of Rhetoric, a Heraclitus was able to satisfy himself by believing to discover that, even by necessarily contradicting himself everywhere and always, man will nowhere and never be obliged to be silent or to repeat himself.

Once again, I in no way mean to say that Heraclitus was himself only a Rhetorician or a Sophist. But the fact is that all Sophists and Rhetoricians can lay claim to him, and many of them have indeed done so. Moreover, if Heraclitus is not a Skeptic in the proper sense of the term, all Skeptics are more or less ”Heracliteans” or ”Zenonians” (it being understood that Zeno minus Parmenides [or Xenophanes] is nothing other than Heraclitus interpreted sceptically”).

Thus, seems to have claimed Heraclitus, and he is in any case considered by and by tradition as a Heraclitean; now, according to Heraclitus, it is “true” to say of everything S that it is both P and Non-p (which is not “sceptical”); Protagoras usually modifies these sayings, by suggesting that it is “just as true” to say of any S that it is P as to affirm that it is not, being Non-P; and he furthers ‘spatialises’ the situation (thus making it ‘parathetic’) by admitting that one can just as well say in one hic et nunc that S is P only to affirm in another hic et nunc that S is Not-P only (which is already a “relativistic Skepticism”).

Similarly, Cratylus is generally considered a faithful follower of Heraclitus; however, he is a Skeptic (nihilistic) who reduces everyone (including himself) to silence by contradicting everything that has been said; he is, therefore, silent because he admits, with Heraclitus, that one can say of any S that it is both P and Not-P, without conceding with his master that one speaks the truth when one says that S is P and Not-P or that S is and is not P. [Gorgias claims to be Eleatic; but in fact, he re-says Zeno without admitting the conclusion that draws; he admits, with Zeno, that one can contradict everything one says and that this contradiction reduces all discourse to silence; but he does not attribute to Silence the value attributed to it by Parmenides and the authentic Eleatics; he wants to continue talking, and contradiction is thus, for him, only a discursive game; moreover his famous writing on Nothingness is only a parody of Zeno, and we do not know what his personal doctrine was. The situation is perfectly understood and expressed by Aenesidemus (according to Sextus Empir.): Skepticism leads to Heracliteism in the sense that (in the hypothesis of the ‘coincidence’ of what one says in truth with what one speaks in this way) if one can contradict everything one says, one can only say the Truth by affirming that everything one speaks about is at the same time what is said about it and the opposite of what is said about it; now, this is precisely what Heraclitus affirms, by denying the necessity of Silence, confirmed by Parmenides.

Be that as it may, it is indisputable that saw in Heraclitus the father of Sophistry and Rhetoric: to say, with Heraclitus, that all S is P and Not-P “at the same time” is to say nothing at all or to speak in order to say nothing, even to speak for the sole pleasure of saying anything. This judgment of Plato is admitted by Aristotle, for whom Heraclitus denied the Principle of contradiction, so he could not say that he said the Truth without contradicting himself by the very fact that he said it. [[[More generally on this point, by way of a footnote: /// It is interesting to note that fully realized the situation (seeing very well that the “philosophers” who “speak” to deny the very possibility of Discourse [properly speaking, that is to say, having a de-finite meaning and thereby developing into a discursive Knowledge which is integrated into the System of Knowledge] are nothing other than the sophisticated Rhetoricians, headed by Heraclitus, who does not accept the ” Principle of contradiction”). According to Aristotle, one cannot “refute” (i.e. contradict) someone who does not claim to be telling a “truth” (i.e. who does not say that he is speaking In the proper sense of the term); but he who says that he discursively affirms the impossibility of all discourse, speaks in the proper sense of the word and “contradicts himself” in doing so, since he contradicts (in speaking) what he says (in speaking of the Discourse as such and therefore also of the discourse which is its own) (cf. Met., K, 5; 1062, 32-1062, 11). That last 1 was for “our times” as well.]]]. Moreover, according to Aristotle, Plato imagined his theory of Ideas only to avoid Skepticism of Heraclitean origin, which he had been wrong to take seriously, admitting, following Heraclitus, that any phenomenon S is effectively ״at the same time״ P AND Not-P [while, according to Aristotle, it is only potentially so, being in actuality either P or Not-P.]

Finally, we can mention that already for Heraclitus Philo-sophy probably meant Philo-logy (that is to say, love not of the discursive Wisdom of true Discourse, but of Discourse as such and whatever the meaning of the latter (cf. Diels, 1, 12, B, 35); in any case, the substitution of Philology (Polymathis) for Philosophy is expressly demanded by Eratosthenes, and it is not impossible to trace the “sources” of it back to Heraclitus.

However poorly appreciated, the noisy antithetic or Heraclitean confines of Philosophy are even today more populated than the silent regions of its Parmenidean thetic frontier. This is true in my case as well, but perhaps it should not be so. Thus, this discourse on chatter may call for some Parmenidean Silence on my part from now on. WAIT, What?! Time will tell. Okay, then.

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