Wednesday Quotes
Who’s Hiding from Whom
October 8, 2014
7

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“The real nature of things is accustomed to hide itself.” Heraclitus

Heraclitus seems to imply that reality strives to veil itself. Is there a latent cruelty in reality—that it recedes from our comprehension?

Maybe we should make a distinction: there is a difference between something hiding itself, and something being visible only to those who grow capable of seeing. In Plato’s story of the cave, the higher realities are not hiding themselves; it just takes much discipline, and help, in order to discover them. And indeed, many are not willing to make the effort to do so. In that case it is more we who are the cause of the disconnect between ourselves and reality. Not reality itself.

Perhaps the effort required to come to see things as they are, is itself revelatory of the way things are. Maybe the hiddenness of the nature of things—could it be called a modest reserve?—is a kind of prod, even an invitation, to look deeper.

Aristotle seems to suggest an answer to this Heraclitan riddle. He says that to the upright character, things appear as they really are. Perhaps the real nature of things often eludes my grasp, because I have not disposed myself well, that I might see.

Heraclitus, a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher from the city of Ephesus in Asia Minor, predated Socrates by almost a century (flourished circa 500 B.C.). His works survive only in fragments.

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7 comments

  1. As the blind man cried out “Jesus son of David have mercy on us”! Open our eyes Lord that we may see.

  2. If I may quote St. Matthew’s gospel at length:

    “And his disciples came to him, and said, Why dost thou speak to them in parables? Because, he answered, it is granted to you to understand the secrets of God’s kingdom, but not to these others. If a man is rich, gifts will be made to him, and his riches will abound; if he is poor, even the little he has will be taken from him. And if I talk to them in parables, it is because, though they have eyes, they cannot see, and though they have ears, they cannot hear or understand. Indeed, in them the prophecy of Isaias is fulfilled, You will listen and listen, but for you there is no understanding; you will watch and watch, but for you there is no perceiving. The heart of this people has become dull, their ears are slow to listen, and they keep their eyes shut, so that they may never see with those eyes, or hear with those ears, or understand with that heart, and turn back to me, and win healing from me. But blessed are your eyes, for they have sight; blessed are your ears, for they have hearing. And, believe me, there have been many prophets and just men who have longed to see what you see, and never saw it, to hear what you hear, and never heard it.” (Matt. 13:10 – 17)

    Heraclitus’ quote seems to be yet another intersection of pre-Christian Greek philosophy and Judeo-Christian belief. God doesn’t make all truth obvious to us to require that we have humility in order to come to the truth, and that the proud be cut off from that same truth. How Socratic of God! Or rather, how God-like of Socrates.

  3. “And, believe me, there have been many prophets and just men who have longed to see what you see, and never saw it, to hear what you hear, and never heard it.”

    I’ll add also that Heraclitus, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle were very likely among those whom Our Lord references here.

  4. I think this little post is wonderful, Dr. Cuddeback. It reminds me of Josef Pieper’s section on Wonder in his little treatise titled “The Philosophical Act.” It seems that as we grow older, the overwhelming tendency in man is to become less and less enamored with Being, with the fact that there is a reality that exists, an “other”, outside of myself that is good and beautiful. Look at any child who is in awe of the tiniest flower or insect. The child often sees reality better than the adult!

    “Wonder acts upon a man like a shock, he is “moved” and “shaken”, and in the dislocation that succeeds all that he had taken for granted as being natural or self-evident loses its compact solidity and obviousness.” (“The Philosophical Act”, 114).

    That our minds would awake from their slumber in this manner everyday!

  5. Rick and Josemaria,
    Thank you for your scriptural references. The intersection of scripture and Greek thought is indeed remarkable.
    D. McShane,
    I really appreciate the reference to Josef Pieper; he has been a great inspiration and teacher to many of us regarding the true nature of wonder, and of philosophy.

  6. Does Aristotle make that argument about the vision of upright characters in a particular work you can recommend? I noticed C.S. Lewis explores that idea in every one of the Chronicles of Narnia — good primers for perennial philosophy, I suppose!

  7. Thanks for asking Emika. In Bk III of the Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle writes how things appear to a person according to the kind of character that he has. To men of bad inclinations, bad things appear as good, while to men of good inclinations, good things appear as good–i.e., they appear as they really are. Bernard of Clarvaux wrote (I don’t remember where, though Josef Pieper quotes it) that the wise man ‘tastes’ things as they really are. The Latin word for wise is connected to the word for tasting.