Tracing Earthseed to Heraclitus

When I was reading about Lauren’s discovery of Earthseed, the idea that God is change, I was reminded of Heraclitus (c. 500 BC). Contrary to other pre-Socratic philosophers, he sought to write his philosophy in a way that was almost paradoxical such that it would lead his reader closer to enlightenment. Many of the pre-Socratics sought to pin down a particular element that captured the essence of all things. Thales thought this was water, Anaximenes thought this was air, and Anaximander thought it was something like a primordial sort of chaos (apeiron). Canonically speaking, after these three—the Milesians— came Pythagoras and his followers, and then Heraclitus of Ephesus. Heraclitus believed that change was the only constant in life. “You could not step twice into the same river” is perhaps one of his most famous quotes. Even if one steps into a river that we would usually call the same river, Heraclitus would say this river is not the same if you are stepping into it at another time. From the very first time one steps into the river to the next time, it is a different river. To Heraclitus, this is the nature of things. Similarly, he views the human condition as characterized by strife: “All things come into being through opposition and all are in flux like a river.”

Earthseed’s principles that are governed by change and returning someday to the stars—or to the ashes—reminded me of Heraclitus immediately. One point I forgot about Heraclitus until perusing the Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy was that he believe that “that fire is the ultimate reality; all things are just manifestations of fire” (SEP). He also believes that all things come from fire and return to fire. Interestingly, this makes his view seem a bit paradoxical if he identifies the world with fire—which is one thing—while also identifying it with change, which would seem not to be able to identify the world with just one thing (the view that the world is constituted primarily by one thing is called material monism).

Analysis of Heraclitus aside, I can’t help but wonder whether Earthseed can be traced to Heraclitus as a direct influence. The parallel became all the more striking to me when I realized how prevalent fire is in Parable of the Sower. Fire destroys nearly everything Lauren owns, but when Lauren is wandering on the freeway, fire also presents the opportunity for survival by looting the resources of those killed by a fire. Fire also brings Lauren, Harry, and Zahra together with the Douglas family. Fire seems to be both threatening and tempting, and Earthseed offers the promise of “our bones [mixing] with the bones and ashes of our cities,” or to return to the stars—also a fire of its own (222). I’m not sure where this connection could take us, but it is worth thinking about the roots of Earthseed (no pun intended).


Keeping Philosophy Human

As we begin reading The Parable of the Sower and thinking about the nature of things like safety, or necessity, or violence, or homes, or adequate, some fo the philosophical tools I mentioned in class on Friday might allow us to pursue a more fine-grained analysis of the things that are to come. I also wanted to reflect onFrancesco’s post on the problem with words—and especially words like “necessary.”

The major question Francesco’s post raised for me is, What are words for? These bear on metaphysical issues insofar as we usually want the words we use to track something that is true and real about the world, but words and how we use them also shape and filter our experience of the world. When it comes to thinking about the identity of certain words, there are surely meta-linguistic issues that are salient that I do not have the knowledge to articulate, and thus begins the rabbit hole. And I could go down it, as I have on other posts, but I won’t go down this one today. I want to reiterate the different kinds of conceptual analysis I discussed on Friday while also convincing you that these philosophical tools are useful for what we are doing in this class.

Continue reading “Keeping Philosophy Human”

Testimony, Complacency, and the Ethics of Belief

In our last few classes, I noticed that topics in social epistemology—one of my pet interests—have been permeating our discussions about the Housing Crisis and The Big Short. Epistemology is the theory of knowledge and broadly concerns questions related to belief, justification, and knowledge. Social epistemology is concerned with the ways in which various social forces and systems affect knowledge, justification, and belief. Whether I trust what you say might depend on how I view you or how important it is that I have entirely accurate information, how teachers interact with you might depend on your gender (and race, and class), how doctors evaluate your pain might depend on your race (or gender), and whether I follow your orders might depend on whether you can give me something I need (e.g., a job). I have some ideas about the convergence of social epistemology and the issues we’ve been discussing, but I hoped to introduce the concepts and issues associated with testimony and the ethics of belief as we continue through the course. Continue reading “Testimony, Complacency, and the Ethics of Belief”

Problematizing King Lear and Hysteria: “Reason in Madness!”

During the class discussion about King Lear’s mental condition, I had similar thoughts to Eva about the passage in Act II, “O, how this mother swells up toward my heart! Hysterica passio, down, thou climbing daughter!” (4.62-63). Eva offers an insightful analysis into why Shakespeare might have employed the feminine term, hysterica passio, noting that this might refer to his maternal role within the family and the heartbreak associated with his daughters’ betrayal of Lear.

I agree with Eva, but here, I hope to elaborate a bit more on the connection between madness and femininity, and more specifically, to problematize the very category of “hysteria.” Continue reading “Problematizing King Lear and Hysteria: “Reason in Madness!””