Heraclitus, B118: ‘A dry soul is wisest and best’
Reconstituting Heraclitus’ thought, the dry soul has the virtue of being wisest and best for its opposition to the watery death.
It cannot be decided if the physical interpretation of man’s nature is only a scientific attempt or an analogical speculation, too.
On the analogical level, death seems rather closer to dryness as the final point of a process of loosing vitality, while the property of being watery is rather attributable to a mind that is an ongoing spring of wisdom.
If we grant that Heraclitus meant to close the dry soul to the fire, the cosmic principle, it is in need to clarify why it is close, since a dry thing which suffers the action of fire shows itself as having a different nature than fire.
In order to solve this problem, it is required to see that a different thing is primary debt to that other thing that makes him different, and not to the multitude of things that belong to the class of species of the same genus, as it is suggested in Aristotle’s definitional account.
Consequently, the man is a man when there is thought of being different from that other thing represented by divinity, not when he is conceived as having reason or as being biped.
Nonetheless, the different thing is different due to the process by which is differentiated by that other thing. For Heraclitus’s soul, the process of drying.
A soul that is distinguished by fire is one that is restricted in its content. If we speak about something as soul’s content, we might imagine an individual who becomes reach of elements able to be classified as ones that are different from soul, but coming in its possession. The beginning or the principle of such gathering of elements cannot be placed in the soul itself, but in its relation to the multitude of different things surrounding man.
Thus, it is a common experience that the individual acquires knowledge through the simple existence in the world or by sheer coexistence. The soul grows in its content, but does not grow as a soul. Actually, it is circulated by things and peoples as water does in fruits of the earth. And death is the final point of being possessed from something else. However, the wisdom and the excellence of soul must belong to soul itself.
Only because the soul is a vague notion, someone may identify it with the phonic individuality and so to claim that is wise, since he is able to speak about things that circulate him. Therefore, the soul cannot be a spring of wisdom but only a floating thing among things, like souls of dead men were driven on the rivers of death in Greek mythology.
Differently, a dried soul, though passive to the fire, has clearly grounded in itself the process of growing (soul is ‘a logos increasing itself’, B115), since it recognizes itself as a soul through the action of the thing that is utterly different from man: the divine fire. We do not learn from Heraclitus’ fragments how such grounding act begins, but it is sufficient to know that he does not appeal to that individuality constituted by gathering the multitude of different elements. Like the process of drying, we might presuppose that the soul becomes wise and best through the action of viewing them in a restrictive way, but not by abstraction or by collection.
Heraclitus restricts the things to those aspects that reflect the cosmic contradiction and unity. There is a multitude of concrete things, too, but not one imposed by the things.