Diogenes’ Wall: “Who will choose to seek what he can never find?”

I wish to share a meme-worthy portion of Diogenes’ Wall today. In Fragments 4 and 5, Diogenes argues in defense of the natural sciences. These Fragments in themselves are of great value, considering the great hostility toward science that the current regime in the United States exhibits. It’s unfortunate that history continues its circular attitudes in regards to this matter, always returning to a view that gives wholly undeserved credit to a pre-scientific worldview even in the 21st Century. Here is the portion:

… [as is supposed by] some of the philosophers and especially the Socratics. They say that pursuing natural science and busying oneself with investigation of [celestial phenomena] is superfluous and unprofitable, and they do [not even] deign [to concern themselves with such matters.]

[Others do not] explicitly [stigmatise] natural science as unnecessary, being ashamed to acknowledge [this], but use another means of discarding it. For, when they assert that things are inapprehensible, what else are they saying than that there is no need for us to pursue natural science? After all, who will choose to seek what he can never find?

“After all, who will choose to seek what he can never find?”

“After all, who will choose to seek what he can never find?”

In a recent conversation with another Epicurean, this passage was brought up with emphasis on this question, asked rhetorically and used to criticize the Platonists and religious people who waste their time seeking things that can not, by their own admission, be found because they exist supposedly “outside of nature”. If they were to admit–as we do–that whatever exists outside of nature is imaginary, and not real, because nature is reality, then the matter would be immediately settled. But they keep on seeking what can never be found, and arrogantly making claims in their search that confuse people, rather than referring their thought process to the evidence that nature presents to our faculties. This, we deem a huge and unfortunate waste of time.

Now, here is how Diogenes closes his argument, by saying that we would not be able to refer to anything without first being able to apprehend some aspect of its nature, which therefore shows that the nature of things is apprehensible:

Now Aristotle and those who hold the same Peripatetic views as Aristotle say that nothing is scientifically knowable, because things are continually in flux and, on account of the rapidity of the flux, evade our apprehension. We on the other hand acknowledge their flux, but not its being so rapid that the nature of each thing [is] at no time apprehensible by sense-perception. And indeed [in no way would the upholders of] the view under discussion have been able to say (and this is just what they do [maintain] that [at one time] this is [white] and this black, while [at another time] neither this is [white nor] that black, [if] they had not had [previous] knowledge of the nature of both white and black.

See Also:

Oinoanda: “What the Truth Was Before it Turned into Ruins”

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About hiramcrespo

Hiram Crespo is the author of 'Tending the Epicurean Garden' and founder of societyofepicurus.com. He's also written for The Humanist, Eidolon, Occupy, The New Humanism, The Secular Web, Europa Laica, AteístasPR, and many other outlets.
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