facta est lux
The supreme paradox of all thought is the attempt to discover something that thought cannot think. This passion is at bottom present in all thinking, even in the thinking of the individual, in so far as in thinking he participates in something transcending himself. But habit dulls our sensibilities, and prevents us from perceiving it.
—Kierkegaard (Philosophical Fragments, trans. Niels Thulstrup, rev. Howard V. Hong, p. 46)
After ambling through La Pensée sauvage, the household reading group is slowly working through Kierkegaard’s Philosophical Fragments, which is a very different sort of book. If Lévi-Strauss gathered a posy of popularizing anthropological essays contra Sartre,1 Kierkegaard is … well, it’s not quite clear to me who Kierkegaard is writing for, or what he hopes to accomplish, except that it involves God somehow, and Socrates, who are not really among my favorite characters on the world-historical stage, though far be it from me to deny their significance to others.2
But that is not really what I want to talk about. One morning, as I was reading my daily allotment of the new(-ish) Loeb Early Greek Philosophy (vol. 2), edited by Laks and Most, in the section ‘Reflections on Gods and Men: Varieties of Human Wisdom (T35–T39): The Wisdom of the Seven Sages (T35–T38)’3 I found the following: Σφράγιζε τοὺς μὲν λόγους σιγῇ, τὴν δὲ σιγὴν καιρῷ (Mor T35.2.5).4 This is one of the sayings of Solon as reported by Demetrius of Phaleron in Stobaeus (3.79.2), and the editors translate it is as ‘Seal your discourses with silence, and silence with the right moment’. For some reason I couldn’t quite place, this made me sit up a bit, but I didn’t think too much of it at the time. Then, a few pages later, I saw the following in the sayings of Pittacus, from the same source: καιρὸν γνῶθι – ‘Know the right moment’ (Mor T35.5.1).5 At last, something simple and clear enough to provide the spark necessary to illumine the dim recesses of memory.
Here again we have the Moment, on which everything depends. Let us recapitulate. If we do not posit the Moment we return to Socrates; but it was precisely from him that we departed in order to discover something. If we posit the Moment the Paradox is there; for the Moment is the Paradox in its most abbreviated form. Because of the Moment the learner is in Error; and man who had before possessed self-knowledge, now becomes bewildered with respect to himself; instead of self-knowledge, he receives the consciousness of sin, and so forth; for as soon as we posit the Moment everything follows of itself.
—Kierkegaard (Philosophical Fragments, p. 64)
Ah, yes, when the fulness of time was come, then, too, came glimmers of understanding. It seemed suddenly, overabundantly clear that Kierkegaard’s ‘Moment’ – occasionally dignified with momentous capitalization whenever the translator sees fit6 – is related to that due time or season for interpretation, for testing, for conversion, that καιρός of the gospels, while also being that now, that timeless instant, τὸ ἐξαίφνης, from Plato’s Parmenides (156d; according to the note of dubious helpfulness):
P: And does this strange thing in which it is at the time of changing really exist?
A: What thing?
P: The moment. For the moment seems to imply a something out of which change takes place into either of two states; for the change is not from the state of rest as such, nor from the state of motion as such; but there is this curious nature which we call the moment lying between rest and motion, not being in any time; and into this and out of this what is in motion changes into rest, and what is at rest into motion.
A: So it appears.7
Of course, I would not have thought to think of ‘the moment’ for even an instant without the intervention of a pre-Socratic sage.
…but when I let the proof go, the existence is there. But this act of letting go is surely also something; it is indeed a contribution of mine. Must not this also be taken into the account, this little moment, brief as it may be—it need not be long, for it is a leap. However brief this moment, if only an instantaneous now, this ‘now’ must be included in the reckoning.
—Kierkegaard (Philosophical Fragments, p. 53)
- Mileage may vary. [↩]
- One is too inconsistent, while the other is too consistent. There is no pleasing some people. [↩]
- The section heading will, I think, give you a sense of their editorial approach to the project which, although it may have many virtues not readily apparent to the casual reader, is probably not for everyone. [↩]
- The cross references and conventions in the Loeb Early Greek Philosophy border on the absurd; if they are hyperlinks in the digital edition, then it is understandable, but on paper it feels a bit pushy. It is possible, however, that my reading habits have become excessively digitized – or I am lazy. [↩]
- Meineke’s old Teubner (1856) Stobaeus credits this to Thales (3.79.5), but cf. the life of Pittacus in Diogenes Laertius: ἀπόφθεγμα αὐτοῦ· καιρὸν γνῶθι (1.4.79); Wachsmuth and Hense (1894) restore it to Pittacus. I didn’t check Diels–Kranz because, well, see previous note re: laziness. [↩]
- Although this reminds one of Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts. [↩]
- Jowett’s translation. [↩]