By Michael Araki

In fragment XXV (Khan, 1979), Heraclitus writes that polymathy is bad craft (kakotechnie). However, in that extract he is referring to the “pilling up” of learnings without the application of rigor and without good guiding principles.

Notwithstanding, cognates of polymath’s termination "-math" were associated with learnings implying inquiry, and rigor, correctness, precision, or akribeia (Bukert, 1972, p. 192). Heraclitus, then, attacks a version of "polymathy" that lacks both the depth of akribeia and integration aspects. Since Breadth,_D showed that these are constitutional elements of modern polymathy, it voids the application of this criticism.

Moreover, Heraclitus wrote about the necessity to inquire into many things to obtain integrated wisdom (fragment XII). Thus what he really emphasizes throughout his fragments is that good learners should (i) be critical of learnings coming from "authorities" that cannot be trusted, and (ii) strive to integrate many knowledges in their pursuit of a single truth, which comes not from opinion but from nature. In this sense, he was only admonishing "polymathy" when void of depth and integration. Were these conditions true, most modern scholars would also concur that it would be bad practice. Hence, the fact that modern polymathy is now defined in terms of depth, breadth and integration puts an end this issue.


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Michael Araki



Published: 9 Mar, 2021

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