Being and Becoming

“Becoming,” Barfield argues, was once an experience for humankind. Barfield’s reading of the development of Greek thought reveals that the pre-Socratics, even Plato, were still able to perceive becoming.

“Even by the end of Plato’s career,” Barfield writes in “Thinking and Thought,”

Greek consciousness had not yet succeeded in distinguishing either of the two opposed concepts of “being” and “becoming” from a third concept of mere logical “predication,” as we do. The struggle to achieve this can actually be overheard, at an acute stage, in the dialogue called the Sophist. And if we go a little further back we come to a period when the Greek mind had not even succeeded in distinguishing “being” from “becoming.” For up to this point Greek consciousness had actually lived in this experience of “becoming.” And because of this the Greek mind could not at first be conscious of it as such. Thus, although the Greek philosophers were indeed occupied with a problem which we are now able to name as that of “coming into being,” or “becoming,” they themselves could have no such name for it. (Romanticism Comes of Age 71)

“Being conscious in it,” the Greeks were not yet capable of existing outside it and therefore “conscious of it” (editor’s italics).

It might therefore be said, Barfield suggests, that “the problem of early Greek philosophy” was

to acquire, as far as possible, the idea of such a world of becoming. And it began to do so, when Anaxagoras set over against the forever-changing world of growing and decaying substance (the “universal flux” of Heraclitus) the other principle of Nous or Mind.(Romanticism Comes of Age 71)

Thus began “the antithesis (hitherto unapprehended) between Spirit and Matter, and by Plato’s time the central problem of philosophy was how spirit, or Nous ‘becomes’ matter, or how matter, at certain times and seasons imitates or takes the ‘form’ of spirit” (Romanticism Comes of Age 72).

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