The Philosophy of Heraclitus
Heraclitus loads his words with layers of complexity, presenting truths as verbal puzzles to be solved like riddles. He argues that change is the unifying force of life and identifies it with deity.
Heraclitus’s philosophy is a response to the Milesian philosophers Thales, Anaximander and Anaximenes. These Ionian thinkers believed some original material turned into everything we see now, and they called this process Panta Rhei (life is flux). Heraclitus disagreed.
What is Heraclitus’s Theory of Change?
Heraclitus is known to contemporaries as the “dark philosopher,” so called because of the difficulty in understanding his writings. He is the first philosopher to argue that everything, even those things that seem permanent (e.g. a river), is dependant on change. He also holds that the only thing that is constant is change itself.
He supports his argument by quoting the common experience that cold things warm up, hot things cool down, wet things become dry, etc. He argues that this process is fundamental to the cosmos and all things in it.
Scholars have debated whether Heraclitus’s view is one of flux or constancy. A Platonic reading (favored by Plato and later by Aristotle) suggests that Heraclitus believes in flux, but not as destructive of constancy; high-level, intellectual structures supervene on low-level material flux. The more common modern interpretation, however, argues that Heraclitus is a process philosopher, and that all things, including people, are in a perpetual state of becoming.
What is Heraclitus’s Theory of Opposites?
Heraclitus argued that all things are in constant flux. He believed that this flux is an eternal process of transforming one thing into another. He also argued that everything is interconnected. Heraclitus used puns, paradoxes, and antitheses to make his arguments. He also believed that the Word (Logos) is an ordering principle of the world.
According to Diogenes Laertius, Heraclitus died of dropsy around 475 BCE. Heraclitus was a controversial philosopher. Some thought that his philosophy was incoherent and self-contradictory. Others interpreted him as a kind of proto-skeptic.
Heraclitus used a phrase that is now known as “everything flows” to explain his ideas. The river changes its composition from moment to moment, but it never retains the same identity for long. Plato and the Stoics interpreted this to mean that the whole universe is periodically destroyed by fire and then reborn. However, this interpretation seems to contradict Heraclitus’s own statement that no man ever steps in the same river twice.
What is Heraclitus’s Theory of Movement?
The fragments of Heraclitus suggest that he was a proponent of the doctrine of flux. He believed that nothing was permanent, and even objects that appeared to be static (e.g. a river) were in fact changing constantly. This philosophy of flux is often interpreted as an extreme form of monism. According to this interpretation, all that exists is some modification of fire (which is viewed as both the substance and nature of everything), and there can be no such thing as continuing identity.
This concept of change is often seen as a response to the Milesian philosophy, which believed that permanence was the fundamental nature of things. Heraclitus contrasted this with his own philosophy of flux, which he expressed in sayings such as “Panta rhei,” (“Everything flows”) and “No one steps in the same river twice” (Cratylus 402b). The implication is that change is the only true reality, and that permanence is only apparent.
What is Heraclitus’s Theory of Time?
Heraclitus was one of the first Western philosophers to go beyond physical theory in search of metaphysical foundations and moral applications. His main claim was that life is a flux, and nothing is permanent because the clash of opposites constantly creates and destroys. He likened the universe to a river, and said, “you cannot step into the same river twice.”
His views were so radical that later philosophers called him a dreamer and a heretic. He secluded himself in Ephesus to pursue philosophy, and according to Diogenes Laertius, lived on the meager rations of mountain plants.
Heraclitus is difficult to interpret because his writings are fragmentary. He used puns, paradoxes, antitheses, and parallels to construct complex expressions with multiple meanings. Some scholars have read him as a materialist and others as a process philosopher. Heraclitus believed that the highest level of flux supervenes on lower-level flux. The Platonic reading of Heraclitus, that everything is changing and that the identities of opposites are identical, leads to logical incoherence.