In philosophy, becoming is the possibility of change in a thing that has being, that exists.

In the philosophical study of ontology, the concept of becoming originated in ancient Greece with the philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus, who in the sixth century BC, said that nothing in this world is constant except change and becoming (i.e., everything is impermanent). This point was made by Heraclitus with the famous quote "No man ever steps in the same river twice."[1] His theory stands in direct contrast to the philosophic idea of being, first argued by Parmenides, a Greek philosopher from the italic Magna Grecia, who believed that the change or "becoming" we perceive with our senses is deceptive, and that there is a pure perfect and eternal being behind nature, which is the ultimate truth of being. This point was made by Parmenides with the famous quote "what is-is". Becoming, along with its antithesis of being, are two of the foundation concepts in ontology. Scholars have generally believed that either Parmenides was responding to Heraclitus, or Heraclitus to Parmenides, though opinion on who was responding to whom changed over the course of the 20th century.

In philosophy, the word "becoming" concerns a specific ontological concept studied also by process philosophy as a whole or with the related study of process theology, and Heraclitus is commonly regarded as the "founder of the process approach" due to his radical flux doctrine.[2]


Heraclitus (c. 535 - c. 475 BC) spoke extensively about becoming. Shortly afterwards Leucippus of Miletus similarly spoke of becoming as the movement of atoms.

Plutarchus (De animae procreatione, 5 p. 1014 A) wrote concerning Heraclitus:

This universal order, which is the same for all, has not been made by any god or man, but it always has been, is, and will be an ever-living fire, kindling itself by regular measures and going out by regular measures.

The ontology of becoming

According to tradition,[3] Heraclitus wrote a treatise about nature named "Περὶ φύσεως" ("Perì phýseōs"), "On Nature," in which appears the famous aphorism πάντα ῥεῖ (panta rhei) translated literally as "the whole flows [as a river]," or figuratively as "everything flows, nothing stands still." The concept of "becoming" in philosophy is connected with two others: movement and evolution, as becoming assumes a "changing to" and a "moving toward." Becoming is the process or state of change and coming about in time and space.

Nietzsche on becoming

German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote that Heraclitus "will remain eternally right with his assertion that being is an empty fiction".[4] Nietzsche developed the vision of a chaotic world in perpetual change and becoming. The state of becoming does not produce fixed entities, such as being, subject, object, substance, thing. These false concepts are the necessary mistakes which consciousness and language employ in order to interpret the chaos of the state of becoming. The mistake of Greek philosophers was to falsify the testimony of the senses and negate the evidence of the state of becoming. By postulating being as the underlying reality of the world, they constructed a comfortable and reassuring "after-world" where the horror of the process of becoming was forgotten, and the empty abstractions of reason appeared as eternal entities.

See also



  1. ^ This is how Plato puts Heraclitus' doctrine. See Cratylus, 402a.
  2. ^ Seibt, Johanna (15 October 2012). "Process Philosophy". The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2013 Edition). Retrieved 30 April 2014.
  3. ^ Diogenes Laërtius, Vitae Philosophorum, IX, 17
  4. ^ "With the highest respect, I except the name of Heraclitus. When the rest of the philosophic folk rejected the testimony of the senses because they showed multiplicity and change, he rejected their testimony because they showed things as if they had permanence and unity. Heraclitus too did the senses an injustice. But Heraclitus will remain eternally right with his assertion that being is an empty fiction." [1]