Heraclitus
Possible bust of Heraclitus, from the Hall of Philosophers in the Capitoline Museums
Bornc. 6th century BC
Diedc. 5th century BC
EraPre-Socratic philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolIonian
Main interests
Cosmology
Process
Paradox
Notable ideas
Fire is the arche
Logos
Flux
Unity of opposites

Heraclitus (/ˌhɛrəˈkltəs/; Greek: Ἡράκλειτος Herákleitos; fl.c. 500 BC)[1] was an ancient Greek pre-Socratic philosopher from the city of Ephesus, which was then part of the Persian Empire.

Little is known of Heraclitus's life. He wrote a single work, only fragments of which have survived. Most of the ancient stories about him are thought to be later fabrications based on interpretations of the preserved fragments. His paradoxical philosophy and appreciation for wordplay and cryptic, oracular epigrams has earned him the epithets "the dark" and "the obscure" since antiquity. He was considered arrogant and depressed, a misanthrope who was subject to melancholia. Consequently, he became known as "the weeping philosopher" in contrast to the ancient philosopher Democritus, who was known as "the laughing philosopher".

The central ideas of Heraclitus' philosophy are the unity of opposites and the concept of change. He also saw harmony and justice in strife. He viewed the world as constantly in flux, always "becoming" but never "being". He expressed this in sayings like "Everything flows" (Greek: πάντα ρει, panta rhei) and "No man ever steps in the same river twice".[2] This changing aspect of his philosophy is contrasted with that of the ancient philosopher Parmenides, who believed in "being" and in the static nature of reality.

Like the Milesians before him – Thales with water, Anaximander with apeiron, and Anaximenes with air – Heraclitus chose fire as the arche, the fundamental element that gave rise to the other elements. He also saw the logos as giving structure to the world.

Life

Theater in Ephesus on the coast of Asia Minor, birthplace of Heraclitus

Heraclitus, the son of Blyson, was from the Ionian[2] city of Ephesus, a port on the Kayster River, on the western coast of Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). In the 6th century BC, Ephesus, like other cities in Ionia, lived under the effects of both the rise of Lydia under Croesus and his overthrow by Cyrus the Great c. 547 BC.[3] Ephesus appears to have subsequently cultivated a close relationship with the Persian Empire; during the suppression of the Ionian revolt by Darius the Great in 494 BC, Ephesus was spared and emerged as the dominant Greek city in Ionia.[3] Miletus, the home to the previous philosophers, was captured and sacked.[4]

The main source for the life of Heraclitus is the doxographer Diogenes Laërtius.[a] Although most of the information provided by Laertius is unreliable, the anecdote that Heraclitus relinquished the hereditary title of "king" to his younger brother may at least imply that Heraclitus was from an aristocratic family in Ephesus.[3][note 1] Heraclitus appears to have had little sympathy for democracy or the masses.[c][d] However, it is unclear whether he was "an unconditional partisan of the rich," or if, like the sage Solon, he was "withdrawn from competing factions".[3]

Since antiquity, Heraclitus has been labeled an arrogant misanthrope.[6][7][a] The skeptic Timon of Phlius called Heraclitus a "mob-abuser" (ochloloidoros).[a] Heraclitus considered himself self-taught.[e] He did not consider others incapable, but unwilling: "And though reason is common, most people live as though they had an understanding peculiar to themselves."[f] Heraclitus did not seem to like the prevailing religion of the time, criticizing the popular mystery cults.[g][h][i] He also criticized Homer,[j][k] Hesiod,[l] Pythagoras,[m] Xenophanes, and Hecataeus.[a][n] He endorsed the sage Bias of Priene, who is quoted as saying "Most men are bad".[o] He praised a man named Hermodorus as the best among the Ephesians, who he says should all kill themselves for exiling him.[p]

Heraclitus is traditionally considered to have flourished in the 69th Olympiad (504–501 BC),[8][a] but this date may simply be based on a prior account synchronizing his life with the reign of Darius the Great.[3][note 2] However, this date can be considered "roughly accurate" based on a fragment that references Pythagoras, Xenophanes, and Hecataeus as older contemporaries, placing him near the end of the sixth century BC.[3][10]

According to Diogenes Laertius, Heraclitus died covered in dung after failing to cure himself from dropsy. This may be to parody his doctrine that for souls it is death to become water, and that a dry soul is best.[11][q]

On Nature

A modern reconstruction of the Ephesian Temple of Artemis, located in modern Istanbul. According to Diogenes Laertius, Heraclitus deposited his book in the temple.

Heraclitus is said to have produced a single work on papyrus,[a] which has not survived; however, over 100 fragments of this work survive in quotations by other authors.[note 3] The title is unknown,[14] but many later writers refer to this work, and works by other pre-Socratics, as On Nature.[15][a]

According to Diogenes Laërtius, Heraclitus deposited the book in the Artemision – one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World – as a dedication.[a] Classicist Charles Kahn states: "Down to the time of Plutarch and Clement, if not later, the little book of Heraclitus was available in its original form to any reader who chose to seek it out."[16] Yet, by the time of Simplicius of Cilicia, a 6th century neoplatonic philosopher, who mentions Heraclitus 32 times but never quotes from him, Heraclitus' work was so rare that it was unavailable even to Simplicius and the other scholars at the Platonic Academy in Athens.[17]

Structure

Diogenes Laertius wrote that the book was divided into three parts: the universe, politics, and theology,[a] but, classicists have challenged that division. John Burnet has argued that "it is not to be supposed that this division is due to [Heraclitus] himself; all we can infer is that the work fell naturally into these parts when the Stoic commentators took their editions of it in hand".[18] The Stoics divided their own philosophy into three parts: ethics, logic, and physics.[19] The Stoic Cleanthes further divided philosophy into dialectics, rhetoric, ethics, politics, physics, and theology, and philologist Karl Deichgräber has argued the last three are the same as the alleged division of Heraclitus.[20] The philosopher Paul Schuster has argued the division came from the Pinakes.[21][22]

Scholar Martin Litchfield West claims that while the existing fragments do not give much of an idea of the overall structure,[23] the beginning of the discourse can probably be determined,[note 4] starting with the opening lines, which are quoted by Sextus Empiricus:[r]

Of the logos being forever do men prove to be uncomprehending, both before they hear and once they have heard it. For although all things happen according to this Word they are like the unexperienced experiencing words and deeds such as I explain when I distinguish each thing according to its nature and declare how it is. Other men are unaware of what they do when they are awake just as they are forgetful of what they do when they are asleep.

Style

Heraclitus's writing style has been compared to a sibyl, as depicted here by Domenichino.

Heraclitus's style has been compared to a Sibyl,[5][24][25] who "with raving lips uttering things mirthless, unbedizened, and unperfumed, reaches over a thousand years with her voice, thanks to the god in her".[s] Kahn characterized the main features of Heraclitus's writing as "linguistic density", meaning that single words and phrases have multiple meanings, and "resonance", meaning that expressions evoke one another.[26] Heraclitus used literary devices like alliteration and chiasmus.[1] Aristotle quotes part of the opening line in the Rhetoric to outline the difficulty in punctuating Heraclitus without ambiguity; he debated whether "forever" applied to "being" or to "prove".[1][t] Theophrastus says that "some parts of his work [are] half-finished, while other parts [made] a strange medley".[a] Theophrastus thought an inability to finish the work showed Heraclitus was melancholic.[a]

According to Diogenes Laërtius, Timon of Phlius called Heraclitus "the Riddler" (αἰνικτής; ainiktēs) a likely reference to an alleged similarity to Pythagorean riddles.[27] Timon said Heraclitus wrote his book "rather unclearly" (asaphesteron); according to Timon, this was intended to allow only the "capable" to attempt it.[a] By the time of Cicero, this epithet became "The Dark" (ὁ Σκοτεινός; ho Skoteinós) or "The Obscure" as he had spoken nimis obscurē ("too obscurely") concerning nature and had done so deliberately in order to be misunderstood.[28][29]

Philosophy

Heraclitus has been the subject of numerous interpretations. According to the entry at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Heraclitus has been seen as a "material monist or a process philosopher; a scientific cosmologist, a metaphysician and a religious thinker; an empiricist, a rationalist, a mystic; a conventional thinker and a revolutionary; a developer of logic – one who denied the law of non-contradiction; the first genuine philosopher and an anti-intellectual obscurantist".[1]

Unity of opposites and Flux

The hallmarks of Heraclitus' philosophy are the unity of opposites and change, or flux.[5] Diogenes Laërtius summarizes Heraclitus's philosophy as follows: "All things come into being by conflict of opposites, and the sum of things (τὰ ὅλα ta hola ('the whole')) flows like a stream."[a] According to Aristotle, Heraclitus was a dialetheist, or one who denies the law of noncontradiction.[u] (a law of thought in logic which states that one cannot say of what is and that it is not at the same time)

Several fragments seem to relate to these two concepts.[5] For example, on the unity of opposites: "The straight and the crooked path of the fuller's comb is one and the same";[v] "The way up is the way down";[w] "Beginning and end, on a circle's circumference, are common";[x] and "Thou shouldst unite things whole and things not whole, that which tends to unite and that which tends to separate, the harmonious and the discordant; from all things arises the one, and from the one all things."[y]

Over time, the opposites change into each other:[30][31] "Mortals are immortals and immortals are mortals, the one living the others' death and dying the others' life";[z] "As the same thing in us is living and dead, waking and sleeping, young and old. For these things having changed around are those, and those in turn having changed around are these";[aa] and "Cold things warm up, the hot cools off, wet becomes dry, dry becomes wet."[ab]

It also seems they change into each other depending on one's point of view, a case of relativism or perspectivism.[30] Heraclitus states: "Disease makes health sweet and good; hunger, satiety; toil, rest."[ac] While men drink and wash with water, fish prefer to drink saltwater, pigs prefer to wash in mud, and fowls prefer to wash in dust.[ad][ae][af] "Oxen are happy when they find bitter vetches to eat"[ag] and "asses would rather have refuse than gold."[ah]

Panta rhei

Jonathan Barnes states that "Panta rhei, 'everything flows' is probably the most familiar of Heraclitus' sayings, yet few modern scholars think he said it".[32] Barnes observes that although the exact phrase was not ascribed to Heraclitus until the 6th century by Simplicius, a similar saying expressing the same idea,[32] panta chorei, or "everything moves" is ascribed to Heraclitus by Plato in the Cratylus.[ai]

You cannot step into the same river twice

The Halys River, Turkey's longest.

Since Plato, Heraclitus's theory of flux has been associated with the metaphor of a flowing river, which cannot be stepped into twice.[1][ai] This fragment from Heraclitus's writings has survived in three different forms:[32]

"On those who step into the same rivers, different and different waters flow" — Arius Didymus, quoted in Stobaeus [aj]
"We both step and do not step into the same, we both are and are not" — Heraclitus Homericus, Homeric Allegories [ak]
"It is not possible to step into the same river twice" — Plutarch, On the E at Delphi [al]

Heraclitus illustrated the same point using the Sun: "the Sun is new each day."[33] The river fragments (especially the second "we both are and are not") seem to suggest not only is the river constantly changing, but we do as well, perhaps commenting on existential questions about humanity and personhood.[34]

The classicist Karl Reinhardt identified the first river quote as the genuine one.[1] Scholars such as Reinhardt also interpreted the metaphor as illustrating what is stable, rather than the usual interpretation of illustrating change.[35] Classicist Karl-Martin Dietz [de] has said: "You will not find anything, in which the river remains constant ... Just the fact, that there is a particular river bed, that there is a source and an estuary etc. is something, that stays identical. And this is ... the concept of a river."[36]

Attempting to follow Aristotle, Guthrie interprets flux versus stability as a question of matter versus form. Thus, Heraclitus is a flux theorist because he is a materialist. Since there are no unchanging forms like Plato, but only the material world, then everything changes.[37] According to American philosopher W. V. O. Quine, the river parable illustrates that the river is a process through time. One cannot step twice into the same river-stage.[38]

Professor M. M. McCabe has argued that the three statements on rivers should all be read as fragments from a discourse. McCabe suggests reading them as though they arose in succession. The three fragments "could be retained, and arranged in an argumentative sequence".[12] In McCabe's reading of the fragments, Heraclitus can be read as a philosopher capable of sustained argument, rather than just aphorism.[12]

Strife is justice

Dike depicted on the Vermont state house. Heraclitus considered strife fundamental to a just world.

Heraclitus said "strife is justice"[am] and "all things take place by strife".[an] He called the opposites in conflict ἔρις (eris), "strife", and theorized that the apparently unitary state, δίκη (dikê), "justice", results in "the most beautiful harmony",[an] in contrast to Anaximander, who described the same as injustice.[25][39][40]

Aristotle said Heraclitus disagreed with Homer because Homer wished that strife would leave the world, which according to Heraclitus would destroy the world; "there would be no harmony without high and low notes, and no animals without male and female, which are opposites".[ao] It may also explain why he disagreed with the Pythagorean emphasis on harmony, but not on strife.[37]

Heraclitus suggests that the world and its various parts are kept together through the tension produced by the unity of opposites, like the string of a bow or a lyre.[41][ap] On one account, this is the earliest use of the concept of force.[42] A quote about the bow shows his appreciation for wordplay: "The bow's name is life, but its work is death."[aq][note 5] Each substance contains its opposite, making for a continual circular exchange of generation, destruction, and motion that results in the stability of the world.[43][44] This can be illustrated by the quote "Even the barley-drink separates if it is not stirred."[ar]

According to Abraham Schoener: "War is the central principle in Heraclitus' thought."[45] Another of Heraclitus' famous sayings highlights the idea that the unity of opposites is also a conflict of opposites: "War is father of all and king of all; and some he manifested as gods, some as men; some he made slaves, some free";[as] war is a creative tension that brings things into existence.[43][46] Heraclitus says further "Gods and men honour those slain in war";[at] "Greater deaths gain greater portions";[au] and "Every beast is tended by blows."[av]

Heraclitus may also have been the first advocate of natural law:[5] "People ought to fight to keep their law as to defend the city walls. For all human laws get nourishment from the one divine law."[aw]

Cosmology

Heraclitus (named outlined in red) in a fragment of Oxyrhynchus Papyri discusses the Moon.

While considered an ancient cosmologist, Heraclitus did not seem as interested in astronomy, meteorology, or mathematics as his predecessors.[15][5] It is surmised Heraclitus believed that the earth was flat and extended infinitely in all directions.[15] He also believed that the Sun is as large as it looks,[15][note 6] and that if it "exceeds the due times of the year" (the seasons), then "Erinyes, the ministers of Justice, will find him out".[ay] On one account, he believed the Sun and Moon were bowls containing fire, with lunar phases explained by the turning of the bowl.[5][az] His study of the moon near the end of the month is contained in one of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, the best evidence of Heraclitean astronomy.[1][47]

Fire as arche

See also: Classical element § Hellenistic philosophy

An Eternal flame from a Zoroastrian fire temple in Yazd, Iran. The role of fire in Heraclitean philosophy has been compared with fire worship in Zoroastrianism, the state religion of the Achaemenid Empire during Heraclitus' life.

The Milesians before Heraclitus conceived of certain elements as the arche – Thales with water, Anaximander with apeiron, and Anaximenes with air – Many philosophers concluded that Heraclitus construed of fire as the arche, the fundamental element that gave rise to the other elements. However, it is also argued by many that he never identified Fire as the arche rather, he only use fire to explain his notion of flux.[48][ba] Pre-Socratic scholar Eduard Zeller has argued that Heraclitus believed that heat in general and dry exhalation in particular, rather than visible fire, was the arche.[49]

In one fragment, Heraclitus writes:

"This world-order [Kosmos], the same of all, no god nor man did create, but it ever was and is and will be: ever-living fire, kindling in measures and being quenched in measures."[bb]

This is the oldest extant quote using kosmos, or order, to mean the world.[1] Fire is the one thing eternal in the universe.[50] From fire all things originate and all things return again in a process of never-ending cycles. He describes the transformations:

"Fire lives the death of earth, and air lives the death of fire; water lives the death of air, and earth that of water."[bc] and "The turnings of fire: first sea, and of sea half is earth, half fireburst. [Earth] is liquefied as sea and measured into the same proportion as it had before it became earth."[bd]

On one interpretation, rejecting both the flux and stability interpretation, Heraclitus is not a material monist, but a revolutionary process philosopher who chooses fire in an attempt to say there is no arche. Fire is a symbol or metaphor for change, rather than the basic stuff which changes the most.[30] Perspectives of this sort emphasize his statements on change such as "The way up is the way down",[w] as well as the quote "All things are an exchange for Fire, and Fire for all things, even as wares for gold and gold for wares",[be] which has been understood as stating that while all can be transformed into fire, not everything comes from fire, just as not everything comes from gold.[30]

Foreign influence

Heraclitus' description of a doctrine of purification of fire has also been investigated for influence from the Zoroastrian concept of Atar.[51] Many of the doctrines of Zoroastrian fire do not match exactly with those of Heraclitus, such as the relation of fire to earth, but he may have taken some inspiration from them.[51] Zoroastrian parallels to Heraclitus are often difficult to identify specifically due to a lack of surviving Zoroastrian literature from the period and mutual influence with Greek philosophy.[note 7]

The interchange of other elements with fire also has parallels in Vedic literature from the same time period, such as the Kaushitaki Upanishad and Taittiriya Upanishad.[52] West stresses that these doctrines of the interchange of elements were common throughout written works on philosophy that have survived from that period, so Heraclitus' doctrine of fire can not be definitively be said to have been influenced by any other particular Iranian or Indian influence, but may have been part of a mutual interchange of influence over time across the Ancient Near East.[53]

Zeus hurls a thunderbolt.

Philosopher Gustav Teichmüller sought to prove Heraclitus was influenced by the Egyptians,[15][54] either directly, by reading the Book of the Dead, or indirectly through the Greek mystery cults.[15] "As the sun of Heraclitus was daily generated from water, so Horus, as Ra of the sun, daily proceeded from Lotus the water."[15] Paul Tannery took up Teichmüller's interpretation.[55] They thought Heraclitus's book was an offering rather than deposited, and only for initiates.[21] Edmund Pfleiderer argued that Heraclitus was influenced by the mystery cults. He interprets Heraclitus seeming condemning of the mysteries[g][h] as the condemning of abuses rather than the idea itself.[15][clarification needed]

God and the soul

Heraclitus said that the "thunderbolt steers all things",[bf] a rare comment on meteorology and likely a reference to Zeus as the supreme being.[1] "Wisdom is one thing: [to understand the intelligence by which all things are steered through all things]; it is willing and it is unwilling to be called by the name Zeus."[bg] He invokes relativism with the divine too: God sees man the same way man sees children and apes;[bh][bi] and he seems to give a theodicy, "for god all things are fair and good and just, but men suppose that some are unjust and others just".[1][bj]

Heraclitus regarded the soul (psyche) as a mixture of fire and water, and believed that fire was the noble part of the soul and water the ignoble part. He considered mastery of one's worldly desires to be a noble pursuit that purified the soul's fire,[56] while drunkenness damages the soul by causing it to be moist.[bk][q] The Aristotelian tradition is responsible for a great part of the transmission of Heraclitus' conception of the soul from this physical point of view.[57]

Heraclitus also compares the soul to a spider and the body to the web.[bl] Heraclitus believed the soul is also what unifies the body and grants linguistic understanding, departing from Homer's conception of it as merely the breath of life.[58][59] Heraclitus ridicules Homer's conception of the soul leaving the body out of the nose to become a shade by saying "Souls smell in Hades"[bm] and "If all things should become smoke, then perception would be by the nostrils".[bn] His own views on the afterlife remain unclear,[5] but he did state: "There await men after they are dead things which they do not expect or imagine."[bo]

Logos

Greek spelling of logos

A fundamental concept for Heraclitus is logos, an ancient Greek word literally meaning "word, speech, discourse, or meaning", but with a wide variety of other uses, such that Heraclitus might have a different meaning of the word for each usage in his book. Kahn has argued that Heraclitus used the word in multiple senses,[60] whereas Guthrie has argued that there is no evidence Heraclitus used it in a way that was significantly different from that in which it was used by contemporaneous speakers of Greek.[61]

For Heraclitus, the logos provided the link between rational discourse and the world's rational structure.[62] Logos was like a universal law that unites the cosmos, according to one fragment: "Listening not to me but to the logos, it is wise to agree (homologein) that all things are one."[bp] Another fragment reads: "[hoi polloi] ... do not know how to listen [to Logos] or how to speak [the truth]."[63][bq]

Professor Michael Stokes interprets Heraclitus' use of logos as a public fact like a proposition or formula; like Guthrie, he views Heraclitus as a materialist, and he grants Heraclitus would not have considered these as abstract objects or immaterial things.[5][39] Another possibility is the logos referred to the truth or the book itself.[64][65] Classicist Walther Kranz translated it as "sense".[65]

Ethos

The phrase ἦθος ἀνθρώπῳ δαίμων (ethos anthropoi daimon) is attributed to Heraclitus. It is variously translated as "a man's character is his fate", "character is destiny", or perhaps most literally as "a man's character is his guardian divinity."[66][67][note 8] The word ethos means "character", while daimon has various meanings, one of which being "the power controlling the destiny of individuals: hence, one's lot or fortune."[69]

Time

Heraclitus said "Time (Aion) is a child playing draughts, the kingly power is a child's."[b] It is disputed whether this means time and life is determined by rules like a game, by conflict like a game, or by arbitrary whims of the gods like a child plays.[70]

Legacy

Plaque on Path of Visionaries

Heraclitus' writings have exerted a wide influence on Western philosophy, including the works of Plato and Aristotle, who interpreted him in terms of their own doctrines.[71]

His influence also extends into art, literature, and even medicine, as writings in the Hippocratic corpus show signs of Heraclitean themes.[br][bs] Heraclitus is also considered a potential source for understanding the Ancient Greek religion since the discovery of the Derveni papyrus, an Orphic poem which contains two fragments of Heraclitus.[72][73][74][ax][ay]

Ancient

Presocratics

It is unknown whether or not Heraclitus had any students in his lifetime.[71] In his dialogue Cratylus, Plato presented Cratylus as a Heraclitean and as a linguistic naturalist who believed that names must apply naturally to their objects.[75][76] According to Aristotle, Cratylus went a step beyond his master's doctrine and said that one cannot step into the same river once. He took the view that nothing can be said about the ever-changing world and "ended by thinking that one need not say anything, and only moved his finger".[77] To explain both characterisations by Plato and Aristotle, Cratylus may have thought continuous change warrants skepticism because one cannot define a thing that does not have a permanent nature.[78] Diogenes Laertius lists an otherwise historically obscure Antisthenes who wrote a commentary on Heraclitus.[note 9] According to one author, "there were no doubt other Heracliteans whose names are now lost to us".[79]

Eleatics
Parmenides, a contemporary who espoused a doctrine of unchanging Being, has been contrasted with Heraclitus and his doctrine of constant change.

Parmenides of Elea, a philosopher and near-contemporary, proposed a doctrine of changelessness, in contrast to the doctrine of flux put forth by Heraclitus.[80][81][82] He is generally agreed to either have influenced or been influenced by Heraclitus.[30][71] Different philosophers have argued that either one of them may have substantially influenced each other, some taking Heraclitus to be responding to Parmenides, but more often Parmenides is seen as responding to Heraclitus.[30] Some also argue that any direct chain of influence between the two is impossible to determine.[82] Although Heraclitus refers to older figures such as Pythagoras,[a][n] neither Parmenides or Heraclitus refer to each other by name in any surviving fragments, so any speculation on influence must be based on interpretation.[82]

Pluralists and atomists

The surviving fragments of several other pre-Socratic philosophers show Heraclitean themes.[71] Diogenes of Apollonia thought the action of one thing on another meant they were made of one substance.[5] The pluralists may have been influenced by Heraclitus. The philosopher Anaxagoras refuses to separate the opposites in the "one cosmos".[5] Empedocles has forces (arguably the first since Heraclitus's tension)[42] which are in opposition, known as Love and Hate, or more accurately, Harmony and Strife.[5] Democritus and the atomists were also influenced by Heraclitus.[71] The atomists and Heraclitus both believed that everything was in motion.[83][84][ai] On one interpretation: "Essentially what the atomists did was try to find a middle-way between the contradictory philosophical schemes of Heraclitus and Parmenides."[85]

Plato's Theory of Forms was a result of reconciling Heraclitus and Parmenides.
Sophists

The sophists, including Protagoras of Abdera and Gorgias of Leontini, may also have been influenced by Heraclitus.[86] One tradition associated their concern with politics and preventing party strife with Heraclitus.[87][88] Gorgias seems to have been influenced by the Heraclitean idea of the logos, when he argued in his work On Non-Being, possibly parodying the Eleatics, that being cannot exist or be communicated. According to one author, Gorgias "in a sense ... completes Heraclitus."[88]

Classical and Hellenistic philosophy

Plato knew of the teachings of Heraclitus through the Heraclitean philosopher Cratylus.[77] Plato held that for Heraclitus knowledge is made impossible by the flux of sensible objects, and thus the need for the imperceptible Forms as objects of knowledge.[89][90] Aristotle accused Heraclitus of denying the law of noncontradiction, and that he thereby failed in his reasoning.[u] However, Aristotle's material monist and world conflagration interpretation of Heraclitus also influenced the Stoics.[5][91]

Stoics
The Stoic Cleanthes wrote a lost, four-volume Interpretation of Heraclitus. (1605 engraving)

The Stoics believed major tenets of their philosophy derived from the thought of Heraclitus; especially the logos, used to support their belief that rational law governs the universe.[92][93] A four-volume work titled Interpretation of Heraclitus was written by the Stoic philosopher Cleanthes, but has not survived.[71][94][a] In surviving stoic writings, this is most evident in the writings of Marcus Aurelius.[95] According to one author, "Heraclitus of Ephesus was the father of Stoic physics."[96] Many of the later Stoics interpreted the logos as the arche, as a creative fire that ran through all things;[97] Marcus Aurelius understood the Logos as "the account which governs everything." Heraclitus also states, "We should not act and speak like children of our parents", which Marcus Aurelius interpreted to mean one should not simply accept what others believe. West observes that Plato, Aristotle, Theophrastus, and Sextus Empiricus all make no mention of this doctrine, and concludes that the language and thought are "obviously Stoic" and not attributable to Heraclitus.[98] Long concludes the earliest Stoic fragments are also "modifications of Heraclitus".[99] Burnet cautions that these Stoic modifications of Heraclitus make it harder to interpret Heraclitus himself, as the Stoics ascribed their own interpretations of terms like logos and ekpyrosis to Heraclitus.[100]

Coin from c. 230 CE depicting Heraclitus as a Cynic, with club and raised hand.
Cynics

The Cynics were influenced by Heraclitus, such as by his condemnation of the mystery cults.[20][101][h] Heraclitus is sometimes even depicted as a cynic. According to one source, "the Cynic affinity with Heraclitus lies not so much in his philosophy as in his cultural criticism and (idealised) lifestyle."[102] The Cynics attributed several of the later Cynic epistles to his authorship.[103] Heraclitus wrote: "Dogs bark at every one they do not know."[bt] Similarly, Diogenes the Cynic, when asked by Alexander why he considered himself a dog, responded that he "barks at those who give me nothing".[104][105]

Pyrrhonists

The Pyrrhonists were also influenced by Heraclitus. He may be the predecessor to Pyrrho's doctrine "No More This than That".[79] Aenesidemus, one of the major ancient Pyrrhonist philosophers, claimed in a now-lost work that Pyrrhonism was a way to Heraclitean philosophy because Pyrrhonist practice helps one to see how opposites appear to be the case about the same thing. Once one sees this, it leads to understanding the Heraclitean view of opposites being the case about the same thing.[106] A later Pyrrhonist philosopher, Sextus Empiricus, disagreed, arguing opposites appearing to be the case about the same thing is not a dogma of the Pyrrhonists but a matter occurring to the Pyrrhonists, to the other philosophers, and to all of humanity.[106]

Early Christianity

John 1:1 in the page showing the first chapter of John in the King James Bible.

Heraclitus was often read by early Christian philosophers, who[107] following the Stoics, interpreted the logos as meaning the Christian "Word of God", such as in John 1:1: "In the beginning was the Word (logos) and the Word was God." Hippolytus of Rome, one of the early Church Fathers of the Christian Church, identified Heraclitus along with the other Pre-Socratics and Academics as a source of heresy, in Heraclitus's case namely the heresy of Noetus.[107] The Christian apologist Justin Martyr took a more positive view of Heraclitus.[97] In his First Apology, he said both Socrates and Heraclitus were Christians before Christ: "those who lived reasonably are Christians, even though they have been thought atheists; as, among the Greeks, Socrates and Heraclitus, and men like them."[108]

Modern scholars such as John Burnet have viewed the relationship between Heraclitean logos and Johannine logos as fallacious, saying; "the Johannine doctrine of the logos has nothing to do with Herakleitos or with anything at all in Greek philosophy, but comes from the Hebrew Wisdom literature".[14] When Heraclitus speaks of "God" he does not mean a single deity as an omnipotent and omniscient or God as Creator, the universe being eternal; he meant the divine as opposed to human, the immortal as opposed to the mortal, and the cyclical as opposed to the transient. Thus, it is arguably more accurate to speak of "the Divine" and not of "God".[109]

Weeping philosopher

Donato Bramante painted Heraclitus and Democritus as the weeping and laughing philosopher.

Heraclitus's influence also extends outside of philosophy. A motif found in art and literature is Heraclitus as the "weeping philosopher" and Democritus as the "laughing philosopher", which may have originated with the Cynic philosopher Menippus,[110] generally references their reactions to the folly of mankind.[111][112]

Heraclitus in School of Athens

For example, in Lucian of Samosata's "Philosophies for Sale", Heraclitus is auctioned off as the "weeping philosopher" and Democritus as the "laughing philosopher".[bu] The Roman poet Juvenal wrote: "Heraclitus, weep at life much more than you did while alive, for now life is more pitiable."[113]

The Renaissance saw a revived interest in ancient philosophy and its depiction in art. A fresco on the wall of Marsilio Ficino's Platonic Academy in Florence depicted Heraclitus and Democritus.[114]

Donato Bramante painted Heraclitus and Democritus (1486) as the weeping and laughing philosopher, and may have depicted Heraclitus as Leonardo da Vinci.[115] Heraclitus appears in painter Raphael's School of Athens (1511), in which he is represented by Michelangelo, since they shared a "sour temper and bitter scorn for all rivals".[7]

Modern

Modern interest in early Greek philosophy can be traced back to 1573, when French printer Henri Estienne (also known as Henricus Stephanus) collected a number of pre-Socratic fragments, including those of Heraclitus, and published them in Latin in Poesis philosophica.[116] Renaissance skeptic Michel de Montaigne's essay On Democritus and Heraclitus, in which he sided with the laughing philosopher over the weeping philosopher, was probably written soon after.[117]

Heraclitus painted as the weeping philosopher by Hendrik ter Brugghen (1628)

The Merchant of Venice (1598) by William Shakespeare features the melancholic character of Antonio, who some critics contend is modeled after Heraclitus.[118] Additionally, in one scene of the play Portia assesses her potential suitors, and says of one County Palatine: "I fear he will prove the weeping philosopher when he grows old".[119]

Heraclitus painted as the weeping philosopher by Johannes Moreelse c. 1630

Several baroque artists such as Peter Paul Rubens, Hendrik ter Brugghen, and Johannes Moreelse painted Heraclitus and Democritus. Rubens' Heraclitus and Democritus (1603) was painted for the Duke of Lerma.[120]

Cartesianism

According to one author, Rene Descartes' anti-Aristotelianism was motivated by Protagoras and Heraclitus.[121] According to Bernard Freyberg, "both Parmenides and Heraclitus are direct if distant ancestors of Spinoza", since they both said all is one.[122] According to Heinrich Bluecher, "If you read the whole system of Spinoza, it is nothing but the changed system of Heraclitus."[123]

British empiricism

George Berkeley remarked in Siris: "In Plutarch we find it was the opinion of Heraclitus, that the death of fire was a birth to air, and the death of air a birth to water.[bc] This opinion is also maintained by Sir Isaac Newton."[124] David Hume wrote while discussing personal identity: "Thus as the nature of a river consists in the motion and change of parts; tho' in less than four and twenty hours these be totally alter'd; this hinders not the river from continuing the same during several ages."[125]

Heraclitus is also seen as the founder of common sense philosophy,[f][aw] later exemplified by Thomas Reid, Charles Sanders Peirce, or G. E. Moore.[126]

German idealism

Schleiermacher was "the pioneer of Heraclitean studies".

Since Kant, philosophers have sometimes been divided into rationalists and empiricists.[127] Heraclitus has been considered each by different scholars.[15][128] For rationalism,[129] philosophers cite fragments like "Poor witnesses for men are the eyes and ears of those who have barbarian souls."[bv] For empiricism,[22] they cite fragments like "The things that can be seen, heard, and learned are what I prize the most."[bw] Gottlob Mayer has argued that the philosophical pessimism of Arthur Schopenhauer recapitulated the thought of Heraclitus.[130]

The German theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher was one of the first to collect the fragments of Heraclitus specifically and write them out in his native tongue, the "pioneer of Heraclitean studies".[131][132][133] Schleiermacher was also one of the first to posit Persian influence upon Heraclitus, a question taken up by succeeding scholars Friedrich Creuzer and August Gladisch.[107][133]

The influence of Heraclitus on German idealist G. W. F. Hegel was so profound that he remarked in his Lectures on the History of Philosophy: "there is no proposition of Heraclitus which I have not adopted in my Logic."[134] Hegel interpreted Heraclitus as a dialetheist and as a process philosopher, seeing the "becoming" in Heraclitus as a natural result of the ontology of "being" and "non-being" in Parmenides.[1] He also doubted the world-conflagaration interpretation, which had been popular since Aristotle.[1]

Hegel said "there is no proposition of Heraclitus which I have not adopted in my Logic."

The Young Hegelian and socialist Ferdinand Lassalle wrote a book on Heraclitus.[129] "Lassalle follows Hegel in styling the doctrine of Heraclitus 'the philosophy of the logical law of the identity of contradictories.'"[107] Lassalle also thought Persian theology influenced Heraclitus.[54][129][135] Marx compared Lasalle's work to that of "a schoolboy"[136] and Lenin accused him of "sheer plagiarism".[135]

Classical philologist Jakob Bernays also wrote a work on Heraclitus.[107] Inspired by Bernays, the English scholar Ingram Bywater collected all fragments of Heraclitus in a critical edition, Heracliti Ephesii Reliquiae (1877).[137] An English translation was provided by G. T. W. Patrick in 1889.[15] Hermann Diels wrote "Bywater's book has come to be accounted ... as the only reliable collection of the remains of that philosopher."[137] Diels published the first edition of the authoritative Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker (The Fragments of the Pre-Socratics) in 1903, later revised and expanded three times, and finally revised in two subsequent editions by Walther Kranz. Diels–Kranz is used in academia to cite pre-Socratic philosophers. In Diels–Kranz, each ancient personality and each passage is assigned a number to uniquely identify it; Heraclitus is traditionally catalogued as philosopher number 22.[138]

Continental

The existentialist and classical philologist Friedrich Nietzsche preferred Heraclitus above all the other pre-Socratics.[25][139] The nationalist philosopher of history Oswald Spengler wrote his (failed) dissertation on Heraclitus.[140] Existentialist and phenomenologist Martin Heidegger was also influenced by Heraclitus, as seen in his Introduction to Metaphysics. Heidegger believed that the thinking of Heraclitus and Parmenides was the origin of philosophy and misunderstood by Plato and Aristotle, leading all of Western philosophy astray.[71][141]

The Irish author Oscar Wilde was influenced by Heraclitus.[142] Wilde is credited with the saying "expect the unexpected", though Heraclitus said "If you do not expect the unexpected, you will not find it; for it is hard to be sought out and difficult."[143][bx]

In the 1950s, a term originating with Heraclitus, "idios kosmos", meaning "private world" as distinguished from the "common world" (koinos kosmos) was adopted by phenomenological and existential psychologists, such as Ludwig Binswanger and Rollo May, to refer to the experience of people with delusions, or other problems, who have trouble seeing beyond the limits of their own minds, or who confuse this private world with shared reality.[144] It was an important part of novelist Philip K. Dick's views on schizophrenia.[145] Those thinkers have relied on Heraclitus statement that "The waking have one common world, but the sleeping turn aside each into a world of his own."[by]

Analytic

The British philosopher A. N. Whitehead has been called a process philosopher in the tradition of Heraclitus.[146] In Bertrand Russell's essay Mysticism and Logic, he contends Heraclitus proves himself a metaphysician by his blending of mystical and scientific impulses.[147]

Ludwig Wittgenstein was known to read Plato and in his return to philosophy in 1929 he made several remarks resembling those of Heraclitus: "The fundamental thing expressed grammatically: What about the sentence: One cannot step into the same river twice?"[148] He then seemed to make a dramatic shift by 1931, saying one can step twice into the same river.[149]

The philosopher Peter Geach was inspired by Heraclitus's comments on the river to formulate his idea of relative identity,[150][151] which he also used to solve such issues as the Trinity.[152][153]

Philosophy of Time
Presentism is seen as a Heraclitean view.

The British idealist J. M. E. McTaggart is best known for his paper "The Unreality of Time" (1908), in which he argues that time is unreal. His "A series", also known as presentism or "temporal becoming", which conceptualizes of time as tensed (i.e., having the properties of being past, present, or future), has been described as Heraclitean. By contrast, his " "B-theory", under which time is tenseless (i.e., earlier than, simultaneous to, or later than), has been associated with Parmenides.[154][155][156] Advocates of presentism include Arthur Prior and William Lane Craig.

Contradiction
Graham Priest is a dialetheist.

Aristotle's arguments for the law of non contradiction have been in doubt ever since their criticism by Polish logician Jan Łukasiewicz, and the invention of many-valued and paraconsistent logics.[157]

Some philosophers such as Graham Priest advocate true contradictions or dialetheism, seeing it as the most natural response to the liar paradox.[158] Priest agrees with Hegel's contradictory account of motion, based on Zeno of Elea's Paradox of the Arrow, which is arguably Heraclitus' account of flux.[159] On this account of motion, to move is to be both here and not here.[159]

JC Beall, together with Greg Restall, is a pioneer of a widely discussed version of logical pluralism.[160] Beall argues for a contradictory account of Jesus Christ as both man and divine.[161]

Notes

Explanatory notes

  1. ^ It may also be an unwarranted interpretation of the fragment from Heraclitus stating "the kingdom is a child's".[5][b]
  2. ^ Two alleged letters between Heraclitus and Darius, quoted by Diogenes Laërtius, are later forgeries.[9]
  3. ^ Some classicists and professors of ancient philosophy have disputed which of these fragments can truly be attributed to Heraclitus.[12][13]
  4. ^ West suggests that the beginning may be tentatively ordered as follows:[23] B1; B114; B2; B89; B30; B31; B90; B60
  5. ^ Biós with the accent on the O, is the Greek for "bow". Bίοs with the accent on the I, is the Greek for "life."
  6. ^ Literally, the width of a man's foot.[ax]
  7. ^ The 9th century CE Dadestan i Denig preserves information on Zoroastrian cosmology, but also shows direct borrowings from Aristotle.[52]
  8. ^ A quotation on karma from Brihadaranyaka Upanishad seems to express a similar sentiment: "As your will is, so is your deed. As your deed is, so is your destiny."[68]
  9. ^ Not to be confused with the cynic.[a]

Fragment numbers

Citations

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References

Ancient sources

This article uses the Diels–Kranz numbering system for testimony (labeled A), fragments (labeled B), and imitation (labeled C) of Pre-Socratic philosophy.

Testimony

Fragments

Imitation

  • C1. Hippocrates (1931). On Regimen. Hippocrates Collected Works. Vol. IV. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • C2. Hippocrates (1923). On Nutrition. Hippocrates Collected Works. Vol. I. Translated by W. H. S. Jones. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • C4. Cleanthes. Hymn to Zeus. fr. 537.
  • C5. Lucian (1905). Philosophies for Sale. The works of Lucian of Samosata. Vol. 1. Translated by Fowler, H. W.; Fowler, F. G.

Modern scholarship

Further reading