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Heraclitus his life and work

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7 months ago

Hello dear friends of

As I mentioned in my previous post I wanted to dedicate a few posts to my favorite ancient philosopher, Heraclitus of Ephesus, in the last post I told you about the historical and philosophical context in which the thought of this philosopher arises, and the purpose of this post is to present a summary of the concepts that found and shape the thought of Heraclitus, the concepts that found and shape the thought of Heraclitus, I will use many of the phrases of Heraclitus himself to argue and give basis to my words, without further ado let's start with a small biographical reference of our philosopher.

1. Biographical reference of Heraclitus

Of Heraclitus of Ephesus we know little of his life, it is said that he was born approximately "between the second half of the sixth century BC and the first third of the fifth century," in the polis of Ephesus, located north of Miletus in present-day Turkey. We also know that he belonged to an aristocratic family.

It is said that he wrote a work with the title "On Nature" which was lost. Such a loss is regrettable, we know that his way of expressing his thought was not like that of the philosophers before him since he wrote in the form of fragments, as if the oracle were speaking. Because of this form of aphoristic writing with a difficulty at the time of interpretation, he was called "the Obscure". According to Diogenes Laertius, "He was not a disciple of anyone, but he said that he had investigated himself and that he had learned everything from himself" From his thought we can say that he departs from the thought that he brought to Milesia tradition. And the opposite of what Parmenides thought, although like Parmenides he was a philosopher of being and unity.

We must say that the thought of Heraclitus consisted in affirming the becoming or the change of reality, the opposition of opposites, a universal law which he calls Logos, the identification of the cosmos with an eternal fire.

2 Heraclitus' thought

In order to approach the thought of Heraclitus it is necessary and convenient to analyze his key elements, that is, those concepts that structure and order the preserved fragments of his work. Namely: physis, war, becoming and opposites, logos and soul.

2.1 Physis for Heraclitus

For Heraclitus the physis was Fire, but a Fire/Logos. Like his Milesian predecessors, the Arché was the absolute reality of all that exists, from everlasting to everlasting. Fire for Heraclitus is the least corporeal and the most suitable to become all bodies. It also lacks stability and is the one that imprints movement and is the principle of becoming in the Cosmos, therefore nothing is stable, but everything becomes according to Heraclitus. But it is not a random becoming, but rather an ordered becoming governed by the logos, which accompanies this fire.

The physis as first principle, or we could also call it as "the divine" and its relationship with the Cosmos, is one of unity-plurality. The "one" necessarily has to pluralize itself and in turn the multiple has to return to the one. In the following fragment Heraclitus explains what he understands by physis: "This order of the world, the same for all, was not made by God nor by any man, but was always, is and will be; fire always alive, lit according to measures and extinguished according to measures". This fragment could be interpreted in the following way: that the Cosmos is ordered and at the same time is one and multiple, it was not created by a god or a man, it refers to the fact that there is no creator figure, but that it is the origin of the fire endowed with divinity. Regarding the part that tells us that the fire is lit and extinguished according to measure, it means that the physis likes to veil and unveil itself; that is to say, to show and hide itself. One could also say what Aetius said of Heraclitus "all (things) arise from the fire and in the fire they end". That is to say that when the fire is lit it returns to unity and when it is extinguished according to measure "all things are formed in orderly fashion". That is why it is said to be an ever-living fire.

In conclusion for Heraclitus, this is the physis, which governs everything, from it everything comes and everything goes, but it is wrong to believe that to be determined is to be outside of it, but in its eternal, cyclical movement, it allows at some point the determination, and consequently the Cosmos, beautiful and ordered as it is, that is, the Physis as "god", has endowed everything with divinity, in the words of Thales: "everything is full of gods".

2.2 War

In his fragment 51 Heraclitus expresses: "They do not understand how the divergent nevertheless converges towards the same: connection based on opposite tendencies, as in the case of the bow or the lyre". We ask ourselves, who does not understand? We answer that men, but not all men are those who do not understand, only those who do not live in wakefulness, that is, who are not awake, who are not attentive to their daily happenings. Well, for Heraclitus one must be awake to see the common. Returning to the previous fragment, another question arises: What is it that men do not understand? And as an answer we will say that what men do not understand is the connection that really exists in the opposite issues, such as that which exists in the lyre or the bow, as well as in everything real.

But this "war-discord" tension is what allows the order of the cosmos, but we must be careful not to confuse this reality of war with physis. For Heraclitus physis, like the other Hellenic thinkers, is One but manifests itself in the cosmos as multiplicity. This is due to the fact that unity and the manifestation of unity are the same.

Well, the One is necessarily Multiple and the Multiple naturally goes to the One. War (Pólemos), as a reality of tension, allows harmony. War is peace, discord is concord. In conclusion of what has been said so far, war is necessity and justice as Heraclitus expresses it in his fragment 80: "It is necessary to know: that war is common, that discord is justice, and that everything happens by discord and necessity."

In his fragment 53 Heraclitus says: "War is father of all and king of all, so that it makes some into gods, others into men, some into slaves, others into free." "Without war there would be no distinction between free citizens and slaves, between heroes and mortal men, etc; and without such differentiation there is no Polis (city-state)." This is what we can gather from the fragment quoted above, it is the duty of war to differentiate, even if this differentiation is not entirely logical.

So we know that war is the reason for the unity of opposites. We will now present a series of fragments that we will comment on according to each case. But first we should remember that we should not be too rigorous with the idea, although archaic, of the opposites of Heraclitus: because it is not a doctrine, but allows free interpretation. The first is that our thinker does not only operate with true logical opposites but also with a sort of extremes, or poles, so to speak; that is to say, two notions that can be opposed according to what we associate. For example: gold and straw, pure water and mud, bitter peas and honey. And a second question would be that identification in the sense of the coincidence of opposites is not absolute or logical, but that both opposites belong to the same continuum.

(59) "The straight path and the curved path of the fuller's roller are one and the same."

(60) "The upward path and the downward path are one and the same."

(103) "In the circle, the beginning and the end coincide."

We see in these three fragments something in particular and common that unites them, and that is that they are one, since in each of them the opposites are found: "The way upward and the way downward is one and the same", of course it is the same way, but what determines that it is upward or downward? Here enters the "it depends", a depends that starts from man, that is to say that it is man who will determine whether the way is upward or not, because thanks to his experience with the world he will give criteria to the Physis. The same will happen with the other two fragments cited. "The straight and curved path of the fuller's roller is one and the same" in this fragment we see how in the same object there are two paths or movements at the same time, the straight and the curved, contrary to each other but twinned in the roller. And finally "In the circle, the beginning and the end coincide" in the circle, it does not happen as a straight line that at first sight is appreciable it's beginning and its end, although in the straight line also coexist the opposites, now that is not the case, but in the circle are the same the beginning and the end, since, in any part of the circumference that we want to call beginning, the same will be the end. It is a man who designates which will be the beginning and then its end, which will always be the same.

In the fragments that we will quote below, the sense of relativity on the part of man, who is the one who has the experience with the real, with the world, is more appreciable.

(36) "Pigs delight more in mud than in pure water" In this fragment 36 we see two opposites, water and mud, although they are not entirely logical. Surely Heraclitus saw in both opposites cause of delight, for pigs the mud, for men the pure water. Therefore, although both opposites are the cause of delight, they belong to one and the same continuum.

So it is with the fragment (37) "Asses would prefer straw to gold". Gold and straw, contrary but belonging to one and the same continuum, have something in common. For asses, straw is more profitable, for men gold. And the last fragment that we will quote and the freest of interpretation is (39) "The bow has life for its name, and death for its work". Life and death essentially opposed, but they belong to one and are the same in the bow.

Man submits to judgment and bestows of criteria all that is real. Just as life and death occur in the arch, so does man. But according to Heraclitus life and death are a constant becoming, it is man who designates being born as life, and perishing as death. But both are one and the same because they come out of man and man coexist harmoniously thanks to the peace produced by war, tension, discord.

In conclusion war "makes each thing what it is, but, in reality, it makes each thing "manifest" or "show itself" as such a thing, which suggests that there is unique and common "something" that is what manifests or shows itself. This something, evident, is nothing but physis, i.e. the ever-living fire."

2.3 Becoming and the contraries

For Heraclitus, the reality of Nature is that it is established, as we have already seen, by means of harmony thanks to war, but that this war is the means of the relation of the opposites as we commented in the previous section. For him the healthy and the sick, night and day, father and son, mortal and immortal, and many other such questions are opposed. For Heraclitus, things are only known through their opposite, for example: I know the day because there is its opposite, I know light because there is darkness. I know nothing if not for its opposite, so this dialectic between opposites is necessary. Now then the becoming as expressed by A. Cappeletti expresses it:

" is about the change and becoming of the One, which becomes multiple, although it remains at the bottom of multiple things and beyond all of them, always One; Being, which manifests the richness of its essence in beings, without ceasing to be, in them and beyond them, Being."

Heraclitus, as we have seen that he is a philosopher and thinker of Being, of the One, but that this manifests itself in the world that becomes. All reality changes, it is in a constant becoming, that is why he said in a more refined way that even if we bathe twice in the same river, both the river and we will have changed since the last time we were immersed. This phrase can also be interpreted by saying that the reality or what Heraclitus will call the common to all (50) "Not listening to me, but to reason, it is wise to recognize that all things are one", is that nature is changing as well as us as a human species.

Also to the becoming we know it since Heraclitus as the cosmic flow, well for him, "παντα ρει"(everything flows). According to Nietzsche "Absolute permanence does not exist anywhere, because, finally, it concerns forces whose effect contains in itself a loss of energy." Well, in becoming the opposites are manifested, we have already said that we only know things through their opposite, but for Heraclitus it is wise to recognize that among the plurality of things, they are always one. "Sickness makes health a pleasant and good thing; hunger, to fullness; weariness, to rest." Well, what we can say from this fragment, is that we know that sickness, hunger and weariness are opposites of health, satiety or satiety and rest respectively. But that they all dwell harmoniously in man, that is, each pair of opposites are one, that they are related by means of tension, which we have already defined above. And they are one and the same thing, since they are manifestations of the god, of the physis that is the unitary, "God: day-night, winter-summer, war-peace, famine-famine. But it becomes another each time, just as fire, when mixed with incense, is called according to the taste of each one".

But although there are a multitude of opposites in the world, many are not entirely logical, for example, straw-gold, others yes, Day and night. The interesting thing about Heraclitean thought, is that for the physis, that is to say for the divine there are no criteria of goodness or badness in things, for it is the same death as life, but it is man, through his contact with nature who establishes the criteria, and gives name of good or bad, of just or unjust, to the things of the world and in this same fragment, Heraclitus leaves us in a much more beautiful way, that which I just said, "If everything became smoke, it would be our noses that would discern it".

To conclude this section, it only remains to say it in a summarized way, the one manifests itself in the multiple, the physis is becoming while it is ceasing to be, that is to say everything that is real changes. There is nothing static, since it would be incorruptible and that term will be reserved for the physis, the rest is corruptible. Everything changes, nothing remains. That is to say, everything real accepts the opposites.

2.4. The logos

Before explaining what logos is for this philosopher, it is worth asking, what does λογος mean? Etymologically it means, word, speech. But as the word translates a thought, thanks to the language we communicate a content in our thought. In this sense the logos represents reality as it is presented to us, well in an ontological sense, "Truth is not separate from reality".

For Heraclitus, this logos is the common but most people live asleep, without perceiving or knowing it. We said before that physis is fire, because this is always accompanied by logos, they are not the same, but they go hand in hand, that is to say, logos is like a universal law. Which is the universal law, it is apprehensible in the world, therefore logos has the faculty of being omnipresent. Well, this logos represents for the Ephesian one, or rather represents the cosmic reason, that is to say an objective and universal truth. That is to say, fire as physis is necessarily endowed with reason, with an order. Therefore, we would be right in saying that "Fire generates the cosmos according to a Reason." That is to say that as it generates the cosmos as we know it, it develops its discourse. All this is common, for the awakened man Heraclitus himself tells us, "For those who are awake, the order of the world is one and common, while each one of those who sleep turns to his own", then we can quote, "Not listening to me, but to reason, it is wise to recognize that all things are one".

Consequently, it is reason that tells us that all is common. "This order of the world, the same for all, was not made by god or man, but was always, is and will be; fire that is always alive, lit according to measures and extinguished according to measures" But it will not tell us in a speech or with elaborate words, but will give us signs, as well as the oracle of Delphi.

Returning a little to the fragments quoted above, physis comes up again. In the last fragment when he speaks to us about the world, or the cosmos, it is always fire, that is, it has always been as it is, and will continue to be so in the future. For the Physis there is no such temporality, as there is for us. It is eternal, for us who are finite beings, time is a condition of possibility, as Kant said. But we conceive that infinity of the physis thanks to reason, which is common to all. "Of this reason, which always exists, men are ignorant, both before they hear it and after they have heard it at first, because, although everything happens according to this reason, they seem inexperienced, having as they have experience of sayings and facts; of these I am describing, decomposing each according to its nature and explaining how it is found. But to other men it passes unnoticed how much they do while awake, just as they forget how much they do while asleep".

2.5. The Soul

Of Heraclitus' conception of the soul we can say what Macrobius said: "The physicist Heraclitus (believes that the soul is) a spark of the astral essence". That is, the unity of Being, the Fire is transformed into all things and gives rise to the whole cosmos, that is, the plurality of Being, of the One. This means that all beings that compose this world are transformations of fire. The same can be said of the soul, it is a transformation of Fire. For Heraclitus there is no duality in man, since there is no difference between the material and the spiritual, all there is is transformation of the physis, that is, everything contains, although small, some kind of materiality. Even the soul. Although this may seem strange to all modern thought.

Now, although everything is shaped by Fire and everything possesses materiality, there are different degrees in the purity of this fire, that is, there are hierarchies. In the first place the soul is purer the less presence of the moist it has, i.e., "Dry soul: the wisest and most excellent". Therefore, the corruption of the soul is in getting wet. But before speaking about that, let us clarify in some way what I understand by hierarchy from Heraclitus. When speaking from him about hierarchies we cannot conceive them as something stable, or static, and it can be seen in the following fragment: "Man looks like a child before the genius, just as the child before the man" The hierarchy in this fragment is not stable at all, since the child is destined to be a man and the man to be a genius, that is to say, a god.

For the Ephesian, the relationship between the soul and the body is dynamic. The soul is born from the body, i.e. from water, in order to become water again, i.e. when it is corrupted. Then, as for the corruption of the soul, having already said that it was purer the drier it is, this means that the wetter it is, the less pure it is and eventually it will be corrupted. "For souls it is death to become water, in turn, for water it is death to become earth; and yet water becomes of the earth, and the soul, of the water."

As a final reflection of this post we can note that the thought of Heraclitus, although it seems very varied, is actually structured in a unifying concept: becoming. Along with this concept march in parallel the other key concepts, previously exposed, such as war and opposites.

To you who read me, thank you for giving me your valuable attention.

Until next time

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Good contain 👍👍👍

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Thanks you

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