Early Life and Background of Heraclitus

Heraclitus was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher referred to as the weeping philosopher due to his general disdain for humanity. Unlike his counterparts, he does not belong to any school of thought. Read to know more about this unusual philosopher.
Early Life of Heraclitus
The little known about Heraclitus’ birth and early life was revealed from the writings of Diogenes Laertius, a biographer. He was born around 535 BC and died around 475 BC. Heraclitus was born to an aristocratic family in Ephesus, in the Persian Empire (now Turkey). Bloson or Herakon was his father’s name. As a youth, Heraclitus played knucklebones constantly with other youths in the temple of Artemis. When confronted about his carefree attitude to kingship duties, he said it was too burdensome. He later relinquished the throne for his brother.
Adult Life
He had an innate hatred for humanity, and he is of the opinion that most human beings are ignorant. His thinking is extreme and ambiguous. His works are like riddles and opened to numerous interpretations.
His works exist only in fragments. Heraclitus, unlike other philosophers, had no students. He was a hearer of Xenophanes though like Epicurus, claimed to be self-taught. He criticised the likes of Xenophanes, Pythagoras, Hesiod and Homer.
Much later Heraclitus suffered from dropsy. When physicians could not cure him, he became frustrated and treated himself with cow manure. This self-treatment led to complications that resulted in his death.
Philosophical Beliefs
Heraclitus held the following beliefs:

  • He held universal flux view i.e. change is constant and in unity of opposites.
  • To him, fire was the most fundamental element. He opined that all other elements had their source from fire. He said that the human soul is composed of fire (noble part) and water (ignoble part).
  • He is of the view that theory of nature and human condition are intimately connected.

Heraclitus’ dissertation ‘On Nature’ was divided into three discourses – nature, politics and the universe. The book was deposited in the temple of Artemis and had served philosophers as a reference book for generations.
Though he taught no students, his writings have influenced several philosophers among whom is Plato and Hegel. Heraclitus’ teachings were used by Stoics followers that presented philosophy as a way of life to derive their major principles, particularly his treatment of fire.
His contribution to the development of the concept of Logos is enormous. A display of logos, according to him was the underlying connection between opposites. For example, good and evil, hot and cold, health and disease are similarly related.
Famous Quotations of Heraclitus

  • “The way up and the way down are one and the same.”
  • “Listening not to me but to the Logos, it is wise to agree that all things are one.”

Bottom Line
Heraclitus was detested in his time and was a subject of frequent scorn by later biographers. We should not forget that suggested the first metaphysical foundation.
Photo Credit: Ericgerlach