How Did Heraclitus Shape Our Thinking?

Heraclitus was a Greek philosopher famous for his contributions to the development of the concept of logos. He was generally referred to as the “Weeping Philosopher” because of his general contempt for mankind. Heraclitus is considered as one of the most important pre-Socratic philosophers. Being the first philosopher to dwell in the realm of metaphysics, Heraclitus’ writings had influenced the human thinking in many ways. His line of thought was a total departure from the accepted norms and traditions of his days. Heraclitus often criticized the generally accepted conventional wisdom. He believed in the ever-changing nature of the universe and the unity of opposites. Hence, his famous quotation, “No man ever steps in the same river twice.” If you wish to know more about how Heraclitus helped to shape our thinking, this article provides you with an insight into his philosophical expositions.

Early Life

The amount of information about the history of Heraclitus was not much because he did not leave any autobiography. Whatever is known about Heraclitus was found in the works of Diogenes Laertius, who was a biographer of ancient Greek philosophers. Heraclitus was born in the year 540 BCE, into an aristocratic family in Ephesus, in the present-day Turkey. Heraclitus was not interested in the kingship. Thus, he left it for his brother while pursuing his philosophical ideas. In his youthful days, Heraclitus enjoyed playing knucklebones with other youths in the temple of Artemis.

Adult Life

Heraclitus was a loner for the majority of his adult life. He considered himself a self-tutored intellectual. Most of Heraclitus’ writings were a direct criticism of his predecessors and contemporary thinkers. Heraclitus severely criticized most of the 6th century BCE philosophers including, Homer, Hesiod, Pythagoras and Xenophanes. He had an innate detest for humanity and viewed the majority of human beings as being ignorant. For being too unfriendly, Heraclitus’ works were ignored by his contemporaries and the latter philosophers.

There is no complete compilation of Heraclitus’ writings. His works only existed in fragments. He contributed immensely to the development of the concept of ‘logos’, which in philosophy connotes the principle of order and knowledge. Heraclitus wrote a treatise, ‘On Nature’ which was divided into three discourses, namely, on nature, on politics and on the universe. His writings influenced famous philosophers such as Plato and Hegel.

Philosophical Beliefs

Heraclitus’ primary concern was to explain the world around him. Unlike his predecessors who believed that the universe is static, Heraclitus opined that the universe is in a constant flow of changes. He believed that people lived like dreamers in the world because they failed to comprehend the logos (Greek: “reason”). Heraclitus also believed in the unity of opposites. A belief that good and evil, health and disease, hot and cold, etc, complement each other. Heraclitus further opined that fire was the most basic of all elements. He was convinced that all other elements originated from fire and thus it was fire that gave rise to all things. According to him, the human soul is composed of fire and water. The fire is the noble part while the water the ignoble.

Contributions of Heraclitus

  • The Doctrine of Universal Flux: Heraclitus’ philosophy provides a good starting point for anyone concerned with change in life. Heraclitus observed that nature is in a state of constant flux. Through his famous epigram, “No man ever steps in the same river twice,” Heraclitus philosophized that life is like a river. Like a river, everything is constantly shifting, changing, and becoming something other than what it used to be. You step into and out of the river as different being. The river changes and so do you. This thinking by Heraclitus certainly had tremendous influence on other thinkers like Plato, Marcus Aurelius.
  • Identity of opposite: Heraclitus believed that opposite things are identical. He observed that cold things warm up, the hot cools off, wet becomes dry, dry becomes wet, etc. This shows that opposite things replace each other in a series of transformations, which make them equivalent. This line of thought by Heraclitus has really shaped the way we look at opposing phenomenal up to this present day.
  • Metaphysics: Heraclitus was the first philosopher to move from the analysis of the physical to the metaphysics. He postulated that the world operates in an orderly manner that is in a continuum. According to Heraclitus, the world-order is the same of all, no god nor man did create it, but it ever was and it will be ever-living fire, kindling in measures and being quenched in measures. He developed the concept of logos, according to which all things are one, in some senses. Heraclitus sees the great majority of human beings as lacking basic reasoning and understanding. He believed that many human beings lived through life in a dream-like condition without having any understanding of the situations around them. To him, consciousness about life can enlighten people and help them to bring meaning out of life.

Conclusion

Although Heraclitus was generally regarded as a weeping and eccentric philosopher, his writings had an immense influence on the development of western philosophy. His philosophical thoughts have helped revolutionized the way we perceive the realities of our world today. The truth is Heraclitus was right; the realities of our world keep changing. Unfortunately, Heraclitus’ philosophical efforts were interrupted by dropsy. He died at the age of 60 in 480 BCE when his physicians could not find a cure to the ailment.

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