Ideas of Heraclitus, by Theme

[Greek, c.540 - 480 BCE, Born and lived at Ephesus, on the coast of modern Turkey]

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1. Philosophy / A. Wisdom / 2. Wise People
Men who love wisdom must be inquirers into very many things indeed
     Full Idea: Men who love wisdom must be inquirers into very many things indeed.
     From: Heraclitus (fragments/reports [c.500 BCE], B035), quoted by Clement - Miscellanies 5.140.5
     A reaction: …which invites the question 'Is there anything that a wisdom-seeker should NOT be interested in?'
1. Philosophy / D. Nature of Philosophy / 2. Invocation to Philosophy
Everyone has the potential for self-knowledge and sound thinking
     Full Idea: Everyone has the potential for self-knowledge and sound thinking.
     From: Heraclitus (fragments/reports [c.500 BCE], B116), quoted by John Stobaeus - Anthology 3.05.06
     A reaction: This is true. When people are labelled as incapable of philosophy (e.g. by Plato), it is just that they are slow developers.
1. Philosophy / D. Nature of Philosophy / 7. Despair over Philosophy
Reason is eternal, but men are foolish
     Full Idea: Although reason exists forever, men are foolish.
     From: Heraclitus (fragments/reports [c.500 BCE]), quoted by Aristotle - The Art of Rhetoric 1407b
     A reaction: The despair of all philosophers (e.g. Plato) who think reason is the easiest thing in the world, and stares everyone in the face, and yet people seem to spurn this supreme gift from the gods. They needed the optimism of the career teacher.
2. Reason / A. Nature of Reason / 2. Logos
Logos is common to all, but most people live as if they have a private understanding
     Full Idea: Although the universal law (logos) is common to all, the majority live as if they had understanding peculiar to themselves.
     From: Heraclitus (fragments/reports [c.500 BCE], B002), quoted by Sextus Empiricus - Against the Professors (six books) 7.133.4-
     A reaction: Heraclitus mentions 'logos' in just three fragments - this one, and Idea 15660 and Idea 424.
2. Reason / B. Laws of Thought / 5. Opposites
A thing can have opposing tensions but be in harmony, like a lyre
     Full Idea: They do not understand how that which differs with itself is in agreement: harmony consists of opposing tensions, like that of the bow and the lyre.
     From: Heraclitus (fragments/reports [c.500 BCE], B051), quoted by Hippolytus - Refutation of All Heresies 9.9.2
     A reaction: Like squabbling couples who resent outside intervention. The remark suggests the virtues of 'dialectic', and may get to the heart of what philosophy is.
Beautiful harmony comes from things that are in opposition to one another
     Full Idea: That which is in opposition is in concert, and from things that differ comes the beautiful harmony.
     From: Heraclitus (fragments/reports [c.500 BCE], B008), quoted by Aristotle - Nichomachean Ethics 1155b04
5. Theory of Logic / D. Assumptions for Logic / 2. Excluded Middle
If everything is and isn't then everything is true, and a midway between true and false makes everything false
     Full Idea: The remark of Heraclitus that all things are and are not effectively renders all assertions true, and that of Anaxagoras that there is an intermediary between assertion and negation makes all assertions false.
     From: comment on Heraclitus (fragments/reports [c.500 BCE]) by Aristotle - Metaphysics 1012a
     A reaction: Compare Idea 416. Heraclitus is discussing truth-value 'gluts', as in paraconsistent logic, and Anaxagoras is discussing truth-value 'gaps', as in three-valued Kleene logic.
8. Modes of Existence / C. Powers and Dispositions / 4. Powers as Essence
The hidden harmony is stronger than the visible
     Full Idea: The hidden harmony is stronger (or 'better') than the visible.
     From: Heraclitus (fragments/reports [c.500 BCE], B055), quoted by Hippolytus - Refutation of All Heresies 9.9.5
     A reaction: 'An unapparent connection [harmonia] is stronger than an apparent one' is Curd's translation. I'm taking this for essentialism. It is the basic idea of the essentialising child (see Gelman). The hidden explains the apparent.
9. Objects / A. Existence of Objects / 6. Nihilism about Objects
Everything gives way, and nothing stands fast
     Full Idea: Everything gives way, and nothing stands fast.
     From: Heraclitus (fragments/reports [c.500 BCE]), quoted by Plato - Cratylus 402a
     A reaction: This is as good a summary of the Heraclitus view of things as any, and Plato appears to present it as a verbatim quotation.
9. Objects / B. Unity of Objects / 3. Unity Problems / e. Vague objects
A mixed drink separates if it is not stirred
     Full Idea: The mixed drink, of wine, cheese and barley, separates if it is not stirred.
     From: Heraclitus (fragments/reports [c.500 BCE], B125)
     A reaction: Wiggins quotes this, because it seems to be Heraclitus struggling to decide what sortal his drink falls under. I take it to be a problem of vagueness, since separation and mixing occur along a continuum, like a sorites.
9. Objects / E. Objects over Time / 8. Continuity of Rivers
It is not possible to step twice into the same river
     Full Idea: It is not possible to step twice into the same river.
     From: Heraclitus (fragments/reports [c.500 BCE], B091), quoted by Plutarch - 24: The E at Delphi 392b10-
You can bathe in the same river twice, but not in the same river stage
     Full Idea: You can bathe in the same river twice, but not in the same river stage.
     From: comment on Heraclitus (fragments/reports [c.500 BCE]) by Willard Quine - Identity, Ostension, and Hypostasis 1
     A reaction: This seems to make Quine a 'perdurantist', committed to time-slices of objects, rather than whole objects enduring through change.
9. Objects / E. Objects over Time / 13. No Identity over Time
If flux is continuous, then lack of change can't be a property, so everything changes in every possible way
     Full Idea: According to Heracliteans, since things must be changing, and since lack of change can't be a property of anything, then everything is always undergoing change of every kind.
     From: comment on Heraclitus (fragments/reports [c.500 BCE], B030) by Plato - Theaetetus 182a
12. Knowledge Sources / C. Rationalism / 1. Rationalism
Senses are no use if the soul is corrupt
     Full Idea: The eyes and ears are bad witnesses for men if they have barbarian souls.
     From: Heraclitus (fragments/reports [c.500 BCE], B107), quoted by Sextus Empiricus - Against the Mathematicians 7.126
12. Knowledge Sources / D. Empiricism / 4. Pro-Empiricism
When we sleep, reason closes down as the senses do
     Full Idea: Since when we sleep the senses are closed, mind is separated from its surroundings and loses the power of memory. When we wake the mind re-contacts the world, and regains the power of reason.
     From: report of Heraclitus (fragments/reports [c.500 BCE], A16) by Sextus Empiricus - Against the Professors (six books) 7.130
13. Knowledge Criteria / E. Relativism / 1. Relativism
Donkeys prefer chaff to gold
     Full Idea: Donkeys prefer chaff to gold.
     From: Heraclitus (fragments/reports [c.500 BCE], B009), quoted by Aristotle - Nichomachean Ethics 1176a07
Sea water is life-giving for fish, but not for people
     Full Idea: Sea-water is the purest and the most polluted: for fish it is drinkable and life-giving; for men, not drinkable and destructive.
     From: Heraclitus (fragments/reports [c.500 BCE], B061), quoted by Hippolytus - Refutation of All Heresies 9.10.5
13. Knowledge Criteria / E. Relativism / 3. Subjectivism
Health, feeding and rest are only made good by disease, hunger and weariness
     Full Idea: Disease makes health pleasant and good, hunger makes satisfaction good, weariness makes rest good.
     From: Heraclitus (fragments/reports [c.500 BCE], B111), quoted by John Stobaeus - Anthology 3.1.178
22. Metaethics / A. Value / 1. Nature of Value / e. Means and ends
If one does not hope, one will not find the unhoped-for, since nothing leads to it
     Full Idea: If one does not hope, one will not find the unhoped-for, since there is no trail leading to it and no path.
     From: Heraclitus (fragments/reports [c.500 BCE], B018), quoted by Clement - Miscellanies 2.17.4
22. Metaethics / B. The Good / 1. Goodness / f. Good as pleasure
If happiness is bodily pleasure, then oxen are happy when they have vetch to eat
     Full Idea: If happiness lay in bodily pleasures, we would call oxen happy when they find vetch to eat.
     From: Heraclitus (fragments/reports [c.500 BCE], B004), quoted by Albertus Magnus - On Vegetables 6.401
22. Metaethics / B. The Good / 3. Pleasure / f. Dangers of pleasure
It is hard to fight against emotion, but harder still to fight against pleasure
     Full Idea: It is hard to fight against emotion, but harder still to fight against pleasure.
     From: Heraclitus (fragments/reports [c.500 BCE], B085), quoted by Aristotle - Nichomachean Ethics 1105a08
     A reaction: 'Emotion' is the Greek word 'thumos'. "The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it", said Oscar Wilde. Heraclitus underestimates how very good many modern people are at dieting.
22. Metaethics / C. Ethics Foundations / 1. Nature of Ethics / e. Ethical cognitivism
To God (though not to humans) all things are beautiful and good and just
     Full Idea: To God, all things are beautiful, good and just; but men have assumed some things to be unjust, others just.
     From: Heraclitus (fragments/reports [c.500 BCE], B102), quoted by Porphyry - Notes on Homer Il.4.4
22. Metaethics / C. Ethics Foundations / 1. Nature of Ethics / h. Against ethics
Good and evil are the same thing
     Full Idea: Heraclitus said that good and evil are the same thing.
     From: report of Heraclitus (fragments/reports [c.500 BCE], 58/102) by Aristotle - Topics 159b32
     A reaction: Heaven knows what he meant by this, though it sounds suspiciously like moral nihilism. Maybe Heraclitus was not a very nice man. Or is the thought a more sophisticated one, in line with Nietzsche's remarks about cultural morality?
23. Ethics / C. Virtue Theory / 2. Elements of Virtue Theory / e. Character
For man character is destiny
     Full Idea: For man character is destiny.
     From: Heraclitus (fragments/reports [c.500 BCE], B119), quoted by John Stobaeus - Anthology 4.40.23
25. Society / E. State Functions / 1. The Law / a. Legal system
The people should fight for the law as if for their city-wall
     Full Idea: The people should fight for the law as if for their city-wall.
     From: Heraclitus (fragments/reports [c.500 BCE], B044), quoted by Diogenes Laertius - Lives of Eminent Philosophers 09.2
26. Natural Theory / A. Speculations on Nature / 6. Early Matter Theories / c. Ultimate substances
Heraclitus said sometimes everything becomes fire
     Full Idea: Heraclitus claimed that from time to time everything becomes fire.
     From: report of Heraclitus (fragments/reports [c.500 BCE]) by Aristotle - Metaphysics 1067a
26. Natural Theory / A. Speculations on Nature / 6. Early Matter Theories / e. The One
Reason tells us that all things are one
     Full Idea: When you have listened, not to me but to the law (logos), it is wise to agree that all things are one.
     From: Heraclitus (fragments/reports [c.500 BCE], B050), quoted by Hippolytus - Refutation of All Heresies 9.9.1
26. Natural Theory / A. Speculations on Nature / 6. Early Matter Theories / f. Ancient elements
The sayings of Heraclitus are still correct, if we replace 'fire' with 'energy'
     Full Idea: If we replace Heraclitus's word 'fire' by the word 'energy' we can almost repeat his statements word for word from our modern point of view.
     From: report of Heraclitus (fragments/reports [c.500 BCE]) by Werner Heisenberg - Physics and Philosophy 04
     A reaction: My problem has always been that I have no idea what 'energy' is, so I'm none the wiser.
Heraclitus says that at some time everything becomes fire
     Full Idea: Heraclitus says that at some time everything becomes fire.
     From: report of Heraclitus (fragments/reports [c.500 BCE]) by Aristotle - Physics 204b37
     A reaction: Modern cosmology says that Heraclitus was right (pretty much). If we say 'energy' instead of 'fire' (which may be what he meant), then he is absolutely spot-on.
Heraclitus said fire could be transformed to create the other lower elements
     Full Idea: Heraclitus taught that fire when densified becomes liquid, and becoming concrete, becomes also water; again, that the water when concrete is turned to earth, and this is the road down.
     From: report of Heraclitus (fragments/reports [c.500 BCE]) by Diogenes Laertius - Lives of Eminent Philosophers 09.1.6
26. Natural Theory / B. Natural Kinds / 4. Source of Kinds
Logos is the source of everything, and my theories separate and explain each nature
     Full Idea: All things come into being according to this Law ('logos'), ...and I expound theories (words) and processes (actions) separating each thing according to its nature and explaining how it is made.
     From: Heraclitus (fragments/reports [c.500 BCE], B001), quoted by Sextus Empiricus - Against the Mathematicians 7.133
     A reaction: I like the fact that things are separated according to their natures (particulars!), and not that natures are somehow bestowed on individuals.
27. Natural Reality / A. Classical Physics / 1. Mechanics / a. Explaining movement
All things are in a state of motion
     Full Idea: All things are in a state of motion.
     From: report of Heraclitus (fragments/reports [c.500 BCE]) by Aristotle - Topics 104b22
     A reaction: This seems right, I would say. It seems to make a 'process' the fundamental category of ontology, rather than an 'object'.
27. Natural Reality / D. Cosmology / 2. Eternal Universe
The cosmos is eternal not created, and is an ever-living and changing fire
     Full Idea: This cosmos, which is the same for all, was not created by any one of the gods or of mankind, but it was ever and is and shall be ever-living fire, kindled and quenched in measure.
     From: Heraclitus (fragments/reports [c.500 BCE], B030), quoted by Clement - Miscellanies 5.1.103
28. God / B. Proving God / 3. Proofs of Evidence / b. Teleological Proof
Heraclitus says intelligence draws on divine reason
     Full Idea: According to Heraclitus we become intelligent by drawing on divine reason.
     From: report of Heraclitus (fragments/reports [c.500 BCE], A16) by Sextus Empiricus - Against the Professors (six books) 7.129
29. Religion / A. Polytheistic Religion / 2. Greek Polytheism
Purifying yourself with blood is as crazy as using mud to wash off mud
     Full Idea: They purify themselves by staining themselves with other blood, as if one were to step into mud to wash off mud. But a man would be thought mad if any of his fellow-men should perceive him acting thus.
     From: Heraclitus (fragments/reports [c.500 BCE], B005), quoted by Origen - Against Celsus 7.62
29. Religion / D. Religious Issues / 1. Religious Commitment / a. Religious Belief
In their ignorance people pray to statues, which is like talking to a house
     Full Idea: In their ignorance of the true nature of gods and heroes people pray to these statues, which is like someone holding a conversation with a house.
     From: Heraclitus (fragments/reports [c.500 BCE], B005), quoted by Anon (Pyth) - Theosophia Tubigensis 68