Heraclitus


[There are many problems with knowing what Heraclitus's philosophy was. First of all, only a relatively small number of fragments remain that deal with Heraclitus's thoughts, so we only get a small glimpse of his thought and we don't have a context for understanding them. Second of all, the fragments we have were recorded by other writers, which may or may not be apocryphal or accurate. Finally, Heraclitus supposedly wrote his philosophy in cryptic poetic lines, so it would have been difficult to understand what he meant exactly even in better conditions. Heraclitus is somewhat skeptical. For him, knowledge is only acquired through the senses and critical thinking about the information of the senses. From this fact one can easily see why he comes to many of his philosophical conclusions. Metaphysically speaking, he believes that everything is essentially one and the same. He says that fire is this same one essence of everything, but his use of fire here may just be an appropriate metaphor for describing reality, to wit, that everything is in constant flux and change, just like fire. From moment to moment, in one sense a thing is what it was before, but in another sense it has changed and is no longer what it was. This constant change occurs with everything, so that all things are constantly new and different, but even what was the same in any one thing will change eventually, and so all things will completely cease to exist. I find contradicting fragments on his believing in an afterlife. He also asserts that all things also have elements of their opposites within them, and the same is true for actions. Indeed, he states that many things can only exist with the mutual existence of their opposites, and often times an action actually is its opposite in another sense and from another perspective. Also, seemingly opposite things will eventually change into each other, for example, earth changes into water, and water changes into earth. These morphings of the objects of the world often have a cyclical evolution that ends up where it began. The dissolution of everything in the flux and eventual recreation into their opposites comes about because all things are in continual strife, war, competition, and conflict with all other things, even down to the level of the elements; ultimately, this is necessary and results in overall balance and harmony, "the cosmos works by harmony of tensions". This is the situation we are in and we cannot escape from it. He believes all events are fated. He believes in the gods but criticizes idolotry, sacrifices, and certain religious rites and rituals. He emphasizes the relative perspectives of all beings for what is valued as good and bad, for example, what is valued as great by one person is foolish from another perspective. However, he very clearly believes that there is both an objective reality, an objective good and bad, and an objective justice. When judging mankind from the objective good, he sees mankind, in general, in a bad light, and thinks that those under the influence of alcohol are witless. And he encourages our keeping in mind the view of mankind from the superior perspective of the cosmic forces, which finds most of the things valued by mankind as foolish, petty, and base, "In everything we have attained the excellence of apes."

And all the rest make no attempt [to separate the essences of things and say how things truly are]. They no more see how they behave broad waking than remember clearly what they did asleep.

Those unmindful when they hear, for all they make of their intelligence, may be regarded as the walking dead.

People dull their wits with gibberish, and cannot use their ears and eyes.

Many fail to grasp what they have seen, and cannot judge what they have learned, although they tell themselves they know.

Whoever cannot seek the unforseen sees nothing, for the known way is an impasse.

Men dig tons of earth to find an ounce of gold.

What eyes witness, ears believe on hearsay.

Of all the words yet spoken, none comes quite as far as wisdom, which is the action of the mind beyond all things that can be said.

Wisdom is the oneness of mind that guides and permeates all things.

War, as father of all things, and king, names few to serve as gods, and of the rest, makes these men slaves, those free.

Seekers of wisdom first need sound intelligence.

An ass prefers a bed of litter to a golden throne.

Hungry livestock, though in sight of pasture, need the prod.

The soul is undiscovered, though explored forever to a depth beyond report.

Dry, the soul grows wise and good.

Time is a game, played beautifully by children.

Applicants for wisdom do what I have done: inquire within.

The rule that makes its subject weary is a sentence of hard labor.

Since mindfulness, of all things, is the ground of being, to speak one's true mind, and to keep things known in common, serves all being, just as laws made clear uphold the city, yet with greater strength. Of all pronouncements of the law the one source is the Word whereby we choose what helps true mindfulness prevail.

Although we need the Word to keep things known in common, people still treat specialists as if their nonsense was a form of wisdom.

Fools seek counsel from the ones they doubt.

People ought to fight to keep their law as to defend the city's walls.

Always having what we want may not be the best good fortune. Health seems sweetest after sickness, food in hunger, goodness in the wake of evil, and at the end of day long labor sleep.

Yearning hurts, and what release may come of it feels much like death.

All people ought to know themselves and everyone be wholly mindful.

To be evenminded is the greatest virtue. Wisdom is to speak the truth and act in keeping with its nature.

Sound thinking is to listen well and choose one course of action.

Stupidity is better kept a secret than displayed.

What use are these people's wits who let themselves be lead by speechmakers, in crowds, without considering how many fools and thieves they are among, and how few choose the good? The best choose progress toward one thing, a name, forever honored by the gods, while others eat their way toward sleep like nameless oxen.

Give me one man from among ten thousand, if he be the best.

With banishment of Hermodorus they [the Ephesians] say, No man should be worthier than average. Thus, my fellow citizens declare, whoever would seek excellence can find it elsewhere among others.

Dogs, by this same logic, bark at what they can't understand.

What is not yet known those blinded by faith can never learn.

One's bearing shapes one's fate.

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