Paige Vinson Greek Philosophy Spring 2010

Greek philosophers often use a number of different concepts to create ideas to explain knowledge, science and metaphysical concerns. Heraclitus uses the ideas of fire, flux, opposites, strife and unity to explain his notion of the universally fused logos. Through his quotations, Heraclitus gives a wealth of insight into his own view of each separate idea, as well as allowing the concepts to build off of each other and construct a unified concept of divine law. To better understand each of the elements Heraclitus addresses, his idea of logos ought to be dealt with. Heraclitus was skeptical of organized religion, and thus of a specific concept of God ; however, he did believe in a cosmic force that was responsible for maintaining order within the universe. Logos is often related to ideas of word, language, or discourse, as well as pertaining strongly to rationality and reason. In many ways, the idea of logos reflects a monotheistic idea of God. Although Heraclitus does not make specific whether logos is a substance or some ephemeral force, it can be assumed that given his distaste for religion and his affinity for materialism that he views logos as a substance akin to air. Heraclitus uses the term logos to establish a single, divine, unchanging truth that guides the actions within the universe. Essentially, logos is the language of nature, or the cosmic arrangement of all substances. Everything that occurs therefore acts in accordance with logos, or to satisfy a plan that has been put in

place. Additionally, while Heraclitus asserts that many people do not possess knowledge or truth, he does not believe that humans are incapable of attaining it. Heraclitus states that, They are at odds with the logos, with which above all they are in continuous contact, and the things they meet every day appear strange to them (Heraclitus, 26). By this he asserts that humans have the truth inherent in logos available to them, but without understanding the order that comprises logos, they are unable to truly grasp and appreciate daily experiences. According to Heraclitus, a true understanding of the divine order of logos is demanded in order to interpret and make sense of our experiences. Moreover, Heraclitus claims that each person has a personal logos, or soul, which gives them access to the divine logos; combined with observation this can yield truth and knowledge. When Heraclitus says, The soul has a self-increasing logos, (Heraclitus, 34) he is addressing the capacity of the soul to give access to the truth of the divine order, which in turn promotes growth of the personal logos. While logos serves as a means of addressing the cosmic layout and the unified rationality behind all substances and their actions, Heraclitus uses flux to explain the actual occurrences that take place. The concept of flux pertains to the necessary and constant cycle of change that takes place within the logos. While Heraclitus claims that the logos is unified and unchanging, it is flux that accounts for the change humans witness regularly in nature. He states, Cold things grow hot, a hot thing cold, a moist thing withers, a parched thing is wetted, (Heraclitus, 31) to show that with the change in state of one subject comes the necessary change in another. Heraclitus uses flux to illustrate how subjects can be both the same and

different throughout the length of time; flux in this way plays a significant role in maintaining the balance of the logos by establishing interconnectedness between substances. This point is illustrated through Heraclitus statement, Fire lives the death of earth and air lives the death of fire, water lives the death of air, earth that of water (Heraclitus, 31). While each element lives its own separate state of existence, they each come from the same place, and thus are variations in form of the same substance. In more simplistic though possibly more vague terms, Heraclitus says both, The road up and the road down are one and the same, and The beginning and the end are common on the circumference of a circle, (Heraclitus, 30) to describe the changing states and purposes of even the most basic concepts. This presence of change that thrives within the logos is necessary to the continuing existence of all things. Heraclitus puts it this way; Changing, it rests (Heraclitus, 32). Though both simple and obscure, Heraclitus means that a state of rest, or a state of complete normalcy, is a state where change is readily occurring. If change within the logos exists through different states of the same element, the element that is subject to change needs be addressed. As a proponent of material monism, Heraclitus has designated fire as the single element that comprises the fundamental being of all other elements and substances; fire is the element of ultimate reality. When Heraclitus says, All things are an exchange for fire and fire for all things, as goods for gold and gold for goods, (Heraclitus, 32) he clearly asserts fire as the fundamental element comprising all physical substances. Despite this assertion, it would appear that fire serves more accurately as a metaphor for the logos and flux, rather than a physical manifestation of the two notions. As the

theory of flux rests on its existence through constant change, fire is an obvious candidate as its physical symbol. Fire only exists as a substance in constant movement; given the strength and shifting capability of the element, it is easily seen as the source out of which all other elements spring from. Additionally, fire is a destructive force as Heraclitus points out, For fire will advance and judge and convict all things (Heraclitus, 32); it is possibly capable of causing more drastic change in a shorter amount of time than elements like water or wind, though a case could easily be made for those elements as well. As a true physical manifestation of the logos however, fire faces some scrutiny. Given that the logos is to remain unified and unchanging, a shifting element as its physical form seems contradictory. Additionally, Heraclitus use of words such as birth and death relative to the element of fire in a previous quote imply the radical states of perishing and coming into being two concepts that simply do not exist for Heraclitus view of the logos.

Further, fire as a physical substance cannot exist on its own; rather, it needs to be maintained and fueled to continue. As the logos is a divine order that dictates nature, it would follow that it should exist without the aid of outside forces. Fire clearly does not fit these self-sustaining criteria, and is thus an odd choice for a physical representation of logos. However, with fire as the physical manifestation of the logos, its destructive force is a proper metaphor for Heraclitus view of strife within the order. Heraclitus looks at strife particularly as a fundamentally necessary aspect of the human condition, as well as inherent within the logos. Strife, like flux, is constant, always present, and is responsible for helping to maintain equilibrium in the universe. As

stated, It is necessary to know that war is common and justice is strife and that all things happen in accordance with strife and necessity, (Heraclitus, 32) Heraclitus makes clear that strife and justice are in direct correlation; it is the consistency of struggle that allows for justice to assert itself naturally. Strife exists in very apparent terms, as in, War is the father of all and king of all, and some he shows as gods, others as humans; some he makes slaves, others free (Heraclitus, 32). The obvious strife and opposition that exists during war is in Heraclitus opinion, part of the overlying plan of logos for human life; likewise, in this fragment Heraclitus shows that metaphorically the force of God or logos is subject to strife, and that through this opposition comes the stratification of certain humans and the gods. The constant struggle between forces and substances within the universe leads Heraclitus to a complex theory of opposites that guide strife, and yet promote the unification of the logos. Heraclitus inclination toward opposites stems immediately from the idea of strife; forces in opposition to each other guide the connections and separations of substances in nature. The interesting aspect of opposites for Heraclitus lies in the cyclical nature in which opposites give rise to connections between substances that would otherwise go unnoticed. For instance, The sea is the purest and most polluted water: to fishes drinkable and bringing safety, to humans undrinkable and destructive, (Heraclitus, 29) illustrates how a substance can have opposite effects in nature, depending on the beings involved. Humans see these oppositions daily, and while some may view opposing forces as separated in a negative way, unable to reconcile with one another, Heraclitus juxtaposes these opposites in a way that

promotes a continuing cycle, rather than a split. The same thing is both living and dead, and the waking and the sleeping, and young and old; for these things transformed are those, and those transformed back again are these (Heraclitus, 31) This fragment puts opposition in the perspective of flux within the realm of logos; instead of perceiving life and death as being at odds with each other, it is rather that death is the necessary end of one state of being to better promote the birth of another. Heraclitus writings are rich with this notion of interdependence between opposing forces. Heraclitus says, Disease makes health pleasant and good, hunger satiety, weariness rest (Heraclitus, 31) to make the point that without having the memory or the experience of disease, humans would not recognize so easily the joy of good health. Ultimately, Heraclitus is saying that much of human experience relies on these oppositions and that by understanding the connection of substances or ideas inherent in opposing forces, humans gain a richer sense of the unity within logos. This idea of unity is the culmination of all the forces previously discussed relative to their role within the logos. Unity is what flux, opposition, strife, and fire work together within the logos to achieve. While all these elements work in conjunction with each other, unity is the all-encompassing, natural state of being. Heraclitus shows that opposition and strife synch together due to the natural unity of logos when he says that, What is opposed brings together; the finest harmony is composed of things at variance, and everything comes to be in accordance with strife (Heraclitus, 29). Heraclitus attention to variety within logos is important, as it leaves room for human error, free will and natural phenomenon as being

accounted for within the divine cosmic plan. When Heraclitus says, The most beautiful arrangement is a pile of things poured out at random, (Heraclitus, 30) he is hinting at the fascinating natural order and unification inherent in even the most random of natural and man-made experiences. The energy of strife caused by the oscillation of opposing forces brings into being new connections between substances. Flux is in turn responsible for the change and transformation that occurs in nature, as well as the cycle in which each thing takes on new purposes for the betterment of another being. Fire is the physical manifestation of the power of change, and the substance out of which all things come into being. All these elements comprise the divine order of logos, the law of nature that guides all actions and transformations and keeps the universe in a state of equilibrium. Unity both blankets all the previous notions within logos as well as establishes itself as the core, fundamental principle guiding logos. Heraclitus establishes this final point through the fragment, Things taken together are whole and not whole, [something which is] being brought together and brought apart, in tune and out of tune; out of all things there comes a unity, and out of a unity all things (Heraclitus, 29). Through use of the concepts of logos, flux, fire, unity, strife and opposites, Heraclitus formulates a divine cosmic law that explains the limits and capacity of human understanding. This guiding notion of logos, coupled with the constancy of change and opposition offers insight into natural phenomena and the daily occurrences that may have been inexplicable to the people of ancient Greece. Through Heraclitus works, modern people are given insight into how ancient

Grecians may have understood their natural surroundings and metaphysical concerns. Works Cited

Heraclitus. Readings in Ancient Greek Philosophy from Thales to Aristotle. Ed. S. Marc Cohen, Patricia Curd, C.D.C Reeve. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2005. 24-34.

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