Tree of Life – Level 1, Lesson 7: Heraclitus
HERACLITUS, 536 – 476 B.C.
Little is known about this famous philosopher of the Ionic school. We have only a few fragments from his writings and what is written about him by other writers and philosophers.
We do know that he traveled many years before settling down. Most of these travels were in North Africa. He most likely became acquainted with the Mysteries while in Egypt. Upon his return to Ephesus, he was offered, and turned down, the office of chief magistrate.
Heraclitus differed in many ways from the majority of Ionic philosophers. He said Fire was the first principle of all. Fire was an ethereal substance, “self-kindled and self-extinguished.” The world is not made from this Fire, but it has evolved by a “natural operation.” Fire is the symbol of reality in flux.
He said it is also the source of the human soul (or rational principle.)
Phenomena are always existing in a state of constant flux. It assumes many and varied forms, but always returns to its original source. What his contemporaries called the cosmos, he said was but the dynamics of existence.
Heraclitus changed the pattern of thinking from that which is known, to the knowing of the object.
He called this knowing Logos. “It is wise to harken, not to me, but to the Logos and to confess that all things are one. This wisdom is to know the thought by which all things are one.” This wisdom is to know the thought by which all things are stirred through all things. Thus, the cosmos is intelligible since thought stirs all things.
There are no opposites, only the cosmos in tension. “Men do not know here what is at variance agrees with itself. It is an attunement of opposite tensions, like that of the bow and the lyre.” The attunement of the opposites is the essence of existence.
Heraclitus states there is no origin (in the manner of myth). “This world, which is the same for all, no one of the gods or men has made, but it was ever, is now, and ever shall be everlasting fire, which measures of its kindling, and measures going out.”
Therefore, “the way up and the way down is one and the same.” “For the sun will not overstep his measures; if he does, the Erinyes, the handmaids of justice, will find him out.” Thus, to Heraclitus, there is a governing force behind all things.