Heraclitus, also spelled Heraklitus (475-535 BC), was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher who, according to the English philosopher and writer Catherine Osborne, can be considered the most influential philosopher of his time. He was a prince of Ephesus and was supposed to become the ruler of Ephesus, but he relinquished this position in favor of his brother. He was disgusted with his fellow citizens and held them in contempt and ridicule. He even criticized and belittled Homer and Pythagoras, who lived before him, and believed that Homer should be removed from the pages of books and beaten with a stick. Due to his disgust with people, Heraclitus left his place of residence and continued his life in the mountains and plains. During this time, he sustained himself by eating mountain plants, which led to his contraction of the disease dropsy, from which he died.
Heraclitus rejected stability and permanence in the elements of the world and believed that everything in the world is in flux, to the extent that he said, “No one can step into the same river twice.” Despite the changes and flux that Heraclitus believed existed in everything in the world, he considered logos to be the only constant and stationary thing in the world. Researchers consider the logos mentioned by Heraclitus to be the “law that governs the world.” It is a law that its main manifestation is contradiction. The conflict and struggle between opposites, according to Heraclitus, is the true reality and justice of the universe. Similarly, Heraclitus even considered war to be justice and a public matter. He is considered the founder of dialectics because of his view on the conflict of opposites.
Heraclitus did not have any affiliation with the prevalent religions of his time and was skeptical of them. Apparently, he had his own unique religion, which was a kind of pantheism.
Bertrand Russell argues that if Heraclitus had not been so averse to the general public and had not distanced himself from them, he could have been a religious reformer. In terms of ethics, Heraclitus values asceticism over indulgence in desires. In his view, the soul of a human being is made up of fire and water, and by indulging in desires, the soul becomes dampened and loses its fire element. In other words, he believed that indulging in desires is equal to the death of the soul. It is said that during his lifetime, Heraclitus wrote a book called “On Nature,” but only about 130 fragments of it have survived in the writings of subsequent authors, sometimes consisting of only one sentence. According to historians, the book was composed of three parts called physics, ethics, and politics.
In ancient Greece, Heraclitus was given the nickname “the dark philosopher.” The reason for this nickname was his obscure and ambiguous expressions. Even Socrates and Aristotle have referred to the ambiguity of his words. Heraclitus had a significant influence on philosophers after him. Plato received his education at the Academy of Cratylus, who was one of the successors of Heraclitus, during his youth. Therefore, he can be considered as an indirect disciple of Heraclitus. Aristotle believed that the influence that Plato took from the philosophy of Heraclitus led to the formation of the theory of “similarity.” Hegel was also influenced by all the propositions of Heraclitus in his book on logic.
In first-hand sources that have quoted the life and sayings of Heraclitus, we can refer to the writings of the following individuals:
Theophrastus, who was a student of Aristotle and had compiled a book called “The Teachings of Natural Philosophers.” Only one chapter of this book, called “On the Senses,” has survived, which includes parts of the teachings of Heraclitus.
Plutarch, who was a Greek historian, biographer, and essayist, has a surviving writing called “On the Doctrines of the Philosophers,” which includes several sentences of Heraclitus’ teachings.
Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor, also quoted fragments of Heraclitus’ thoughts in his work called “Meditations,” which is significant due to his affinity with Heraclitus.
Sextus Empiricus, a skeptical physician and philosopher, referred to Heraclitus in his book “Against the Mathematicians” and quoted sentences from Heraclitus in another book called “Outlines of Pyrrhonism.”
Clement of Alexandria, one of the Greek-speaking fathers of the Catholic Church, quoted sentences from Heraclitus in his three provocative writings, “The Instructor,” “The Tutor,” and “The Stromata,” which are very useful.
Diogenes Laërtius, a biographer of Greek philosophers, is a very important source for the ideas and beliefs of Heraclitus. In his ninth book, he refers to the life and opinions of Heraclitus, which shows that he had access to sources that are not available today. In secondary sources, it is mentioned that Herman Diels’ book “Fragmenta Pre-Socratica” is one of the most important secondary sources. In this book, he has numbered fragments collected from pre-Socratic thinkers in alphabetical order of their sources. After Diels, two schools emerged in the translation and interpretation of Heraclitus’ views: the “English school” and the “German school.” The English school, which includes figures such as Ingram Bywater, John Burnet, William Guthrie, and Geoffrey Kirk, seeks to present Heraclitus’ ideas in the same way they were expressed. The German school, represented by figures such as Schleiermacher, Lasalle, Hegel, and Nietzsche, incorporates their own philosophical ideas into those of Heraclitus and does not try too hard to present the actual views of Heraclitus.
Heraclitus believed that the world is constantly changing and in flux, and nothing in it is permanent. In other words, he believed that “everything is in flux,” and the concept of flux serves as the foundation of his philosophy. One of the important concepts that Heraclitus focused on was the idea of emergence and impermanence. He believed that everything in the world is constantly evolving and changing, and nothing is like a fixed and stable body. This view is known as “panta rhei” which means “everything flows”.
Heraclitus also emphasized the importance of the concept of contradiction and conflict in life. He believed that contradiction and conflict are one of the main factors in the evolution and change in the world, and these contradictions and conflicts lead to the emergence of new conditions and the improvement of previous situations. Heraclitus also emphasized the importance of knowledge and understanding in life. He believed that to achieve a correct understanding of the world, one must pay attention to knowledge and precise analysis and use the complexities of the world to better understand it. It can be said that Heraclitus focused on concepts such as change, contradiction, evolution, knowledge, and understanding, and incorporated these concepts into his philosophy.
The concept of non-existence in philosophy is considered in two different ways, absolute and relative. In the absolute sense, non-existence is considered as a real reality, while in the relative sense, non-existence is considered as the non-existence of something in a specific time and place.
Regarding Heraclitus’ views on the concept of “non-existence,” it should be noted that he did not directly refer to this concept. However, he strongly believed that the world is constantly changing and in flux, and nothing in it is permanent. He believed that everything is in flux and nothing is stable and fixed. In other words, he believed that “existence” and “non-existence” in the world are relative concepts, and nothing in the world exists absolutely and in a way that is always stable. It can be said that Heraclitus did not believe in the concept of “non-existence” in an absolute sense, but he paid attention to the change and instability of the world, which can be considered as a relative form of “non-existence”. Heraclitus strongly believed in the concept of changes over time and made this concept one of the foundations of his philosophy. He believed that everything is in a state of flux and that these changes and transformations will continue continuously and without interruption.
Heraclitus emphasized the importance of conflict and contradiction over time. He believed that conflict and contradiction are one of the main factors in the evolution and change in the world, and these conflicts and contradictions lead to the emergence of new conditions and the improvement of previous situations. In other words, he believed that conflict and contradiction would lead to changes and transformations over time, which would cause a continuous flow in the world. Regarding Heraclitus’ views on human beings, it is not possible to say with certainty whether he believed in concepts such as changes in human beings or not due to the lack of sources and texts that express his opinions on humans in detail. However, some of Heraclitus’ opinions about the world and its changes can also indirectly be used to explain the changes in human beings. For example, he believed that conflict and contradiction are one of the main factors in the evolution and change in the world, and these conflicts and contradictions lead to the emergence of new conditions and the improvement of previous situations. Based on this, the concept of conflict and contradiction in human beings can also be considered as a factor in the changes and transformations in them.
It should be noted that due to the lack of sources that express Heraclitus’ opinions on humans in detail, it is not possible to say with certainty whether he believed in concepts such as changes in human beings or not. However, his opinions on conflict and contradiction in the world and nature can be used as a reference for further discussion on the changes in human beings.
Heraclitus believed that conflict and contradiction are one of the fundamental factors for transformation and change in the world. In other words, he believed that conflicts and contradictions in the world lead to new innovations and developments. Based on this principle, one can use this theory to explain the changes and transformations in human societies. For example, cultural, social, and political conflicts can be considered as factors for changes and developments in human societies. Heraclitus also believed that the world is constantly changing and nothing is stable in it. This theory can also be used to explain the changes and transformations in human beings since humans are also constantly evolving and nothing is stable in their lives. Heraclitus’ philosophical ideas and thoughts have been studied and analyzed in many fields. However, his remaining texts are limited and inconclusive, and this may be because he did not devote his life to philosophy and contemplation, but rather focused on practical matters and social and political issues.
Nevertheless, we can refer to some of Heraclitus’ opinions on philosophy and ethics. For example, he believed that the world consists of a type of law and order through which everything moves towards transformation and change. He also believed that everything that exists in the world is constantly changing and evolving, and nothing is stable in it. This theory can be used as a fundamental principle in philosophy. Due to his theories on the world and its transformations, Heraclitus can be considered one of the founders of dynamic and evolutionary philosophy. He was searching for the deepest truths of the world and, through his beliefs about the changes and transformations in the world, he was seeking to find the true and fundamental meaning of life. In this sense, Heraclitus’ ideas have been very useful for the development of spiritual and ethical philosophy.
During Heraclitus’ time, modern economic concepts did not exist, and most people engaged in the exchange of goods and services on a commercial and non-commercial basis. However, Heraclitus’ views on societies and humans can be used as a guide to understanding economic processes during his time.
Heraclitus believed that change and transformation are one of the fundamental principles of the world and nothing is stable in it. Based on this principle, his theory can be used to explain economic processes during his time. For example, goods that were popular in a local market may have changed when the market expanded, and new and different goods became popular. Additionally, changes in people’s lifestyles and needs may have led to changes in the types of goods produced. Heraclitus’ ideas about change and transformation can be used as a guide to understanding economic processes during his time. According to his theory, the nature of trade and exchange of goods and services is also evolving.
Heraclitus was familiar with many other philosophers of his time and used their ideas in his own beliefs. Below are some of Heraclitus’ views on other philosophers:
1. Parmenides: Heraclitus believed that all objects in the world are subject to change and transformation, while Parmenides believed that nothing in the world changes and is always stable and constant. For this reason, Heraclitus believed that Parmenides’ theories were incorrect and contradictory to his own beliefs.
2. Anaximander: Heraclitus and Anaximander both focused on the study of nature in their theories, but Heraclitus believed that all objects in the world are subject to change and transformation, while Anaximander believed that the world is an infinite and stable extension. This difference in their theories caused Heraclitus and Anaximander to disagree with each other.
3. Pythagoras: Pythagoras was more interested in mathematical and geometrical issues, while Heraclitus was more interested in natural issues. For this reason, Heraclitus’ and Pythagoras’ views were different in many cases, but both were dedicated to the search for truth and knowledge.
4. Hermeneutics: Heraclitus and Hermeneutics focused on language and interpreting texts in their theories. While Heraclitus believed that each individual could use their own concepts to approach the truth, Hermeneutics emphasized that only through correct interpretation of texts could one approach the truth. For this reason, Heraclitus and Hermeneutics disagreed with each other in their views.
Heraclitus, like many other philosophers, was familiar with the opinions and beliefs of other philosophers and used them in his own beliefs. However, Heraclitus’ theories were often in opposition to the theories of other philosophers. During Heraclitus’ time, human societies and communities were developing and evolving, and some of the social issues that existed during his time, such as corruption, justice, and social divisions, still exist in today’s societies.
Below are some of Heraclitus’ views on society and the community of his time:
1. Change and transformation: Heraclitus believed that change and transformation are a part of human nature and human societies. In other words, human societies are never static and are constantly evolving and changing. Heraclitus’ theory on change and transformation is still valid today in contemporary societies.
2. Corruption: Heraclitus believed that corruption is one of the fundamental problems of human societies and must be addressed. In other words, he believed that human societies can only be stable when they can control corruption.
3. Justice: Heraclitus believed that justice should prevail in human societies and that everyone should benefit equally. He believed that every individual should contribute to society’s activities to fulfill their needs and receive rewards proportional to their efforts.
4. Social divisions: Heraclitus believed that social divisions should be based on the ability and effort of each individual, and everyone should receive rewards proportional to their efforts. In other words, he believed that social divisions should be based on justice and equality.
Heraclitus believed that human societies are constantly changing and evolving and that efforts should be made to control corruption and maintain justice and equality. His views on society and the community are still considered as one of the fundamental concepts of social philosophy in his time and in contemporary societies. Heraclitus was a philosopher who lived in ancient Greece, and politics and society were important topics for him. He believed that politics is a complex and important issue in human societies and requires deep knowledge and understanding.
Continuing with Heraclitus’ views on politics during his time:
1. The issue of governance: Heraclitus believed that governance is one of the complex and ambiguous issues in human societies. He believed that those who hold power must manage it well, and if not, it may lead to the destruction of society.
2. Political forces: Heraclitus believed that political forces such as those in power and influential personalities can have a significant impact on the political process. He also believed that to succeed in politics, one must deal well with these forces and manage them effectively.
3. The issue of justice: Heraclitus believed that justice should prevail in politics and that everyone should be treated equally and justly to meet their needs.
4. The issue of capability: Heraclitus believed that capable and cultured individuals should manage politics and should be chosen as leaders of society. In other words, he believed that individuals with the necessary skills for managing society should be identified and chosen.
Heraclitus believed that politics is one of the complex and important issues in human societies and requires deep knowledge and understanding. Furthermore, he believed that justice, capability, and proper management are key factors for success in politics.