I’m enrolled in an ancient philosophy class this semester and I want to reflect on some things that I’m finding interesting so far, namely, the movement away from these sort of mythical portrayals of the world toward a more rational perspective with penetrating questions that evoke the use of reason to answer. I suppose it merits to say that these types of questions did in fact revolutionize thinking. Some of the thinkers that I have been exposed to thus far (Thales, Xenophanes, Heraclitus) offer answers to their deep questions about the world but that is not what interests me. It is the type of questions that they proposed that I think has great value. These questions ultimately sought to discover what the existence or the world is made of, the answers to explaining the cosmological principles. For Heraclitus, the Kosmos was the ever-living fire (Fragment 10.77), with the other material elements being an exchange for fire (Fragment 10.80). For Thales, the answer was water. However, the element proposed is not what is important here, rather, what strikes me is the implication that the world is grounded on one thing, one underlying principle of something. And that is what I find quite fascinating in these early thinkers.
To focus specifically on Heraclitus, one of his notions that I like pertains to unity. He recognizes that “all things are one” (10.47). In fragment 10.48, Heraclitus says that “things taken together are whole and not whole, 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.” This passage shows an interesting idea of parts and wholes, and the interrelatedness between them. It shows that for Heraclitus, the world was quite diverse but the diversity is unified under one thing. I have always been fascinated at the way separate parts relate to a whole. This is one of the reasons why I have a strong inclination to eastern philosophy (Daoism in particular) which promotes a sort of wholeness of the world which we are all a part of.
Another theme that Heraclitus advances which I like is his moral thought. The most important moral goal for Heraclitus is to obtain understanding of the Logos. Wisdom entails knowing “how all things are steered through all things” (10.44). For Heraclitus, the need for understanding the Logos is through work. Wisdom is not implanted in birth, but it is through the effort put forth that determines whether one will gain wisdom or not. Heraclitus states that the searching should occur within the self and “men who are lovers of wisdom must be inquirers into many things (Fragment 10.33 and 10.44).” Since Heraclitus associates soul with fire, the driest soul is the wisest and best, the soul being the one with most fire in it (Richard D. McKirahan interpreting Fragment 10.104). I admire that notion because I associate passion and soul as something fiery-like.
Moreover, for Heraclitus the greatest excellence is right thinking by means of intellectual virtue and through action (Fragment 10.44 and 10.46). Heraclitus states that “A person’s character is his divinity” (10.121). The interpretation that I particularly like of this passage is from Richard D. McKirahan in Philosophy Before Socrates. McKirahan interprets this to mean that wisdom is divine, and we become godlike when we get it. It also implies that one’s character helps decide the outlook and thus we are responsible for our lives (McKirahan, 144). A person’s character as his divinity places responsibility in our hands to cultivate the best character possible in order to be the best. Whether one succeeds in cultivating that character depends on the effort and work they initiate. I admire that emphasis on agency being within an individual and the responsibility in his or her hands.