Page images


§ 8. Heraclitus HERACLITUS, who, on account of his love of paradox, was called the Obscure, flourished at Ephesus, near the end of the sixth century. He has left a deeper impress on Greek thought than any of the physicists of the first period, and more than one modern hypothesis is either foreshadowed or expressly formulated in the valuable fragments of his book On Nature (Trepi púoews).

Like the physicists of Miletus, Heraclitus considers all bodies as transformations of one and the same element. But this element is not, as with Anaximenes, the atmospheric air; it is a finer, more subtle substance, which he sometimes calls fire (TŪP), sometimes warm breath (yuxń), and which resembles either what physics formerly called caloric, or the oxygen of modern chemistry. This original matter extends from the boundaries of the earth to the limits of the world. Everything that exists is derived from it, and strives to return to it; every being is transformed fire; and, conversely, every being may be, and, as a matter of fact, is, eventually changed into fire. Atmos

· Chief sources : Plato, Cratylus, p. 402 A; Plut. ls. et Osir., 45, 48; Clem. (f Alex., Strom., V. pp. 599, 603 ; Diog, L., IX. ; Sext. Emp., Adv. math., VII., 126, 127, 133; Stobæus; Schleiermacher, Herakleitos der Dunkle ron Ephesos, (Complete Works, Part III., vol. 2, Berlin, 1838); Jac. Bernays, Heraclitea, Bonn, 1818; Die Heraklitischen Briefe, Berlin, 1869; (Lassalle, Die Philosophie Herakleitos des Dunkeln ron Ephesos, 2 vols., Berlin, 1858; Teichmüller, Studien and Neue Studien, quoted above; E. Pfleiderer, Die Philosophie des Heraklit von Ephesus, Berlin, 1886; G. T. W. Patrick, Heraclitus on Nature, Balti. more, 1889. — Tr.); Mullach, I., pp. 310 ff. ; Fieracliti Ephesii reliquiæ, collected by Bywater, Oxford, 1877; Ritter and Preller, 24 ff. ; [Burnet, pp. 133 ff.]

The physics of Heraclitus reminds one of the mechanical theory of heat taught by modern physics, which, like the sage of Ephesus, considers all organic life as a transformation of solar hect.

[ocr errors]

pheric air and water are fire in process of extinction or in process of renewal; earth and solids are extinguished fire, and will be rekindled afresh at the hour fixed by Fate. According to an immutable law, the fire of the heavenly regions is successively transformed into vapor, water, and earth, only to return again, in the opposite direction, to its principle ; then it thickens again, re-ascends into the heavens, and so on ad infinitum. The universe is, therefore, fire in the process of transformation (Trupòs tporal), an ever-living fire, which is periodically kindled and extinguished. It is neither the work of a god nor of a man. It has had no beginning, and it will never end. There is an end of the world in the sense that all things ultimately return to fire; but the world eternally re-arises from its ashes. Universal life is an endless alternation of creation and destruction, a game which Jupiter plays with himself. Rest, stand-still, in a word, being, is an illusion of the senses. It is not possible to descend twice into the same stream ; ? nay, it is

1 not even possible to descend into it once; we are and we are not in it; we make up our minds to plunge into the waves, and, behold! they are already far away from us. In the eternal whirl, the nothing constantly changes into being, and being is incessantly swallowed up in nothingness. Since non-being produces being, and vice versa; being and non-being, life and death, origin and decay, are the same. If they were not, they could not be transformed into each other.

The perpetual flow of things is not, as the expression might lead one to think, an easy process, like the gliding of a brook over a bed of polished stones. Becoming is a struggle between contrary forces, between opposing currents, one of which comes from above and strives to trans. form the celestial fire into solid matter; while the other

1 Plato, Cratylus, p. 402 Α: πάντα χαρεί και ουδέν μένει κ. τ.λ

re-ascends into the heavens, and strives to change earth into fire. It is this continuous battle between two contrary currents that produces all vegetable, animal, and intellectual life on the surface of the earth. Everythingarises from the strife of opposites. Organic life is produced by the male and the female; musical harmony, by sharp and flat notes; it is sickness that makes us appreciate health; without exertion, there can be no sweet repose; without danger, no courage; without evil to overcome, no virtue. Just as fire lives the death of air, air, the death of fire, water, the death of air, earth, the death of water; so, too, the animal lives the death of the vegetable, man, the death of the animal, the gods, the death of man, virtue, the death of vice, and vice, the death of virtue. Hence, good is a destroyed evil, evil, a vanished good; and since evil does not exist without the good, nor the good without the evil, evil is a relative good, and good 1 relative evil. Like being and non-being, good and evil disappear in the universal harmony.

The emphasis which Heraclitus lays on the perpetual flux and the absolute instability of things, on the vanity of all individual existence, the impossibility of good without evil, of pleasure without pain, of life without death, makes him the typical pessimist of antiquity, as opposed to the optimist, Democritus.? His negation of being likewise implies scepticism.3 Inasmuch as truth is the same to-day, to-morrow, and forever, there can be no certain and final knowledge if everything perceived by the senses constantly changes. The senses, however, are not our only means of


1 Hippolytus, Ref. hær. IX., 9: Trólemos (Darwin would translate it struggle for life) πάντων πατήρ έστι και βασιλεύς.

2 See $ 12.

: The school of Heraclitus, and particularly Cratylus, the best known of his disciples and one of the teachers of Plato, taught scepticism.

knowledge; in addition to them we have reason (voirsa Nóyos). The senses show us what passes away, and knowledge that is based on sensation alone is deceptive: reason. reveals to us what is stable: the divine law (Ocios vóuos), the only fixed point in the eternal flow of things. But the most enlightened human reason is still as far removed from divine reason as the ape is removed from human perfection. By distinguishing between the sensible phenomenon and the noumenon, as Heraclitus did, Ionian philosophy emerges from the state of innocence, as it were; it begins to suspect its methods, to distrust itself, to ask itself whether the ontological problem can really be solved at all; in a word, it foreshadows the critical question.

Anthropology cuts loose from general speculation and begins to form a prominent part in the system of Heraclitus. The soul is an emanation of the celestial fire, and can live only by remaining in contact with this source of life. It is constantly renewed by means of respiration and sensation. Generation is the transformation of the liquid seed into dry breath. Hence the latent fire of the earth passes through the liquid state and returns to its original condition in the human soul. The driest breath constitutes the wisest soul, but woe to the drunkard who prematurely causes his soul to pass back into the liquid state! In death the breath of life or the soul gradually returns to earth. An individual's energy will depend upon his more or less constant communion with the celestial fire, the supremely intelligent and wise soul of the world.

Here we have the first feeble beginnings of physiological psychology, and they are naïvely materialistic. The philosophy of this period speaks of mind as popular chemistry speaks of spirits and essences ; but though materialistic, it is so little aware of the fact that it does not even possess a technical term for matter. We are not cons

I See the Greater Hippias, p. 289 A.

scious of ourselves except in opposition to what we are not. Hylozoism does not become materialism until it is opposed by the spiritualism of the Pythagoreans.1

To sum up: All things proceed from a dry and warm principle and eventually return to it; everything is in a state of perpetual change, and there is nothing immutable in the eternal process but the Law which governs it and which neither gods nor men can modify.


§ 9. The Pythagorear Speculation Do the metaphysical doctrines of Pythagoreanisma go back, in part at least, to Pythagoras himself? Are they the teachings of the members of the Pythagorean order, of men like Philolaus, who was exiled from Italy in the first half of the fifth century, and Archytas, who flourished at Tarentum during the second half of that century? The mystery in which the order was enshrouded from the very beginning makes it altogether impossible to answer this question. Aristotle himself seems to be in doubt in the matter; he never speaks of the teachings of Pythagoras,

1 Hippasus of Crotona (or Metapontum) fuses Heraclitean and Pythagorean conceptions. See Ritter and Preller, p. 44.

* Stobæus, Eclog., I.; Plato, Timæus ; Aristotle, Met., I., 5 passim, De cælo, II., 13; Diog. L., VIII.; Porphyry, Life of Pythagoras; Jamblichus, Life of Pythagoras : Mullach (Pythagoreum carmen aureum, p. 193; Ocelli Lucani de unirersa natura libellus, 388; Hieroclis commentarius in carmen aureum, 416; Pythagoreorum aliorumque philosophorum fragmenta, 48.5 ff. [vol. II., pp. 9 ff.]); Ritter and Preller, pp. 10 ff.; [Ritter, Geschichte der pythagoreischen Philosophie, Hamburg, 1826); A. Laugel, Pythagore, sa doctrine et son histoire d'après la critique allemande (Rerueiles heur-Mondes, 1864); C. Schaarschmidt, Die angebliche Schriftstellerei des Philolaos, etc., Bonn, 1864; Chaignet, Pythagore et la philosophie pythagoricienne, Paris, 1873. [See also Grote's History o Greece, vol. II.1


« PreviousContinue »