Heraclitus Essay

2284 words - 9 pages

Introduction1. Fl. 500 B.C. in Ephesus, north of Miletus in Asia Minor. He was known in antiquity as "the obscure." And even today, it is very difficult to be certain what Heraclitus was talking about. As Barnes says (Presocratics, p. 57):"Heraclitus attracts exegetes as an empty jampot wasps; and each new wasp discerns traces of his own favourite flavour."The reason for this is Heraclitus's dark and aphoristic style. He loved to appear to contradict himself. Some of his doctrines sound incoherent and self-contradictory even if he did not perhaps intend them that way.2. One thing seems certain: Heraclitus had an extremely negative reaction to Milesian thought. For the Milesians, what is real is fixed and permanent; change somehow had to be explained away. They understood changes as alterations of some basic, underlying, material stuff which is, in its own nature, unchanging. Heraclitus reversed this: change is what is real. Permanence is only apparent.3. Heraclitus had a very strong influence on Plato. Plato interpreted Heraclitus to have believed that the material world undergoes constant change. He also thought Heraclitus was approximately correct in so describing the material world. Plato believed that such a world would be unknowable, and was thus driven to the conclusion that the material world was, in some sense, unreal, and that the real, knowable, world was immaterial.The unity of opposites1. A number of fragments suggest that Heraclitus thought that opposites are really one.Main fragments: RAGP numbers 50, 60, 67, 83, 86 (= B61, B60, B88, B67, B62)See also: 70 (=B111), 75 (=B84a).2. What does this mean? Does Heraclitus think that hot = cold, that mortality = immortality, etc.? Does he think, in general, that each property F that has an opposite F¢ is identical to its opposite? Is the unity of opposites thesis best understood (in logical symbols) as:"F (F = F¢)?This is not likely. The fragments suggest, rather, that he thinks that opposites may be present in the same thing, or coinstantiated. That is, that one and the same thing may be both hot and cold, pure and polluted, etc.3. But what claim is Heraclitus making about the coinstantiation of opposites? Here are a couple of possibilities:1. Some object instantiates at least one pair of contrary properties.$x $F (Fx & F¢x)2. Every object instantiates every pair of contrary properties."x "F (Fx & F¢x)Of these, (a) seems insufficiently general to be of much interest, and (b) seems too strong to have any plausibility.4. Barnes suggests that the unity thesis can be represented as a conjunction of the following two claims:1. Every object instantiates at least one pair of contrary properties."x $F (Fx & F¢x)2. Every pair of contrary properties is coinstantiated in at least one object."F $x (Fx & F¢x)And this is what I shall take it to mean. But what is it for contrary properties to be coinstantiated in an object? One possibility is that it is for...

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