Heraclitus And Parmenides' Concept Of Change
Throughout the course of human history, the discipline of philosophy has greatly shaped society and the perspective the world is viewed in. Many great individuals have contributed to this “love of wisdom,” including the nature philosopher Heraclitus and the rationalist Parmenides. Perhaps the two greatest philosophers in the pre-Socratic era, Heraclitus and Parmenides’ ideas created shifts in the way of thinking for generations to come. Heraclitus and Parmenides possess vastly different philosophies in that the former believes in a constantly changing reality that is backed up by human senses, while the latter deduces that all things are perpetual with reasoning being the basis for all conclusions. The two philosophers, however, agree that accepting their beliefs requires a wisdom that not every individual is ready to accept.
Heraclitus asserts that reality comes into being through opposition, causing the order of the world to be constantly changing and fluctuating. The philosopher, an Ionian Greek, observed that most things in the universe had two opposing sides to them. For example, the ancient thinker describes seawater as “very pure and very impure; drinkable and healthful for fishes, but undrinkable and destructive to men. ” In Heraclitus’ opinion, seawater is in opposition with itself. On one hand, it is the lifeblood and essential to all marine life, while also being lethal and injurious to humans. The philosopher is fascinated with this concept – how the same thing can possess two polar opposites. As a result, Heraclitus concludes that reality is in a constant flux, with opposition propelling the order of the world. Opposition allows for balance and change to occur. Drawing on the idea of a class system, the philosopher argues that justice is upheld by neither the poor nor the wealthy ever truly obtaining the upper hand. Instead, the contradiction between the two is what allows the universe to persist, and constant transformations to occur. Parmenides, on the other hand, argues that change is impossible. The philosopher rationalizes that “nothing is not,” meaning the idea of nothing is unthinkable. With this idea, something cannot come into or out of being, since there is not a possibility of “not being. ” Following this rationale, if things can’t have a beginning or ending, change is not able to occur within the universe. Parmenides backs this up by saying that there is no many things, but only “the One,” which constitutes all beings eternally. This is quite the contrast to Heraclitus, who sees that multiple things changing is the only rationale for the world order. Essentially, the two philosophers disagree strongly on whether or not change is possible within the universe.
Heraclitus and Parmenides also utilize vastly different methods to substantiate their claims of change (or the absence of it). Heraclitus believes that human senses should be the prime way that deduction occurs. To this philosopher, being able to observe critically the realm of reality is enough to back up his declarations. This makes logical sense; even the simplest witness can identify that summer eventually gives way to winter, and that most things possess a definitive beginning and end. Opposition is an obvious aspect of the world surrounding us. As a result, Heraclitus argues that analytical examination proves change occurs, and is an essential component of life. Parmenides also concedes that human senses point towards a constantly changing world. However, the philosopher contends that experience must be disregarded in favor of reasoning. Reasoning is the most important thing to the rationalist philosopher, and Parmenides follows the idea that “you must go wherever the argument takes you, even if it contradicts common sense and the persuasive evidence of the senses”. To the philosopher, reasoning points towards a constant and fixed realm upon examination. Change is simply an illusion that should be disregarded to get to the actual truth of the universe. Yet again, Heraclitus and Parmenides disagree wholeheartedly on the utilization of the human senses to accurately describe how the world works.
Although contradicting each other on the main points of philosophy, both of the ancient thinkers surmise that the conjectures they have presented may be too much for ordinary mortals. Heraclitus describes the world as he sees it, but maintains that there are many who are too foolish to fully accept the points he has established. He concludes that numerous individuals are content with belonging to the world they manufacture from their own dreams, and disregard the true logos, or order of the world, he has described. The masses fail to understand the true wisdom he has presented, even when they are in constant contact with this logos through their everyday lives. Parmenides also possesses a harsh viewpoint against regular individuals. The philosopher compares those who do not come to the same conclusion as him, as no better than a beast. Explaining that “helplessness guides the wandering thought in their breast”. Parmenides has no sympathy for those who do not accept the wisdom he has pronounced. To him, his argument and rationale is the most intelligent concept, and one must be extremely unwise to not accept this. Both philosophers conclusively denounce those who do not come to the conclusions they have announced, believing the mortal unwise to reject what they believe to be the ultimate truth.
Ultimately, Heraclitus and Parmenides both realize their conclusions may overwhelm the normal individual who is not able to grasp the true wisdom they have presented. These philosophers, however, differ in almost every other issue of belief. Heraclitus holds onto a reality full of fluctuation backed up by human senses, while Parmenides favors a persistent and unabating universe, demonstrated by reasoning alone. Even with their differences, both manage to provide long-lasting effects for the world of philosophy.
- Melchert, Norman. The Great Conversation. Seventh ed. , vol. 1, Oxford University Press. , 2014.
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