Pre-Socratics 2

Exotic Journeys: A Tourist's Guide to Philosophy
brought to you by Ron Yezzi
                            Emeritus Professor of Philosophy
                            Minnesota State University, Mankato
                           © Copyright 2003, 2015 by Ron Yezzi

Pre-Socratics 1 - Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes, Pythagoras
Pre-Socratics 2 - Heraclitus, Parmenides, Zeno of Elea
Pre-Socratics 3 - Empedocles, Anaxagoras, Atomists, Sophists

    Main Doctrines
    Notable Quotes
    Philosophical Significance
    Main Doctrines
    "On Truth" and "On Opinion"
Zeno of Elea
    Zeno's Paradoxes
Philosophical Significance of the Eleatics

Heraclitus of Ephesus (c. 540 - c. 475 B.C.E.)
Life & Savory Info

    Not much is known about Heraclitus' life. We do have fragments of his sayings however that provide glimpses of his thought. A collection of the fragments appears below.

    Apparently he was a loner who sought self-understanding. He placed little trust in his intellectual predecessors and had a low opinion of common people. According to Heraclitus, most people have a poor comprehension of the significance of what they are doing and, rather than seeking the eternal over the perishable, settle for stuffing themselves with food like cattle. See Fragment Nos. 1, 17, 29, 37, 97, 104, and 121.

    Diogenes Laertius offers this rather interesting account of his death: Having contracted dropsy from a diet of grass and herbs, he buried himself in warm cow manure with the hope that it would draw out the "noxious damp humour." The treatment was ineffective; and he died.

Main Doctrines

        1. Unity

    Unity belongs to the whole, not the parts. So we must get beyond individual differences to find what is common to everything. (See Fragment Nos. 2, 50, 67, 88, 103.)

a. Wisdom provides a way of grasping this unity. (See Fragment Nos. 32, 41, 113-114.)
b. This unity is governed by the Word (logos). (See Fragment Nos. 1, 2, 50.)

        2. Change

    What is most fundamental about nature is the process of change rather than the stability of substances or things. For Heraclitus, all things change.

a. The universe of change exhibits a strife of opposites; and Harmony is based upon Strife, in this tension of opposites. Accordingly, war is more natural than peace. (See Fragment Nos. 8, 51, 53, 80,126.)
b. Given the existence of change and strife, Heraclitus fixes upon Fire as the prime element. (See Fragment Nos. 30, 31, 90.)
           1) Flame is the same but always changing.
           2) Fire has a lively nature.
           3) Fire → Condensation → Earth
           4) Fire exhibits the upward and downward path of change in the universe.
        3. Contradiction

    In embracing the strife of opposites, Heraclitus also shows a preference for seemingly contradictory claims. The straight and the crooked, upward and downward, the living and the dead, the sleeping and the waking, the young and the old are one and the same. His point seems to be that these opposites change into one another so that together they form a unity, (See Fragment Nos. 59, 60, 62, 88, 81.)

Notable Quotes

    One to me is as good as ten thousand if he be but the best. - Fragment No. 49

    Man is called a child by God, as a boy is by man. - Fragment No. 79

    All things flow; nothing abides. - Fragment No. 0

    One cannot step twice into the same river. - Fragment No. 91

    Dogs bark at every one whom they do not know. - Fragment No. 97.

    Man's character is his fate. - Fragment No. 119

    Nature loves to hide. - Fragment No. 123

Philosophical Significance

    a. He introduced a more subtle understanding of what was around him―noting, in particular, the importance of change and the role of opposites in the process of change.

    b. He recognized a role for Strife in nature but, more interestingly, also advocated the desirability of Strife.

Heraclitus Fragments

[Note: The Fragments that follow come from Charles M. Bakewell's Source Book in Ancient Philosophy (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1907). The ordering of the Fragments comes from the Bakewell text.]

1. This Word (logos) is everlasting, but men are unable to comprehend it before they have heard it or even after they have heard it for the first time. Although everything happens in accordance with this Word, they behave like inexperienced men whenever they make trial of words and deeds such as I declare as I analyze each thing according to its nature and show what it is. But other men have no idea what they are doing when awake, just as they forget what they do when they are asleep.

2. One ought to follow the lead of that which is common to all men. But although the Word (logos) is common to all, yet most men live as if each had a private wisdom of his own.

17. Most men have no comprehension even of such things as they meet with, nor do they understand what they experience though they themselves think they do.

18. If you do not expect the unexpected you will never find it, for it is hard to find and inaccessible.

4. If happiness consisted. in the pleasures of the body, we should call cattle happy when they find grass to eat.

5. Men seek in vain to purify themselves from bloodguiltiness by defiling themselves with blood; as if, when one has stepped into the mud, he should try to wash himself with mud. And I should deem him mad who should pay heed to any man who does such things. And, forsooth, they offer prayers to these statues here! It is as if one should try to converse with houses. They know nothing of the real nature of gods and heroes.

15. Were it not in honor of Dionysius that they made a procession and sang the Phallus-song, it were a most shameless thing to do. Is Hades then the same thing as Dionysius that they should go mad in his honor with their bacchanalian revels?

22. They who seek after gold dig up a lot of earth, and find a little.

23. Were there no injustice men would never have known the name of justice.

24. Gods and men alike honor those who fall in battle.

25. Greater deaths receive greater rewards.

(77. Bywater.) Man is kindled and put out like a light in the night time.

27. There await men after death things they do not expect nor dream of.

28. Even he who is most highly esteemed knows and cherishes nothing but opinions. And yet justice shall surely overcome forgers of lies and false witnesses.

29. There is one thing that the best men prize above all-—eternal glory above all perishable things. Most men, however, stuff themselves with food like cattle.

30. This universe, the same for all, no one, either god or man, has made; but it always was, and is, and ever shall be an ever-living fire, fixed measures kindling and fixed measures dying out.

31. The transformations of fire are, first of all, sea; and one-half of the sea is earth and half the stormy wind.

The sea is dispersed and keeps its measure according to the same Word that prevailed before it became earth.

32. Wisdom is one and one only. It is both willing and unwilling to be called by the name of Zeus.

33. Law also means to obey the counsel of one.

34. Fools even when they hear the truth are like deaf men. Of them the proverb holds true, `being present they are absent.’

35. Right many things must men know who are lovers of wisdom.

36. For souls it is death to become water, for water it is death to become earth. From the earth water springs, and from water soul.

37. Swine like to wash in the mire; barnyard fowls in dust and ashes.

40. Much learning does not teach wisdom, else would it have taught Hesiod and Pythagoras, Xenophanes, too, and Hecataeus.

41. Wisdom is one thing. It is to know the thought by which all things through all are guided.

42. Homer ought to be thrown out of the lists and whipped, and Archilochus too.

43. It is more necessary to extinguish wantonness than a conflagration.

44. The people ought to fight in defence of the law as they do of their city wall.

45. You could not discover the boundaries of the soul though you tried every path, so deep does its reason (logos) reach down.

47. Let us not make random conjectures about the weightiest matters.

48. The bow is called life, but its work is death.

49. One to me is as good as ten thousand if he be but the best.

50. It is wise to hearken not to me, but to the Word, and to confess that all things are one.

8. Opposition brings men together, and out of discord comes the fairest harmony, and all things have their birth in strife.

51. Men do not understand how that which is torn in different directions comes into accord with itself; —harmony in contrariety, as in the case of the bow and the lyre.

52. Time is like a child playing at draughts; the kingdom is a child's.

53. War is the father of all and the king of all, and some he has made gods and some men, some bond and some free.

54. The hidden harmony is better than that which is obvious.

57. Hesiod is most men's teacher; they are convinced that he knew nearly everything—-a man who didn't even know night and day! For they are one.

59. The straight and crooked path of the fuller's comb is one and the same.

60. The way up and the way down is one and the same.

61. The sea is the purest and the impurest water; fishes drink it and it keeps them alive, men find it unfit to drink and even deadly.

62. The immortal are mortal, the mortal immortal, each living in the other's death and dying in the other's life.

67. God is day and night, winter and summer, war and peace, satiety and hunger. But he assumes various forms, just as fire when it is mingled with different kinds of incense is named according to the savor of each.

72. From reason (logos), the guide of all things, with which they are most continually associated they are become estranged; and things they meet with every day appear to them unfamiliar.

73. We ought not to act and speak like men asleep.

76. Fire lives the death of air, and air the death of fire; water lives the death of earth, and earth the death of water.

(72 Bywater.) Souls delight to get wet.

78. The customs of men possess no wisdom, those of the gods do.

79. Man is called a child by god, as a boy is by man.

80. We ought to know that war is the common lot, and that justice is strife, and that all things arise through strife and necessity.

82. The most beautiful ape is ugly as compared with the human race.

83. The wisest man compared with god is like an ape in wisdom, in beauty, and in everything else.

84. In change one finds rest; and it is weariness to be always toiling at the same things and always beginning afresh.

85. It is hard to contend against the heart; for it is ready to sell the soul to purchase its desires.

86. For the most part the knowledge of things divine escapes us because of our unbelief.

87. The stupid man is wont to be struck dumb at every word.

88. One and the same thing are the living and the dead, the waking and the sleeping, the young and the old; the former change and are the latter, the latter change in turn and are the former.

89. Those who are awake have one world in common; those who are asleep retire every one to a private world of his own.

90. All things are exchanged for fire and fire for all things, just as wares are exchanged for gold and gold for wares.

0. All things flow; nothing abides.

91. One cannot step twice into the same river.

(81 Bywater.) Into the same rivers we step and we do not step; we are and we are not.

94. The sun will not overstep his measures, else would the Erinnyes, the handmaids of justice, find him out.

92. The sibyl with raving lips uttering things solemn, unadorned and rude, reaches with her voice over a thousand years because of the god that inspires her.

93. The lord whose oracle is in Delphi neither reveals nor conceals but indicates.

95. It is best to hide one's folly, but it is hard when relaxed over the wine cups.

97. Dogs bark at every one whom they do not know.

101. I have sought to understand myself.

102. To god all things are beautiful and good and right; men deem some things wrong and some right.

103. In the circumference of a circle beginning and end coincide.

104. What wisdom, what understanding is theirs? They put their trust in bards and take the mob for their teacher, not knowing that many are bad and few good.

106. One day is like another.

107. Eyes and ears are bad witnesses to men who have not an understanding heart.

108. No one of all the men whose words I .have heard has arrived at the knowledge that wisdom is something apart from all other things.

110. It were not good for men that all their wishes should be fulfilled.

111. It is disease that makes health pleasant; evil, good; hunger, plenty; weariness, rest.

112. Wisdom is the foremost virtue, and wisdom consists in speaking the truth; and in lending an ear to nature and acting according to her.

113--14. Wisdom is common to all . . . . They who would speak with intelligence must hold fast to the [wisdom that is] common to all, as a city holds fast to its law, and even more strongly. For all human laws are fed by one divine law, which prevaileth as far as it listeth and suffices for all things and excels all things.

116. It is in the power of all men to know themselves and to practise temperance.

117. A man when he is drunk is led about by a beardless boy; he reels along paying no heed where he goes, for his soul is wet.

118. A dry soul is the wisest and the best.

119. Man's character is his fate.

121. The Ephesians would do well to hang themselves, every man of them, and to leave the city to beardless boys. For they banished Hermodorus, the best man of them all, declaring: We will have no best man among us; if there be any such let him be so elsewhere and amongst other men.

123. Nature loves to hide.

126. It is the cold things that become warm, the warm that become cold, the moist that become dry, and the dry that become moist.

129. Pythagoras the son of Mnesarchus pursued his investigations further than all other men, . . . he made himself a wisdom of his own,—much learning, bad science.

Parmenides and Zeno of Elea 

    Elea in southern Italy (see map) became the center for a philosophical school that denied the existence of change―thereby providing a counterpoint to Heraclitus' view that all things change. The philosophers associated with the school include Xenophanes (570 - 480 B.C.E.), Parmenides, Zeno of Elea, and Melissus (5th century, B.C.E.)―with Parmenides and Zeno being the most famous proponents.

Parmenides (b. 539 B.C.E.)


    Parmenides seems to have been a dissatisfied Pythagorean. Not much is known about his life. But we do have a poem of some 154 lines that he wrote in explanation of his philosophical position. Parmenides was especially concerned with the meaning of the word “is” (long before the trials and tribulations of President Bill Clinton.)

Main Doctrines

        1. What is not

        a. It cannot be learned or talked about. (How can one learn or talk about nothing?--RY)

        2. What is

        a. It must be the same thing, what is, that can be thought and talked about.
        b. What is is uncreated and indestructible because it is complete, immovable, and without end.
        c. What is has no past or future.
                1) What kind of origin could one look for?
                2) If it came from nothing, what would make it arise sooner rather than later?
                3) Could more than nothing come from nothing (that is, what is not)?
                4) If what is changes, it would have to change into what is not now; but this is
                impossible, because what is not cannot exist.
        d. What is is non-divisible, all alike, and wholly continuous.
        e. What is is not infinite because the infinite stands in need of everything.

        3. Nothing becomes

                    a. Change and motion are human illusions.

Parmenides’ “On Truth” and “On Opinion” from his poem, On Nature

(Note: This selection comes from Charles Bakewell, Sourcebook in Ancient Philosophy (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1907).

II. On Truth

Listen, and I will instruct thee—-and thou, when thou Nearest, shalt ponder—
What are the sole two paths of research that are open to thinking.
One path is: That Being doth be, and Non--Being is not:
This is the way of Conviction, for Truth follows hard in her footsteps.
Th' other path is: That Being is not, and Non-Being must be;
This one, I tell thee in truth, is an all-incredible pathway.
For thou never canst know what is not (for none can conceive it),
Nor canst thou give it expression, for one thing are Thinking and Being.
. . . . . . . . . .
. . . And to me 'tis indifferent Whence I begin, for thither again thou shalt find me returning.
. . . . . . . . . .
Speaking and thinking must needy be existent, for IS is of being.
Nothing must needs not be; these things I enjoin thee to ponder.
Foremost of all withdraw thy mind from this path of inquiry,
Then likewise from that other, wherein men, empty of knowledge,
Wander forever uncertain, while Doubt and Perplexity guide them—
Guide in their bosoms the wandering mind; and onward they hurry,
Deaf and dumb and blind and stupid, unreasoning cattle—
Herds that are wont to think Being and Non-Being one and the self-same,
Yet not one and the same; and that all things move in a circle.
. . . . . . . . . .
Never I ween shalt thou learn that Being can be of what is not;
Wherefore do thou withdraw thy mind from this path of inquiry,
Neither let habit compel thee, while treading this pathway of knowledge,
Still to employ a visionless eye or an ear full of ringing,
Yea, or a clamorous tongue; but prove this vexed demonstration
Uttered by me, by reason. And now there remains for discussion
One path only: That Being doth be—-and on it there are tokens
Many and many to show that what is is birthless and deathless,
Whole and only--begotten, and moveless and ever-enduring
Never it was or shall be; but the ALL simultaneously now is,
One continuous one; for of it what birth shalt thou
search for?
How and whence it hath sprung? I shall not permit thee to tell me,
Neither to think: 'Of what is not’ for none can say or imagine
How Not-Is becomes Is; or else what need should have stirred it,
After or yet before its beginning, to issue from nothing?
Thus either wholly Being must be or wholly must not be.
Never from that which is will the force of Intelligence Buffer
Aught to become beyond itself. Thence neither production
Neither destruction doth Justice permit, ne'er slackening her fetters;
But she forbids. And herein is contained the decision of these things;
Either there is or is not; but Judgment declares, as it
needs must,
One of these paths to be uncomprehended and utterly nameless,
No true pathway at all, but the other to be and be real.
How can that which is now be hereafter, or how can it have been?
For if it hath been before, or shall be hereafter, it is not:
Thus generation is quenched and decay surpasseth believing.
Nor is there aught of distinct; for the All is self--similar alway.
Nor is there anywhere more to debar it from being unbroken;
Nor is there anywhere less, for the All is sated with Being;
Wherefore the All is unbroken, and Being approacheth to Being.
Moveless, moreover, and bounded by great chains' limits it lieth,
Void of beginning, without any ceasing, since birth and destruction
Both have wandered afar, driven forth by the truth of conviction.
Same in the same and abiding, and self through itself it reposes.
Steadfast thus it endureth, for mighty Necessity holds it—
Holds it within the chains of her bounds and round doth secure it.
Wherefore that that which IS should be infinite is not permitted;
For it is lacking in naught, or else it were lacking in all things.
. . . . . . . . . .
Steadfastly yet in thy spirit regard things absent as present;
Surely thou shaft not separate Being from clinging to Being,
Nor shalt thou find it scattered at all through the All of the Cosmos,
Nor yet gathered together.
. . . . . . . . . .
One and the same are thought and that whereby there is thinking;
Never apart from existence, wherein it receiveth expression,
Shalt thou discover the action of thinking; for naught is or shall be
Other besides or beyond the Existent; for Fate hath determined
That to be lonely and moveless, which all things are but a name for—
Things that men have set up for themselves, believing as real
Birth and decay, becoming and ceasing, to be and to not-be,
Movement from place to place, and change from color to color.
But since the uttermost limit of Being is ended and perfect,
Then it is like to the bulk of a sphere well--rounded on all sides,
Everywhere distant alike from the centre; for never there can be
Anything greater or anything less, on this side or that side;
Yea, there is neither a non--existent to bar it from coming
Into equality, neither can Being be different from Being,
More of it here, less there, for the All is inviolate ever.
Therefore, I ween, it lies equally stretched in its limits on all sides.
And with this I will finish the faithful discourse and the thinking
Touching the truth; and now thou shalt learn the notions of mortals.
Learn and list to the treach'rous array of the words I shall utter.

III. On Opinion

Men have set up for themselves twin shapes to be named by Opinion
(One they cannot set up, and herein do they wander in error),
And they have made them distinct in their nature, and marked them with tokens,
Opposite each unto each—-the one, flame's fire of the ether,
Gentle, exceedingly thin, and everywhere one and the self-same,
But not the same with the other; the other, self-similar likewise,
Standing opposed, by itself: brute night, dense nature and heavy.
All the apparent system of these will I open before thee,
So that not any opinion of mortals shall ever elude thee.
. . . . . . . . . .
All things now being marked with the names of light and of darkness,
Yea, set apart by the various powers of the one or the other,
Surely the All is at once full of light and invisible darkness,
Both being equal, and naught being common to one with the other.
For out of the formless fire are woven the narrower circlets,
Those over these out of night; but a portion of flame shooteth through them.
And in the centre of all is the Goddess that governeth all things:
She unto all is the author of loathsome birth and coition,
Causing the female to mix with the male, and by mutual impulse
Likewise the male with the female.
. . . . . . . . . .
Foremost of gods, she gave birth unto Love; yea, foremost of all gods.
Then thou shalt know the ethereal nature and each of its tokens
Each of the signs in the ether, and all the invisible workings
Wrought by the blemishless sun's pure lamp, and whence they have risen.
Then thou shalt hear of the orb-eyed moon's circumambient workings,
And of her nature, and likewise discern the heaven that surrounds them,
Whence it arose, and how by her sway Necessity bound it
Firm, to encircle the bounds of the stars.
. . . . . . . . . .
. . . How the earth, and the sun, and the moon, and the ether
Common to all, and the milk of the sky, and the peak of Olympus,
Yea, and the fervent might of the stars, were impelled into being.
. . . . . . . . . .
Circling the earth, with its wanderings, a borrowed, a night-gleaming splendor.
. . . . . . . . . .
Wistfully watching .forever, with gaze turned toward the sunlight.
. . . . . . . . . .
Even as in each one of men is a union of limbs many-jointed,
So there is also in each one a mind; for one and the same are
That which is wise and the nature generic of members in mortals,
Yea, unto each and to all; for that which prevaileth is thinking.
. . . . . . . . . .
Here on the right hand the youths, and there on the left hand the maidens.
Thus by the strength of opinion were these created and now are,
Yea, and will perish hereafter, as soon as they grow unto ripeness;
Men have imposed upon each one of these a name as a token.
. . . . . . . . . .

Zeno of Elea (490 - 430 B.C.E.) 

Life & Savory Info

    Zeno was a student of Parmenides who tried to support his teacher's arguments against change by showing that the presumption of motion leads to absurdities. Not much is known about his life. Diogenes Laertius does attribute a noble character to him and offers a rather bizarre account of his death: Telling the tyrant Nearchus that he had to tell him something privately, Zeno bit on his ear and did not let go until stabbed to death. D.L. also reports two other possibilities: (1) it was the tyrant's nose that Zeno bit or (2) Zeno bit off his own tongue and spat it at the tyrant.

Zeno's Paradoxes (some of them)

        1. Paradoxes of Motion

                    To most people, the denial that anything can change is weird. Zeno tried to counter this common view through a set of paradoxes meant to show that motion itself has problems, leading to absurdities.

        a. You cannot cross a race course.
        b. Achilles will never overtake the tortoise.
        c. The arrow in flight is at rest.
        d. Half the time may be equal to double the time.
    (Note: Below you have a paraphrase of Aristotle’s account of some of the paradoxes, taken from Bakewell's Sourcebook in Ancient Philosophy.)

        (1.) You cannot traverse an infinite number of points in a finite time. You must traverse the half of any given distance before you traverse the whole, and the half of that again before you can traverse it. This goes on ad infinitum, so that (if space is made up of points) there are an infinite number in any given space, and it cannot be traversed in a finite time.
        (2.) The second argument is the famous puzzle of Achilles and the tortoise. Achilles must first reach the place from which the tortoise started. By that time the tortoise will have got on a little way. Achilles must then traverse that, and still the tortoise will be ahead. He is always coming nearer, but he never makes up to it.
        (3.) The third argument against the possibility of motion through a space made up of points is that, on this hypothesis, an arrow in any given moment of its flight must be at rest in some particular point.
. . . . . . . . . .

        2. Paradoxes of Plurality (The Many)

    Parmenides held that what is is one and indivisible, in contrast to the view that there exists a plurality of things. Zeno added some paradoxes to support his teacher. For example, he argued that acceptance of a plurality of things led to the absurdity that what exists is both finite and infinite: If there is a plurality of things, then there must be a definite, finite number of them; but if there is a plurality of things, then, between any two things, there must be other things and hence there is an infinity of things.

Philosophical Significance of the Eleatics

a. The Eleatics stressed rigorous reasoning through carefully drawn up arguments.
b. They found a way to bring all existence into a unity, by explaining away change.
c. By denying the existence of change and the plurality of things, the Eleatics argued that appearances are not reality.