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Heraclitus – Philosophical Thought: Pánta rheî

Heraclitus never participates in political and social life considering the citizens inept. Indeed, he went to live as a hermit on a mountain experiencing hardship.
He wrote a work of which 126 fragments have survived. This work is called “On Nature” and is written in Aphorisms (short cryptic enigmatic sentences to be decoded). In fact, in his writings Heraclitus makes the truth hidden, for him it had to be decoded and not explicit since only the intellectuals were destined to know.
We therefore have an elitist conception and therefore the truth is destined for a minority:
Elité -> few -> awake
Plebs -> many -> sleepers
The awake were the only ones capable of going beyond the deceptive appearance.
The truth is not stated explicitly, but neither is it hidden to the point that it cannot be brought to light. In fact, in Heraclitus’ aphorisms there are clues that lead us to decode the truth. To make sure that his work was not accessible to everyone, he deposited it in the temple of Artemis, goddess of the hunt, because few were allowed to enter.
What escapes the sleepers is that everything is constantly changing. They are deluded by the permanence of everything immediately.

Pánta rheî

everything changes, runs
‘It is not possible to go down the same river twice.’
‘For those who descend into the same river, new waters always come.’
‘We go down and we don’t go down in the same river. We ourselves are and are not ‘
Cratilus also goes so far as to correct Heraclitus’s statement by saying that:
“Not only can we not bathe twice in the same river, but not even once, given the speed of the flow.”
Everything changes according to an alternation of opposition, all of reality is a web of opposites, becoming is a web of opposites.
“Polemos is the father of all things, of all kings; some made them gods, others men, some slaves and others free. ”By war we mean the conflict of opposites. It is not a destructive war, since when an opposite destroys its opposite it would destroy itself, the opposites implicate each other, the opposites refer to each other reciprocally. One lives the death of the other.

The unity of opposites

The opposite agrees and from disagreements beautiful harmony. (B 8)
For the one who listens not to me, but to the Logos, wisdom is to recognize that all things are one. (B 50)
The way up and down is one and the same.
The living and the dead are the same thing, the awake and the sleeper, the young and the old: for these are changing and those are changing again. (B 88)
Contrasting harmony such as that of the bow and lyre.
The arch is the symbol of war, kind to death. Bíos means arch but also life. So from the name Bíos we find the whole of life and death. The lyre and the bow express harmony in their form. Curvilinear shape which is joined by a line, the line joins two extremes.

  1. The reason that knows and explains the hidden truth.
  2. Speech that expresses the truth is the law.
  3. The universal law points to the unity of opposites.
  4. Doctrine of Heraclitus that everything captures nature as it is.


Of this logos that is always men have no understanding, both before having listened to it and immediately after having listened to it; in fact, although all things happen according to this logos, they resemble inexperienced people, even if they prove themselves in words and works as they are. I explain, distinguishing each thing according to nature and saying how it is. But what they do while awake remains hidden from other men, just as they are not aware of what they do while sleeping. (B1)
The hidden harmony is stronger than the manifest one. (B 54)
The nature of things likes to hide. (B 123)
• Reason: Seek and save the truth;
• Speech: Describing the law that governs reality;
• Doctrine of Heraclitus: That of everything he grasps nature “as it is”;
• Universal law: Hidden harmony.

First fragment:

• The “always” could be joined either to the verb to be “is” and therefore indicate infinite “logos” or it could be joined to the name “men” making it clear that men have always and forever had no knowledge of logos.
• The verb “is” indicates the law and therefore the universal law.
• When he says “men have no intelligence” he wants to explain that with the use of it they can arrive at the truth, something else. So logos as reason.
• The verb “heard quotation marks makes us understand that logos is something that is listened to, logos as speech.
• “All things happen according to this logos” brings us back to the universal law, everything happens according to a reason.
• “They resemble inexperienced people” that is people without intelligence: the sleepers are precisely experts. They cannot understand the logos according to what Heraclitus says.
• “Distinguishing each thing according to nature And saying how it is” here is the logos associated with the doctrine of Heraclitus.
• “What they do while awake remains hidden from other men” and highlights the presence of the sleepers “in the same way that they are not aware of what they do while sleeping.” So these sleepers do not know what they do when awake and as if continued to sleep.


“This universal order, which is the same for everyone, was not made by anyone among gods or men, but it always was, is and will always be a living fire, which lights up and goes out according to the right measure.”
A fire that gives life to everything and with a conflagration kills everything.
• For the minority of Heraclitus’ scholars, the Arch is only a natural element that is identified in fire.
• For most scholars, however, fire is the symbol that expresses the unity of opposites, in fact on the one hand it is mobile and therefore gives the idea of change and is never similar to itself; on the other, it lives off the death of something and symbolizes universal law in its incessant mobility. Fire is divine.


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