Comments on Heraclitus’ theory of universal flux

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Introduction

Heraclitus of Ephesus is accredited with an account of universal flux, encapsulated in his famous aphorism “everything flows and nothing stays” (in Greek: “πάντα ῥεῖ καὶ οὐδὲν μένει”). His central claim is that the world in its totality is characterised by incessant change and that only change as such remains constant. For Heraclitus ‘change’ is the underlying “structure” of the world. It is the universal logos as he puts it.

Without intending to engage in hermeneutics, with the willingness to accept Heraclitus’ claim at face value and with the proviso that a decontextualised quote/aphorism may not convey the meaning that could be formed in its proper context; I shall make use of this short blog post to provide some comments on the Heraclitean account of universal flux. More precisely, I shall examine whether that theory concerns all reality or a part of it. That is my sole objective. Anything beyond that, such as the soundness or falsity of Heraclitus’ aphorism, shall not be considered herein.

Comments

The present author, having regard to:

  • the aphorism of Heraclitus of Ephesus that “everything flows and nothing stays”;
  • his own philosophical work, the Notes on the Thinkable: Version 2.0;

and whereas:

  1. the thought of the thing is not the thing as such;
  2. there is a distinction to be made between the two magnitudes of an otherwise singular reality: the world and the thinkable;
  3. the world is the realm of sensory objects, while the thinkable is the realm of intelligible objects;
  4. what has change or the lack of change in itself independent of thought, is not identical to what has change or the lack of change because of thought;

suggests that:

  1. Heraclitus seems to make no distinction between a sensory object and its corresponding idea; for while the sensory object may indeed be made manifest in a number of ways, be it in its appearance, the perception of it, or even its very material constitution, its corresponding idea can indeed be held constant in the way that it does and to the extent that it does, regardless of whether the sensory object changes or remains;
  2. No matter how specific a consideration of a sensory object may be, so that one does not examine merely the class of something, but its elements in their most rudimentary form, there still is a distinction between that thing and its corresponding idea (or ‘object of thought’); so that the consideration of ‘tree’ in its multitude of appearance, of a certain ‘tree’ as differentiated from other such ‘trees’, of a certain sub-set of that ‘tree’ as distinct from other elements in its own set and from other such sets, always consists of two magnitudes, one encompassing the thing as such and the other the thought that is made of it, each corresponding respectively to the world and the thinkable;
  3. The very idea of ‘flux’ must feature at least some _constancy in itself, so that it is the product of a definition that stems from the identification of its own sign and its _simile in multis; of that which clearly distinguishes it from other ideas and from its possible manifold of mode, otherwise there would be no criterion whatsoever with which to treat something/anything as either changing or remaining;
  4. If objects of thought, ideas, which belong to the thinkable, can be held constant relative to their own, and if they do not necessarily partake of this universal logos of incessant change, then there is something beyond Heraclitus’ philosophical apparatus that can inform a refutation of the claim of “everything flows” or that can, at least, force its revision in a way that would clearly present it as a thesis on a part of reality;
  5. Any conclusion is as good as the method of inquiry it derived from, so that a consideration of the thinkable as distinct from the world will lead one to think in ways that can differ profoundly from another who makes no such distinction; and hence, a method of investigation into the universal logos that also accounts for the thinkable, will have to differ from the view propounded by Heraclitus.

Finally, given that this blog post is published on January 1, 2014, I would like to wish everyone a happy and creative new year!