I learned that Heraclitus stressed the importance of change and the ephemeral nature of things in the cosmos. However, it seems that Heraclitus refers to a "logos":

The opening of Heraclitus' book refers to a “logos which holds forever.”[3] There is disagreement about exactly what Heraclitus meant by using the term logos, but it is clear from 22B1 and B2 as well as B50 and other fragments that he refers to an objective law-like principle that governs the cosmos, and which it is possible (but difficult) for humans to come to understand.

source: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/presocratics/

From that perspective, it seems that Heraclitus was aware that there is at least one permanent, unique, eternal thing that transcends the cosmos, his concept of logos, while inside the cosmos, things are ephemeral and constantly changing. To me, his concept of logos echoes with the philosophy of Parmenides and is very similar to Plato in the sense that Ideas are eternal and Particulars are ephemerals.

So, is Heraclitus truly a mobilist? Can we even affirm that his thoughts are in contradiction with those of Parmenides and Plato? For me, whether the world is portrayed as mobile or immobile is only a question of referential. Change involves mobility by definition, but the concept of change is static.

3 Answers 3


Welcome, Delforge

Heraclitus and constant change - a vexed question

THE thought of Heraclitus of Ephesus is still often summarized as " All things are flowing ", panta rhei; by which it is inferred that everything is in constant change. This summary goes back ultimately to Plato, who at Cratylus, 402a, wrote as follows: " Heraclitus says somewhere that everything is moving and nothing stays still, and likening things to the flow of a river he says that you could not step twice into the same river ". Plato's interpretation was adopted by Aristotle, and through him by Theophrastus, whose " Opinions of the Physicists " became the basis of all later ancient accounts. Recently, however, some scholars have become sceptical about the accuracy of the Platonic- Aristotelian interpretation of Heraclitus' views on change; and with good cause, for the fact is that there is nothing in the extant fragments about the constant flux of all things, even though one would have expected the survival of some original support for a view so widely popularized in the fourth century. The assumption from this is that the constancy of change is not an idea which Heraclitus particularly stressed. What he undoubtedly did stress above all else was his discovery of the unity that subsists in apparent opposites: it is with failure to apprehend this unity, that he so bitterly reproaches his fellow men. (G.s. Kirk, 'Natural Change in Heraclitus', Mind, Vol. 60, No. 237 (Jan., 1951), pp. 35-42: 35.)

Heraclitus does of course recognise the ubiquity of change but this does not mean that he thinks everything is changing all the time. Rather, and not at all the same thing, the realises 'the inevitability of change, sooner or later, in every division of nature'. (Kirk: 38.)

But what of Diels, Fragment 12: 'Upon those who step into the same rivers, different and different waters flow' ? It is a stretch to derive from this that Heraclitus regards things - all things in the cosmos (leaving aside for a moment the logos) - as constantly changing like the water a river.

Without the assumption of constant change in the cosmos, your contrast between such change and 'at least one permanent, unique, eternal thing that transcends the cosmos', namely the logos, is problematic. One side of the contrast - constant change - falls away.

The nature of the logos still needs attention, though; and this is the next task.

The logos

The logos is best approached through Heraclitus's idea of 'measure' (metron).

In fr. 30 the cosmos is an everliving fire, kindling in measures and going out in measures (aptomenon metra kai aposbenunmenon metra). In fr. 31 the sea is measured (metreetai) into the same proportion as applied to it before it became earth. In fr. 90 fire is an exchange for all things and all things for fire as goods for gold and gold for goods. In fr. 88 (of a group of opposites like summer-winter) " these things change places and are those, and those change places again and are these ", where metapesonta implies a regular exchange. In fr. 94 " the sun will not overstep his measures (metra); if he does, the Erinyes, agents of Dike [justice], will find him out " In fr. 51 that which tends apart also coincides: it is a palintonos harmonie, a join which works in both directions like the string of a bow or a lyre; note that here too the tension must operate equally in each direction - the inward pull of the string must equal the outward pull of the arms of the instrument, otherwise the string is too loose or the whole instrument breaks. Akin to the idea of measure is that of plan and direction in the world, as in fr. 41: wisdom is to know how all things are guided; and in fr. 80: all things happen by strife and necessity. The concept of Logos supplements this whole picture; Logos for Heraclitus is the single formula or plan according to which all things happen... (Kirk: 37-8.)

As such, the logos is immanent in the cosmos, not transcendent of it; it guides or (as I think contrary to your suggestion) it informs - is 'inside* - the cosmos as its inherent principle. Heraclitus probably does see it as 'permanent, unique, eternal'.

Note on the cosmos'

You seem to regard the cosmos as a 'world' - 'For me, whether the world is portrayed as mobile or immobile is only a question of referential.' A word of caution :

the use of kosmos - 'cosmos' - in fr. 30: " This kosmos no man or god made; it was, is, and shall be ". Now 'kosmos* for Heraclitus, in the early fifth century, must still have retained much of its basic meaning of "order", "regularity"; it cannot just mean " world " in our practical sense, and is perhaps best translated as "organism". (Kirk: 38.)


Logos means literally speech. It is understood already in Plato in a number of ways. One is in the sense that it names things. By naming something we hold it as a kind of thing (a being, an idea) up for reflection. Animals may see, for example, a just act in some sense. For instance it is demonstrated that animals show concern for their fellows who have been beaten for no reason by a dominate animal, but they act differently when the beating is deserved. But not having words they can not hold the matters up for reflection. In this sense, abstract thinking, logos in this sense, early on comes to mean reason or rationality. Man is the rational animal. Heraclitus speaks of the world under the thought of Historia (or which, in the thinkers after Heraclitus became clarified as historia), investigation. Which came down to us in the 20th century as Natural History, bird watchers and such, the field which merged with modern Biology. The issue is the question whether knowledge can be got out of history. And the classical and most clear statement, is perhaps, that of Aristotle, where he shows how the poets can seize upon universal truths out of the tropes (this idea is still alive with the Catholic so-called topology) of the flux of accidents. And that history, by contrast, is pure accident and thus contains no knowledge.


I'm with you on this. Heraclitus tells us 'We are and are-not' and this would be consistent with the idea that motion and chance and the things that move and change are not fundamental, bringing him into line with Parmenides, Zeno and the 'Perennial' view of these phenomena.

Clearly every object in space-time moves and changes, but I see no evidence that Heraclitus thought that space-time is fundamental.

The quote in Geoffrey Thomas' answer seems to sum it all up... "What he undoubtedly did stress above all else was his discovery of the unity that subsists in apparent opposites: it is with failure to apprehend this unity, that he so bitterly reproaches his fellow men."

This is a denial of change and motion as fundamental phenomena and the claim that what is fundamental is not a 'thing'. Were he alive today he would no doubt still be bitterly reproaching his fellow men for the same fault.

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