On Heraclitus

"On Heraclitus." Review of Metaphysics 53, No. 3 (March 2000): 613-33.


Lucretius, after he has expounded that nothing comes out of nothing and nothing goes into nothing, and there are only bodies and void, turns to three pre-Socratics: Heraclitus, Empedocles, and Anaxagoras. He characterizes Heraclitus, clarus ob obscuram linguam, as having a bright principle (fire) and a dark account; he says of Empedocles, than whom Sicily nil … habuisse praeclarius … videtur, that his principles (the four elements) are as bright as his song about them; he says of Anaxagoras, who must resort to quaedam latitandi copia tenvis, that his principles are as dark as his account. He then turns to himself; he borrows brightness from Empedocles and darkness from Anaxagoras and turns Herclitus inside out: he has a bright song about completely dark principles (atoms): clarius audi, nec me animi fallit wuan sint obscura. Without denying the difficulty of putting together Heraclitean fire and Heraclitean logos, which seems intended to formulate a problem rather than a solution — it is nothing less than a demand that the causality of things and the equations that model their motions be one and the same — I would like to bring some clarity to the Heraclitean logos and make it at least as bight as his fire. Heraclitus’s logos is nothing but his name for thinking when it is philosophic. If Heraclitus did not coin the word philosophos, he is the first we know of who used it.