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Heraclitus and Parmenides: Ideas and Contributions Essay


Philosophy belongs to the number of disciplines that consider primary questions related to human existence. It addresses the questions of ethics, logic, and metaphysics. The meaning of philosophy can be learnt from the word itself; it means “love to wisdom”. To put it in other words, philosophy is a tool used by people in order to learn the truth about life. Throughout history, there were many philosophers whose ideas were a breath of fresh air for their contemporaries. In trying to understand this world and its primary laws, Heraclitus and Parmenides spent many hours thinking and viewing the happenings. As a result, they created their own theories on the matter of life, and their ideas made a significant contribution into the further development of philosophy.

Heraclitus was one of the most famous Greek philosophers. The record shows that he was born to the city of Ephesus that was a part of the Persian Empire. Unfortunately, there is a lack of knowledge on his parents and his life as a child. What is more, modern historians still do not know when and where he got the education. According to some evidence, Heraclitus claimed that he was self-taught. He is regarded as a pre-Socratic philosopher. Philosophy is a love to wisdom and the wisdom never gets old; this is why his ideas are still appreciated and considered to be a great food for reflection. Contemporaries described Heraclitus as a quick-witted but unsociable man who preferred keeping himself to himself. Nevertheless, such a taste for solitude was beneficial for his working process.

Throughout his lifetime, Heraclitus suggested a great number of ideas concerning the nature of humankind and the world. Nevertheless, he is mostly known for his concept of constant change. According to Heraclitus, nothing remains constant as perpetual change and motion act as the matter of life. “No man ever steps in the same river twice.” The latter is the most famous saying of Heraclitus that refers to the idea of change as the fundamental essence of the world. Besides, he was one of the first philosophers to raise the question of the dual features of the world. According to him, the world can be described as a unity of opposites that complement each other but have the same nature. He believed the pairs of opposite things to be the one.

For instance, the warmth and the coldness belong together as these conditions are based on the presence or absence of a high temperature. He introduced the notion of logos into the field of philosophy. The meaning of this notion became another riddle of Heraclitus that has not been solved yet. As he believed, logos ruled everything in this world. Interpretations of this notion are numerous but there are a few guesses that sound the most reasonable. Among these are the ideas that logos means “principle” or “plan”. What is more, he believed fire to be the arche of the universe and the main principle of life. From his perspective, the world was a fire that never stopped burning. Only water and earth were regarded as the forces of nature capable to withstand the fire (Marcovich and Graham 82).

Parmenides was a Greek philosopher born in Elea. He is considered to be a founder of the Eleatic school of philosophy. Very little is known about his life as there is only one known work of Parmenides. This work was written in the form of a poem and the modern humanity has only fragments of this poem. It is called “On Nature” and in this literary work Parmenides offered his own vision of the matter of things. Interestingly, the poem described two views on reality (Makin 34). To some extent, these views opposed each other. In the first part of the poem, Parmenides explained how he saw the truth about the reality. According to him, the reality was unchangeable and constant. At the same time, he regarded existence to be essential and timeless. In the second part of the poem, Parmenides referred to the nature of things seen through the prism of personal experience. As he believed, due to the imperfection of man’s perceptive apparatus, people were inclined to coming to false conclusions concerning the world.

Parmenides made a significant contribution to the development of metaphysics. In his work, he considered questions of existence and cognition. His reflections pushed for the development of gnoseology and ontology. More than that, he was the first to draw a line between objective reality and personal experience of the people. According to him, the knowledge of eternal and unchangeable existence was an undeniable truth; he equated the process of thinking to existence. His opinion on the nature of existence became clear from his work; he stated that there was nothing but the existence. At the same time, non-existence was believed to be absolutely impossible as one could not think of nothing. As for his views on the properties of existence, he stated that it had neither the future nor the past. Existence could be researched only in the present. In trying to reveal the structure of existence, he came to the conclusion that it could not be divided into any constituents. Thus, existence was regarded as integral and eternal; it means that nothing could appear and disappear.

Just a few features that make their philosophies similar can be found. For example, they both considered revealing the nature of existence to be the main point of their works. What is more, their philosophies both touched upon the structure and relationships between abstract notions.

At the same time, there is a plenty of features making their philosophies different. To begin with, the conflict between their views stems from the different meanings that they put into the existence. In reflecting upon the properties of existence, Heraclitus highlighted that existence was just unable to get beyond control of change. For him, changes could not be stopped as it would lead to the total disappearance of existence. He saw a well of life in constant motion. Unlike him, Parmenides regarded existence as something unshakable and eternal. To Parmenides, existence never suffered any changes as the latter could undermine its stability. He connected the fact that people were able to notice the changes to the delusiveness of people’s personal experience. What is more, Heraclitus and Parmenides did not pay the same attention to distinguishing between the objective and subjective. Only Parmenides believed it to be the basic premise of learning the truth about the world. Their opinions on the well of life were also different. Parmenides considered the idea of creation to be a paradox whereas Heraclitus supposed life to be a result of cooperation between three forces of nature that were fire, water, and earth.

Works Cited

Makin, Stephen. “Parmenides, Zeno, and Melissus.” Routledge Companion to Ancient Philosophy, vol.1, no. 3, 2013, pp. 34-48.

Marcovich, Miroslav, and Daniel Graham. “Heraclitus: Greek Text with a Short Commentary.” Aestimatio: Critical Reviews in the History of Science, vol. 1, no. 1, 2015, pp 80-85.

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IvyPanda. (2020, September 1). Heraclitus and Parmenides: Ideas and Contributions. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/heraclitus-and-parmenides-ideas-and-contributions/

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1. IvyPanda. "Heraclitus and Parmenides: Ideas and Contributions." September 1, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/heraclitus-and-parmenides-ideas-and-contributions/.


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IvyPanda. "Heraclitus and Parmenides: Ideas and Contributions." September 1, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/heraclitus-and-parmenides-ideas-and-contributions/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Heraclitus and Parmenides: Ideas and Contributions." September 1, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/heraclitus-and-parmenides-ideas-and-contributions/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Heraclitus and Parmenides: Ideas and Contributions'. 1 September.

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