The problem of change in Heraclitus, Parmenides and Empedocles


As we can surely believe in one thing is; Changing! I hear it every day as the people talking about those days in the past and how everything was much more beautiful, the man was more human and the life was much easier and nicer than no; why everything is rapidly changing and sadly in a negative mood!!?

I am an oldie’s lover! I think the human is losing its taste, as we look at the kind of our creation in building houses, cars, even making arts, are witless, dull. Don’t you think so? The old design of cars or architectures, even clothes or any kind of arts. The old-time was fantastic!

Of course please don’t think that I am a conservative bloody reactionary one, I love changes but only in a “getting better” direction! 😉 I’m just a fan of the old fashion 🙂

Let’s have a look at the great Greek Philosophers and their opinion about the changes, with a great thank to SearchingTheMeaningOfLife 🙏🙏


The three Miles philosophers (Thalis, Anaximander, and Anaximenes) as we have seen believed in one – and only – primary element from which everything had emerged. But how could an element suddenly change shape and become something completely different? This problem can be called the problem of change.

These questions were addressed, among other things, by the so-called Eleatics philosophers, who took their name from the Greek colony of Elea in southern Italy. The Eleatics lived around 500 BC, and the most famous among them was Parmenides (540-480 BC).

Parmenides: the philosopher of ” is” and of reason


Parmenides believed that everything that existed was always there. This idea was very popular in ancient Greece. They considered it almost self-evident. Nothing can be born of nothing, Parmenides said. And all that exists cannot disappear and be lost forever.

Parmenides, however, went even further. He considered no change at all possible. In his opinion, nothing could change and become something other than it was.

He saw, of course, that in nature everything was constantly changing. His senses were aware of these changes in things. But he could not bring them into harmony with what his logic dictated. So, having found himself in a dilemma, if he had to trust his senses or his logic, he decided in favor of logic.

We’ve all heard the phrase, “I don’t believe this unless I see it with my own eyes.” Parmenides refused to give faith, even to what he saw: He thought that our senses give us a false picture of the world, a picture that does not fit with what our logic tells us. And as a philosopher, he considered it his duty to reveal all the “illusions” that gave us a false impression of the world and reality.

This strong belief in human reason was named Rationalist “ορθολογισμός”. A rationalist is a man who fully trusts the human mind as the source of our knowledge of the world.

Parmenides argued that the unity of things in the world is not based on a common underlying physical substance, but on their own entity. Parmenides abandons the so-called embodiment of Ionian physiologists and inaugurates metaphysics and ontology.

Parmenides passed as the philosopher who supported the stillness of the being and denied the multiplicity and diversity of the sensible world. The accusations that are most often thrown at his philosophy are primarily about being too indifferent to the sensory perception of reality that his contemplation entails. The fact that the senses may be a bad guide for anyone who decides to see the essence of things is a commonplace in ancient thought.

The basic position of Parmenides contemplation is that “the being is unborn and unborn, complete and unified and unstable and perfect”

Plato in one of his most important works, the dialogue Parmenides, refers precisely to his personality and his theory of being. Even opposes the Parmenides, the philosopher is in Heraclitus, the philosopher of becoming.

Heraclitus: the philosopher of ” becoming” and of change


Heraclitus lived about the same time as Parmenides (ca. 540-480 BC). Heraclitus was from Ephesus and considered changes as the most basic and important characteristic of nature. We can say that, unlike Parmenides, Heraclitus showed confidence in his senses and in what they said to him.

“Everything is flowing,” Heraclitus said. Everything is in motion, and nothing lasts forever. That is why we cannot enter “twice in the same river”. By the time we get out and about again, we ourselves and the waters of the river will have changed.

Heraclitus also observed that the world is sealed by constant contradictions. If we didn’t get sick, then we wouldn’t know what health means. If we were not hungry, then we would not rejoice in satiating. If there was never a war, then we could not appreciate the value of peace. And if winter never came, then we wouldn’t even watch the coming of spring.

Both Good and Evil have their place within the whole and are equally necessary, Heraclitus said. Without this endless game of contrasts, the world would cease to exist.

He used the word “god” but he certainly did not mean the gods of myths. For Heraclitus, God – the divine element – is something that encloses the whole world. God is revealed to man through the constant alteration and change of nature.

Instead of the word “god”, Heraclitus uses the ancient Greek word “reason”, which means logical. Even though we humans do not always think the same way, even though our logic is not always the same, Heraclitus believed that there is a kind of “universal logic” that directs everything into nature. This “universal logic”, the “mind of the Universe”, dominates everything, and all people must respect its sovereignty.

Most, however, insist on living according to their own individual logic. That is why Heraclitus did not greatly appreciate his fellow humans. Their views resembled “children’s toys” in his eyes.

In all the changes and changes and contrasts in nature, Heraclitus saw unity, integration. This “something”, which is found in everything and is the foundation of everything, called it “god” or “word”.

His phrases had a density that made them inaccessible to the general public, hence the name of ” Heraclitus the Dark One “. Also, this nickname is due to its tendency to isolate itself and not seek to have contact with its fellow human beings – very often even reaching for their disdain and rejection. On many occasions, he had even publicly spoken in a particularly derogatory way about great thinkers and poets of his time.

Heraclitus believed that people’s behavior was judged by the truth of the word, so people should understand it, be perfect in it, and live according to secular law.

In particular, people do not understand the truth they have learned because they think that truth is their personal opinion. Thus, the conflict with the truth. The intention of the philosopher is to lead people to confession, that is, to the agreement of individual and universal discourse, of personal opinion with truth, which is the unity of all things.

Mob movement and change;

Heraclitus believed that the world was a constantly moving current. His view was illustrated by the image of the river. If the world looks like a river whose waters are constantly flowing, then its unstoppable movement is the only way to exist, that is, the world.

The world is not made up of things that are always the same, but events that can be constantly different, without the world losing its identity. Everyone is involved in the cosmic movement, as is the change in direction it entails and the stability of the rate of movement and change.

■ The teaching of the Ephesian philosopher can be concentrated on the following suggestions:

  1. The world is in constant motion and its constant change is a constant feature of its course.
  2. The world is not a static building, created by somebody, either god or man, but an eternal living fire, constantly flashing in moderation and regular proportions.
  3. O κόσμος βρίσκεται συνεχώς σε κατάσταση σύρραξης. O πόλεμος είναι ο πατέρας και ο βασιλιάς όλων.
  4. All the conflicting forces in the world end up in harmony. This war is not without order. There are a constant regularity and law that governs all movements, changes and opposing moments of things.

■ The influence of Heraclitus’ ideas

Of particular importance was the influence of Heraclitus’ ideas on later philosophers. Democritus, Plato, the Stoics, Spinoza, and above all Hegel draw on elements of his work. Of the most modern Nietzsche admits to the Ephesus philosopher, he does not conceal his view of Heraclitus and proclaims with complete sincerity: “The world has eternal need of truth, therefore it has eternal need of Heraclitus”.

Empedocles composes the two different views of Parmenides and Heraclitus

Parmenides and Heraclitus were somehow on the two opposite ends. Parmenides’s logic saw that nothing could change, while Heraclitus’s experiences found, with the same certainty, that everything in nature was undergoing constant change.

Which of the two was right?

Should we trust the voice of our logic (Parmenides) or is it better to believe our senses (Heraclitus)?

Both Parmenides and Heraclitus both hold two positions

Parmenides says:

  1. that nothing can be changed
  2. that, therefore, the impressions that reach us through our senses must be wrong.

Heraclitus, on the other hand, says:

  1. that everything is changing (“everything is right”) and
  2. that the impressions that reach us through our senses are true and correspond to reality.

We can hardly imagine two philosophers disagreeing the most! But which of the two is right? Eventually, the one who managed to get out of the net, where philosophy was confused, was Empedocles (ca. 499-434 BC) from the Akragantes of Sicily.


Empedocles thought that they were both right about one point of their thinking, but wrong about the other.

For Empedocles, the whole difference was that philosophers regarded the self-evident origin of their thinking as the existence of only one primary element. If this were indeed the case, then the abyss between the senses and logic would be a bridle for centuries.

Water cannot, of course, take the form of a fish or a butterfly. Water cannot be changed. Clean water is and always is pure water.

So Parmenides was right to say that nothing changes.

At the same time, however, Empedocles agreed with Heraclitus, who said that we must trust our senses. We have to believe in what we see. And what we see is an endless series of changes in nature.

Empedocles, therefore, came to the conclusion that the hypothesis of one element must be abandoned. Neither air nor water can transform itself into roses or butterflies. So nature cannot overcome them with just one primary element.

Empedocles, for his part, believed that nature had four primary elements or “roots”, as he himself called them. These four roots were, in his view, earth, water, air and fire.

In particular, Empedocles declared that the universe is composed and decomposed of four unchanging “rhizomes”: water (Nistes), earth (Edonews), air (Hera) and fire (Zeus). Each generation and deterioration is the result of mixing and separating the four rhizomes in different proportions each time, depending on the form that is born or worn. Thus, the being (rhizomes) does not change (the view of the practitioners), but also the genesis and the deterioration are real processes (the view of the individual).

Empedocles did not, of course, choose air, water, earth and fire by chance. Before him, many philosophers had tried to prove that the primary element was air or water or fire. Thales and Anaximenes had emphasized that water and air are very important elements in nature. The Greeks also considered fire to be very important. They saw the primary role that the sun played in life in general, and they knew that humans and animals were shut off by the heat.

Therefore, all changes in nature occur because these four primary elements are reunited and separated to unite in a different way. Because everything in this world consists of earth, water, fire and air. Only the mixture is always different. When an animal or flower dies, the four elements divide, and this change can be watched with the naked eye. Air, however, and fire, water and earth remain unchanged, no matter how much the mixtures undergo them.

So it’s not true that “everything” is changing. In essence, nothing changes. Quite simply, four elements are merged and separated again to mix again in a different way.

Let’s imagine a painter. When he has only one color – red, say – in his palette, he cannot paint green trees. But if it has yellow, red, blue and black, it can blend in and achieve hundreds of different colors.

One question, however, remains open: what is it that drives the elements to unite to create a new life? And what is it that ensures that the “blend”, the flower, for example, dissolves again?

Ambedoklis believed that two different forces act in nature. He called these forces Philatelia and Nicos. Friendship, love, is the power that unites elements and composes new ‘blends’. Nick, the controversy, is the power that separates them again.

Empedocles, therefore, distinguished between elements and forces. This is well worth keeping in mind. Because even today, science distinguishes basic elements from natural forces. Modern science claims to be able to explain all natural phenomena by means of interactions between basic elements and certain physical forces.

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