Greek Philosophy

Anaximander claims the Arche (origin) of all things is something (some material) he calls the Apeiron, the Indefinite. Creation occurred when fire and dark mist separated from this “boundless.” This is the first dichotomy. Democritus identified a basic “object” (atoms) that constitutes all matters. Empedocles (490 – 430 bce) supported reincarnation of the soul, and claimed that human evolved from lower form of life in water. Empedocles chose four ultimate “objects” – fire, air, water, earth – which make all the structures in the world. There are strife (separating forces) and love (separating forces) among these objects. Changes from non-existence to existence are not possible.

Heraclitus introduced a model of reality that begins with a universal concept of Logos, and with processes that maintains unity of opposites. His writings are somewhat obscure, but many can be interpreted clearly in our model. Parmenides explored the manifestations and the hidden nature of Logos. Their combined philosophies were the fundamental origin of Western philosophy. By the time of Parmenides, the Greek philosophy started to deal directly with ontology and metaphysics.

Heraclitus’ Apeiron and Parmenides’ Being are essentially the same concept as Tao. Heraclitus description of “unity of opposites” is similar to the manifestations of Tao in the phenomenal world. Parmenides’ concept of “Being and beings” is very essentially the relationship between absolute Tao and its manifestations, Heng Wu and Heng Yu.

Many have considered that Parmenides teaches Being and Heraclitus teaches Becoming.[1] Actually, both Heraclitus and Parmenides disclose Being as well as becoming. Parmenides’ unborn, imperishable Being is the logos of Heraclitus; Parmenides’ distinction between truth and appearance are the same as Heraclitus’ manifested and hidden logos.

Parmenides apprehends the whole of Being and recognizes the absence of Being as also present; Heraclitus accepts the unity of opposites, in which the oneness of logos is present. The two thinkers’ ideas are complementary. Both think in different, but parallel, ways. The one finds the ground in identity, through which contradiction is destroyed, the other in contradiction, which is transcended in the unity of opposites.


[1]   In our model, Heraclitus “becoming” is the continuous changes of the objects, not “becoming” of something from nothing.

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