Heraclitus, Ethics, and Knowledge
: Philosophical thoughts in ancient Iran
( University of Maragheh)
Heraclitus was one of the important pre-Socratic philosophers who had some scattered notes on ethics. In order to understand his ethical views, in addition to referring to his existing notes, it is necessary to pay attention to the context in which his philosophy was formed. Heraclitus was under the influence of two traditions of his time. The first was the influence of Homer and early poets and philosophers, such as Solon, Bias of Priene, and the like, who were distinctively characterized by believing in human-like Gods or anthropomorphism. The other was the influence of a new scientific and technical tradition which was developed during the same century in Miletus under the influence of some figures such as Thales and Anaximander, who were mainly concerned with cosmology, that is, an understanding of the quality of the creation, survival and, finally, annihilation of the world order. In fact, Heraclitus’s philosophy can be viewed as a bridge between these two different traditions. Since he considered the world order and human order to be the same, it can be said that his main purpose and concern was explaining the status of human beings in the physical world and not the physical world itself. The ethics of Heraclitus, similar to those of other ancient Greek philosophers, described a kind of ethics of virtue, the core of which comprised virtue and happiness. In the field of virtue, he dealt with both moral virtues and intellectual virtues. Regarding moral virtues, through distinguishing bodily joys from non-bodily joys, he ultimately rejected excessive acts and introduced moderation in joys as the criterion for human behavior. With respect to intellectual virtues, Heraclitus also relied on the knowledge of wisdom and acknowledged that wisdom does not simply mean to have vast knowledge; rather, it means a kind of conscious and well-scrutinized knowledge which conforms to logos. As a result, he mainly emphasized intellectual rather than ethical virtues. Finally, he viewed man’s happiness a result of knowing and behaving in line with logos.
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