published on March 1, 2019
Heraclitus and the Riddle of Nature
In a world of expanding epistemological horizons, the Early Greek thinkers known as the Presocratics wrestled with questions concerning the nature (φύσις) of things. But this idea of φύσις as a way to say what things really are was a relatively new one and meant that these thinkers often articulated very different ideas about how to properly under this philosophical concept. In this paper I sketch Heraclitus’s understanding of φύσις as a riddle that demands a particular method of inquiry. Linking many of his fragments, I show that φύσις is a paradoxical harmonia, or “fitting-together,” of opposites that serves as the pattern which underlies all things. Understood in this way, Heraclitus’s frequently mysterious fragments serve as a training ground for building wisdom by testing the listener’s ability to navigate ambiguity and complexity to find hidden meaning. Ultimately for Heraclitus, successfully navigating the riddle of φύσις moves us beyond simply saying “what things are” and unlocks our access to λόγος, or the principle according to which all things are steered or guided.