the Rathouse
The Open Society and its Enemies
Karl Popper
Series of Very Abbreviated Versions of Classical Philosophical Works for Very Busy People.
Chapter 2: Heraclitus

This short chapter notes some of the Greek antecedents of Plato. Hesiod was a pessimist who thought that mankind was doomed to degenerate, both physically and morally, from the mythical Golden Age. Heraclitus is a more ambivalent figure who anticipated many of the complex and confused doctrines of some modern thinkers.  

“For he declares that strife or war is the dynamic as well as the creative principle of all change, and especially of all differences between men. And being a typical historicist, he accepts the judgement of history as a moral one; for he holds that the outcome of war is always just: ‘War is the father and the king of all things. It proves some to be gods and others to be mere men, turning these into slaves and the former into masters ... One must know that war is universal, and that justice—the lawsuit—is strife, and that all things develop through strife and by necessity.’”

“But if justice is strife or war; if ‘the goddesses of Fate’ are at the same time ‘the handmaids of Justice’; if history, or more precisely, if success, i.e. success in war, is the criterion of merit, then the standard of merit must itself be ‘in flux’. Heraclitus meets this problem by his relativism, and by his doctrine of the identity of opposites.

‘Life and death, being awake and being asleep, youth and old age, all this is identical; for the one turns into the other and the other turns into the one ... What struggles with itself becomes committed to itself: there is a link or harmony due to recoil and tension, as in the bow or the lyre .. The opposites belong to each other, the best harmony results from discord, and everything develops by strife ... The path that leads up and the path that leads down are identical ... The straight path and the crooked path are one and the same ... For gods, all things are beautiful and good and just; men, however, have adopted some things as just, others as unjust ... The good and the bad are identical.’”

“ ‘Who falls fighting will be glorified by gods and by men ... The greater the fall the more glorious the fate ... The best seek one thing above all others: eternal fame ... One man is worth more than ten thousand, if he is Great.’

Popper wrote that it is surprising to find in these early fragments, dating from about 500 B.C., so much that is characteristic of modern historicist and anti-democratic tendencies.

Chapter 1  Historicism                                                                 Chapter 3  Theory of Forms

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