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Nature of Reality from Ancient Greek Philosophers Views

Heraclitus and the Nature of Reality

Heraclitus said that basic substance in the universe is fire. He was drawn to this conclusion because he believed that everything changes. He was the one who made the commentary that no one steps into the same river twice (Moore & Bruder, 2008, p.26). He had a profound understanding of change. He was not only looking at the change that people were able to accomplish by deliberate actions. He also realized that change occurs even if there was no visual evidence of transformation. Thus, Heraclitus can be considered a real genius on account of this revelation alone. However, Heraclitus was unable to correctly identify the exact nature of change (Moore & Bruder, 2008)

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Empedocles’ View

Empedocles tried to harmonize the two different philosophical frameworks of Heraclitus and Parmenides. At first glance, it seems like Empedocles was offering a diplomatic solution to the conflict. In today’s language it seems like Empedocles was trying to play it safe by not siding with one philosopher. However, a careful scrutiny of his proposition created a new way of understanding the physical world. Empedocles was one of the first philosophers to correctly identify the true nature of things. It is true that objects change, however, its basic element does not change. This idea paved the way for understanding molecules and atoms (Cohen, 2011).

Anaximander’s View

Anaximander proposed an alternative view that contrasted with that of Heraclitus and Thales. He proposed that the best way to understand the world is not to look for the basic element. He proposed that the solution to the problem is to look for the basic processes and natural powers that were precursors to change. His major contribution was to provide a non-mythological view on how things came into existence. However, he cannot substantiate his claims.

Compare and Contrast the views of Parmenides and Heraclitus

Parmenides was not interested in discovering the basic element. He knew that people change and objects are subjected to change. Thus, he reasoned out that these appearances are mere illusions. His views were a stark contrast to Heraclitus view about change. Nevertheless, Parmenides’ theoretical framework failed to develop an acceptable defense with regards to the concept of illusion.

It is easier to believe Heraclitus proposition and disregard Parmenides’ arguments. Heraclitus did not only provide the philosophical framework that explains the inevitable nature of change; he also proposed that change is the byproduct of a cosmic order called the logos (Moore & Bruder, 2008, p.26). Heraclitus believed that change in the physical world was never random or haphazard (Moore & Bruder, 2008). This proposition is close to the modern understanding of the nature of change.

Protagoras’ View

Protagoras believed that knowledge is dependent on the perception of the human being. Therefore, Protagoras asserted that there is no way to determine absolute knowledge. In its basic form Protagoras proposed that our personal views are valid even if others believed that it is wrong. This made sense from the point of view of sensory organs. Two individuals may have seen the same event; however, they differ in the interpretation of the event (Moore & Bruder, 2008).

Pythagoras’ View

Pythagoras was one of the first philosophers who proposed a mathematical explanation to the stability and true nature of the physical world. In other words, there is a mathematical basis for the creation of objects. This proposition also explains why there is relative stability and order in the cosmos. This is a radical view especially if one will compare it with Heraclitus’ assertion that everything changes. Pythagoras did not only claim order, he also pointed out the predictable nature of the design. It took hundreds of years to validate his claim. However, Pythagoras made his mark when he proposed the idea that there was a way to mathematically describe objects in the physical world.

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Anaxagoras’ View

Anaxagoras expounded on the ideas proposed by Empedocles. When Empedocles postulated that things are unchanging he made the proposition that there was no way to divide physical objects into simpler particles. Anaxagoras made the counter-argument that there is a way to simplify matter. He said that physical objects were comprised of smaller particles (Moore & Bruder, 2008). The only weakness of Anaxagoras’ view was that he did not believe in the presence of atomic or sub-atomic particles. Nevertheless, his ideas enhanced the ancient world’s understanding of particles, and it paved the way for the discovery of molecules.

Early Greeks and Nature of Reality

It can be argued that Empedocles provided a clear and overarching theory on the nature of reality. He was able to cover both ends of the spectrum. He was correct when he said that things change. At the same time, he was correct when he proposed that objects are secure in their identity, because the basic elements are unchanging. His idea explains the existence of transformational processes, while at the same time explained the existence of identifiable objects that are not eradicated or altered by these transformational processes (Moore & Bruder, 2008). For example, there are transformational forces that change the natural objects that surround a house. However, the structure of the house remains the same for many years. The only criticism to Empedocles’ view is that he borrowed its components from different sources.

Plato’s Criticism of Protagoras’ View

Plato disagreed with Protagoras’ proposition that knowledge is subjective. Plato started his critique of Protagoras’ philosophical framework by saying that his predecessor’s view was wrong. Plato argued that intuition enabled people to perceive knowledge. Therefore, Plato asserted that there is a way to know absolute truth.

Aristotle’s Notion of the 4 Causes

Aristotle’s notion of the 4 causes was a brilliant framework to help the ancient world understand the nature of things. The only problematic aspect was the first cause, which Aristotle called the “formal cause”, because this is not the way modern people interpret the term cause (Moore & Bruder, 2008, p.65).

However, a change of perspective will enable readers to realize that the first cause is actually the design of the object. In addition, it can be argued that Aristotle did not remove his epistemology from divinity. Therefore, the first cause can be interpreted as the creator behind the object. The second cause is also a brilliant proposition because it explains the materiality of the object. The third cause is also a major breakthrough in epistemology, because it paved the way for understanding the natural processes involved in the creation of an object. Finally, the fourth cause enabled people to organize objects and living things in accordance to their respective purpose.

Aristotle’s 10 Categories; Third Man Argument; and Theory of Forms

Aristotle’s ten categories of being enabled people to classify things in a more organized manner. He provided a way to differentiate things based on ten basic categories: 1) quantity; 2) quality; 3) relationships; 4) place; 5) time; 6) posture; 7) constitution; 8) passivity; 9) activity; and 10) substance. Aristotle was correct when he said that these categories of classification enabled people to appreciate objects and organisms in a better light.

Aristotle differentiated his view by limiting the forms within particular things. His Third Man argument attempts to explain that universal forms have no independent existence. Aristotle seems to have a better explanation considering that coins do not have a monopoly on circularity (Moore & Bruder, 2008).

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Compare and Contrast Plato and Aristotle’s Views

It seems like Plato’s idea about change and forms is dictated by an overarching theory that involves divinity. In other words, Plato believes in the first cause, which is God. He said that the first cause explains the origin of things. It is a plausible explanation based on the context of ancient Greek philosophy, because there is a need to justify the origin of change. Aristotle proposed a different route. He did not provide a clear distinction or counter-argument of Plato’s position. Aristotle on the other hand provided the explanation why things are different from others. He said that the “genus” of the object or organism provided some sort of template, and the “specie” or specifics provided instructions on what aspect to differentiate (Moore & Bruder, 2008).

Plato and Aristotle are in agreement that one of the primary components of an object is a concept called form. In other words, a coin looks circular because it assumes the basic form of a circle. The core design of a coin requires the concept of circularity. It is important to highlight this similarity, because Plato and Aristotle believed that objects follow a certain design (Moore & Bruder, 2008). However, Aristotle enhanced the basic idea of Plato, because he added that aside from the “form” component, the object also requires matter (Moore & Bruder, 2008). Without the “matter” component, the object ceases to exist.


Cohen, M. (2011). Reading in ancient Greek philosophy. IN: Hackett Publishing. Web.

Moore, B., & Bruder, K. (2008). Philosophy the power of ideas. CA: California State University Press. Web.

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