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The Ever-Changing Nature of Reality in Ancient Philosophy

Introducing fire as a basic element of the Universe, Heraclitus pointed to the ever-changing nature of reality. The philosopher stated that their permanence is impossible; however, he saw a certain order in the changing reality. This order, so-called “logos,” lies in an organization of opposites’ existence and their collaboration, as every process or phenomenon in the world has an opposite.

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The essence of changing reality mainly means that physical and energetic structures, as well as meanings of any object or phenomenon, are never the same as a moment, a day or a year ago, as they change continuously (Moore & Bruder, 2010). I believe this view is rather reasonable, as life is nothing but stable, and because any kind of permanence is always temporary.

The view of Empedocles on the issue of reality nature assumes that the reality is stable and permanent, as the basic elements, or material particles that form the objects of reality, such as water, fire, air, and earth, are unchangeable. However, different combinations of these material particles cause changes in real objects, which also means that change does take place in reality (Moore & Bruder, 2010). This interpretation is sound with the modern views on the nature of reality, and it appeals to me as well.

Anaximander based his theory on the natural phenomena he observed, which makes his arguments rather naive and weak. For instance, the philosopher believed that there exists a basic substance (the qualities of which he mentioned but still was unable to name the substance itself), which forms fire and mist, and these two elements are enough to create the other substances of the world (Moore & Bruder, 2010).

While Heraclitus believed that the essence of reality is it’s non-stop changing, Parmenides denied this assumption, claiming that reality is permanent and unified, and using principles of reason to prove his position.

With the simple deduction, Parmenides proves that a change of the state of existence is non-existence, which is impossible; the philosopher applies such scheme of analysis to all the notions, concluding that reality is stable (Moore & Bruder, 2010). To me, personally, such position seems to be rather flat, as it does not take into consideration the complex nature of the Universe and every phenomenon in it.

According to Protagoras, there is no absolute knowledge, and the thing that makes knowledge relative is the fact that knowledge can only be obtained and conveyed by people. Thus, every person has their point of view, and all such views are valuable and equally important, even if they are controversial (Moore & Bruder, 2010). As for me, this idea is sound with the Heraclitus’ statement about the ever-changing reality and the interaction of opposites; what one man thinks is true can be faulty in another man’s reality, and so on.

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The central notion in Pythagoras’ philosophy is the number. According to the philosopher, numbers and their qualities, such as order, sequence, ability to be counted, form various surfaces, which, in turn, form objects (Moore & Bruder, 2010). Thus, Pythagoras saw Universe as an endless set of combinations of number, and the order of things in the world as the order of numbers, which to some extent coincides with the basics of numerology.

Anaxagoras supported the view of Empedocles that the different combinations of material particles created changes in objects of reality, adding that every substance has a separate sort of material particles. The particle structure of any object also was used by Anaxagoras to prove that any substance (and, as a result, any object) can be divided into smaller parts, and there is no limit for this process.

The philosopher also outlined the dominance of reason over matter (Moore & Bruder, 2010). While the views of his contemporaries were more of philosophical nature, Anaxagoras appealed more to metaphysical attributes of reality.

In my opinion, Empedocles and Anaxagoras had the most reasonable views about the nature of reality, as they considered both physical structure o the objects and their relations with the surrounding nature; the philosophers seem to have considered main existing dimensions, such as time and space. Anaxagoras’ ideas appeal to me because he studied the significance of mind about the material world.

Plato disagreed strongly with the idea of Protagoras that there is no absolute knowledge. According to the philosopher, the idea that every person’s opinion is correct in a sense confronts the logic, as if there are two men having opposite and mutually exclusive opinions about a certain phenomenon or thing, it is impossible to say that both of them are right (Moore & Bruder, 2010).

On the one hand, this critique is reasonable; on the other, it does not take into consideration the subjective nature of most of the human thoughts, which means that there is a little chance for people to be right, which makes each person right to a certain extent.

The Forms, or absolute notions, like beauty, evil, fairness, etc., according to Plato, are the only possible objects of true knowledge, because all the other objects or notions are only separate and specific examples of the Forms. To know the Forms, a person needs to involve both sensual perception and reasoning, with the latter being more important (Moore & Bruder, 2010). In other words, a person needs to be able to distinguish their own subjective opinions about some object from a true knowledge of some form. This argument implies that there is an absolute truth, and I believe that there is no absolute truth, especially in such notions as beauty, good, evil, etc.

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Aristotle has developed (or, more accurately, systemized) four causes, which summarize the general preoccupation with the causation of his predecessors.

Thus, the first cause is formal, referring to the form of an object; another cause is material, referring to the material which was used to make a thing; the efficient cause concerns the one who or what created the object; and the last cause, final, tells about what the object was made for (Moore & Bruder, 2010). According to the philosopher, any object can be analyzed by applying these four causes, with which I quite agree.

Aristotle has outlined ten categories of being in an attempt to summarize all the attributes of any possible objects. These categories include substance, quality, quantity, posture, time, place, relationships, activity, passivity, and constitution (Moore & Bruder, 2010).

Undoubtedly, this categorization of things’ properties is rather exhaustible and allows us to characterizing any visible object; however, only the material aspect is considered, including all the things that can be fixed about a certain object and not considering the other levels of an object’s existence, like its effect, purpose, value, etc.

An object’s form, according to Aristotle, is the object’s fundamental nature. In other words, it is the form that makes an object what it is, as one material in different forms may represent different objects (ex. wooden table and pencil). The evident controversy of this statement to the one of Plato’s understanding of Forms led to creation of the Third Man Argument, which Aristotle used to criticize the theory of Plato.

This argument explains that the Form of some object and the object of this form always need some third notion to prove that they both refer to the same Form (Moore & Bruder, 2010). I find this notion of Aristotle rather convincing, as I think that objects and their notions should exist in one dimension and represent each other simultaneously.

While Plato referred to Forms as to some invisible notions that represent absolute truth, Aristotle while talking about forms meant the objects’ attributes, like color, shape, etc. Moreover, Aristotle considered the forms of the objects as the basic notions, and more important as compared to Plato’s Forms, because the form of the separate objects is what allows us assuming that there is a more general and all-embracing Form uniting these objects.

Also, while Plato thought that the Forms existed apart from the objects that represent them, Aristotle argued that the objects and Forms exist one in other, and they cannot be separated. For Plato, Forms existed on their own; for Aristotle, different objects could take certain Forms, or acquire certain qualities (Moore & Bruder, 2010).

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1Aristotle’s opinion that everything that exists is caused by something else is sound with the opinion of Parmenides, who stated that it is impossible to make something out of nothing. Such a position makes us view reality as an endless chain of causes and effects, which makes the whole picture of the Universe organization hard to imagine.

However, the only considerable complication in this theory is the search of the source, the very first thing that gave a start for all the other things that exist today. Nowadays, the optimal solution for this question is religion. Therefore, to me, this statement of Aristotle sounds acceptable.


Moore, B. N., & Bruder, K. (2010). Philosophy: The Power of Ideas (8th ed.). NY, USA: McGraw-Hill.

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