Know Your School of Athens Philosophers: Heraclitus

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Raphael, School of Athens, 1511

If you do not expect the unexpected you will not find it, for it is not to be reached by search or trail. These were the words of philosopher, Heraclitus, an early philosopher of the presocratic era was also known as the weeping philosopher or obscure philosopher. Heraclitus was one of the first philosophers that caught my eye in this 
painting because of his loneliness and somber expression. His detachment from the other figures in the painting led me to believe that there was something different about him, some new ideas that I wanted to discover.

Heraclitus grew up in a wealthy family, but cared nothing for reputation and status. He wrote on paradox, a flow of never ending change, the unity of opposites, and the importance of strife and tension in revealing logos or word. What is left of his work is found in the book he wrote called On Nature. He believed that to understand nature one must understand how one thing changes to its opposite and that ethics is very much connected to physics.

Raphael must have appreciated Heraclitus's knowledge because he is placed almost in the front center of the painting. His ideas were very influential to later philosophers, and although some found his theories illogical, others found them inspirational, such as the Stoics who used his physics to advocate a periodic destruction of the world by fire followed by a regeneration of the world. 

Although it was hard for me to understand much of Heraclitus's theories, I appreciate his work and determination to learn through self teachings. He did not follow in the footsteps of others but created his own path, and I was inspired by his originality.

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