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Theory Of Opposition: Anaximander, Heraclitus And Aristotle Essay, Research Paper

In looking at the reasoning and theories of different philosophers throughout history, we see numerous themes develop which play various and sometimes very significant roles in each philosopher’s arguments. In their discussions of the cause or source of the universe as well as those regarding the relationships that exist inherently in nature, we see the different thinkers utilize themes such as unity, change and opposition. While many philosophers may employ one or many of these such themes, it is important to note that, often, the significance, interpretation and specific roles of these themes will vary from one philosopher to another. With this in mind, I will attempt to outline the role and interpretation of the theory of oppostion as presented by Anaximander, Heraclitus and Aristotle.

Although a limited amount of Anaximander’s original writings survive to this day, a generally clear understanding has been developed of his philosophies. In his criticizm of Thales’ proposal of water as the singular source of the universe, Anaximander reasons that it cannot be a single element that is the source of all things nor responsible for the various differences and patterns that exist in nature. Rather, Anaximander believes, the universe is the result of four elements in opposition to eachother. He proposes that Thales’ water is just one element among many and, therefore, is limited. He sets forth the four elements, essentilly, as being dry, moist, hot and cold. He utilizes this theory of the four elements in opposition to account for the balance that occurs in nature. It is this opposition, he believes, that keeps order to the universe. Were they not in opposition to eachother, any one of the elements would be unbounded and would cancel out the others. The importance of opposition in Anaxamander’s argument is summed up in a statement of Aristotle’s regarding Anaximander’s assertions. Aristotle tells us that “…they are in opposition to one another-air is cold, water is moist, and fire hot-and, therefore, if any one of them were unbounded, the rest would have ceased to be by this time…” Anaximander’s warring opposites commit injustice upon eachother and this relationship is evident in such natural phenomena as the cyclical revolution of the seasons. In his theory, it is interesting to note, however, that Anaximander does not rely solely on the theory of opposition. Although opposition is central to his argument, he does introduce the superior, unbounded, unifying factor of Time. The next philosopher I will discuss with regard to this topic is Heraclitus.

The way Heraclitus uses the theme of opposition is similar to that we saw with Anaximander. Heraclitus’ philisophical argument centers largely around the theme of opposition. He reasons that reality is, contradictorily, both one and many and can be accounted for through an understanding of the unity of opposites. Heraclitus belives that the essence of things is strife caused by the battle between opposites. He asserts that whenever one thing is changing , it is changing into its opposite. Simply put, in changing, a certain thing is moving from what it is to what it is not. One circumstance he uses to illustrate this principle of opposition is in the consideration that things brought togerther necessarily bring others apart. Using the analogy of a bow and arrow, he draws a clear example of how unity is achieved when parts work in opposition to eachother. In this way, Heraclitus accounts for the changing universe through the utilization of opposition. This, then, sets up a cyclical movement to the universe caused by opposition similar to that evident in Anaximander’s discussion. A further similarity between the two philosophers exists. Similar to the way Anaximander introduced the concept of Time to his argument as a unifying, balancing factor, Heraclitus involves the similar concept, Logos, which balancs the strife of opposition.


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