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Heraclitus - Philosophy and ChangeHeraclitus - Philosophy and Change


Heraclitus (c540-c480BC)


Greek philosopher from Ephesus

Famous for his views on change and melancholia (later referred to as the “weeping philosopher”).

(pictured right weeping in Johannes Moreelse's 1630's painting).



What did he say about change?

 Heraclitus - Philosophy and Change

1. Change is constant

Everything in life changes all the time, so we can never escape change.

“There is nothing permanent except change”, he said.

Even when you repeat something, it is still different, because circumstances change.

“You cannot step twice into the same river”, he said.

Things are not objects, but changing processes, like the flames in a fire.


2. Expect the unexpected

Constant change means that unexpected things happen.


  • anticipate them.
  • work out a plan to deal with them.


3. The world is chaotic

The world is so changeable and chaotic that it is impossible to give it any order.

But change can:Heraclitus - Philosophy and Change

  • unite people.
  • give them common aims.

“Out of discord comes the fairest harmony”, he said.


4. Things consist of opposites

Opposing ideas are inevitable, but can be reconciled (the “unity of opposites”).

The path up a mountainside is not the opposite of the path down it but part of the same path, leading you back to safety.

So success and failure (including disappointment and criticism) are not opposites but both essential to a happy and successful life.

 Heraclitus - Philosophy and Change

5. Learn continuously

To learn you must:

  • select what is relevant and wise from lots of information.
  • enquire into things deeply and understand why they happen (don’t be deceived by your superficial impressions).
  • look for hidden connections and interrelationships between different issues and subjects (or disciplines).
  • do lots of different and interesting things.
  • be enthusiastic and curious by achieving the “seriousness of a child at play”.


6. Think big

 The best people give up everything to achieve one objective that improves the world in some way.

 “Big results require big ambitions”, he said.

 Heraclitus - Philosophy and Change

7. Change needs character


  • must work hard to live by their principles.
  • need good character (because character determines your future).

“Character is destiny”, he said.

 Heraclitus - Philosophy and Change

8. Being optimistic

Positively face the problems of change with hope and optimism.


9. Change is progress

If you don’t change, you won’t improve.

“Where there is no strife there is decay”, he said.


Key quotes on change

There is nothing permanent except change.

You cannot step twice into the same river.

Where there is no strife there is decay.


Key quote on creativity

Out of discord comes the fairest harmony.

If you do not expect the unexpected, you will not find it


Key quote on careers and ambition 

Big results require big ambitions.


Key quote on ethics and integrity

Character is destiny.


Key quote on knowledge management

Abundance of knowledge does not teach men to be wise.


Key quote on learning and wisdom

Men who are lovers of wisdom must be enquirers into many things.

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