Heraclitus, Fragment 30 (D 114)


“Speaking wisely, one should stoutly contend for what is common to all, just as a city does for its law, but even more obstinately. For all human laws are nourished by the divine one; it prevails as it will and suffices for all and overcomes.” (Sweet 114; cp. DK 114)

“Speaking with understanding they must hold fast to what is shared by all, as a city holds to its law, and even more firmly. For all human laws are nourished by a divine one. It prevails as it will and suffices for all and is more than enough.” (Kahn 30)

“Those who (would) speak with insight must base themselves on that which is common to all, as a cit does upon (its) law — and much more firmly! For all human laws are nourished by one (law), the divine (law). For it holds sway to the extent that it wishes, and suffices for all, and is still left over.”

Heraclitus here speaks of “what is shared by all” or what is “common to all.” This is the logos, which can be viewed as shared by all people, or even all things (cp. Kahn pp. 117ff.). Those who have understanding have understanding of the logos. Plumbing the self leads to knowledge of that which “is shared by all” (F31) and that which “guides all things”(F54).

It is hinted here that logos is lawlike. The comparison is between the law of a city and the implied law of logos. A city achieves a unity of purpose through adherence to law. Heraclitus states here that it is even more important for understanding that we hold fast to the logos–a law of reason–than that the city “holds to its laws.”

Heraclitus speaks here of a divine law that stands in relationship to human law. This is not a clear statement of natural law, as we will see in the Stoics, but does point in that direction. Natural law theory of course will maintain that one is to bring human law into accordance with natural law. This provides even the possibility of resistance to human laws that are out of sync with the natural or divine law. It is not entirely clear here what Heraclitus thinks the specific details of the relationship between human and divine law is, specifically whether Heraclitus suggests that a resistance to the human law is possible if it conflicts with the divine law. The text highlights the need to hold even faster to the law “shared by all” than to the laws of the city. It is clear that Heraclitus sees a relationship between the divine and the human law, the former being “nourishment” for the latter.

The last sentence of the fragment is obscure. What does it mean for the divine law to “prevail as it will” or “hold sway to the extent it wishes”? The former formulation may hint at a determinism like the Stoics will accept. The latter seems to express the willfulness of a divine intelligence. What is it for it to be sufficient for all and “more than enough”? Is this hinting at an overlap between the good of the individual and the common good, the view that the divine law will not serve some at the expense of others but will serve all, that such that conflicts between the goods of individuals are to be viewed as only apparent conflicts? If so, seeing this will require transcending the normal view of the subjects and embracing an extremely broad view of justice, a view that will also accept that “strife is justice” (F82).

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