Heraclitus on Religion

Phronesis 44 (2):87 - 113 (1999)
Abstract
The article sets out to reinterpret Heraclitus' views on religion and, by implication, his position in the context of the Presocratic philosophers' relationship to the Greek cultural tradition. It does so by examining the fragments in which Heraclitus' attitude to the popular religion of his time is reflected. The analysis of the fragments 69, 68, 15, 14, 5, 96, 93 and 92 DK reveals that the target of Heraclitus' criticism is not the religious practices themselves, but their popular interpretation. Heraclitus' fragments are simultaneously shown to identify the underlying structure of the 'unity of opposites,' inherent in various religious practices. Heraclitus appears to reinterpret religious practices in terms of the conceptual structures of his own philosophy. On the other hand, religion provides him with the categories for the construction of his philosophical theology. Thus Heraclitus' treatment of religion is shown to be analogous to his treatment of ethics and politics, which he also tries to incorporate into his highly integrated vision of reality. In contrast to Xenophanes' radical critique of the traditional religion, Heraclitus emerges not as a reformer or an Aufklärer, but as an interpreter, who tries to discern the structures of meaning inherent in the existing practices, and to assume them into his own philosophical project.
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