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  • What makes a person drunk?

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        Heraclitus had a very detailed ethical system.  I think that his ethics was essential to his theory.  It is often overlooked in favor of his metaphysical and physical theories, but his ethical system follows out of these.  As Kirk indicates, "In [Heraclius' philosophy] ethics is for the first time formally interwoven with physics" (KRS 221).

        Building on his cosmological and psychological views, Heraclitus derives a very interesting ethical theory.  It is based primarily on the fact that the soul is composed of fire.  Hot and dry things grow cold and moist, and eventually it is death to fire to become water.  Souls are made out of fire -- they share fire in common with the λόγος.  Whatever B118 actually says (see Text Notes), it seems clear from that fragment that it is better to have a dry soul than a wet soul.  Souls that become cold and wet die -- just like fire.  Thus, we as humans should do our best to keep our souls dry and hot.

        Pleasure is cold and wet.  This can be seen in drunkards.  The soul desires to be like the λόγος, fiery and rational.  The reason drunk people cannot reason clearly is that pleasure has put out some of the fire in the soul.  But pleasure feels good, and people continue to seek pleasure.  "It is hard to fight with one's heart's desire. Whatever it wishes to get, it purchases at the cost of soul" (B85).  The consequences of this can be seen from Heraclitus' views of cognition and mankind.  Most people are not able to understand the true nature of the world.  They cannot see how the whole world fits together, ruled orderly by the fire/λόγος.  Thus, they do not understand that their soul is also made of fire, and they do not know what pleasure does to them.  Even when drunken men clearly lose their ability to think and reason clearly (or even walk straight!), they do not realize the full implications of what they do.  Thus, slowly but surely most men drown their souls.  What happens to them after death is unclear -- perhaps the water from their souls just mixes unclimatically into the rest of the water in the cosmos -- but it is not good.

        Few people do understand the nature of the world.  These men recognize that excessive pleasure should be avoided and that self-control is the way to keep the soul dry.  What happens to them after death is also unclear.  Speculation runs wild with this aspect of Heraclitus.  (Reincarnation or rewards are possible, but I tend to think that the good (fiery) soul gets absorbed into the cosmic fire/λόγος.  This would be the best death that souls can experience.)  Whatever happens to these wise, dry souls, it is good.  Self-control and wisdom, then, are the greatest virtues: the best soul is the one that is able to think clearly and able to control itself.