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  • Why would Heraclitus choose fire as the first principle of the universe?
  • How could fire change into the other elements?
  • How is fire always constant yet changing?
  • From a student's photo of TAMU's Bonfire
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        Fire plays a central role in Heraclitus.  He calls the entire cosmos "an ever-living fire" (B30).  Fire is his first principle; all things are exchanged for fire and fire for all things (B90).  Fire changes into various other elements in a cosmic cycle, although the details of this cycle are unclear.  Heraclitus equates Fire, λόγος, and God/Zeus as the divine ruling order in B64 by referring to "the thunderbolt that stirs all things."

        Why did Heraclitus find place such an emphasis on fire?  Any answer to this is speculation.  It seems unlikely that fire played any physical role that made it more appealing as a first principle than water or air (chosen by earlier Presocratics).  In many of the fragments (most notably and cryptically B65), Heraclitus assigns contradictory properties to fire.  This could point to some form of the harmony of opposites being his motivation.  I think that fire played an illustrative role.  Heraclitus used many analogies and word pictures to explain his views.  Fire may have been for him a perfect example of his whole theory.  A fire is constantly changing as it rises up to the heavens.  The flame blazes up and up and never at any moment does it seem constant ... and yet we call it the same fire.  In fact, if the fire stopped changing in this way, it would die down and stop existing all together.  It is dependent on its change for its existence.