Conspectus of Lassalle’s Book The Philosophy of Heraclitus the Obscure of Ephesus

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Author(s) Lenin
Written 1915

Source: Lenin Collected Works, 4th Edition, Moscow, 1976, Volume 38, pp. 337-353
Publisher: Progress Publishers
First Published: 1930 in Lenin Miscellany XII Published according to the manuscript

Conspectus of Lassalle’s book “Die Philosophie Herakleitos des Dunklen von Ephesos.” Berlin, 1858 (The Philosophy of Heraclitus the Obscure of Ephesus, Berlin, 1858) is contained in a notebook following the note on Lipps’ book Natural Science and World Outlook. Following the conspectus of Lassalle’s book, there is a fragment in the note book entitled “On the Question of Dialectics.”

The Philospohy of Heraclitus the Obscure of Ephesus





BERLIN, 1858 (pp. 379 + 479)

(Bern: Log. 119. 1)

In the epigraph, inter alia,

from Hegel—from his History

of Philosophy—that there is not

a single proposition of Heraclitus

that he would not have adopted

in his Logic.

Hegel. Collected Works, Vol.

XIII, p. 328.[1]

My quotation from Vorlesun-gen über die Geschichte

der Philosophie.[2]

One can understand why Marx called

this work of Lassalle’s “schoolboyish” (see

the letter to Engels of...[3]): Lassalle simply

repeats Hegel, copies from him, re-echo-ing him a million times with regard to

isolated passages from Heraclitus, furnish- ing his opus with an incredible heap of learned ultra-pedantic ballast.

The difference with respect to Marx:

In Marx there is a mass of new material,

and what interests him is only the move-

ment forward from Hegel and Feuer-

bach further, from idealistic to mate-

rialistic dialectics. In Lassalle there is

a rehash of Hegel on the particular theme

selected: essentially transcribing from He-

gel with respect to quotations from Hera-

clitus and about Heraclitus.

Lassafle divided his work into two parts:

“General Part. Introduction” (Vol. I,

pp. 1-68), and “Historical Part. Fragments

and Evidence” (the remainder). Chapter III

in the general part: “Short Logical

Development of the System of Heraclitus”

(pp. 45-68)—gives the quintessence of

the method, of Lassalle’s conclusions. This

chapter is sheer plagiarism, slavish repe-

tition of Hegel concerning Heraclitus! Here

too (and still more in the historical part)

there is a mass of erudition, but it is eru-

dition of the lowest kind: the exercise set

was to seek out the Hegelian element in

Heraclitus. The Strebsamer[4] pupil per-

forms it “brilliantly,” reading through

everything about Heraclitus in all the

ancient (and modern) authors, and putting

a Hegelian construction on everything.

Marx in 1844-47 went from Hegel to

Feuerbach, and further beyond Feuer-

bach to historical (and dialectical) mate-

rialism. Lassalle in 1846 began (Preface,

p. III), in 1855 resumed, and in August

1857 (Preface, p. XV) finished a work of

sheer, empty, useless, “learned” rehash-

ing of Hegelianism!!

Some chapters of the second part are

interesting and not without use solely for

the translations of fragments from Her-

aclitus and for the popularisation of He-

gel, but that does not do away with all

the above-mentioned defects.

The philosophy of the ancients and of

Heraclitus is often quite delightful in its

childish naïveté, e.g., p. 162—“how is it

to be explained that the urine of persons

who have eaten garlic[5] smells of garlic?”

and the answer:

“is it not that, as some of the fol-

lowers of Heraclitus say, one and the

same fiery process of transformation

takes place both in the universe and

in (organic) bodies, and then after

cooling appears there (in the universe)

as moisture, and here takes the form

of urine, but the transformation

(άνδανμίδσις[6]) from the food causes

the smell of that from which it has

arisen by mixing with it?...” (162-163)

On p. 221 ff.[7] Lassalle quotes Plu-

tarch, who says with regard to Heraclitus:

“in the same way as everything is created

by transformation out of fire, so also fire

out of everything, just as we obtain things
Heraclitus on

gold and

for gold and gold for things....” In this connection, Lassalle writes about

value (Wert) (p. 223 N B) |and about Function des Geldes|[8], expounding it

in the Hegelian manner (as “separated

abstract unity”) and adding: ...“that this

unity, money, is not something actual, but

something merely ideal (Lassalle’s italics)

is evident from the fact,” etc.



(But all the same NB that this was

written in a book that appeared in 1858,

the preface being dated August 1857.)

In note 3 on p. 224 (pp. 224-225) Las-

salle speaks in still greater detail about

money, saying that Heraclitus was no “po-

litical economist,” that money is ((only(??)))

a Wertzeichen,[9] etc., etc. (“all money is

merely the ideal unity or expression of

value of all real products in circulation”)

(224), etc.
Since Lassalle here speaks vaguely

of moderne Entdeckungen auf diesem

Gebiet[10]—the theory of value and

money, it can be assumed that he has precisely in mind conversations with Marx and letters from him.

On pp. 225-228. Lassalle reproduces

a long passage from Plutarch, proving

further (convincingly) that it is indeed

Heraclitus who is referred to, and that Plu-

tarch here expounds “the basic features

of the speculative theology of Heraclitus”

(p. 228).

The passage is a good one: it conveys

the spirit of Greek philosophy, the na-

ïveté, profundity, the flowing transitions.
Lassalle reads into Heraclitus even

a whole system of theology and “objec-

tive logic” (sic!!), etc.—in short, Hegel

“apropos of” Heraclitus!!

An infinite number of times (truly

wearisomely) Lassalle emphasises and

rehashes the idea that Heraclitus not only

recognises motion in everything, that his

principle is motion or becoming (Wer-

den), but that the whole point lies in

understanding “the processing identity of

absolute (schlechthin) opposites” (p. 289

and many others); Lassalle, so to speak, hammers into the reader’s head

the Hegelian thought that in abstract con-

cepts (and in the system of them) the

principle of motion cannot be expressed

otherwise than as the principle of the

identity of opposites. Motion and

Werden, generally speaking, can be with-

out repetition, without return to the

point of departure, and then such

motion would not be an “identity of

opposites.” But astronomical and me-

chanical (terrestrial) motion, and the

life of plants, animals and man—all this

has hammered into the heads of man-

kind not merely the idea of motion,

but motion precisely with a return to

the point of departure, i.e., dialectical

This is naïvely and delightfully expressed

in the famous formula (or aphorism)

of Heraclitus: “it is impossible to bathe

twice in the same river”—actually, how-

ever (as had already been said by Cratylus,

a disciple of Heraclitus), it cannot be done

even once (for before the whole body has

entered the water, the latter is already

not the same as before).

(NB:) This Cratylus reduced Heraclitus’

dialectics to sophistry, pp. 294-295 and

many others, by saying: nothing is true,

nothing can be said about anything. A neg-

ative (and merely negative) conclusion

from dialectics. Heraclitus, on the other

hand, had the principle: “everything is true,”

there is (a part of) truth in everything. Cra-

tylus merely “wagged his finger” in answer to

everything, thereby showing that everything

moves, that nothing can be said of anything.
Lassalle in this work has no

sense of moderation, absolutelydrowning Heraclitus in He-gel. It is a pity. Heraclitus inmoderation, as one of the

founders of dialectics, would be

extremely useful: the 850 pages

of Lassalle should be compressed

into 85 pages of quintessence and

translated into Russian: “Hera-

clitus as one of the founders of dia-

lectics (according to Lassalle).”

Something useful could result!
The basic law of the world, according

to Heraclitus (λόγος,[11] sometimes είμαρ-

μένη[12]), is “the law of transformation into

the opposite” (p. 327) (= ένγντιοτροπή,

έναντιοδρομία). Lassalle expounded the meaning of είμαρμένη as the “law of development” (p. 333), quoting, inter alia, the words of Nemesius: “Democritus, Her- aclitus and Epicurus assume that neither for the universal nor for the particular

does foresight exist” (ibidem).
And the words of Heraclitus: “The world

was created by none of the Gods or men,

but is eternally living fire and will al-

ways be so” (ibidem).

It is strange that, in rehashing the

religious philosophy of Heraclitus, Las-

salle does not once quote or mention

Feuerbach! What was Lassalle’s atti-

tude in general to Feuerbach? That

of an idealist Hegelian?

Hence Philo said of Heraclitus’ doctrine,

...“that it” (die Lehre[13]), “like that

of the Stoics, derives everything from

the world, and brings it into the

world, but does not believe that any-

thing came from God.” (334) An exam-


ple of “touching up” as Hegelian:

Lassalle translates the famous passage

of Heraclitus (according to Stobaeus) on

“Das Eine Weise”[14] (έν σοφόν) as follows:
“However many discourses I have

heard, no one has succeeded in recog-

nising that the wise is that which

is separated from all (i.e., from all

that exists)” (344)

—considering that the words “beast

or god” are an insertion, and rejecting

the translations of Ritter (“wisdom

is remote from all”) (344) and Schleier-

macher “the wise is separated from

all,” in the sense of “cognition” dis-

tinct from the knowledge of partic-


According to Lassalle the meaning

of this passage is as follows:

that “the absolute (the wise) is alien

to all sensuous determinate being, that

it is the negative” (349)—i.e., Nega-

tive = the principle of negation, the

principle of motion. A clear misrep-

resentation as Hegelian! Reading He-

gel into Heraclitus.
A mass of details on the (exter-

nal) connection between Heracli-

tus and Persian theology, Ormazd-

Ahriman,[15] and the theory of mag-

ic, etc., etc., etc.
Heraclitus said: “time is a body” (p.

358)... this, Lassalle says, is in the sense

of the unity of being and nothing. Time

is the pure unity of Being and not-Be-

ing, etc.!

Fire for Heraclitus, it is said = the

principle of motion |and not simply fire|,

something similar is fire in the teaching

of Persian philosophy (and religion)! (362)

If Heraclitus was the first to use the

term λόγος (“word”) in the objective sense

(law), this, too, is said to be taken from

the Persian religion.... (364)

— A quotation from the Zend-Avesta.[16]


In § 17 on the relation between Δίχη[17]

and είμαρμένη, Lassalle interprets these

ideas of Heraclitus in the sense of “ne-

cessity,” “connection.” (376)
NB: “the bond of all things” (δεσός

άπάντων) (p. 379)

Plato (in the Theaetetus) is al-

leged to express the Heraclitean philosophy

when he says:

“Necessity binds together the essential-

ity of Being....”

“Heraclitus is ... the source of the con-

ception, common among the Stoics, that

είμαρμένη rerum omnium necessitas,[18] ex-

presses bond and ligation, illigatio....” (376)


“I, however, call fate what the Greeks

call είμαρμένη, i.e., the order and sequence

of causes, when one cause linked with

another produces the phenomenon out of

itself” (p. 377).
Thousands of years have passed

since the time when the idea was

born of “the connection of all

things,” “the chain of causes.” A

comparison of how these causes

have been understood in the his-

tory of human thought would give

an indisputably conclusive theory

of knowledge.
Volume II.

Speaking of “fire,” Lassalle proves,

by repeating himself a thousand times over,

that this is a “principle” for Heraclitus.

He insists especially on the idealism of

Heraclitus (p. 2 5—that the principle of

development, des Werdens,[19] in Heracli-

tus is logisch-präexistent,[20] that his phi-

losophy = Idealphilosophie.[21] Sic!!)

(p. 25).

((Squeezing into Hegelian!))

Heraclitus accepted “pure and absolute-

ly immaterial fire” (p. 28 Timaeus, on


On p. 56 (Vol. II) Lassalle introduces
a quotation |from Clemens Al.,[22] Stro-

mata V; Chapter 14| about Heraclitus,

which, translated literally, reads:
“The world, an entity out of everything,

was created by none of the gods or men,

but was, is and will be eternally living

fire, regularly becoming ignited and reg-

ularly becoming extinguished....”
A very good exposition of the principles

of dialectical materialism. But on p. 58

Lassalle provides the following “freie Über-

setzung”[23] of this passage:

“The world — — was, is and will be con-

tinuous becoming, being constantly, but in

varying measure, transformed from Being

into (proceeding) not-Being, and from the

latter into (proceeding) Being.”

An excellent example how Lassalle

verballhornt[24] Heraclitus, representing

him as Hegelian, spoiling the liveliness,

freshness, naïveté and historical integ-

rity of Heraclitus by misrepresenting

him as Hegelian (and in order to achieve

this misrepresentation Lassalle presents

a rehash of Hegel for dozens of pages).

The second section of the second part

(“Physics,” pp. 1 - 262!!!, Vol. II) is ab-

solutely intolerable. A farthingsworth of

Heraclitus, and a shillingsworth of

rehash of Hegel and of misrepresentation.

One can only leaf through the pages—in

order to say that it should not be read! From Section III (“The Doctrine of Cog- nition”) a quotation from Philo:

“For the One is that which consists of

two opposites, so that when cut into two

the opposites are revealed. Is not this the

proposition which the Greeks say their

great and famous Heraclitus placed at the

head of his philosophy and gloried in as

a new discovery....” ((265))
And the following quotation also from


...“In the same way, too, the parts of

the world are divided into two and mutual-

ly counterposed: the earth—into moun-
tains and plains, water—into fresh and

salt.... In the same way, too, the atmos-

phere into winter and summer, and like-
wise spring and autumn. And this served

Heraclitus as the material for his books

on nature: borrowing from our theologian
the aphorism about opposites, he added
to it innumerable and laboriously worked-

out examples (Belege)” (p. 267).

According to Heraclitus the criterion

of truth is not the consensus omnium, not

the agreement of all (p. 285)—in that case

he would be a subjectiver Empiriker[25]

(p. 284). No, he is an objectiver Idealist[26](285). For him, the criterion of truth,

independent of the subjective opinion of

all men, is agreement with the ideal law

of the identity of Being and not-Being

Cf. Marx 1845

in his theses on

Feuerbach![27]Lassalle is here

Here it is clear-

ly seen that Lassal-

le is a Hegelian of

the old type, an

On p. 337, quoting, inter alia, Büch-

ner (note 1), Lassalle says that Her-

aclitus expressed a priori “the very

same thought” as “modern physiology”

(“thought is a movement of matter”).
An obvious exaggeration. In the

quotations about Heraclitus it is

merely said that the soul is also

a process of transformation—that

which moves is known by that which


A quotation from Chalcidius (in Ti-


...“Heraclitus, however, links our rea-

son with the divine reason that guides

and rules the world, and says that, on

account of inseparable accompaniment, it,

too, possesses knowledge of the governing

decree of reason and, when the mind rests

from the activity of the senses, it predicts

the future” (p. 342).

From Clemens (Stromata V.):

...“owing to its incredibility it—namely,

the truth—escapes from becoming cog-

nised....” (347)

Heraclitus, Lassalle says, is “the father

of objective logic” (p. 351), for in him

“natural philosophy” umschlägt[28] into the

philosophy of thought, “thought is recognised

as the principle of existence” (350), etc., etc.

à la Hegel.... The moment of subjectivity

is said to be lacking in Heraclitus....
§ 36. “Plato’s Cratylus”,[29]pp. 373-396
In the § on “Cratylus,” Lassalle proves

that in this dialogue of Plato’s Cratylus is represented (not yet as a sophist and subjectivist as he subsequently became, but) as a true disciple of Heraclitus, who really expounded his, Heraclitus’, theory of the essence and origin of words and language as an imitation of nature (“imitation of the essence of things,” p. 388), the essence of things, “the imitation and copy of God,” “imitation of God and the universe” (ibidem).

Ergo:T h e h i s t o r y o f p h i l o s o p h y






” ” the separate sciences

” ” the mental development

of the child

” ” the mental development

of animals

” ” l a n g u a g e NB:

+ psychology

+ physiology

of the sense

o r g a n s

these are

the fields of


from which

the theory

of knowl-

edge and


should be

kurz,[30] the

history of


in general

the whole

field of

...“We have shown—says Lassalle—that

the” (above-mentioned) “conceptual iden-

tity (precisely identity, and not merely

analogy) between word, name and law is

in every respect a principled view of the

Heraclitean philosophy and of fundamental

importance and significance in it....” (393)
...“Names are for him” (Heraclitus) “laws

of being, they are for him the common

element of things, just as for him laws

are the ‘common element of all’”.... (394)

And it is precisely Heraclilean ideas

that Hippocrates expresses when he


“Names are the laws of nature.”



“For both laws and names are for the

Ephesian ... equally merely products and

realisations of the universal, both are for

him the achieved, purely universal, ideal

being, freed from the stain of sensuous

reality....” (394)

Plato analyses and refutes the philos-

ophy of Heraclitus in his “Cratylus

and “Theaetetus,” and in so doing

(especially in the latter) he confuses Heracli-

tus (the objective idealist and dialectician)

with the subjective idealist and sophist

Protagoras (man is the measure of all

things). And Lassalle proves that in the

development of ideas there has actually

stemmed from Heraclitus 1) sophistry (Pro-

tagoras) and 2) Platonism, the “ideas”

(objective idealism).
One gets the impression that Las-

salle, the idealist, left in the shade

the materialism or materialistic

tendencies of Heraclitus, misrepre-

senting him as Hegelian.

(IV. Ethik, pp. 427-462.)

In the section on ethics—nil.

On pp. 458-459 Lassalle writes that Ne-

mesios said that Heraclitus and Demo-

critus denied prevision (προνοίαν), whereas

Cicero (De Fato) said that Heraclitus, as

also Democritus and others (including Aris-

totle), recognised fatum—necessity.

...“This fatum is intended to signify only

the immanent natural necessity belonging

to the object, its natural law....” (459)


in Lassalle
(The Stoics, according to Lassalle, took

everything from Heraclitus, making

him banal and one-sided, p. 461.)
The index to Lassalle’s book is

compiled in a learned, pedantic

manner, but senselessly; a heap of

names of the ancients, etc., etc.

In general, ΣΣ,[32] Marx’s judgment is

correct, Lassalle’s book is not worth read-

  1. Hegel, Werke, Bd. XIII, Berlin, 1833.—Ed.
  2. Reference is being made to the conspectus of Hegel’s work Lectures on the History Of Philosophy, in which Lenin makes this quotation. (See p. 259 of this volume.)—Ed.
  3. Lenin is referring to a letter from Marx to Engels dated February 1, 1858 (see Marx and Engels, Selected Correspondence, Moscow, 1955, pp. 121-123).
  4. industrious—Ed.
  5. V. I. Lenin wrote the word “garlic” above the word “Knoblauch.”—Ed.
  6. evaporation—Ed.
  7. et. seq.—Ed.
  8. function of money—Ed.
  9. token of value—Ed.
  10. modern discoveries in this field—Ed.
  11. logos—Ed.
  12. necessity—Ed.
  13. the doctrine—Ed.
  14. the One Wise”—Ed.
  15. Ahriman—the Greek name for the ancient Persian God personifying the source of evil, an eternal and irreconcilable enemy of his brother Ormazd, the Good Spirit.
  16. Zend-Avesta—the designation for the ancient Persian religious books expounding the Zoroastrian religion founded, according to legend, by the prophet Zarathustra (Zoroaster).
  17. justice—Ed.
  18. necessity of all things—Ed.
  19. of becoming—Ed.
  20. logically pre-existent—Ed.
  21. idealistic philosophyEd.
  22. Clement of Alexandria—Ed.
  23. free translation—Ed.
  24. corrects (ironic)—Ed.
  25. subjective empiricist—Ed.
  26. objective idealistEd.
  27. Lenin is referring to Theses on Feuerbach by Marx written in 1845 (see Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. II, Moscow, 1958, pp. 403-405).
  28. is transformed—Ed.
  29. Cratylus—Plato’s dialogue, directed against the Sophists.
  30. briefly—Ed.
  31. natural necessity—Ed.
  32. summa summarum—Ed.