A Comparison Between Heraclitus' Logos and Lao-Tzu's Tao

  • Elena Butti


This paper explores a comparison between Heraclitus’ notion of Logos and Lao-Tzu’s notion of Tao(Dao). Since such comparison is not void of controversy, because of the spatial and cultural distance between the authors and the fragmentary nature of the texts of both authors, a cautious approach is needed, which makes use of multiple translations of the originals and engages in a meticulous textual analysis. Recurrent images used by both authors (the river, the opposition of contraries, the bow and others) suggest a seemingly similar structure in the metaphysical theory of the two authors. First, an analysis of Heraclitus’ Logos and, secondly, one of Lao-Tzu’s Tao will be provided. Four aspects will be looked at in both analyses: the notion of the Principle (common name I will use for Logos and Tao); the contrasting opposites which constitute it; the harmony which underlines it; and, finally, the depth which characterizes it. While this analysis is primarily metaphysical, connections will be drawn to the epistemological and ethical claims of both philosophers. This analysis will reveal that both authors seem to identify a dual structure of reality, comprising an inner, fundamental layer, and a superficial, manifest one. Time and space constraints will limit the scope of this inquiry to the fundamental core layer, only marginally referring to its superficial manifestations.