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On misunderstanding Heraclitus: The justice of organisation structure

On misunderstanding Heraclitus: The justice of organisation structure

Shaw, David ORCID: 0000-0002-8247-6162 (2018) On misunderstanding Heraclitus: The justice of organisation structure. Philosophy of Management, 18 (2). pp. 157-167. ISSN 1740-3812 (Print), 2052-9597 (Online) (doi:

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Writers on organisational change often refer to the cosmology of Heraclitus in their work. Some use these references to support arguments for the constancy and universality of organisational change and the consignment to history of organisational continuity and stability. These writers misunderstand the scope of what Heraclitus said. Other writers focus exclusively on the idea that originated with Heraclitus that the universe is composed of processes and not of things. This idea, which has been particularly associated with Heraclitus’s thought from the time of Plato, does indeed provide a rich source of insights into organisational analysis, not least the current trends towards giving proper attention to processual studies of organisational change. Yet there is some uncertainty as to whether Heraclitus actually said that the universe was composed exclusively of processes rather than things, and even if that was what he thought, he intended his ideas on flux to be understood not in isolation but in the context of other aspects of his cosmology. Writers on organisational change seldom make reference to this wider context.

Heraclitus was a rational but also a religious thinker. A central element in his thought was the notion of divine Justice, which to a Greek of his era meant the order of the universe. Remote as his Olympian theology may seem today, it sets a crucial and entirely rational context for understanding his ideas about flux. It means that ideas about continuity and stability were quite as important in Heraclitus’s cosmology as his more commonly quoted ideas about change. This paper sets out an overview of Heraclitus’s philosophy, insofar as it appears to have potential relevance to organisational analysis, and discusses how far it supports or contradicts the ideas that organisational change scholars have drawn from it.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: © The Author(s) 2018. Open Access. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.
Uncontrolled Keywords: flux, organisational change, organisation structure, dualities
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
Faculty / School / Research Centre / Research Group: Faculty of Business
Faculty of Business > Department of Human Resources & Organisational Behaviour
Last Modified: 01 Aug 2019 09:03

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