Anaxagoras 500428 BCE

Anaxagoras was a Greek philosopher of Clazomenae in Asia Minor, born about 500 BCE. Aristotle describes him to have been older than Empedocles, but to come 'after him in his works'. It is not clear whether this means that he wrote later than Empedocles or that he was inferior to him in his achievements. From a noble family, but wishing to devote himself entirely to science, he gave up his property to his relatives, and removed to Athens, where he lived in intimacy with Pericles. Shortly before the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War he was charged by the political opponents of Pericles with impiety, that is, with denying the gods recognized by the State. Though acquitted through his friend's influence, he felt compelled to emigrate to Lampsacus, where he died soon after, aged seventy-two. He not only had the honor of giving philosophy a home at Athens, where it flourished for a thousand years, but he was the first philosopher who introduced a spiritual principle which gives matter life and form. He laid down his doctrine in a prose work, "On Nature," written in the Ionic dialect, of which only fragments are preserved.

Like Empedocles, he started from the Parmenidean account of 'what is'. Also like Empedocles, Anaxagoras postulated a plurality of independent elements which he called 'seeds'. They are the ultimate elements of combination and are indivisible, imperishable primordia of infinite number, and differing in shape, color, and taste. Later writers referred to the seeds as omoiomereia (from an expression of Aristotle), meaning particles of like kind with each other and with the whole that is made up of them. They were not, however, the 'four roots', fire, air, earth, and water; on the contrary, these were compounds. Empedocles had supposed that bone, for instance, could be explained as a compound of the elements in a certain proportion, but this did not satisfy Anaxagoras. He pointed out that from bread and water arose hair, veins, 'arteries', flesh, muscles, bones, and the rest, and he asked 'How can hair be made of what is not hair, and flesh of what is not flesh?' (fr. 10). These words read like a direct criticism of Empedocles.

Anaxagoras had been an adherent of 'the philosophy of Anaximines', and he kept as close to it as he could in the details of his cosmology. He could not say that everything was 'air' more or less rarefied or condense, for that view had been destroyed by Parmenides. If the world was to be explained at all, an original plurality must be admitted. He therefore substituted for the primary 'air' a state of the world in which 'all things were together, infinite both in quantity and in smallness' (fr. 1). This is explained to mean that the original mass was infinitely divisible, but that, however far division was carried, every part of it would still contain all 'things', and would in that respect be just like the whole. That is the very opposite of the doctrine of 'elements', which seems to be expressly denied by the dictum that 'the things that are in one world are not separated from one another or cut off with a hatchet' (fr. 8). Everything has 'portions' of everything else in it.

But if that were all, we should be no nearer an explanation of the world than before; for there would be nothing to distinguish one 'seed' from another. The answer to this is that, though each thing has a 'portion' of everything in it, however minutely it may be divided, some have more of one thing and others more of another. This was to be seen already in the original undifferentiated mass where 'all things were together'; for there the portions of air and 'aether' (by which words Anaxagoras means fire) were far more numerous than the others, and therefore the whole had the appearance of air and 'aether'. Anaxagoras could not say it actually was air, as Anaximenes had done, because he had discovered for himself or learned from Empedocles the separate corporeal existence of atmospheric air. We have some references to the experiments by which he demonstrated this. He used inflated skins for the purpose. The effort to depart as little as possible from the doctrine of Anaximenes is nevertheless apparent.

We see, then, that the differences which exist in the world as we know it are to be explained by the varying proportions in which the portions are mingled. 'Everything is called that of which it has most in it', though, as a matter of fact, it has everything in it. Snow, for instance, is black as well as white, but we call it white because the white so far exceeds the black. As was natural, the 'things' Anaxagoras chiefly thought of as contained in each 'seed' were the traditional opposites, hot and cold, wet and dry, and so forth. It is of these he is expressly speaking when he says that 'the things in one world are not cut off from one another with a hatchet' (fr. 8). Empedocles had made each of these four opposites a 'root' by itself; each of the 'seeds' of Anaxagoras contains them all. In this way he thought he could explain nutrition and growth; for it is clear that the product of a number of 'seeds' might present quite a different proportion of the opposites than any one of them if they were taken severally.

The other problem, that of the source of motion, still remains. How are we to pass from the state of the world when all things were together to the manifold reality we know? Like Empedocles, Anaxagoras looked to the microcosm for a suggestion as to the source of motion, but he found one such source sufficient for his purpose. He called it Mind (nous) -- pure, passionless reason. It is the source of motion as well as of knowledge in us. He did not, however, succeed in forming the conception of an incorporeal force. Mind, as the cause of motion, is a sort of 'fluid'. It is 'the thinnest of all things' (fr. 12), and, above all, it is 'unmixed', that is to say, it has no portions of other things in it, and this is what gives it the 'mastery', that is, the power both of knowing and of moving other things. Further, it enters into some things and not into others, and that explains the distinction between the animate and the inanimate. At first the seeds lay mingled without order; but nous set the unarranged matter into motion, and thereby created out of chaos an orderly world. The way in which it separates and orders things is by producing a rotatory motion, which begins at the center and spreads further and further. That is really all Anaxagoras had to say about it. Like a true Ionian he tried to give a mechanical explanation of everything he could, and, when once he had got the rotatory motion started, he could leave that to order the rest of the world.

Though Empedocles had distinguished Love and Strife as the causes of mixture and separation from the four elements which are mixed and separated, he continued to call them all 'gods' in the sense with which we are now familiar, and he gave the name also to the Sphere in which they were all mixed together. Anaxagoras seems to have taken the stop of calling only the source of motion 'god'. In that sense and to that extent it is not incorrect to call him the founder of theism. On the other hand, it seems to have been precisely for this that his contemporaries called him an atheist. In his desire to exalt Nous, he seems to have followed the lead of Xenophanes in denying the divinity of everything else, and his statements about the sun and the moon are usually mentioned in connection with the charge of irreligion brought against him, though we cannot tell now what that referred to, or whether the charge was well founded or not. We can only say that Pericles shared

Anaxagoras (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

the secular spirit of the Ionians, and it is quite conceivable that his immediate circle may have offended the religious susceptibilities of old-fashioned Athenians by ridiculing ceremonies which were still sacred in their eyes.

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