THE PRESOCRATICS IN SEQUENCE by Wayne R, Dynes
1. The Presocratic thinkers rank as the first philosophers in the Western tradition. In my admittedly eccentric view, they remain the best. This piece is meant to give some justification of this claim, which seems counterintuitive.
2. Their writings survive only in fragments, patiently gathered by modern scholars over the last 200 years.
To the dogged German philologist Hermann Diels belongs the merit for launching the standard work in this field. This work, entitled Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker (The Fragments of the Presocratics), remains an essential reference. It was first published in 1903, was later revised and expanded three times by Diels, and was finally revised in a 5th edition (1934–37) by Walther Kranz, and again in a sixth edition (1952). It consists of three volumes that present, for each of the Presocratics, both quotations from their (now mostly lost) works transmitted by later writers, and secondary-source material. Despite some criticisms that have occurred over the years, this 3-volume work ranks as a stupendous accomplishment of precise German scholarship.
Based on Diels' enumeration of the fragments, the testimonia in the collection are known as the "A-fragments,", The “B-Fragments” are the texts regarded as the actual words of the individual thinker. The third category, the C-fragments, represents “imitations.” Diels' method of labeling the fragments remains the standard way of referring to the works of the Presocratics.
On its first publication, this 3-volume work was hailed as a stupendous accomplishment of precise German scholarship. This remains the case, despite some criticisms that have accumulated over the years. For example, there is some controversy among scholars over the details of his arrangement of the fragments. That is, some fragments Diels categorized as quotations are thought by some scholars to be in reality only paraphrases or explanations of the Presocratic work in question. Moreover, the work does not include texts discovered since its publication, such as fragments from the Strasbourg papyrus (published in 1998), which preserves for us pieces of philosophical poetry never before known in modern times.
While there are more or less complete translations of Diels-Kranz into French and Italian, there is still no integral English-language version Recently, Daniel W, Graham has issued a 2-volume set comprising the fragments of the main thinkers in the original languages and English, but without the supporting erudition of Diels-Kranz: The Texts of Early Greek Philosophy: The Complete Fragments and Selected Testimonies of the Major Presocratics, 2 vols., Cambridge, 2010.
Since the late 1990s, there has been a groundswell of publications on the Presocratic thinkers. There are several new syntheses, of which the weightiest is probably Richard D. McKirahan, Philosophy Before Socrates: An Introduction with Texts and Commentary, second ed., Indianapolis, 2010. There are also important essay collections: A. A. Long, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Early Greek Philosophy, Cambridge, 1999; and Patricia Curd and Daniel W,. Graham, The Oxford Handbook of Presocratic Philosophy, Oxford and New York, 2008.
There have been several painstaking efforts to produce improved versions of the D-K. texts. Of these perhaps the most outstanding is A, H, Coxon, The Fragments of Parmenides,second ed., Las Vegas, 2009. Work on Parmenides has been particularly active. There is even a special institution, Parmenides Publishing, headquartered in Las Vegas, that serves as a clearing house.
In the Phoenix Series, the Toronto University Press has published new, accessible monographs on the major thinkers by several authors. So far these have included Democritus (with Leucippus), Empedocles, Heraclitus, Parmenides, and Xenophanes.
3. In the light of this vigorous activity, what need is there for the present account? I believe that it is still possible to advance the discussion is significant ways.
The consensus is that there are two towering figures - superstars if you will - Heraclitus and Parmenides. They are commonly thought to be diametrically opposed. Heraclitus held that the world was in constant flux, demonstrating an endless mutation of one state into another. Even the polarity of opposites, which would seem to offer some security in the hurly burly, the turmoil and dint of change, that surrounds us, was annulled by the principle of the unity of opposites. By contrast, Parmenides saw only perfect stability, viewing change as a mere illusion. Focusing on change was simply the product of a misguided journey down the path of false opinion.
My contention is that these figures are not as different as commonly thought. Heraclitus did indeed emphasize transience as an inescapable condition of our situation in the universe. At the same time, though, it is possible to detect glimmers of a permanent order underlying the flux. In his own way, Parmenides did not stress that permanence is the only thing that mattered, for there is a dialectical interaction between stability, on the one hand, and change, on the other. Change, however subordinate it must be in the overall scheme of things, is nonetheless something that must be dealt with, as he illustrated in the last major section of his poem.
4. At all events, working with this beguiling, but fragmentary material poses a serious challenge. But there is a also a benefit: the appeal of DIY or do it yourself: the challenge of creating one’s own ensemble from the fragmentary and scattered materials that have come down to us.
5. When did the Presocratics flourish? The most general answer is that they began to thrive in archaic Greece (ca. 600-480 BCE), extending for a time into the succeeding classical era (ca. 480-400), when they eventually yielded to Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.
It is generally agreed that Thales of MIletus, who is thought to have lived from ca. 624 to 546 BCE, is the earliest Presocratic thinker. (All dates are approximate, though fairly well established in terms of sequence). Thales was succeeded by two younger Milesian colleagues, Anaximander (ca. 610-546) and Anaximenes (ca. 585-525). Pythagoras, a somewhat shadowy figure, may be placed at ca. 580-ca. 500. Xenophanes of Colophon lived ca. 570-480.
The bold innovator Heraclitus of Ephesus belonged to a new generation, living from ca. 535 to 475. Parmenides of Elea (ca. 515-450) was probably even bolder.
Zeno (ca. 490-ca. 430) was the pupil of Parmenides. Melissus, though born on Samos ca. 500 (death date unknown), ranks as the third Eleatic thinker.
Empedocles came from Akragas (ca. 492-432)
A new new note was introduced by Anaxagoras of Clazomenae (ca. 500 – 428).
Something of an outlier, chronologically speaking, was Democritus of Abdera (ca. 450-370).
Socrates, thought to have ended the Presocratic era, lived from ca. 470 to 399.
Examined more broadly, the Presocratic thinkers fall into four groups. First, came the early PIONEERS (the Milesians Pythagoras, and Xenophanes). Then there were the two great INNOVATORS, Heraclitus and Parmenides. After them came the CONSOLIDATORS (Zeno, Empedocles, Anaxagoras and a few lesser lights). Finally, there was the CONCLUDER, Democritus, noted for his thorough exposition of the atomic theory.
Not included in this list are the Sophists. Although there has been a revival of interest in them in recent years, in my view they do not rank either with the Presocratics or with the classical triumvirate of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.
The larger historical context is this. There were two major phases of Greek colonization in the Mediterranean world, one in the early eighth century BCE, followed by a second burst of the colonizing spirit in the sixth century. Population growth and cramped spaces at home played a considerable role, accompanied by the the competitive spirit animating the frequently kingless, newly introduced model of the Greek city-states. Through this Greek expansion the use of coins spread throughout the Mediterranean world. While the connection with colonization, especially in its second phase is clear, attempts to link the Presocratic thinkers with the emergence of coinage have not not been generally successful. Still, the the record shows that Thales was personally concerned with economic matters as seen in his successful effort to gain control of the winepresses in Miletus.
Another contextual factor is the rise of institutionalized pederasty, which in the view of William Percy arose about the time of Thales, the first Presocratic. Several of the leading Presocratic thinkers were involved in pederastic relationships, as noted below.
6. Where did they come from? Ionia, with the Greek cities in Asia Minor, what is now the Western coast of Turkey was extraordinarily productive. Miletus provided the earliest thinker, Thales, as well as his successors Anaximander and Anaximenes. Ephesus was the hometown of Heraclitus, while Colophon produced Xenophanes.
Moving westward, the island of Samos just off the coast of Asia Minor was the homeland of Pythagoras (though his existence remains shadowy) and Melissus.
Finally, the Greek colonies of southern Italy and Sicily were important: Elea in lower Italy, with Parmenides and Zeno; Akragas in Sicily, with Empedocles; and Croton in southern Italy, with Philolaus.
Only with the chronological outlier Democritus (a native of Abdera) does continental Greece become significant. Of course with Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, Greece in the narrow geographical sense of the peninsula projecting from the European landmass, become dominant. The general pattern then is initial concentration on the two extremes, the Greek colonies on the coast of Anatolia and those of Sicily and southern Italy. Did their status as settler societies foster innovation?
And what about the possible role of Eastern thought (Babylonian and Persian) on the Ionian cities? It is possible, for example, that Heraclitus’ emphasis on fire reflects Zoroastrian thought. Yet such links remain speculative.
7. While such Presocratics as Heraclitus were fiercely independent, some were linked in successor groups. Clearly this is the case with the three Milesians, Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes. Somewhat less certain is the role ascribed to Xenophanes in forming the Eleatic school, distinguished by Parmenides, Zeno, and Melissus.
There were also lover pairs, such as Parmenides and Zeno. In his youth Zeno had been the eromenos of Parmenides. Later, as a mature philosopher he faithfully sought to bolster the arguments of his lover with his famous paradoxes. Empedocles had a less prominent lover, a certain Pausanias, about which little is known. For his part, Empedocles is known to have discouraged heterosexual copulation, because it tended to disturb the ideal balance of love and strife, the two forces that ruled his universe. Tacitly, he approved of homosexual unions, for he formed at least one.
8. Among the Milesian pioneers there was emphasis on cosmology, a concern that left a lasting effect. Some see in it the remote origins of modern science.
They also illustrated what has been termed Material Monism. Thales thought that water was the primal element, while Anaximenes assigned that role to air. Eventually this exclusivity yield to Empedocles’ quaternion of earth, air, fire, and water. The Milesian-Empedocles contrast reflects the duality between oneness and multiplicity, a puzzle only ultimately solved by the atomism of Democritus.
9. Xenophanes of Colophon was a kind of pro-hippie poet and philosopher who roamed about the Greek lands. He is best remembered for his iconoclastic views of the gods.
His surviving writings display a skepticism that became more common during the fourth century. Xenophanes mocked traditional religious views of his time as human projections. He directed his critique at the polytheistic religious views of earlier Greek poets and of his own contemporaries: "Homer and Hesiod," one fragment states, "have attributed to the gods all sorts of things that are matters of reproach and censure among men: theft, adultery, and mutual deception."
Xenophanes is also quoted as arguing against the conception of gods as fundamentally anthropomorphic:
“But if cattle and horses and lions had hands
or could paint with their hands and create works such as men do,
horses like horses and cattle like cattle
also would depict the gods' shapes and make their bodies
of such a sort as the form they themselves have.
Ethiopians say that their gods are snub–nosed [σιμούς] and black, and Thracians say that they are pale and red-haired.” In this way he anticipated the cultural relativism of today’s discipline of anthropology.
Other passages take issue with the traditional Greek conception of gods. For example, "One god, greatest among gods and humans,
like mortals neither in form nor in thought;” and "But mortals think that the gods are born and have the mortals' own clothes and voice and form."
Xenophanes' theology suggests five key concepts about God” 1) God is beyond human morality; 2) does not resemble human form; 3) cannot die or be born (God is thus eternal): 4) no divine hierarchy exists; and 5) God does not intervene in human affairs. While Xenophanes rejected the traditional Homeric theology, he did not challenge the existence of a divine entity. Instead, his philosophy is a critique on Ancient Greek writers and their conception of divinity. There is also the concept of God being immanent within the universe, essentially controlling it, while at the same time being physically unconnected.
Xenophanes held that "God isone, supreme among gods and men, and not like mortals in body or in mind." He maintained there was one greatest God. God is one eternal being, spherical in form, comprehending all things within himself, is intelligent, and moves all things, but bears no resemblance to human nature either in body or mind. He is considered by some to be a precursor of Spinoza because of his espousal of the concept of a "one god greatest among gods and men," a being that is abstract, universal, unchanging, immobile and always present,
10. The witty, often paradoxical utterances of Heraclitus are both beguiling and frustrating. It is tempting to solve the problem by pronouncing the two-word formula: “everything flows” (panta rei). This simplification goes back to Plato (Cratylus 402a), who was not sympathetic to Heraclitus. Those two little words have echoed down the centuries, surviving even now as a kind of Twitter condensation of the Greek thinker’s message.
Plato and Aristotle charged that Heraclitus’ thought was confused and incoherent. For he held that (1) everything is constantly changing and (2) opposite things are identical, so that (3) everything is and is not at the same time. In this way, the principles of universal flux and the identity of opposites defy the dictates of the law of non-contradiction. Only in modern times have scholars been able to free themselves of these animadversions, recognizing the true grandeur of the thought of Heraclitus.
It is generally believed that Heraclitus wrote a single book which supplied the fragments available to us. According to Diels-Kranz there are 126 authentic fragments. In his edition Miroslav Marcovich recognizes 122. Recent papyrus discoveries have added some material, mostly duplications of items already known, In this discussion I use the traditional Diels-Kranz numbers for citation.
Throughout the surviving passages Heracliitus shows an unwavering self-confidence, bordering on arrogance and even megalomania. Although all human beings are immersed in the Process (or Logos), very few have the wit to understand or even recognize thieir situation. Heraclitus shows disdain for such predecessors as Hesiod, Pythagoras, and Xenocrates. In their ignorance they are scarcely better than the common herd. There are social consequences as well, as when he recommends that the adults of his naive Ephesus should simply hang themselves, so miserable is the mess they have made of the city’s affairs.
Heraclitus’ utterances about opposites rank among his most seminal and challenging observations First are contraries that stem from different points of view (perspectivism). For example, “[t[he sea is the purest and most polluted water; to fishes drinkable and bringing safety; to humans undrinkable and destructive.” (fr. 61) Or, “[t]he most beautiful of apes is ugly in comparison with the human race.” (fr. 82)
Then there are qualities that occur simultaneously. Of these, probably the most famous is “[t[he road up and the road down are one and the same.” (fr. 60)
And then qualities that necessary for each other. “Disease makes health pleasant and good, hunger does the same for satiety, weariness for rest.” (fr. 111)
Finally, the there is the transmutation of elements. “Fire lives the death of earth and air lives the death of fire, water lives the death of air, earth that of water,” (fr. 76)
The river sayings have occasioned much discussion. One version is this (rendered literally): “On those stepping into rivers staying the same other and other waters flow.” (fr. 22).
Properly interpreted, the sentence asserts that different waters flow in rivers that are themselves staying the same. In other words, though the waters are always changing, the rivers remain rivers. In fact, it must be precisely because the waters are always changing that there are rivers at all, rather than lakes or ponds. The import is that rivers can stay the same over time even though, or indeed because, the waters change. The point, then, is not that everything is changing, but that the fact that some things change makes possible the continued existence of other things. It may be then that, more generally, the change in elements or constituents supports the constancy of higher-level structures.
In the light of these passages, it may be argued that Heraclitus does not proclaim universal flux, a kind of unending hullaballoo, Instead he recognizes a lawlike process,
Heraclitus asserts the primacy of an everlasting Word or Logos, according to which all things are one in some sense. The Ephesian thinker is convinced that the cosmos exhibits a rational structure, and that this rational structure orders and controls the universe. The Logos is Heraclitus's physis, but only in the sense of a single principle informing all of nature. To understand the logos it is imperative to acknowledge that all things are unified in it. To be sure, the logos is not the material out of which everything else arose according to the pattern of Milesian monism, though it ranks as the origin of all things insofar as it controls the arrangement of all matter.
In fact, Heraclitus’ theory responded critically to the philosophy of his Ionian predecessors. The Milesian thinkers - Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes - held that some original material turns into all other things (material monism). The world as we know it is the orderly ensemble of different things emanating from the primary element. For the Milesians, the task of explaining the world and its phenomena required showing how everything came from the original stuff, such as Thales’ water or Anaximenes’ air.
Heraclitus seems to follow the Milesian example when he refers to the world as “everliving fire” (fr, 30) and makes statements such as “Thunderbolt steers all things,” alluding to the directive power of fire (fr. 64). But fire is a strange element to make the origin of all things, for it is the most inconstant and changeable. It is, indeed, a symbol of change and process. Heraclitus observes that “[a]ll things are an exchange for fire, and fire for all things, as goods for gold and gold for goods.” (fr. 90)
Ultimately, for Heraclitus fire may figure more importantly as a symbol than as an element. Fire is constantly changing, but so is everything else. We witness a never-ending sequence of transformations, the Logos in action. In this way Heraclitus anticipated the process of philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead and others, The world is not to be identified with any particular substance, but rather with an ongoing process governed by a law of change.
Heraclitus’ accomplishment was enormous. He ranks as the first Western philosopher to go beyond physical theory in search of the metaphysical foundations and moral assumptions that have come to form the basis for our thinking.
11. Parmenides is commonly viewed as the thinker who contradicted every aspect of our perception of the world by suggesting that change does not occur. “What are you going to believe: what I say or your own lying eyes?” This is an oversimplification, as will become apparent in what follows.
Parmenides was born of an illustrious family about 510 BCE, at Elea, a Greek colony in southern Italy, and ranks as the chief representative of the Eleatic philosophy. Reputedly he enjoyed the esteem by his fellow-citizens for his excellent legislation, to which they ascribed the town’s prosperity. He was also admired for his exemplary lifestyle.
Parmenides is sometimes regarded as a disciple of Xenophanes, though the connection seems tenuous. Seemingly, Parmenides wrote after Heraclitus, and in conscious opposition to him. This difference may be attested by an apparent allusion to Hericlitus: “for whom it is and is not, the same and not the same, and all things travel in opposite directions” (fr. 6, 8). According to Plato (in his dialogue “Parmenides”), he visited Athens in his sixty-fifth year, where he encouraged the youthful Socrates. The truth of this account has been doubted. Yet there can be no doubt that Parmenides influenced Plato’s theory of Forms.
Since Parmenides wrote in hexameter verse in a style recalling that of Hesiod and the Orphics, his writings are sometimes hard to interpret. His didactic poem On Nature survives in fragments, although the Proem (or introductory discourse) of the work has been largely preserved. Parmenides was a young man when he wrote it, for the anonymous goddess who reveals the truth to him addresses him as “youth.”
The theme of the Proem Parmenides’ ascent to the home of the goddess who is supposed to speak the remainder of the verses. This conceit reflects the conventional ascents into heaven which were almost as common as descents into hell in the apocalyptic literature of the time.
The Proem opens with Parmenides representing himself as borne on a chariot and attended by the Sun-maidens who have left the Halls of Night to guide him on his journey. They pass along until they reach the Gate of Night and Day, which is locked and barred. The key is in the keeping of Dike (Right), the Avenger, who is persuaded to unlock it by the Sun-maidens. They pass in through the gate and now bask in the realms of Day. The goal of the journey is the palace of a goddess who welcomes Parmenides and instructs him in the two ways, that of Truth (Aletheia) and the deceptive way of Opinion (Doxa). The implication is that Parmenides had been converted, passing from error (night) to truth (day), and the Two Ways must represent his former error and the truth which is now revealed to him.
It may be that the Way of Opinion distills Pythagorean cosmology. In any case, it is surely impossible to regard it as anything else than a description of some error. The goddess says so in words that cannot be explained away. Further, this erroneous belief is not the ordinary man’s view of the world, but an elaborate system, which seems to be a natural development the Ionian cosmology on certain lines. To this assertion it has been objected that Parmenides would not have taken the trouble to expound in detail a system he had altogether rejected, but that is to mistake the character of the apocalyptic convention. It is not Parmenides, but the goddess, who expounds the system, and it is for this reason that the beliefs described are said to be those of “mortals.”
At all events, there appears to be a mathematical background. To the mathematician it is the same thing that can be thought and that can be, and this is the principle from which Parmenides starts. It is impossible to think what is not, and it is impossible for what cannot be thought to be. The great question, Is it or is it not? is therefore equivalent to the question, Can it be thought or not?
With this premise, Parmenides’ poem has two divisions. The first characterizes the truth, and the second the world of illusion — that is, the world of the senses and the erroneous opinions of mankind founded upon them. In his opinion truth lies in the perception that existence is, and error in the idea that non-existence also can be. Nothing can have real existence but what is conceivable; therefore to be imagined and to be able to exist are the same thing: there is no development. The essence of what is conceivable is incapable of development, imperishable, immutable, unbounded, and indivisible. What is various and mutable, all development, is a delusive phantom. Perception is thought directed to the pure essence of being; the phenomenal world is a delusion, and the opinions formed concerning it can only be improbable.
Parmenides goes on to consider in the light of this principle the consequences of saying that anything is. In the first place, it cannot have come into being. If it had, it must have arisen from nothing or from something. It cannot have arisen from nothing; for there is no nothing. It cannot have arisen from something; for here is nothing else than what is. Nor can anything else besides itself come into being; for there can be no empty space in which it could do so. Is it or is it not? If it is, then it is now, all at once. In this way Parmenides refutes all accounts of the origin of the world. Ex nihilo nihil fit.
Further, if it is, it simply is, and it cannot be more or less. There is, therefore, as much of it in one place as in another. (That condition makes rarefaction and condensation impossible.) it is continuous and indivisible; for there is nothing but itself which could prevent its parts being in contact with on another. It is therefore full, a continuous indivisible plenum. (That is directed against the Pythagorean theory of a discontinuous reality.) Further, it is immovable. If it moved, it must move into empty space, and empty space is nothing, and there is no nothing. Also it is finite and spherical; for it cannot be in one direction any more than in another, and the sphere is the only figure of which this can be said. What is is, therefore a finite, spherical, motionless, continuous plenum, and there is nothing beyond it. Coming into being and ceasing to be are mere “names,” and so is motion, and still more color and the like. They are not even thoughts; for a thought must be a thought of something that is, and none of these can be.
In recent years much attention has been given to a linguistic detail of Parmenides discussion - a detail that ostensibly has broad implications. Under the "way of truth," Parmenides states that there are two ways of inquiry: that it “is,” on the one side, and that it “is not,” on the other side. He said that the latter argument is never feasible because nothing can not be: “For never shall this prevail, that things that are not are.” (fr 7.1)
There are delicate issues here. In the original Greek the two ways are simply named "that Is" (ὅπως ἐστίν) and "that Not-Is" (ὡς οὐκ ἐστίν) (frs. 2.3 and 2.5), without the "it" inserted in our English translation. As with many of the world’s languages, ancient Greek does not always require the presence of a subject for a verb, so that "is" functions as a grammatically complete sentence. Much debate has been focused on where and what the subject is. The simplest explanation as to why there is no subject here is that Parmenides wishes to express the simple, bare fact of existence in his mystical experience without the ordinary distinctions, just as the Latin "pluit" and the Greek “huei” (ὕει "rains") mean "it rains"; there is no subject for these impersonal verbs because they express the simple fact of raining without specifying what is doing the raining.
Yet many scholars reject this explanation, producing more complex metaphysical explanations. Since existence is an immediately intuited fact, non-existence is the wrong path because a thing cannot disappear, just as something cannot originate from nothing. In such mystical experience (unio mystica), the distinction between subject and object disappears along with the distinctions between objects, in addition to the fact that if nothing cannot be, it cannot be the object of thought either. The idea that Parmenides was a mystical thinker seems far-fetched, as one of the components of his heritage was the Ionian cosmological tradition.
For centuries Parmenides was regarded as a pure monist who created a system in which the Way of Truth is the only reality. More recently, a dialectical approach has come into favor, acknowledging the interaction of the two Ways. Thus the Way of Truth is superior, but we are not mistaken in apprehending our daily reality in terms of the Way of Opinion.
12. Zeno of Elea was a disciple of Parmenides - apparently also his lover when he was young - who later demonstrated his loyalty by reinforcing his master’s ideas with his paradoxes.
In his dialogue “Parmenides,” Plato asserts that Zeno's writings were brought to Athens for the first time on the occasion of the visit of Zeno and Parmenides. Plato also has Zeno say that this work, "meant to protect the arguments of Parmenides," was written in Zeno's youth, stolen, and published without his consent. Plato has the youthful Socrates paraphrase the "first thesis of the first argument" of Zeno's work as follows: "if being is many, it must be both like and unlike, and this is impossible, for neither can the like be unlike, nor the unlike like."
According to Proclus in his Commentary on Plato's Parmenides, Zeno produced "not less than forty arguments revealing contradictions", but only nine are now known.
Zeno's arguments seem to be the first examples of a method of proof called reductio ad absurdum, Zeno's paradoxes have puzzled, challenged, influenced, inspired, infuriated, and amused philosophers, mathematicians, and physicists for over two millennia. The most famous are the so-called "arguments against motion" described by Aristotle in his Physics.
13. Empedocles was a native of Akragas, now Agrigento, in Sicily. Although acquainted with the theories of the Eleatics and the Pythagoreans. Empedocles did not belong to any one definite school. An eclectic in his thinking, he combined much that had been suggested by Parmenides, Pythagoras, and the Ionian schools, which were cosmologically oriented. Attracted to the Orphic mysteriiss, he was also a scientific thinker.
Empedocles, like the Ionian philosophers and the later atomists, tried to find the basis of all change. In this connection, he posited four ultimate elements, which compose the structures of the world: fire, air, water, and earth. The different proportions in which these four indestructible and unchangeable elements are combined with each other yield the profusion objects and processes we actually experience. Nothing new comes or can come into being; the only change that can occur is a change in the marriage of element with element. For the next two thousand years this analysis of the four elements reigned as the standard account.
The four elements are subjected to an unending process in which they are both eternally brought into union and parted from one another. This occurs through a competition of two divine powers, Love and Strife. Love is responsible for the attraction of different forms of matter, and Strife causes their separation. Love and Strife are attractive and repulsive forces, respectively, which is plainly observable in human behavior, but also pervade the universe. The two forces wax and wane their dominance but neither force ever wholly disappears as a result of the imposition of the other.,
In recent times, Strife has gained more sway. Still, the actual world is full of contrasts and oppositions, due to the combined action of both principles. Empedocles attempted to explain the separation of elements, the formation of earth and sea, of Sun and Moon, of atmosphere. He also dealt with the first origin of plants and animals, and with the physiology of human beings. As the elements entered into combinations, there appeared strange results – heads without necks, arms without shoulders.Then as these fragmentary structures met, there were seen horned heads on human bodies, bodies of oxen with human heads, and figures of double sex. Yet most of these products of natural forces disappeared as suddenly as they arose; only in those rare cases where the parts were found to be adapted to each other, did the complex structures last. Thus the organic universe sprang from spontaneous aggregations, which suited each other as if this had been intended. Soon various influences reduced the creatures of double sex to a male and a female, and the world was replenished with organic life.
Empedocles noted the limitation and narrowness of human perceptions. We see only a part, but fancy that we have grasped the whole. But the senses cannot lead to truth; thought and reflection must look at the thing on every side. It is the business of a philosopher, while laying bare the fundamental difference of elements, to display the identity that exists between what seem unconnected parts of the universe.
Diogenes Laertius records the legend that Empedocles died by throwing himself into an active volcano (Mount Etna in Sicily), so that people would believe his body had vanished and he had turned into an immortal god. While this purported event is sometimes represented in literature, as by Friedrich Hölderlin and Matthew Arnold, it is generally discounted as a legend by modern historians.
14. Anaxagoras of Claxomenae ranks as the first to bring philosophy to Athens, where he was closely associated with Pericles Unlike Socrates who was condemned to death on similar charges, Anaxagoras was permitted to retire into exile in Lampsacus.
Responding to the claims of Parmenides which suggested the ultimate impossibility of change, Anaxagoras described the world as a mixture of primary imperishable ingredients, where material variation was never caused by an absolute presence of a particular ingredient, but rather by its relative preponderance over the other ingredients; in his words, "everything is in everything". He introduced the concept Nous (Mind) as an ordering force, which moved and separated out the original mixture, which had been homogeneous, or nearly so.
15. Democritus of Abdera was something of an outlier, as he was born as late as 460 BCE. His father was from a noble family and of great wealth, and contributed largely towards the entertainment of the army of Xerxes on his return to Asia. As a reward for this service the Persian monarch gave and other Abderites presents and left among them several Magi or wise men. According to Diogenes Laertius, Democritus was instructed by these savants in astronomy and theology.
After the death of his father he traveled in search of wisdom, devoting his inheritance to this purpose. Reputedly, Democritus visited Egypt, Ethiopia, Persia, and India. Whether, in the course of his travels, he visited Athens or studied under Anaxagoras is uncertain. During some part of his life he was instructed in Pythagoreanism, and was a disciple of Leucippus.
After several years of traveling, Democritus returned to Abdera, with no means of subsistence. His brother Damosis, however, took him in. According to the law of Abdera, whoever wasted his patrimony would be deprived of the rites of burial. In hopes of avoiding this disgrace, Democritus gave public lectures. He acquired fame with his knowledge of natural phenomena, and predicted changes in the weather. He used this ability to make people believe that he could predict future events. They not only viewed him as something more than mortal, but even proposed to put him in control of their public affairs. He preferred a contemplative to an active life, and therefore declined these public honors and passed the remainder of his days in solitude.
Credit cannot be given to the tale that Democritus spent his leisure hours in chemical researches after the philosopher's stone -- the dream of a later age; or to the story of his conversation with Hippocrates concerning Democritus's supposed madness, based on spurious letters.
Democritus expanded the atomic theory of Leucippus. He maintained the impossibility of dividing things ad infinitum. From the difficulty of assigning a beginning of time, he argued the eternity of existing nature, of void space, and of motion. He supposed the atoms, which are originally similar, to be impenetrable and have a density proportionate to their volume. All motions are the result of active and passive affection. He distinguished between primary motion and its secondary effects, that is, impulse and reaction. This is the basis of the law of necessity, by which all things in nature are ruled. The worlds which we see -- with all their properties of immensity, resemblance, and dissimilitude -- result from the endless multiplicity of falling atoms. The human soul consists of globular atoms of fire, which impart movement to the body.
Maintaining his atomic theory throughout, Democritus introduced the hypothesis of images or idols (eidola), a kind of emanation from external objects, which make an impression on our senses, and from the influence of which he deduced sensation (aesthesis) and thought (noesis). He distinguished between a rude, imperfect, and therefore false perception and a true one. In the same manner, consistent with this theory, he accounted for the popular notions of Deity; partly through our incapacity to understand fully the phenomena of which we are witnesses, and partly from the impressions communicated by certain beings (eidola) of enormous stature and resembling the human figure which inhabit the air. We know these from dreams and the causes of divination. He carried his theory into practical philosophy also, laying down that happiness consisted in an even temperament. From this he deduced his moral principles and prudential maxims.
CONCLUSION. Looking back over this gallery of bold, innovative thinkers as single theme - or pair of themes - stands out. That is the contrast between unity and multiplicity. In their quest for a single primordial element the early Ionian thinkers voted for unity. Heraclitus might seem to be a pluralist, but still in his emphasis on the pervasive role of change, he turned out to be, very largely at least, a monist.
It was Empedocles, with his four elements and two forces, who first devised a compromise between the two approaches of unity and multiplicity.
Then Anaxagoras, with his concept of an infinitely divisible series of substances, tipped the scales for multiplicity.
The atomism of Democritus may be regarded as having achieved a reconciliation. On the one hand, there are many types of atoms - multiplicity. And yet the atomic principle itself - unity - pervades everything.