Notebook, 1993-


Ancient Greek Philosophy
Eleatic School

Anaxagoras 500-428 BC
Empedocles 492-440 BC
Parmenides 515-440 BC
Xenophanes 570-470 BC

The founder of this philosophy was Xenophanes [570-470 B.C.]. Born in Colophon in Ionia, his life extended over the greater part of the 6th Century. He left his birth-place when it was taken by the Persians and spent much time as a wandering poet who visited many parts of the Greek world, finally settling in Elea of lower Italy. Here he founded the first actual school of philosophy. We encounter his concepts concentrated in a long philosophical poem which according to the tradition was known as on Nature in hexameters of which a few fragments survive. He attacked the polytheism and anthropomorphism of the traditional Greek religion and asserted that God is single and eternal, thus introducing monotheism into Greek thought. He attacked Homer and Hesiod who had given the gods all the evil attributes of man including thievery, adultery, and deceit. He attempted by the method of comparison to prove the relationship of the images which man had of their gods. 'The Ethiopians', he says, 'paint their gods black with a flat nose, the Thracians with blue eyes and red hair. And if the oxen, lions or horses had hands and could paint, they would have depicted their gods in the same respective images'. Xenophanes taught that god is one, does not resemble mortals either in thought or in shape. He is all life, soul, he is all eyes, all ears, and intellect. Thus he shattered and demolished the traditional Greek theology.

But the outstanding philosopher of the Eleatics was undoubtedly Parmenides [515-440 B.C.]. Born in Elea, he was according to tradition, a pupil of Xenophanes. His work, which also bears the title 'On Nature', is a philosophical poem. He was inspired by a passion for logic to discern the one and eternal being from the many and perishable non-beings or the Being from the Coming-to-Be. Being and Coming-to-Be are the two poles of Parmenidean philosophy. Whereas Heraclitus recognized in the Coming-to-be, the eternal changes, and alterations, the flux of the universe and of life, Parmenides recognizes only Being as truth, as the eternal and immutable, the unborn and indestructible being. Parmenides teaches that Becoming and the flux are only sensual feelings, are Not-Being whereas the mind or understanding is always the eternal Being, the truth. Being is whatever exists, the matter which occupies space, whereas Not-Being is the void. Being is neither the beginning nor the end, since it could not possibly be born from another being, otherwise it would have been something else before this. But neither could it be born from Not-Being, for how can something exist which no one can conceive of or describe, and yet to have come from this Being? Being is always, and will always be, an eternal presence. It exists as a whole, as one and continuous. It is entire, it is of unique birth, immovable, indivisible, but also cannot be increased. Only knowledge which has as its object the one and immutable Being is true, and this is procured by reason, by the logos. The senses on the contrary give us the impression [p. 158] only of birth and corruption, that is, the Not-Being, and are a source of delusion. Parmenides asserted that being and the flux are only deceptive data received through the senses, they are Not-Being, whereas our intellect always presents the eternal Being, that is, truth.

Pure reason does not differ from Being because it is only the sense of Being. When one means and defines with his intellect that which is, then he defines at the same time his intellect, and therefore his reason is identical with that which is understood, with Being. Parmenides said 'thinking and being are identical', which signifies that Being does not exist, an object which can become conceptual thinking and neither does reason exist without a corresponding object. Being and conceptual thinking are a pair of meanings, in the fact that one can understand the other only in such relationship. Being cannot be understood otherwise except by pure reason. It is revealed in the conjunctive of reason which joins subject and object.

Other Eleatics were Melissos and Zeno. The latter is considered to be the discoverer of Dialectic.

Empedocles [492-432 B.C.] of Acragas [Agrigentum] in Sicily was a contemporary of Protagoras and Socrates. As with Xenophanes, his philosophy tied in with religious concepts. He was a most versatile genius, political leader and doctor of medicine, poet and philosopher, biologist and mystic theologian, and at the same time the inventor of the art of Rhetoric. He was the founder of the Sicilian school of medical science of equal repute with that of Cos. His theory of the universe is embodied in a poem of hexameters by name 'On Nature', and his religious convictions in the poem 'Purifications' [Catharmoi]. The former presents him as the natural philosopher in the Ionian tradition, and the latter as an Orphic theologian in the tradition of Pythagoras, and it is this latter work which had the greatest influence on his contemporaries. All men marveled at his wisdom and came to regard him with great awe and respect. The central argument of his Purifications was the divine origin of the soul and belief in transmigration of the souls. Within each man dwells the daemon of the soul which on account of sin has fallen from the heavenly paradise and as punishment is forced to assume various forms of life, plant, animal, or human. 'I was always a young man and girl and shrub and bird and a speechless fish', he taught. Man could by avoiding sin and by means of an ascetic life attain a higher form of life and through transmigration attain the blessed state.

As in the case with Parmenides, Empedocles argued that Being is both unborn and indestructible. He endeavored to reconcile the perception of changing phenomena with the logical conception of an underlying unchanging existence, and found the solution in four immutable elements, earth, air, fire, and water whose association and dissociation produce the varying changing objects of the world as we know them. He thus summed up the theories of the Ionian naturalists. But he also eliminates the differences between the Heraclitan and Parmenidean philosophies, for he defines the perpetual flow as a 'mixis' and of the 4 basic and unchangeable elements or 'dialaxis' [that is, a mixture and a dissociation of roots, as he calls them]. These mixtures and dissociations presuppose that every element has kinds of pores or channels into which the fluxes enter, that is, the small fragments or particles of other elements. Hence birth and deterioration are nothing more nor less than [p. 159] union and dissolution of the immutable elements. The elements coalesce or break away by virtue of two energies or forces: attraction and discord. Love or attraction unites the elements and from these opposing forces comes birth or reconstruction. But discord dissolves this unity and scatters the elements, causing dissolution and decay. These two energies create all the phenomena to be found in nature, all the objects and events which take place in the universe.

Anaxagoras [500-428 B.C.] was born in Clazomenae of Asia Minor, a contemporary of both Empedocles and Leucippus. He left his birthplace and went to Athens where he resided for many years. He was a friend of Pericles and the intellectual circle of Athens, but the people themselves were always suspicious of the new Ionian ideas of enlightenment whence Anaxagoras had brought to Athens. When therefore the occasion arose, he was accused of introducing atheistic ideas contrary to the established religion and was forced to flee on the eve of the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War. He ended his days at Lampsacus. Tradition relates that a copy of his work 'On Nature' could be purchased in Athens for one drachma.

He adopts the theory that creation and decay do not in substance exist. Each creation or birth is caused by union, every dissociation to the separation of the elements, which pre-existed. Anaxagoras names these pre-existing elements 'chremata'. They are infinite in number and infinitely minute in size. They had been originally mixed in a chaotic manner in such a way that one could not distinguish or identify any of their inherent qualities. From this primeval chaotic state in which all 'chremata' were hopelessly mixed, there emerged, with the dissociation, certain specific things, beings. 'Mixture' and 'separation' were therefore the two basic ways by which beings were created. The question remained as to which energy or force moved the 'chremata' and enabled them to leave the chaotic state to become separated in such a way that cosmos and order emerged and specific beings were created. With this question Anaxagoras poses the problem of the primary cause, he seeks the 'first motive power or energy' as Aristotle would say. His solution was that the mind or ´nous═ was the first cause which set 'chremata' in motion. But it not only set it in motion, for motion itself contained inherently and innately the 'end' [telos], the objective or the aim , which was to bring order and harmony to the beings, to create a cosmos. Thus the "nous" or mind or intellect of Anaxagoras is not only a motive energy or power, but a teleological principle. So the meaning of the 'nous' [mind] which Anaxagoras was the first to introduce, contains within itself both the object or end and the motion. Intellect [nous] is the finest of all 'chremata'. It is not immaterial, bodyless, but is the rarest and finest form of matter. The most significant contribution of Anaxagoras was the concept of the spirit or intelligence [nous] at the same time as both motion and object. Only the intelligence could create and embellish all in accordance with an end, an object. Thus cosmos or the universe was exclusively a creation of the pure intelligence. [pp. 158 -160]

[Kyriazis, Constantine D. Eternal Greece. Translated by Harry T. Hionides. A Chat Publication.]



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