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Anaxagoras (500-428 BC) Anaxagoras of Clazomenae was a major Greek philosopher of the Presocratic period, who worked in the Ionian tradition of inquiry into nature.
While his cosmology largely recasts the sixth-centurysystem of Anaximenes, the focus of the surviving fragments is on ontological questions.
The often quoted openingof his book - 'all things were together' - echoes the Eleatic Parmenides' characterization of true being, but signalsrecognition of time, change and plurality.
Even so, Anaxagoras is deeply committed to the Eleatic notions that,strictly speaking, there can be no coming into being or going out of existence, nor any separation of one part ofreality from any other.
His main object is to show how the variety of the world about us is somehow alreadycontained in the primordial mixture, and is explicable only on the assumption that latent within each substance areportions of every other.
Whether or not he owed his conception of unlimited smallness to Zeno of Elea, he heldthat there could be no such thing as a magnitude of least size; and he claimed that there was accordingly nodifference in complexity between the large and the small.
Mind, however, is a distinct principle; unlimited,autonomous, free from the admixture of any other substance.
Hence Anaxagoras' decision to make it the firstcause of the ordered universe we now inhabit.
Mind initiates and controls a vortex, which from small beginningssucks in an ever-increasing expanse of the surrounding envelope.
The vortex brings about an incompleteseparation of the ingredients of the original mixture: hot from cold, dry from wet, bright from dark, and so on,with a flat earth compacted at the centre and surrounded by misty air and clearer ether above and below.Contemporaries were scandalized by Anaxagoras' claim that sun, moon and stars were nothing but incandescentstones caught up in the revolving ether.
Later fifth-century physicists - notably Archelaus and Diogenes ofApollonia - developed revised versions of Anaxagoras' system, but abandoned his dualism.
His conception of mindexcited but disappointed Socrates, and exercised a profound influence on Plato's cosmology and Aristotle'spsychology.
Aristotle was also fascinated by the complexities of the remarkable theory of 'everything ineverything'.
Anaxagoras' philosophy was never subsequently revived, but he was remembered as the mentor ofthe statesman Pericles and the poet Euripides.
His reputation as a rationalist critic of religion persisted throughoutantiquity.
1 Life and work Anaxagoras, son of Hegesibulus, was a native of Clazomenae (a coastal town in what is now Turkey).
He was the first major philosopher to spend time in Athens, where he was an associate of thestatesman Pericles.
The evidence for his residence there is confused although quite extensive.
He is said to havearrived in Athens in the archonship of Callias (456/5 BC).
Knowledge of his ideas probably preceded his arrival, tojudge from echoes of his explanation of physical phenomena in Aeschylus' tragedies Supplices (c.463 BC) and Eumenides (458 BC).
He was believed to have predicted the fall of a large meteorite in Thrace that is dated c.467 BC.
Anaxagoras' stay in Athens may have lasted for about twenty years (so Mansfeld 1979-80 ), until his prosecution and trial on a charge of impiety (dated by Mansfeld to 437/6 BC).
He died in Lampsacus on theHellespont, where the funeral honours accorded to him suggest a high reputation.
Diogenes Laertius (I 16) countsAnaxagoras among those philosophers who wrote only one work.
But some of his views, for example those onperspective and geometry, may have been the subjects of separate memoranda ( A38-40 ).
The surviving fragments all appear to come from a general work on the nature and origins of the physical world.
The fact of their survivalmakes for a more direct impression of Anaxagoras' style of thought and his major theses than is possible in the caseof Presocratics such as Anaximenes.
However, there remain considerable problems of interpretation.
One reason isthat Anaxagoras' prose, while capable of striking and elevated effect, is too dense and imprecise to allowdeterminate formulation of the subtle and ingenious distinctions which scholarship has seen as fundamental to hissystem.
Another is that the Aristotelian commentator Simplicius, who is responsible for preserving most of thefragments, quotes them not in the course of a straightforward exposition of Anaxagoras' philosophy, but in order toillustrate various points in either Aristotle's account of Anaxagorean ontology or his own Neoplatonist interpretationof the cosmogony.
So while possession of actual extracts from Anaxagoras' book is a huge bonus, their function inhis argumentative or expository strategy often eludes us.
2 The original condition The first few sentences of Anaxagoras' book ran as follows: All things were together, unlimited both in quantity and in smallness.
For the smallwas indeed unlimited.
And with all things being together nothing was manifest on account of smallness.
For air andether contained all things, both being unlimited.
For these are the greatest present among the totality of things,both in quantity and in magnitude.
1) Much in this speculative story is mysterious.
What range or category of items count as ‘things' ( chrēmata )? How is their 'smallness' to be understood? In what sense did air and ether 'contain' everything? What is the difference intended between their greatness in quantity and their greatness inmagnitude? It was a characteristic trait of Presocratic writing first to grab the reader's attention with a memorableopening, and then to whet the appetite with a pregnant development whose full meaning and justification wouldemerge only gradually.
Anaxagoras provides a copybook example of the technique.
Only one other fragmentdescribes the original condition: Before these things were separated off, when all things were together, not evenany colour was manifest.
For the mingling together of all things prevented it - of the wet and the dry and the hotand the cold and the bright and the dark, much earth being present there also and seeds unlimited in quantity, in noway like each other.
For of the others no one is at all like another.
Since this is so, one must suppose that all thingswere present in the totality.
4, second part) Putting the two passages together, we get the following lists of ingredients of the mixture: (1) air and ether (the predominant constituents), a lot of earth and seeds unlimited innumber; (2) the wet and the dry, the hot and the cold, and so on.
The relation of lists (1) and (2) is obscure.
Itmay be that the wet and the dry and so on, simply are earth, air, ether, and so on, under another description, one particularly important for understanding the process of separation which initiates cosmogony.
There is also thequestion of which form of description Anaxagoras conceived as the more fundamental for ontology.
The major itemslisted in (1) are presumably the actual quantities of the material stuffs which dominate the universe as it is now.The identity and ontological status of Anaxagoras' seeds has been much debated.
The final sentences of fragment 4suggest that he is once again extrapolating from what the universe at present contains to what it must besupposed to have contained originally.
A best guess is that from the irreducible present variety of an unlimitednumber of living species (plants as well as animals), he infers unlimited numbers of biological seeds in the original. »
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