Biography of Anaxagoras
Anaxagoras was a pre-Socratic philosopher born in Clazomenae. At age 20, he moved to Athens, where he was master of Pericles. He was banished from Athens shortly before his death, which occurred in the Greek city of Lampsacus in 428 BC.
He was accused of impiety towards the gods, because he questioned the divinity of the Sun and the Moon, considering the Sun a stone and the Moon, earth; for this reason he was exiled, but managed to escape thanks to his disciple Pericles.
Anaxagoras had as master the Pythagorean Hermotimus of Clazomenae. His philosophy was also influenced by Anaximenes of Miletus and Parmenides.
His main work is called On Nature. In it, he tries to solve the philosophical problem of the Many, going against the monistic theses of Parmenides and the philosophers of the Eleatic school.
Of his work, only a few fragments preserved by Simplicius remain.
Anaxagoras is defined as a thinker of the pluralist school, which held that things are made up of various elements, also called seeds.
These seeds were organized and united by the cosmic Intelligence (Nous, in Greek), giving birth to all beings in the world.
The seeds, or elements
Unlike predecessor philosophers, such as Thales of Miletus, who held that all things were formed by the principle (arché) of water, Anaxagoras held that the “seeds” of all things were organized by the Nous, that is, a cosmic Intelligence.
Anaxagoras was in agreement with Parmenides’ thesis that states the impossibility of non-being to exist. For him, “being born” and “dying” were impossible events to happen. He says:
The Greeks have no correct opinion about birth and death. For nothing is born or dies, but there is mixture and separation of the things that exist. And so they should rightly call birth a mixture and death a separation.
In other words, all change implies composition or separation of the elements. Nothing comes from nothing, or becomes a nothing.
Moreover, these elements cannot be conceived as in the theory of Empedocles, who held that there were only four primordial elements (fire, earth, water and air) that formed all things.
The elements, or seeds (spérmata), were as diverse as all things are diverse, innumerable. What makes things different is the prevalence of this or that particular seed.
Such seeds were, according to Anaxagoras, eternal, unchanging and infinite quantitatively. Each element is One, and does not change into something else.
Even if one were to divide such seeds into smaller parts, all the parts would always be of the same quality. These parts are qualitatively unchanging. The philosopher named this principle homoiomereia.
At first, the homeomerias were mixed together in such a way that they became indistinguishable. He says in one of the fragments:
All things were together, unlimited in number and smallness […]; and while together, none of them could be recognized because of their smallness. Before they were separated, no color could be distinguished. For the mixture of all things prevented it.
Subsequently, the Nous, that is, a Cosmic Intelligence, organized the homeomerias. In this way, things became “well-ordered mixtures”.
Nous is unlimited and autonomous, it is not mixed with anything. Says Anaxagoras:
All other things participate in all things; but the Nous, is unlimited and autonomous, with nothing mixed in, but alone, by itself and for itself.
For the philosopher: “everything is in everything”. Anaxagoras held that in every thing there is a portion of every thing. In this way, the food eaten by living beings becomes another thing, such as, for example, hair, meat, bone, etc., because it contains these things. He says:
[…] one must accept that in all things coming together are contained many things and of all kinds, and seeds of all things, with various shapes, colors, and flavors. And that this is how men and all living things were formed. How could hair come from that which is not hair, and flesh from that which is not flesh?
Cite This Work
Vieira, S. (2021, November 25). Anaxagoras of Clazomenae. Filosofia do Início. Retrieved from https://filosofiadoinicio.com/en/anaxagoras-of-clazomenae/.
Vieira, Sadoque. “Anaxagoras of Clazomenae.” Filosofia do Início, November 25, 2021. https://filosofiadoinicio.com/en/anaxagoras-of-clazomenae/.
Vieira, Sadoque. “Anaxagoras of Clazomenae.” Filosofia do Início, 25 Nov. 2021, https://filosofiadoinicio.com/en/anaxagoras-of-clazomenae/.