Biography of Empedocles

Empedocles was a pre-Socratic philosopher, belonging to the pluralist school, composed of other renowned philosophers such as Democritus, Anaxagoras, Leucippus and Archelaus.

He was born in Agrigento, Sicily, around 495 BC and died around 424 BC.

Empedocles was active in political affairs; Aristotle considered him a fervent democrat. He even refused to be king in his city.

The life of Empedocles, like that of Pythagoras and Heraclitus, is marked by legends about him. Among these legends is that he was politically banished and died in exile in the Peloponnese; another says that he took his own life by throwing himself into the craters of Etna.

Another legend is that he freed a certain city from an outbreak of malaria, and for this the citizens of this city worshipped him as if he were a god.

Certainly, he was one of the most remarkable philosophers of antiquity, having been revered by great philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle.


Empedocles wrote two poems:

  • On Nature;
  • Purifications;

Of these two works only fragments remained, enough for us to understand his philosophical thought.

The Philosophy of Empedocles

Empedocles was influenced by the Eleates, mainly by Parmenides, and by the Pythagoreans, who were disciples and maintainers of the ideas of Pythagoras of Samos.

On Being

For Empedocles, as for Parmenides and Melissus of Samos, being could not be generated or destroyed; being could not arise from nothing, nor go to nothing. The thesis is simple: being is and non-being is not. He says:

It is impossible that any being has been generated from what is not, and it has never been realized or heard that what is will be exterminated; what is will always be there, where it was placed by each one.

From this, Empedocles concludes that “birth” and “death” do not exist. What occurs, in fact, is that all things that exist in the world, that is, substances, mix or dissolve, and in these processes they remain the same and indestructible.

In his work On Nature, he says:

There is no birth for any of the mortal things, just as there is no end in the funereal death, but only composition and dissociation of the compound elements: birth is just a name used by men.

Theory of the four primordial elements

According to Empedocles, there are four primordial elements. These elements are:

  • fire;
  • earth;
  • water;
  • air;

These four elements are present in all beings in the universe, so he claimed that these elements are the “roots of all things.”

Let’s see what he says in another fragment about this:

When the elements unite and reach the ether in the form of wild beasts, men, birds and trees, then they are said to have been generated; and when these elements separate, we speak of painful death.

Empedocles stated that these elements do not change or change into other things that are essentially different; they are qualitatively unchangeable; what can happen to them is only to unite with another element or to separate.

Love and strife

We have seen that the birth of all things happens by the union of the four elements, and death happens by the separation of these elements. Empedocles states that there is a force that causes the union and separation of the elements, which is love (friendship) and strife (discord).

When love predominates, the union of the elements occurs; when, on the contrary, strife predominates, separation occurs.

Therefore, love and strife rule the entire cosmos. These two opposing forces are always “fighting” each other. Says Empedocles:

The constant changes never cease: sometimes things unite in love (philia, in Greek), sometimes they separate again in the discord of Hate (neikos, in Greek).

The human knowledge

Empedocles also elaborated his thesis on the process of knowledge.

For him, existing objects emit certain effluvia through their pores. These effluvia reach our senses. Among these effluvia, some resemble parts of our sensory organs. Fire emits an effluvium that our organs recognize as fire.

The process of knowledge is, therefore, through resemblance.

In addition, Empedocles claimed that the heart is the seat of thought.

Cite This Work

Vieira, S. (2021, October 15). Empedocles. Filosofia do Início. Retrieved from https://filosofiadoinicio.com/en/empedocles-of-agrigento/.

Vieira, Sadoque. “Empedocles.” Filosofia do Início, October 15, 2021. https://filosofiadoinicio.com/en/empedocles-of-agrigento/.

Vieira, Sadoque. “Empedocles.” Filosofia do Início, 15 Oct. 2021, https://filosofiadoinicio.com/en/empedocles-of-agrigento/.


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