An Overview of the Philosophy of AnaxagorasJune 26, 2021
Anaxagoras brought the basic principles and philosophy of research science from Ionia to Athens. His impressions of the sky and the fall of meteorites offered him the opportunity to shape new theories of universal order. He tried to give a scientific explanation of the Sun, rainbow, meteors and solar eclipses, which he called a larger and more flammable metal heap than Peloponnesos.
The celestial beings he claims are all piles of stones detached from the earth, and they quickly rub off and fall into the earth in fireballs. Anaxagoras, like Empedocles, accepted Parmenides’ theory that Being neither comes into being nor passes away, but is immutable. ‘The Hellenes do not properly understand coming into being and passing away, for nothing comes into being or passes away, but there is a mingling and a separation of things that happen.’ Both thinkers thus agree on the indestructibility of matter, and both reconcile this theory with the obvious phenomenon of change by postulating indestructible material particles whose mixing creates objects and whose separation explains the disappearance of objects. But Anaxagoras does not agree with Empedocles that the final units are particles corresponding to the four elements earth, air, fire, and water. He teaches that everything whose parts are qualitatively the same as the whole is final and derived.
In the beginning, all kinds of particles – there is no indivisible particle according to Anaxagoras – were mixed together. All things were together, infinite in both number and smallness; for small was also infinite, and when all things were together, none of them could be distinguished by their smallness. All things are whole. Empirical objects are born when the last particles are brought together in such a way that particles of a certain type will predominate in the object to appear. Thus in the original mixture the gold particles are dispersed and mixed with any other kind of particle; but when gold particles are brought together—with other particles—in such a way that the resulting visible object will consist predominantly of gold particles, we have before us the gold of the empirical world. Why do we say with other particles? For in concrete empirical objects there are particles of all things; yet they are combined in such a way that one type of particle predominates and the whole object is named after this fact.
Anaxagoras advocated the doctrine that everything in everything has a proportion, and this was apparently because he did not understand how to explain the phenomenon of change in any other way. In this way, Anaxagoras was trying to preserve Parmenides’ teaching on existence, and at the same time, adopting a realistic attitude towards change, he did not exclude it as an illusion of emotions, but tried to reconcile it with the Eleatic theory of existence by accepting it as a fact. Up to this point, Anaxagoras’ philosophy is a variant of Empedocles’ interpretation and adaptation of Parmenides, and shows no particularly remarkable originality. But when we come to the question of power or force, which is responsible for the origin of things from initial mass, we come to Anaxagoras’ original contribution to philosophy. Empedocles attributed the motion in the universe to two physical forces, Love and Contradiction; but Anaxagoras introduces the principle of Nous or An instead. “With Anaxagonas, a light, albeit weakly, begins to dogma, for the ‘understanding’ is now accepted as a principle.’ ‘Nousun,’ says Anaxagoras, ‘has power over all living things, both large and small. And it was because Nous had power over the whole cycle that it began to spin in the beginning…. And Neus all the things that were, were, are, and will be, and this cycle in which the separated stars and the sun and the moon and the air and the ether are now spinning. arranged it. And the cycle itself created separation, and separated from the dense sparse, the hot cold, the bright dark, and the dry wet.
Many things have many ratios. But nothing but Nous is completely separated from anything else. And both great and small are all Nous-like; whereas nothing else is like anything else, but each singular thing is most obviously those and things in which it contains the most. Nous is infinite and self-ruling, and is not mixed with anything, but is alone, in itself.’ So how did Anaxogoras Nous think? For him, Nous is ‘the most beautiful and purest of all things, and it carries all the knowledge and the greatest power of all things..; He also speaks of Nous as ‘the place where everything else is in the enveloping mass’. The philosopher thus speaks of Noustan or Andan in material terms as ‘the thinnest of all things’, and as occupying space in space. Based on this, Burner reports that Anaxagoras never laid upon the idea of a corporeal principle. He made the nous purer from other material things, but it was never material or corporeal.