Anaxagoras and Pluralism CurrentJune 26, 2021
“How could there be hair from no hair or flesh from no flesh?” Asks Anaxagoras, his problem consisted in explaining the existence of familiar objects visible to the senses without resorting to the contradictory view that things like Empedocles could change but remain essentially the same.
According to him, objects perceived by the senses had to have arisen from the “mixing and dissociation of existing things”, since “nothing came into being or perished”. Thus, his main aim was to show that the diversity exhibited by the world around us is already contained in the initial mix and can only be explained by the assumption that there is a bit of everything else in everything.
In fact, like Empedocles, he made an effort to reconcile the monism of the Eleatic view, which argues that change is impossible, with the pluralism of common sense, which accepts the reality of change and becoming. That is, Anaxagoras, who does not deny the phenomenon of change, but adopts, on the one hand, the theses of the Elea School about the unity of existence and the principle that “nothing is born from nothing” and the idea that reality is inherently permanent and unchanging, on the other hand, just like Empedocles He claimed that things or beings change in the sense of the joining and separation of basic elements. In other words, Anaxagoras, who claims that the basic elements that make up the things in the world are immutable in the sense of not coming into existence and not disappearing, and that the change observed in the sensory world consists of the combination and separation of these basic elements. differs in the thesis that there are not four but an infinite number. He said that because our world is rich and full of many qualities, it cannot be explained by one or a few arkhes; He claimed that earth, air, water, and fire were by no means essential or arkhe, but mixtures of other substances.
Accordingly, the ultimate and highest elements that make up everything that exists are primordial matter or archhes, an infinite number of substances with all kinds of shapes, colors and scents. These seeds or substances, which, though very small, are not indivisible, were not created. Their quantity is as constant as their qualities. Anaxagoras called these infinite seeds homeomers, or spermata, which he claimed were the first principles of existence. From this perspective, every single physical or sensory object we see in the outside world must be a mixture containing an infinite number of seeds, particles of all the real matter in the world. What we call “hair” contains particles of leek matter, particles of glass matter, particles of wood matter—in short, particles of all the matter we see around us. Likewise, in “meat” there are particles of hair matter, particles of leek matter, glass matter, wood matter, and of course meat. In the first of these, although it contains particles from all beings or matter in the sensible universe, hair; in the second, the flesh somehow dominates, and because our eyesight is gross and inadequate, we call them by the name of the dominant thing.
According to the teaching of Anaxagoras, in the initial state of the universe, all seeds, infinitesimal fragments of being, were in a mixed or undifferentiated state. A whole mass of beings existed in the form of an amalgamation of an infinite number of tiny seeds. The world that exists today is the result of the separation and coming together of the seeds that make up the mass or mixture in question. From the initial absolute mixture of these fragments or seeds, Anaxagoras says, material objects arose under the influence of Nous as an agentic force acting on them.
Compiled by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Atatürk University Department of Sociology Lecture Notes for Grade 1 “Introduction to Philosophy” and Grade 3 “History of Contemporary Philosophy” (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook; “History of Philosophy” Ahmet Cevizci