Jacques Maritain Center : History of Philosophy / by William Turner


These are separated from the Earlier Ionian philosophers not merely in point of time but also in respect to doctrine. The difference consists chiefly in the tendency which the Later Ionians manifest to depart from the monistic dynamism of the early physicists and adopt a dualistic mechanical concept of the universe. Heraclitus, who is, in ultimate analysis, a dynamist, marks the beginning of the change which, after the more or less hesitating utterances of Empedocles, appears successively in the mechanism of the Atomists and in the openly pronounced dualism of Anaxagoras. Heraclitus is, therefore, the connecting link between earlier and later Ionian philosophy.


Life. Heraclitus, surnamed the Obscure (ho skoteinos) on account of the mist of oracular expressions in which (purposely, according to some writers) he veiled his teachings, was born at Ephesus about the year 530 B.C. He composed a work peri phuseôs, consisting of three parts,{1} the first of which was peri tou pantos the second, (logos) politikos and the third, (logos) theologikos. Of the fragments which have come down to us, very few can be assigned to the second of these parts, and fewer still to the third. The existing fragments offer considerable difficulty in the matter of arrangement and interpretation, a difficulty which is increased by the fact that many of our secondary authorities are untrustworthy. The doctrines of Heraclitus resemble the fundamental tenets of the Stoics, and here as elsewhere the stoic historians are inclined to exaggerate such resemblances. On this account, even for modern scholars, Heraclitus is still the Obscure.

Sources. Besides the fragments above mentioned, we have as sources of information the writings of Plato and Aristotle, who give a tolerably complete account of the teachings of Heraclitus.


Doctrine of Universal Change. Heraclitus places himself in direct opposition to the Eleatic teaching and to the data of common, unreflecting consciousness. The mass of men -- and here he includes not merely Pythagoras and Xenophanes but also Homer and Hesiod, associating them with the common herd -- see nothing but sense-forms; they fail to comprehend the all-discerning reason.{2} We should follow reason alone. "Much learning does not teach the mind."{3}

Now, the first lesson which reason teaches us is that there is nothing permanent in the world around us. The senses, when they attribute to things a permanence which things do not possess, are deceived and thus give rise to the greatest of all errors, the belief in immobility. The truth is that all things change, panta chôrei. Everything is involved in the stream of change: from life comes death, from death comes life; old age succeeds youth; sleep changes into wakefulness and wakefulness into sleep. In a word, nothing is, all is Becoming.

Both Plato{4} and Aristotle{5} set down the doctrine of the universality of change as being the most characteristic of the teachings of Heraclitus. Plato, moreover, expressly mentions the Heraclitean comparison of the stream in which wave succeeds wave. But it is remarkable that the expression, "All things are flowing," which so conveniently sums up the doctrine of universal change, cannot be proved to be a quotation from the work of Heraclitus.

Doctrine of Fire. Another source of error is this: that the poets and sages knew no more than the common herd does about the divine, all-controlling fire. By fire, however, Heraclitus meant invisible warm matter rather than the fire which is the result of combustion. It is endowed with life, or at least with the power of Becoming -- "All things are exchanged for fire and fire for all things, just as wares are exchanged for gold and gold for wares."{6} It is, therefore, what Aristotle would call the material as well as the efficient cause of all things, -- and here Heraclitus shows himself the lineal descendant of the Earlier Ionians. Moreover, since all things proceed from fire according to fixed law, fire is styled Zeus, Deity, Logos, Justice.

This account would, however, be incomplete without some mention of the force which is postulated by Heraclitus as coeternal with fire. "Strife is the father of all, and king of all, and some he made gods, and some, men."{7} Opposed to strife, which gave rise to things by separation, is harmony, which guides them back to the fire whence they came. These expressions, however, while they speak the language of dualism, are not to be understood as more than mere figures of speech, for fire, and fire alone, is the cause of all change.

Origin of the World. The world was produced by the transformations of the primitive fire. There is a cycle of changes by which fire through a process of condensation, or rather of quenching (sbennusthai), becomes water and earth. This is the downward way. And there is a cycle of changes by which through a process of rarefaction, or kindling (haptesthai), earth goes back to water and water to fire. This is the upward way. Now, the one is precisely the inverse of the other: hodos anô katô mia.{8}

Thus did the world originate and thus does it constantly tend to return whence it came. Concord is ever undoing the work of strife, and one day strife will be overcome; but then the Deity, as it were in sport,{9} will construct a new world in which strife and concord will once more be at play.

Doctrine of Opposites. From this continual change comes the doctrine of opposites. There is a constant swaying (like the bending and relaxing of a bow{10}), in which all things pass successively through their opposites: heat becomes cold, dryness becomes moisture, etc. To produce the new, like must be coupled with unlike; high and low, the accordant with the discordant, are joined, that out of one may come all, and out of all, one. On account of this doctrine Heraclitus is censured by Aristotle{11} and his commentators for denying the principle of contradiction. Hegelians, on the other hand, credit Heraclitus with being the first to recognize the unity of opposites, the identity of Being and not-Being.{12} The truth is that Heraclitus deserves neither the blame of the Aristotelians nor the praise of the Hegelians. He does not affirm opposite predicates of the same subject at the same time and sub eodem respectu. Moreover, his is a physical, not a logical, theory, and to maintain the unity of opposites in the concrete is not the same as to hold the identity of Being and not-Being in the abstract.

Anthropological Doctrines. Man, body and soul, originated from fire. The body is of itself rigid and lifeless, an object of aversion when the soul has departed from it. The soul, on the other hand, is divine fire preserved in its purest form. "The driest soul is wisest and best."{13} If the soul fire is quenched by moisture, reason is lost. Like everything else in nature, the soul is constantly changing. It is fed by fire, or warm matter, which enters as breath or is received through the senses. Not. withstanding this view, Heraclitus in several of the fragments speaks of future reward and of the fate of the soul in Hades.{14}

Heraclitus distrusted sense-knowledge: "Eyes and ears," he said, "are bad witnesses to men, if they have souls that understand not their language." {15} Rational knowledge is alone trustworthy. Heraclitus, however, did not, nor did any of the pre-Socratic philosophers, attempt to determine the conditions of rational knowledge. That task was first undertaken by Socrates.

Ethical Doctrines. Heraclitus did not undertake a systematic treatment of ethical questions. Nevertheless, he prepared the way for Stoicism by teaching that Immutable Reason is the law of the moral as well as of the physical world. "Men should defend law as they would a fortress."{16} We must subject ourselves to universal order if we wish to be truly happy: "the character of a man is his guardian divinity."{17} This is the doctrine of contentment, or equanimity (euarestêsis), in which, according to the Heracliteans, Heraclitus placed the supreme happiness of man.

Historical Position. Even in ancient times Heraclitus was regarded as one of the greatest physicists. He was deservedly styled ho phusikos for, while others among the philosophers of nature excelled him in particular points of doctrine, he had the peculiar merit of having established a universal point of view for the study of nature as a whole. He was the first to call attention to the transitoriness of the individual and the permanence of the law which governs individual changes, thus formulating the problem to which Plato and Aristotle afterwards addressed themselves as to the paramount question of metaphysics. The naïve conception of the universe as evolved, according to the Earlier Ionians, from one substance, by a process which may be witnessed in a water tank, now gives place to the notion of a world ruled in its origin and in all its processes by an all-pervading Logos. Moreover, though Heraclitus formulated no system of epistemology, his distrust of the senses and his advocacy of rational knowledge show that philosophy had begun to emerge from the state of primitive innocence. It was this germ of criticism which was developed into full-grown Scepticism by Cratylus, while along another line of development it led to the critical philosophy of the Sophists and to the Socratic doctrine of the concept.

Heraclitus and the Eleatics were, so to speak, at opposite poles of thought. In the doctrines of Empedocles and the Atomists we can perceive the direct influence of the Eleatic school.


Life. Empedocles, who is the most typical representative of the Later Ionian school, holds a middle course between the monism of Parmenides and the extreme panmetabolism of Heraclitus. He was born at Agrigentum, in Sicily, about the year 490 B.C. According to Aristotle, he lived sixty years. The tradition which represents Empedocles as traveling through Sicily and southern Italy and claiming divine honors wherever he went is only too abundantly proved by fragments of his sacred poems. The story, however, that he committed suicide by leaping into the crater of Etna is a malicious invention; it is always mentioned with a hostile purpose, and usually in order to counteract some tale told by his adherents and admirers.

Sources. Empedocles, who was a poet as well as a philosopher, composed two poetico-philosophical treatises, the one metaphysical (peri phuseôs), and the other theological (katharmoi). Of the five thousand verses which these poems contained, only about four hundred and fifty have come down to us. On account of the language and imagery which Empedocles employs, he is styled by Aristotle the first rhetorician.{18}


Metaphysics. Empedocles, like Parmenides, begins with a denial of Becoming. Becoming, in the strict sense of qualitative change of an original substance, is unthinkable. Yet, with Heraclitus, he holds that particular things arise, change, decay, and perish. He reconciles the two positions by teaching that generation is but the commingling, while decay is the separation of primitive substances which themselves remain unchanged.{19}

The primitive substances are four: fire, air, earth, and water; these afterwards came to be known as the Four Elements. Empedocles calls them roots (tessara tôn pantôn hrizômata). The word elements (stoicheia) was first used by Plato. The mythological names which Empedocles applied to these radical principles of Being have no particular philosophical value; they may be regarded as the accidents of poetical composition. The elements are underived, imperishable, homogeneous. Definite substances are produced when the elements are combined in certain proportions. Now, the moving cause, the force, which produces these combinations is not inherent in the elements themselves; it is distinct from them. Here we have the first word of mechanism in Greek philosophy. It is true, Empedocles speaks of this force as love and hatred,{20} but the phraseology merely proves that the idea of force is not yet clear to the Greek mind: Empedocles does not define the difference between force and matter on the one hand, and between force and person on the other. Moreover, to deny that Empedocles was a dualist, to explain that by love and hatred he meant merely a poetical description of the conditions of mixture and separation, and not the true causes of these processes, would imply that Aristotle and all our other authorities misunderstood the whole doctrine of Empedocles.

Cosmological Doctrines. The four elements were originally combined in a sphere (eudaimonestatos theos) where love reigned supreme.{21} Gradually hatred began to exert its centrifugal influence; love, however, united the elements once more to form those things which were made. And so the world is given over to love and hatred, and to the endless pulsation of periodic changes.

Biological Doctrines. Empedocles seems to have devoted special attention to the study of living organisms. Plants first sprang from the earth before it was illumined by the sun; and then came animals, which were evolved out of all sorts of monstrous combinations of organisms by a kind of survival of the fit; for those only survived which were capable of subsisting.{22} In this theory Empedocles expressly includes man.

The cause of growth in animals and plants is fire striving upwards impelled by the desire to reach its like, the fire which is in the sky. Blood is the seat of the soul, because in blood the elements are best united.{23} It is by reason of the movement of the blood that inspiration and respiration take place through the pores which are closely packed together all over the body.{24}

Psychological Doctrines. Sense-knowledge is explained by the doctrine of emanations and pores.{25} Like is known by like, that is, things are known to us by means of like elements in us, "earth by earth, water by water," etc.{26} In the case of sight, there is an emanation from the eye itself, which goes out to meet the emanation from the object.{27} Thought and intelligence are ascribed to all things, no distinction being made between corporeal and incorporeal. Thought, therefore, like all other vital activities, depends on the mixture of the four elements.{28} Yet Empedocles seems to contrast the untrustworthiness of sense-knowledge with knowledge acquired by reflection, or rather with knowledge acquired by all the powers of the mind.{29} He did not conceive the soul as composed of elements; he did not consider it as an entity apart from the body; he merely explained its activities by the constitution of the body. In his sacred poem, however, he adopted the doctrine of transmigration, borrowing it from Pythagorean and Orphic tradition, without making it part of his scientific theories. "Once ere now I was a youth, and a maiden, a shrub, a bird, and a fish that swims in silence in the sea."{30}

Concerning the Gods. Empedocles sometimes speaks as if he held the common polytheistic belief. Sometimes, on the contrary, as in verses 345 to 350, he describes the Deity almost in the words of Xenophanes: "He is sacred and unutterable mind, flashing through the whole world with rapid thoughts." Still, Empedocles apparently found no means of introducing this concept of the Deity into his account of the origin of the universe.

Historical Position. While Empedocles holds a recognized place among the Greek poets, and while Plato and Aristotle appear to rank him highly as a philosopher, yet scholars are not agreed as to his precise place in the history of pre-Socratic speculation. Ritter classes him with the Eleatics, others count him among the disciples of Pythagoras, while others again place him among the Ionians on account of the similarity of his doctrines to those of Heraclitus and the early Physicists. The truth, as Zeller says, seems to be that there is in the philosophy of Empedocles an admixture of all these influences, -- Eleatic (denial of Becoming, untrustworthiness of the senses), Pythagorean (doctrine of transmigration), and Ionic (the four elements and love and hatred, -- these being an adaptation of Heraclitean ideas). It would be a mistake, however, to underestimate the originality of Empedocles as a philosopher. It was he who introduced the notion of element, fixed the number of elements, and prepared the way for the atomistic mechanism of Leucippus. The defects, however, of his metaphysical system are many, chief among them being, as Aristotle{31} remarked, the omission of the idea of an intelligent Ruler under whose action natural processes would be regular instead of fortuitous.


Life. Anaxagoras was born at Clazomenae about 500 B.C. Aristotle{32} says that he was "prior to Empedocles in point of age, but subsequent to him in respect to doctrine." From his native city he went to Athens, where he was for many years the friend of Pericles, and where he counted among his disciples the dramatist Euripides. When, shortly before the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War, Pericles was attacked, Anaxagoras was tried on the charge of impiety, but escaped from prison and, returning to his native Ionia, settled in Lampsacus, where he died about the year 430 B.C.

Sources. Diogenes Laertius says that Anaxagoras wrote a work which, like most of the ancient philosophical treatises, was entitled peri physeôs. Of this work Plato speaks in the Apology; in the sixth century of our era Simplicius could still procure a copy, and it is to him that we owe such fragments as have come down to us. These fragments were edited by Schaubach in 1827, and by Schorn in 1829. They are printed by Mullach.{33}


Starting Point. Like Empedocles, Anaxagoras starts with the denial of Becoming, and, like Empedocles also, he is chiefly concerned to explain, in accordance with this denial, the plurality and change which exist. He differs, however, from Empedocles, both in his doctrine of primitive substances and in his doctrine of the cosmic force which formed the universe.

Doctrine of Primitive Substances. Anaxagoras maintained that all things were formed out of an agglomerate of substances in which bodies of determinate quality -- gold, flesh, bones, etc. -- were commingled in infinitely small particles to form the germs of all things.{34} This agglomerate was called by Aristotle ta homoiomerê it was called by Anaxagoras seeds (stêrmata) and things (chrêmata). So complete was the mixture, and so small were the particles of individual substances composing it, that at the beginning no substance could be perceived in its individual nature and qualities, and accordingly the mixture as a whole might be said to be qualitatively indeterminate, though definite qualities were really present in it. Yet, minute as were the primitive particles, they were divisible. Thus the agglomerate on the one hand reminds us of the apeiron of Anaximander, and on the other hand bears a certain analogy to the atomistic concept of matter.

Mind (Nous) is the moving power which formed the world from the primitive mass of "seeds." Anaxagoras is the first to introduce into philosophy the idea of the supersensible, for which reason Aristotle describes him{35} as standing out "like a sober man from the crowd of random talkers who preceded him." Mind is distinguished from other things because (1) it is simple -- everything else is mingled of all things; mind alone is unmixed. It is "the thinnest of all things and the purest." (2) It is self-ruled (autokratês). (3) It has all knowledge about everything. (4) It has supreme power over all things.{36}

However, as Plato and Aristotle point out, Anaxagoras did not work out his theory of mind in the details of the cosmic processes. He did not formulate the idea of design, nor did he apply the principle of design to particular cases. Mind was for him merely a world-forming force. There is, moreover, a certain vagueness attaching to the idea of Nous. Without entering into the details of the question of interpretation,{37} we may conclude that although Anaxagoras certainly meant by the Nous something incorporeal, he could not avoid speaking of it in terms which, taken literally, imply corporeal nature; for it is the fate of new ideas to suffer from imperfect expression until philosophical terminology has adjusted itself to the new conditions which they create.

Cosmology. Mind, therefore, first imparted to matter a circular motion{38} separating Air (from which came water, earth, and stone, and whatever is cold, dark, and dense) and Ether (from which came whatever is warm, light, and rare). Throughout this account of the processes of things Anaxagoras considers the material cause only, thereby deserving Aristotle's reproach, that he used the Nous merely as a Deus ex machina.

Psychology. Like is not known by like, but rather by unlike,{39} and in this Anaxagoras is directly opposed to Empedocles. The senses are "weak but not deceitful"; the faculty of true knowledge is Nous, the principle of understanding, which is also{40} an intrinsic psychic principle -- the soul. Plutarch's statement{41} that Anaxagoras represented the soul as perishing after its separation from the body is, to say the least, unreliable.

From the foregoing it is evident that Anaxagoras was not a Sceptic. The reason which he alleges for the untrustworthiness of the senses is that they see only part of what is in the object.{42} The intellect, which is unmixed, is capable of seeing the everything which is in everything.

Historical Position. The special importance of the philosophy of Anaxagoras is due to his doctrine of immaterial mind. This doctrine implies the most pronounced dualism; it contains in germ the teleological concept which was evolved by Socrates and perfected by Plato and Aristotle. It was only natural that these philosophers, who approached metaphysical problems with minds already accustomed to the idea of the immaterial, should blame Anaxagoras for not having made better use of that idea. But we must not underrate the service which Anaxagoras rendered to Greek philosophy by his doctrine of immaterial intellect.

Diogenes of Apollonia and Archelaus of Athens, who are sometimes included among the Later Ionian philosophers, exhibit a tendency towards a return to the hylozoism of the first philosophers.

{1} Cf. Diog. Laer., IX, 7. References are to the work peri ton biôn, dogmatikôn kai apophthegmatôn tôn en philosophia eudokimêsantôn (ed. Cobet, Paris, 1850), which is attributed to Diogenes Laertius.

{2} Frag. 18. The numbers used are those used by Burnet, following Bywater, Her. Eph. Reliquiae (Oxford, 1877).

{3} Frag. 16.

{4} Theaet., 160 D, and Cratyl.. 401 D.

{5} Met., IV, 5, 1010a, 13, and De An., I, 2, 405 a, 25.

{6} Frag. 22.

{7} Frag. 44.

{8} Frag. 69.

{9} Frag. 79; cf. note apud Fairbanks, op. cit., p. 42.

{10} Frag. 45.

{11} Met., IV, 3, 1005 b.

{12} Cf. Hegel, Gesch. des Phil., I, 305; Werke, XIII, 305; trans. by Haldane, I, 283.

{13} Frag. 74.

{14} Cf. Zeller, Pre-Socratic Phil., II, 85.

{15} Frag. 4.

{16} Frag. 100.

{17} Frag. 121.

{18} Cf. Zeller, Pre-Socratic Phil., II, 119, n.

{19} Verses 98 ff.

{20} Verse 80.

{21} Arist., Met., I, 4, 985 a.

{22} Verses 245-270.

{23} Theophr., De Sensu, 10; cf. Diels, op. cit., p. 502.

{24} Verses 288 ff.

{25} Verse 281.

{26} Verse 333.

{27} Verses 316 ff.

{28} Zeller, Pre-Socratic Phil., II, 167.

{29} Verse 19.

{30} Verse 383. For various readings of this line, cf. Ritter and Preller, op. cit., p. 150.

{31} De Gen. et Corr., II, 6, 333 b.

{32} Met., I, 3, 984 a, II.

{33} Fragmenta, Vol. I, pp. 249 ff.

{34} Frag. 1.

{35} Met., I, 3, 984 b, 17.

{36} Frag. 6.

{37} Cf. Zeller, op. cit., II, 342 ff.; Archiv f. Gesch. der Phil., Ed. VIII (1895), pp. 151, 461-465; also Philosophical Review, Vol. IV (September, 1895), p. 565, and Mind, N.S., Vol. V (1896), p. 210.

{38} Frags. 7 and 8.

{39} Theophr., De Sensu, frag. 27; cf. Diels, Doxographi, p. 507.

{40} Arist., De An., I, 2, 405 a, 13.

{41} Placita, V, 25, 3; cf. Diels, op. cit., p. 437.

{42} Frag. 6.

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