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Anaxagoras (510 – 428 BC), from the Greek Clazomenae on the shore of modern Turkey, was a Pre-Socratic precursor-scientist and mentor of Pericles. The moon is not a god, but a great rock, and the sun a hot rock
[Anaxagoras’ many writings have vanished and the quotes below come from other ancient sources quoting him in their writings; thus the material below is mostly secondary.]
Men would live exceedingly quiet lives if these two words, mine and thine, were taken away. [Most human stress is created by interpersonal conflict and little from the struggle with the natural world to gain a livelihood.]
Everything has a natural explanation. [Everything has a natural explanation if one can probe to near the Planck limit, at which point the explanations must become statistical probability.]
The moon is not a god, but a great rock, and the sun a hot rock. [Anaxagoras was exiled from Athens for publicly proposing this theory, because it denied the existence of the gods.]
It is not I who have lost the Athenians, but the Athenians who have lost me.
The descent to Hades is the same from every place. [Birth and death come from the eternal void is the same for everyone and everything.]
Appearances are a glimpse of the unseen. [Appearances are the external view of the unseen interior.]
All other things have a portion of everything, but Mind is infinite and self-ruled, and is mixed with nothing but is all alone by itself.
And since the portions of the great and the small are equal in number, so too all things would be in everything. Nor is it possible that they should exist apart, but all things have a portion of everything.
Neither is there a smallest part of what is small, but there is always a smaller (for it is impossible that what is should cease to be). Likewise there is always something larger than what is large.
The Greeks are wrong to recognize coming into being and perishing; for nothing comes into being nor perishes, but is rather compounded or dissolved from things that are. So they would be right to call coming into being composition and perishing dissolution.
There is no smallest among the small and no largest among the large; but always something still smaller and something still larger.
All things were together, infinite both in number and in smallness; for the small too was infinite. And since these things are so, we must suppose that there are contained many things and of all sorts in the things that are uniting, seeds of all things, with all sorts of shapes and colors and savors
Mind is infinite and self-ruled, and is mixed with nothing, but is alone itself by itself.
The sun provides the moon with its brightness.
Anaxagoras held that everything is infinitely divisible, and that even the smallest portion of matter contains some of each element. Things appear to be that of which they contain the most. Thus, for example, everything contains some fire, but we only call it fire if that element preponderates. He argues against the void, saying that the clepsydra or an inflated skin shows that there is air where there seems to be nothing.
All things were together; then came Mind and set them in order.
The Greeks do not think correctly about coming-to-be and passing-away; for no thing comes to be or passes away, but is mixed together and dissociated from the things that are. And thus they would be correct to call coming-to-be mixing-together and passing-away dissociating.
Since these things are so, it is right to think that there are many different things present in everything that is being combined, and seeds of all things, having all sorts of forms, colors, and flavors, and that humans and also the other animals were compounded, as many as have soul. Also that there are cities that have been constructed by humans and works made, just as with us, and that there are a sun and a moon and other heavenly bodies for them, just as with us, and the earth grows many different things for them, the most valuable of which they gather together into their household and use. I have said this about the separation off, because there would be separation off not only for us but also elsewhere.
Any way plants seem to participate in life of that kind; and so do children too, inasmuch as at their first procreation in the mother, although alive, they stay asleep all the time. So that it is clear from considerations of this sort that the precise nature of well-being and of the good in life escapes our investigation. Now it is said that when somebody persisted in putting various difficulties of this sort to Anaxagoras and went on asking for what object one should choose to come into existence rather than not, he replied by saying, For the sake of contemplating the heavens and the whole order of the universe.
…contemplating the heavens and the whole order of the universe.’ Anaxagoras therefore thought that the alternative of being alive was valuable for the sake of some kind of knowledge
Anaxagoras of Clazomenae, who, though older than Empedocles, was later in his philosophical activity, says the principles are infinite in number; for he says almost all the things that are homogeneous are generated and destroyed (as water or fire is) only by aggregation and segregation, and are not in any other sense generated or destroyed, but remain eternally.
When these men and the principles of this kind had had their day, as the latter were found inadequate to generate the nature of things, men were again forced by the truth itself, as we said, to inquire into the next kind of cause. For surely it is not likely either that fire or earth or any such element should be the reason why things manifest goodness and beauty both in their being and in their coming to be, or that those thinkers should have supposed it was; nor again could it be right to ascribe so great a matter to spontaneity and luck. When one man said, then, that reason was present—as in animals, so throughout nature—as the cause of the world and of all its order, he seemed like a sober man in contrast with the random talk of his predecessors. We know that Anaxagoras certainly adopted these views, but Hermotimus of Clazomenae is credited with expressing them earlier. Those who thought thus stated that there is a principle of things which is at the same time the cause of beauty, and that sort of cause from which things acquire movement.
[Aristotle writes – These thinkers, (Anaxagoras) as we say, evidently got hold up to a certain point of two of the causes which we distinguished in our work on nature—the matter and the Metaphysics of the movement,—vaguely, however, and with no clearness, but as untrained men behave in fights; for they go round their opponents and often strike fine blows, but they do not fight on scientific principles, and so these thinkers do not seem to know what they say; for it is evident that, as a rule, they make no use of their causes except to a small extent. For Anaxagoras uses reason as a deus ex machina for the making of the world, and when he is at a loss to tell for what cause something necessarily is, then he drags reason in, but in all other cases ascribes events to anything rather than to reason.]
[Aristotle writes – The doctrine of Heraclitus, that all things are and are not, seems to make everything true, while that of Anaxagoras, that there is an intermediate between the terms of a contradiction, seems to make everything false; for when things are mixed, the mixture is neither good nor not-good, so that one cannot say anything that is true.]
[Aristotle writes – We could not be right, then, in accepting the views either of Heraclitus or of Anaxagoras. If we were, it would follow that contraries would be predicated of the same subject, for when Anaxagoras says a portion of everything is in everything, he says nothing is sweet any more than it is bitter, and so with any other pair of contraries, since in everything everything is present not potentially only, but actually and separately. And similarly all statements cannot be false nor all true, both because of many other difficulties which might be deduced as arising from this position, and because if all are false it will not be true even to say all are false, and if all are true it will not be false to say all are false.]
[Aristotle writes – Anaxagoras of Clazomenae being asked, ‘Who was the happiest of men’? answered, ‘None of those you suppose, but one who would appear a strange being to you’, because he saw that the questioner thought it impossible for one not great and beautiful or rich to deserve the epithet ‘happy’, while he himself perhaps thought that the man who lived painlessly and pure of injustice or else engaged in some divine contemplation was really, as far as a man may be, blessed.]
[Demosthenes writes – You may infer this to be true on many other grounds and especially by scanning the careers of those who have become eminent before your time. You will hear first that Pericles, who is thought to have far surpassed all men of his age in intellectual grasp, addressed himself to Anaxagoras of Clazomenae and only after being his pupil acquired this power of judgement. You will next discover that Alcibiades, though his natural disposition was far inferior in respect to virtue and it was his pleasure to behave himself now arrogantly, now obsequiously, now licentiously, yet, as a fruit of his association with Socrates, he made correction of many errors of his life and over the rest drew a veil of oblivion by the greatness of his later achievements.]
The moon is not a god, but a great rock, and the sun a hot rock. Anaxagoras was publicly tried, condemned and exiled from Athens for publicly proposing this theory, because it denied the existence of the gods. We now know that the single word “rock” is an adequate description of the Moon, but it is a very poor single-word description of the Sun. The Sun is mostly hydrogen being converted into helium by nuclear processes, and percentage-wise has a very small proportion of silicon dioxide, which is the primary constituent of typical rocks.
The great importance of Anaxagoras isn’t that his scientific explanations are correct, it is because his statements are clear and distinct and, by the modern Popperian theory of scientific advancement, are falsifiable by more accurate data. Because they are testable and some of their parts can be demonstrated to be inoperable, this then creates an opening for other people to explain, in some plausible way, the error of the previous clearly stated theory. Anaxagoras couldn’t have been thinking with those concepts, not defined for another two and a half thousand years, but he did set in motion a method of thinking which could be challenged, and then a process of intellectual evolution, a survival of the intellectually fittest idea, where there would gradually come into being, and into public knowledge, the most workable ideas. This is a fundamentally different process from most other forms of human thought and reasoning, where a fixed idea is proposed and future observation and behavior is forced to fit the defined structures created by the ideal; and things falling outside of the plan are ignored, rejected or punished in some way. This evolutionary concept is suggested by Aristotle in the following century, When these men and the principles of this kind had had their day, as the latter were found inadequate to generate the nature of things, men were again forced by the truth itself to inquire into the next kind of cause. This is an acknowledgement of an evolutionary process of ideas.
Aristotle says, they go round their opponents and often strike fine blows, but they do not fight on scientific principles, and so these thinkers do not seem to know what they say, which is a good statement of someone who has found some flaw in a previous scientist’s theory. Whereupon he sets out to improve upon that previous idea, but as we know two thousand years later, Aristotle himself can have those same condemnations leveled at his work. But this isn’t really serious condemnation in the larger sense, because the process is valid and leads to an ever better understanding by those who inquire into the subject.