Jonathan Langseth PHIL 521 Presocratics Final Paper Winter 2013 The fragments of Empedocles, the most voluminous
of all the pre-Socratic thinkers, leave contemporary readers with a specific problem pertaining to his metaphysics. While trying to reconcile the oneness of Parmenides with the many found by perception, does Empedocles end up putting forth a proto-atomic theory of reality or does he rather offer a view of the continuity of change and difference? While many authors, from Aristotle to John Burnet suggest Empedocles’ theory is ultimately atomic, I will argue otherwise. I will begin by outlining Empedocles theory of the roots and forces at work in the creation of the cosmos, follow this with the specific charges of atomism made against Empedocles, and conclude by attempting to reconcile his theory with a view of nature as both spatially and temporally continuous. Empedocles is most known for his theory that the entire cosmos is made up of mixtures of four elements (fire, water, aether, and earth) being moved and changed by the forces of Love and Strife. His cosmology suggests that there is a repeating pattern of all things becoming one by the persuasion of Love and being separated by the influence of Strife. This process is a response to the problem of the one and many. The problem is whether the cosmos is a unified, singular, unchanging being (as reason may suggest), or it is a realm of many diverse and differentiated beings (as our sense would suggest). The problem can synonymously be understood in terms of being and becoming. Parmenides had argued that being must be one and unchanging, for if something were to come to be, from whence would it come? In other words, for Parmenides, being is, and what is not cannot be. Therefore, all becoming is illusory. We can hear an echo of this thought in
and the dissolution of the sphere into many begins the process of becoming. The unified sphere is being. unlike Parmenides’ monistic view of being. For it will always be there wherever one puts it at any time. while what is mortal (the objects of experience) becomes and passes away. water. I shall tell you another thing: there is no birth of any of all Mortal things. it is impossible to come to be. φύσις δ᾽ ἐπὶ τοῖς ὀνομάζεται ἀνθρώποισι.i
Yet. and birth is a term applied to them by men. neither any end of destructive death. This leads to the fragment inspiring and initiating this project is DK 31 B 8:
ἄλλοδέ τοι ἐρέω: φύσις οὐδενὸς ἔστιν ἑκάστου θνητῶν. he says. and earth. But during the process of becoming there is still being. But only mixture and separation of mixed things Exist. as instantiated by the roots of fire. Or that something will die out and perish utterly. He speaks of times when all things come together into a unified sphere (like Parmenides) in which there is no discrimination of individual roots or entities. And for what-is to perish cannot be fulfilled or known.Empedocles’ fragment 14 and 15:
Fools! Their reflections are not far-reaching. while what they commingle to create appears to come into and out of existence. Who expect what was not before to come to be. aether. Empedocles has a pluralistic view involving the four rootsii and two forces as eternal. At other times in the history of the cosmos he says things break apart from this singular unified sphere into a world full of many beings as experienced via the sense (arguably following Heraclitus). These. For from what in no way is. οὐδέ τις: οὐλομένη θανάτοιο γενέθλη: ἀλλὰ μόνον μῖξίς τε διάλλαξίς τε μιγέντων ἔστι. never cease to exist. These for Empedocles would be defined as immortal being. In this sense Empedocles is trying to balance the problem of the one and many. being and becoming.iii
Aristotle: In what way can those who say what Empedocles says [explain compounds]? For there must be a composition as a wall from bricks and stones. but not properly generations and destructions. In order to address the question of Empedocles’ view of discreteness (atomicity) and continuity I will now cite a few passages claiming he is atomistic and follow this with my own rebuttal of this claim. have no phusis of their own.vi
Clara Elizabeth Millerd Smertenko: Their [the four roots] mixture was to be thought of as
. One the other hand. and the point is that they are constantly coming into being and passing away…I take the meaning of the fragment to be that temporary compounds or combinations like flesh.] and all who construct the world by a combination of tiny bodies employ aggregations and segregations. For these things come to be. and all interpreters (including myself) have hitherto followed him.24. etc. but are juxtaposed in small particles.The specific interpretive problem here delves into the heart of Empedocles’ metaphysics: Is he here referring only to the transmigration of souls. while being pluralist (having four elements and two principles as his metaphysical foundation). irreducible. or does Empedocles mean that all change is continuous in so far as.2) Burnet: Plutarch says that Phusis here means “birth. the body at which it stops will either be indivisible [atomic]. as put forth in Purifications. it would imply that Empedocles’ metaphysics assumes no ultimate parts in space or discrete “cuts” in the process of change. but rather that there are no ultimately discernable beginning or end to any process or lifespan of an entity. to quote John Dewey. “There are no absolute originations or initiations or absolute finalities and terminations in nature.” as is shown by its opposition to death. arguing for immutable. as Empedocles seems to want to say. then Empedocles. Rather. The thneta are just perishable combinations of the four elements. and Empedokles cannot have said that there was no death of mortal things. the fragment clearly deals with thneta.”iv If the second is true. (On Coming to Be and Passing Away 334a26-31) Aristotle: If the division [of parts] stops at some point. is not atomistic (as some scholars believev). not qualitatively by alteration. (P 1. Only the four “immortal” elements have a phusis which does not pass away. This is how flesh and every other such thing would be composed. (On the Heavens 305a1-4) Aetius: Empedocles [et.. al. indivisible parts of reality and change. but quantitatively by combination. And this mixture will be composed of elements that continue to exist. or divisible but never to be divided. bone.
there is no discerning of pure elements. "like the bricks in a wall. First. aether (air). and earth represent pure unchanging eternal aspects of reality. and realized that I was unable to experience anything I could call pure. not the roots themselves. we do not experience the roots or forces in their pure. So although the roots in combination with the forces of Love and Strife compose the world and determine (with chance) the nature what we experience. At the end of fragment 17 Empedocles says. combination.”viii This suggests that in the cosmic period in which the many exist. what impetus made Aristotle and others think that the roots must have ultimate parts? Second. So it would appear that although he elements are pure and eternal unto themselves. yet when unified into a single sphere. nothing is discernable. sand. thus far they exist always changeless in the cycle. But here we have three questions to address. The question donned on me: Is the dirt earth? Or the rocks? Or both? I then began thinking about all the various kinds of soil. never the roots in their pure form. What is available to the sense would be the mixtures of these roots. “ but insofar as they never cease their continual interchange. Most modern discussions explicitly or implicitly accept this interpretation. what exactly does Empedocles mean by the roots? The third question was brought to my attention while raking the ground to separate rocks from dirt. water.mechanical mixture. they are never completely unmixed with each other.
." They were moved from without by external agencies. why are the motion. The names of the roots. fire. eternal forms. and separation of the roots considered mechanical? And third. immutable earth. clay. We can question whether the roots are ever in a pure form or are always within a mixture.vii
The view all these interpretations have in common is the idea that the roots consist of ultimately indivisible miniscule particles that interact in a mechanical fashion to create the objects of becoming. Love and Strife. but we only experience mixtures. etc.
Of course. love and strife. acting on each other as Hume’s billiard balls. After Democritus. who really did hold an atomistic view of the universe.ix
There is certainly nothing the fragments that imply mechanical motion. The picture portrayed would be one in which the ultimate parts of each root come together. yet remain separate. But where does Empedocles speak of ultimate parts? Perhaps Aristotle and Aestis had access to more fragments than we do. Their interaction in composing mortal beings would be similar to the cogs in a clock. an indivisible particle of fire would still be fire. In conjunction they create a new structure or object available to the senses. as Aristotle says. or. to produce a mortal being. one rigid being (ov). For example.This leads to the first and second questions above. seem more related to our contemporary notion of agency. In response to this charge I have to agree with Nietzsche’s interpretation when he says. but in actuality the roots would remain independent. The idea that Empedocles’ view of motion is mechanical seems due to retrospective interpretations of his theory. it made sense to think of Empedocles’ roots as divisible down to a point. rather only one from drives. Rather the drives. or from inner impulses active within the mortal beings
. We must ask whether the forces or drives of love and strife operate from outside objects. he thereby dissolves all mechanical motion…Yet this was its [his theory’s] consequence. and so for the other elements. If their were ultimate parts then the commingling and separating of roots may be understood as mechanical. but from what we do have there is no mention of parts. connecting them together. ultimate or not.
The more definite love and strife replace [the] indefinite mind [of Anaxagoras]. attraction and repulsion. the bricks of a building. but that this point must maintain the characteristics of the root in question. have an effect on another rigid being? No mechanical explanation of motion whatsoever exists. for how can something dead.
themselves. Empedocles is suggesting that motion. but given what we do have there is no indication of smallest parts or mechanical motion. nowhere in the fragments do we read of particles or the smallest. which would be connected to one another. nor of indivisible parts. Yet again. In fact. men through cunning well skilled in their craft—when they actually seize pigments of many colors in their hands. they produce from them forms resembling all things…”x
When a painter mixes. indivisible points of each root. It would be as if from far away the mixture of yellow and blue created green. if the colors actual
. the fragments seem to suggest quite the opposite. but from close enough a vantage point we could discern the independent particle of yellow and blue. growth. Nowhere in the green are we able to discern the yellow or blue. Empedocles speaks of co-mingling. say. The argument for mechanical motion rests on the belief that Empedocles viewed the roots as divisible to a minute point. His metaphor of the painter speaks to this:
As when painters are decorating offerings. we would see in the mixture (or there would be in the mixture) an unmodified yellowness. mixing in harmony more of some and less of others. and change are not mechanical. mixtures. and roots entering each other. The mechanical motion of dead particles would never produce life and the teleological determination (agency) we find there. he or she gets green. yellow and blue. On the other hand. For if some part of yellow was indivisible. decay. Now there may be portions of Empedocles’ text that Aristotle and other commentators had that we do not. sharing a border. which is indivisible yet still qualitatively the same as the root it is derived from. The blending of the mixture obscures the purity of the original qualities. The latter would make more sense if there is to be any directed momentum to the process of change as Empedocles suggests with his circular cosmology of oneness and many-ness. This is not some kind of mechanical motion in which each part can be delineated. By using the example of painting to describe the mixture of the roots.
then it would be impossible to differentiate blue from yellow. As Aristotle says. saying there is [F17] nothing void in the totality: whence then would anything else come to be? (On Melissus. Consider fragment 20:
Double is the birth of mortal things. It therefore seems that Empedocles is not suggesting ultimately indivisible parts that operate upon each other creating the sensual effects we experience. And as for the unified. he would have used an analogy more like Aristotle’s or bricks and stone.blend into each other. The inability to demarcate the roots in their purity is now understandable. no discrimination is possible. All is blended. for in both cases the roots are being intertwined by the forces of love and strife. Fire cannot exist without air. Xenophanes 976b22-27)xi The continuous motion and mixing of the roots suggests that there is no discreteness beyond our sense perceptions. and how could one fix a determinate number of roots and forces? We must find our answer in the fragments.
. nor air without earth. but rather that the roots are always already mixed to an extent that discrimination is impossible. If the interpretation just presented is true then we must ask how did Empedocles detect the individual roots and forces. etc. This is to say that if all is always blended together. They roots are always in blend with each other creating all the fleeting objects and processes of experience. and this either in unity or separation. how could one conceptually distinguish between the roots blended. This second reading must be the implication of the fragment. singular sphere. “Empedocles says there is everlasting motion of things congregating continuously through the whole of time. and double the demise. Gorgias. for if not. Therefore the interplay of the roots is necessary for the many.
29. excluding earth. close to Darwinian evolution. but Love the artificer and creator of their withdrawal from the world of created things and their change and restoration of one world. And this not in some mechanical fashion of elementary particles (as presented by Democritus) being connected. in uniting destroys the particulars of the many.
. And if this is the case then it is true that there is no point at which something comes into being or passes out of being for all is a continuous blending of the foundational roots of existence. Rather. The double birth seems to flip the roles of love and strife upside-down. The process. rather than mechanical. Love. How Empedocles came upon the roots is somewhat historical for prior to his time there were thought to be three roots. is closer to a biological or chemical understanding of the relations of the ultimate constituents of reality. But with the addition of earth Empedocles is able to offer an explanation. And these things never cease continually alternating.9-10)xiii So these two forces each have a double role as that which unites and that which separates. fled away. And the repeated claim that the mixing and separating of the roots by love and strife in unending implies there is never any unmixed or discrete aspect to the world. while the uniting factor of all that is. and earth itself. fire. Strife tends to produce the individual objects or processes of the many that we experience.For the confluence of all things begets and destroys the one. (Hippolytus Refutations 7. of how things come to grow out of the earth by way of water.xii
We find here Empedocles answer. air. having been nurtured while things were growing apart. For “Destructive Strife is the artificer and creator of the birth of all things that come to be. While the other [presumably Strife] in turn. it is the continual flux (ala Heraclitus) of roots that ground the actuality of reality by intermixing and separating out.
1995. Fredrick.Whether or not Empedocles believed in the transmigration of the soul (which seems to be the case). E. The Presocratic Philosophers. 12: 1938. the slowly. G. The Texts of Early Greek Philosophy. the transmigration would be a change in blending. New York: 1958. Early Greek Philosophy. Schofield. 1997. Neitzsche. and M. in which no discrete elements are ever fully actualized.m
. So regardless of one’s interpretation. 2nd Ed. John. Raven. Greg Whitlock. never approaching beginnings and ends that always continues unnoticed. Kirk. Southern Illinois University Press. J. The Later Works Vol. Cambridge University Press: 2010. Empedocles’ theory in founded on the continuity of change. Dewey. Daniel W.
Bibliography: Burnet. Cambridge University Press: 1995.. The Pre-Platonic Philosophers. Trans. John. S. Graham. University of Illinois Press: Chicago. Merdidian Books.
nor any end in accursed death. iii Graham 347. They are only the mingling and interchange of what has been mingled. Substance is but a name given to these things by men.” as opposed to “elements” which was not a concept Empedocles used. vi Burnet 206-5 vii Smertenko 40 viii Kirk and Raven 287 ix Nietzsche 116 x Kirk and Raven 293-4 xi Graham 349 xii Graham 351 xiii Graham 351
. although most authors use elements in their translations and interpretations of Empedocles. iv Dewey. nor any cessation for them of baneful death. LW 220 v For example Aristotle. There is no substance of any of all the things that perish. but only mingling and interchange of what is mingled — birth is the name given to these by men. —And I shall tell thee another thing.i
Graham 349 I will use the translation “roots. and Burnet. Aestis. The term “elements” came into use after Empedocles’ texts. Alternative translations of Fragment 8: —Another thing will I tell you: of all mortal things none has birth.