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Aristoteles on the Unity

of Presocratic Philosophy.
A Contribution to the Reconstruction
of the Early Retrospettive View
of Presocratic Philosophy

ABSTRACT: Since the nineteendi =tory a cettain view of Presocratic

philosophy has prevailed (in the works of histoty of philosophy, and
allo in the collections od texts), according to which alt the ghiotte;
who may be labelled as 'Pnesccratics' had basically the same contenti
to explain physical change, and shared the procedure of sul:mita:m dte
solutions proposed by their predecessora to a criticai scrutiny, correcting
them with appropriate modifications. In order to illustrate Ibis Modera'
approach to Presocratic philosophy, I offer a survey of some studkss by
Harold Chemiss, taking dura as paradigmatic. In view of the criticism
to this approach, starting by questioning the very assumption that those
theories were different answers to the same problem, once may be tempt-
ed to conclude that it Is nor poseible to talk d a Presocratic Philteaphi
as a whole. Before accepting this oanctusion it scema advisable te °seer-
tain whether some inclusive view of Presocradc philosophy le itbeady to
be found in authors duonolc•gically cicae to the Presumente dterneetves,
and, in &a case what kind of view it was. In the present essay I fecce on
Arbtotle, trying toihow that he agrees with the idea, anwieorlY rader
widespreacl at his time, that an inquiry about teme as a whote had
been starteribt llutles. I ateo show that, as a conseguente, Aditale was
bound I:0 mise the question 'of the telationship of catain philofisphical
trends (i. e., the Eleatics and the Pythagoreans) to what was considered
the main tradition of philosophical speculation before So:ratea.

A partire dall'Ottocento si è imposta una visione della filosofia preso-

ctatica secondo la quale questa presenta una certa unità al suo interno,
data dal fatto che tutti i pensatori eticheaabili come 'pree.ocratice
condividevano fondamentalmente la pisacupazione di rendere conto
del mutamento sensibile e il procedimento di sottopone ad un vaglio
critico le soluzioni avanzate dai predecessori, apportandovi le oppor-
tune correzioni. Per illustrare questo approccio 'moderno alla filosofia
presocratica passo in rassegna, come paradigmatici, alcuni contributi di
Harold Chemiss. Dalle critiche alle quali questo approccio è esposto (a
356 Walter Leszl

cominciare dall'assunto stesso che le teorie proposte da quei pensatori

siano differenti risposte ad uno stesso problema) si potrebbe dedurre
l'impossibilità di parlare di una 'filosofia presocratica' nel suo com-
plesso, al di là dei contributi originali dei singoli pensatoti. Prima di
accogliere questa conclusione pare opportuno accertare se una qualche
visione complessiva della filosofia presocratica sia riscontrabile già in
autori prossimi nel tempo ai Presocratici stessi e, nel caso di una risposta
positiva, quale sia tale visione. Nel presente saggio ho concentrato la
mia attenzione su Aristotele mostrando che egli, nell'accogliere l'idea
già diffusa che un'indagine circa la natura nel suo complesso era stata
iniziata da Talete, si trovava obbligato a porsi il problema del rapporto
in cui correnti come quella eleatica e quella pitagorica si ponevano con
quella che veniva considerata la tradizione principale della speculazione
filosofica prima di Socrate.

1. Introduction

We are used to talking of 'Presocratic philosophy', but in accepting

this denomination we assume that, in ancient Greece and, at least
predominantly, before Socrates, there was an intellectual enterprise
with features of its own which differentiated it from any other intel-
leetual enterprise. However, it is problematic whether one has to
consider it philosophy at all, and, even if one has to„ whether it
had a sufficient internai unity liable to a common denomination as
the one suggested by the adjective 'Presocratic' itself; any attempt
to give a positive reply to this second question, however, stili raises
issues of demarcation, for instane whether the Sophists should or
should not be included among the Presocratics.
There are of course no clear indications that those whom we cali
'Presncratic philosophers' were themselves aware of contributing to
one distinct intellectual enterprise. As far as the latest among them
are concemed, perhaps the Jack of evidence, as a consequence of
their works being lost, favours this impression, but on the whole it
would seem that they were not actually conscious of this fact. Now,
self-consciousness of contributing to a certain intellectual enterprise
is significant, but can't be the only criterion by which we can teli
whether this phenomenon is taking piace. Furthermore, the fact
that a certain, identifiable approach is shared by a certain group of
357 Aristoteles on the Unity of Presocratic Philosophy

people, even if they are not aware of it, is a good reason for saying
that they are all contributing to a definite intellectual enterprise. h
may be difficult to explain how a tradition of this kind gas estab-
rish,ed, but its identification is quite possible, and this takes piace
retrospectively. There are however various ways in which this can
take piace. We should be aware of the important difference in atti-
tude between modem scholars who attempato give an account d a
past which does not concem them directly any more and thinIters
like Aristotle who, though concemed with obtaining a view d the
past, are themselves pursuing inquiries which stili belong, to some
extent at least, to that sante tradition.
As for the 'modem retrospettive view, it can be said that some
decades ago it was largely believed that the Presocratic philosophen
formed a group unified by a common approach. This confidence
was based on a certain overall interpretatìon of Presocratic philoso-
phy, which in more recent years has been increasingly subject to
trincia This overall intepretation, despite taking lino account
certain ancient testimontes, is mainly the product of modem
scholarship. If one assumes that talking of 'Presocratic philosophy'
makes sense only if this modem interpretation is workable, one is
induced to question the very legitimacy d using this expression,
since it reflects a modem consnuction. In a way, this conclusion is
ini-wapable, I think, since it is only in modem times that the idea
that without exceptions alt those who are conventionally called
'Presocratic philosophers' actually shared a common approach, has
been formulated.
However, if we give up the modem idea of Presocratic philoso-
phy', the consequence is not that we are left with a complete void.
As I will try to establish below, at the end of the fifth century and
in the fourth there was a rather widespread conviction that there
had been a tradition of inquiry about nature (physiologia) which had
started with Thales and which, in a way, had come to an end with
Socrates. If this is true, there was an ancient idea of 'Presocratic phi-
losophy' which certainly does not coincide with our modem idea of
'Presocratic philosophy', so that it could be questioned whether we
should stili use the same expression for the ancient idea. However,
these ancients did talk of 'philosophy', and in fact in our modem
use of the expression 'Presocratic philosophy' the word 'philosophy'
subsists because the ancients used it, and not because we modem
scholars are fully convinced that it is appropriate to apply it to
358 Walter Leszl

the Presocratics. Again, the fact that with Socrates there was a
change in the orientation of philosophy is an ancient idea (it is a
well-known fact, on which I shall comment briefly below, that in
Aristotle we find assertions to this effect), usually accepted by mod-
eri scholars without many qualifications. So what is problematic,
about this ancient idea, is not the use of the expression 'Presocratic
philosophy' irself, but whether all those thinkers that we are used
to canina 'Presocratic philosophers' cm be gathered onda this
heading. It is a point that I shall discuss below, limiting myself to
Aristotle's account of the metter. Anticipating the conclusion of my
discussion, I cari say that the question of what to do about those who
did not contribute to physiologia was not ignored by the ancients and
did not lead to one clear solution.
The fact that the ancients had some idea of a Presocratic philoso-
phy is not enough, of course, to show that this is a well-grounded
idea. Trying to offer indications (which cannot be decisive bermivi
of the limita of our evidence) in favour of a stronger conclusion
would belong to the second stage of a larger enterprise. My present
efforts are limited to the first stage of this enterprise, that is to say,
they concem the reconstruction of what I have called «the early
retrospective view of Presocratic philosophy, and are focused on
Aristotle's contribution to the view (I have to leave out any consid-
erations of the early retrospettive view of the Presocmtic 'philoso-
pher'). Even the esistente of such a view is not beyond doubt, so
that an attempt to establish it is not superfluous. Some clarification
is needed about the precise nature of this view.

2 The modem approach

Before I get back to the points I have just mentioned, I think it is

useful to illustrate the 'modem' idea of 'Presocratic philosophy' in
detail and to clarify the contrast I have in mitici between this idea
and the ancient one. I take as paradigmatic a contribution which
will be familiar to everybody, namely Harold Chemiss' article on
The characteristics and effeas of Presocratic philosophy'. I reduce here

Cronunss 1951. In what follows some quotations come from the final chapter
of Cimatoss 1935, but the overall account is
359 Aristoteles on the Unity of Presocratic Philosophy

its contents to its bare bones from the point of vievr that is of inter-
est to us at present (I do not daini to do justice to an article which
remains instructive even if one does not accept its °versa interpre-
tation). Chemiss regards Thale.s (not wholly without justification)
as too nebulous a figure to make Presocratic philosophy start with
him rather with Anaximander. He suggests that «Anaximander
was primarily interested in the protesa by which the world exhlbits
its changing phases, a process which he envisaged as a balancing of
individuai accounts in the fund ci a common mixture» amata
1935, 379). With Anaximenes there is art important development,
i.e. «the introduction of the notion that all things change accord-
ing to a single quantitative mechanism» (ibid., 380). Heraclitus
brings this proposition to its logical conclusion. While Anaximenes
retained «the matter which changes», with characteristics peculiar
to a transitional phase in the changes going on in the world, Hera-
clitus supposed it is «the process alone which really exists» and that
«all the distinctions made by men are but fleeting phases of the
process» (Cmsauss 1951, 331).
Then Chemiss asserts that Heraclita's position «called forth a
protest that checked this whole train of thought» (Grazna 1935,
383, cf. CHERNIS8 1951, 336). This protest carne from Parmenides,
whole «whole atgument [...] proceeds by applying the law of excluded
middie to prove that the identity of what is precludes the possibility of
any characteristic except just beim» (Dimas 1951, 338)2. Yet the
Parmenidean logic did not previde just a check but also a «mighty
stimulus», and, in this way, «determined the subsequent toast of
Presocratic philosophy which was in the main a seria of attempts to
save the world of nature without transgressirtg the rules of the new
logic» (339). What is new with Parmenides is that, while the lonians
and Hemclitus tried account for the process underlying the physical
world, on the assumption that continuous motion exists «as one of the
essential characteristics of all material things» (Cantala 1935, 382),
he questioned this very assumption, by raising logical difficulties about
the possibility of change in generai. (cf. ibid., 373).

2 Notice that the opposition adopted by Nato between rheontes and stasiotai is
assumed in this account, but typically the ancien authot just recognizes the oppo-
sition, while the modem author supposes that one of tese two positions, namely
that of the stasiotes Parmenides, is elaborated in reply to that of the theotaes.
360 Walter Lessi

The Pythagoteans, with respect to their cosmologica( physics,

continued, in pan, the view of the lonians, «but the distinctive
duracteristic of their whole doctrine was the tenet that all things
are numbers» (ausamss 1951, 336), and this became fruitful only at
a later stage. In connection to this, Chemiss adopts the hypothesis
that their position on this point was attacked by Zeno (cf. CHERNISS
1935, 387 and 398, further 155-161, and cf. CHERNISS 1951, 340).
The first to attempt to save physics by taking into account Eleatic
logic was Empedocles, but he neglected «the problem of the part
and the whole», and, for this reason, his view, and not only that
of the Pythagoreans, was criticized by Zeno of Elea (cf. CfmaNiss
1951, 349). Anaxagoras, in addition to criticizing Empedocles for
his theory of the elements, gave a «firm answer» to Zeno's dilemma
by assuming that «matter is infirtitely divisible» (Clummss 1935,
401). Empedocles and Anaxagoras supposed that the change they
assumed did not «rransgress the laws of Parmenides so long as the
unit in the rearrangement kept its identity». But another Eleatic,
Melissus, appeared to object that «all change of whatever type is
impossible...» (ibid., 402). Melissus argued: «if there is no void,
there cannot be motion of any kind» (Cnemaiss 1951, 341). «Sine
it was no longer possible to assume motion without assuming a void,
Leucippus and his followers accepted the challenge and asserted the
existence of such a vacuum» (Cmunss 1935, 403). «The Atomic
system» elaborated in this way can be seen as coinciding with
Anaximander's system, «purged of its indefiniteness and refined by
the logic of Parmenides, and the rebuttal of those attempts by the
Eleatic critics, Zeno and Melissus» (Cfremess 1951, 342-343).
Thus we have come to a full circle, starting with Anaximander
and ending with a refined version of his system. In a way this may
be true: the Atomic system can be regarded as a refined version
of Anaximander's system. But were all these passages necessary to
get to this outcome? And are we forced, apart from chronological
reasons, to regard the Atomic system as the outcome of Presocratic
philosophy? Perhaps we shouid not talk of just one single outcome.
Beyond these generai questions one can see that on this account
the unity of Presocratic philosophy is ensured by the faci that it is
uniformly concemed with the problem of change and that, concerti-
ing this problem, a series of positions were elaborated, each of which
was in some form a reply to a difficulty exploited or left unsolved by
the previous one. Thus there is not just a chronological succession,
361 Aristoteles on the Unity of Presocratic Philosophy

but a development of thought, trio, which may be called 'dialecti-

cal', since each position also involves some form of criticism of the
previous one. It is often taken as a sign that a rational procedure is
adopted that this sort of criticism is exercised by the thinlcer who
elaborates a cenata theory. This is actually the main point of con-
tact among ali the thinlcers who belong to this group, who rima may
be called 'Presocratic philosophers".
One problematic point with this account is whether the criticism
was really exercised, and exercised in a conscious way. For instane,
whether Parmenides reacted to Heraclitus and ctiticìzed him is ques-
tionable, just as it is debatable whether Zeno criticized the Pythago-
reans and even Empedocles. And if one concede& ibis much, wbat
does this account explain? Chemiss hinwelf admits that it would be
reductive to suppose that Parmenides' theory erose purely as a reaction
to Heraclitus, or that Heraclitus' theory itself is just a development
of the Milesian account of cbange4. What is questionable is, in fast,
the basic assumption that these thinkers were ali concerned with one
main problem, that is to say the problem of change. Parmenides' mane
was being, and his denial of change is a consequence of the
theory rather than its main objective. It is stili possible to suppose
that the pluralists reacted to Parmenides' denial of change. However,
this hypothesis does not explain the great differences between their
positions, and does not provide them with a satisfactory reply to Par-
menides. Even to postulate a 'combination' of immutatile elements,
which did not exist before, would go against his excluaion d pas-
sage from not-being to beings. Furthermore, in adopting this account,

The mast explicit statement of this view is to be found in Poeeea 1963, who
talks of «the tradition of critica]. discussioni« (152).
" In the case of Parmenides he says: «that the poem of Pannenides is directed
sokly against Heraclitus is a contention much reo narrow to be maintained»
(Cueltress 1935, 383); in the other case he remarks that .Heraclitus is not to be
understcod, however, as simply continuing and extending Milesian philosophy»,
since «the characteristics of his thought were entirely different from those of the
Milesians and something entirely new» (1951, 332).
Notice that Melissus explicitly excludes, in fr. 7, any sort of 'rearrangement'
or of emergence of an arrangement or cader (egonos) which did not exist before,
so that (in relation to this statement) the position of the pluralists would be an
ignorano elenchi.
362 Walter Leszl

Cherniss meets with a particular difficulty in fading a piace fa Notes

hire Xenophanes and Pythagoras, and for Pythagoreanism in generai.
(He says for instane that «the theology of Xenophanes and the dot-
trine of metempsychosis atone outside of the main current of Greek
philosophy: CHERNISS 1951, 335). On the whole, bis teconstruction
assumes a much greater homcgeneity among the contdbutions d the
Presocratics than is plausible, and disregards, for instami, differences
in literary gene and differences in concem.
For reasons such as these, there is an increasing awareness among
scholars that this san of reconstruction of the developinent d Pre-
socratic philosophy is open to criticism. Of course, not all the sug-
gestions contateci in Chemiss' papa are acceptedby other scholars.
Neverrheless it is possible to find its main line of argutnent in vari-
ous accounts of the matta, thus open to the same kind of objections.
Since unity cannot be found by adopting this approach, should we
then abandon the very notion of 'Presocratic philosophy'?

3. How Anstotle's approach diffen in in asstanplions fran die modem mie

lf, locking for an alternative, we now look at the contributions of

Mose ancien authors who, like Nato and Aristode, showed some
interest in Presocratic philosophy, there is no doubt .they did not
possess a unitary idea of Presocratic philosophy, f e., as a logical
— and not just a clvonological — succession in the positions of the
Presocratics. But this does not mean that they had no idea at ali of
a unity of Presocratic philosophy or at least of a tradition that built
up a Lame pan of Presocratic philosophy.
I will illustrate first the negative point by considering what Aristode
has to say on this matta. He assumes that all those who inquired about
nature accepted the doxa that k is impossible that something is gener-
ated from what is not (cf. Ph., 1, 4, 187a26-29, 32-35, also probably
implicitly ibid., 1, 8, in.; and cf. Metaph., 1, 3, 983b6 ff., esp. 611-12,
with reference to the early monists). On this basis he thinks that all
the main systems were formulated so as to respect the requirement
implicit in this doxa (cf. Ph., 1, 4, 187a29-31)6. The early monists sup-

6 «For it ie because of this that they use the expression "all things were together"

and the generation of such-and-such a thing is taken as alteration, whde some

363 Aristoteles on the Unity of Presocratic Philosophy

posed that all changes are alterations of one matter which is something
permanent in the manner of a substrate.
The clearest formulatiort of this point is given in Metaphysia, 1,
3, 983b6 ff., after the claim that most of the earliest philosophers
only thought of the principles of all things as being materiali «That
of which all the things that are consist and from which they come
to be as fumi a first and into which they ultimately pass away, while
their essente (ousia) persista but changes as to its modifications
— this they say, is the element arai this the principia of the things
that ave. lience they believe that nothing is eithet generated or
destroyed, since a nature (physis) of this kind is always preserved.
(983138-13). In what follows Aristotle introduca the notion of
the substrate, which comes back in a tater passage, containing the
similar assumption that for all physicists all generation is either
from one thing or from many things and all commtion is into the
same thing or into the same things (ci Metaph., 1, 3, 984a17 ff., esp.
a19-20). The cause is the material one, in the sesse of the substrate
(hypokeimenon) which underlies all changes. We should remember,
in this connection, that the idea that everything is generated from
that thing or those things into which it is corrupted cornes back
in Theophrastus, e.g., conceming Anaximandee. The point is

Iregard it as1 combination and separation». I understand this panne as referring

genera% to the positions of the monista and the pluralista: It le tue that the
expression here quoted is usually broughtin connection with Anaxagorae, who h
mentloned in the context (hence some commentatore, e.g. Rose M OattItnenting
this passage, suppose the reference to be limited to him), but Aristotle sometimes
regards him (in a rather questionable way) as adopting the line of the monista (GC,
1, 1, 314a6-15), so that he represents them in our passage. Elsewhere (Metaph., l,
3, 984a11-16) he pura him in the list of the pluralista who explain alt change by
the combination and separation of particles, whereas in our passage his position is
kept distinte from theirs.
quote the passage as reponed by Simplicius: «Ne says that it [scii the principlel
is neither water mar any other of the so-called elements but some diffetent infinite
nature, from which all the heavens and the worlds in them come into keine. And
the things from which existing things come into being are allo the things into which
they are destroyed, in accordante to what must be» (12 A 9 and B I DK). (Emelt
for the fumi expression this must be a Peritemene formulation, and not a quomtion
from Anaximander, as DIels assumed: cf. Sassi in the first paper of dila volume.)
364 Walter Leszl

repeated, synthetically, at the end of the survey: «they appear to

classify the elements in the category of matter, for they say that it is
of these as the immanent constituents (èverrdpxottra) that being [or
substance: diate] is fashioned and composed» (1, 5, 98612 6-8)
So far as recourse to the 'materia'' cause goes, the main difference
allowed by Aristotle is the one between the position of the monists
and that of the pluralists. The former believe that one substrate,
exempt from genemtion and corruption but not immovable (cf. Ph.,
1, 2, in.), is involved in the transfommtions giving rise to the sens-
ible things, while the latter assume a plurality of entities which are
combined and separated (cf. Metaph., 1, 3, 984a11 ff., menticming
Anaxagoras, and Ph., 1, 4). In either case there is a materia' cause in
the sense of the basic constituent ed things which is petmanent in all
the changes. This is also the «nature being always preserved», which
is mentioned in the first passage, and this assumption allows all of
them to meet the requirement of avoiding a passage from not-being
to being and vice versa. (By «the earliest philosophets» Aristode
must mean the lonian monists. From Aristode's own point of view
the main difference between them and the laser pluralists is that the
latter started to recognize some efficient and even fina( causes of
movement; but this difference is not relevant bere.)
As to the Eleatics, Aristode inclines to suggest that they ended
up rejecting plurality and movement because they were unable to
give an account of them, and thus they deviated from an approach
that was initially physical. In one passage he says in fact that «the
first who speculated philosophically arra ttlaoaczgav trp&rot),
in seeking the truth and the nature of things, as if led astray by
inexperience, were misled iato another way of thinking, and said
that nothing at all could either be generated or be corrupted» (Ph.,
1, 8, 191a24 ff.). In what follows Aristotle mentions the exclusion
of generation and corruption because they would involve a passage
from not-being to being or vice versa, and concludes that these
thinkers, «in drawing their extreme consequences in this manner,
concluded that there is no plurality of things, but that only being
itself exists». One gets the impression that, in this passage, since
he talks of «the first who speculated philosophically», Aristotle
supposes that the Ionians were already led to adopt a monistic
position because they adopted that principle, and that the Eleatics
took this tendency to the extreme. (As we have seen, all» those
who dealt with nature, thus presumably the Ionians included, adopted
365 Aristoteles on the Unity of Presocratic Philosophy

the principle that 'nothing comes from nothing', as asserted in Ph., 1,

4, 187a28 and 187a35 Some sort of continuity between the lonians
and the Eleatics, with the assumption that the latter — certainly
not the former took a wrong way, «being overcome by this sort
of inquiry», is suggested also in Metaph., 1, 3, 984a27 ff.). In any
case whether Aristotle recognized this continuity between the
Eleatics and the lonians or not, the former are supposed to have
had the initial intention of doing physics and to have abandoned
it as a consequence of their adoption of that principle. Further, on
the same line and with reference to the second pan of Partnenides'
poem, Aristotle assumes that he appealed to a duality of principles
because he could not avoid giving some account of phainomena (cf.
Metaph., 1, 5, 986631-34). To conclude, I think we have to admit
that this approach to the Eleatics is not wholly compatible with
Aristotle's assumption (which we shall encounter below) that they
did not contribute to physics at all, but in any case it is based on the
consideration that they could not admit change and plurality.
Thus we have the following three positions, all dictated by the
requirement of excluding any passage from not-being to being and
vice versa: the position of the early monists, who supposed that all
changes ore alterations of one single metter, which is something
permanenti as a substrate; the position of the Eleatics, who supposed
that this is not enough and denied all change; the position of the
pluralists, who admitted that all changes depend directly or indi-
recdy on the combination and separation of particles which them-
selves are exempt from change. (The most sophisticated version of
this position is supposed to be that of the Atomists, but we need not
be concemed with distinctions internai to each group.) Aristotle is
aware, of course, that these three main positions are chronologically
in succession, and he is also aware that the pluralists' theory is more
complex than that of the monists, and thus in some way superior to
it. But he regards them as being, first of all, three different attitudes
to the problem of change (and on one common assumption), and,
from this point of view, their being chronologically in succession
becomes irrelevant. He therefore does not adopt the modem schema
according to which there is development from one theory to the
other, and the development itself is originated by the fact that each
theory is in some way a reaction to the previous one.
This point becomes clear if one considers his account of the
relationship between the pluralists and the Eleatics. The modem
366 Walter Leszl

account of this relationship is to some extent suggested by what

Aristotle san of the relationship between the Atomists and the
Eleatics in De generazione et comotWne, 1, 8. !t is supposed in fact
that Aristotle's assumption d a close relationship between the Ato-
mists and the Eleatics can be generalized, by showing that all the
pluralists respected the requirement implicit in the doxa according
to which it is impossible that something is generated from what
is not. However, Aristotle is not referring in that passage to this
specific doxa. Rather, he is concemed with the possibility of act-
ing and being acted upon, and, from this point of view, he is led
to wonder whether the postulation of void is necessary ro explain
such a protesa. In asking this question he discusse& the position of
the Atomists, and admits that there is a relationship between them
and the Eleatics. lndeed, the Eleatics (i. e., Melissus, but Aristotle
does not specify this) denied the possibility of change by denying
the existence of void, while the Atomists re-established its possibil-
ity by admitting void (in spite of its equivalente with not-being).
So the centrai Sue here is the question whether void exists or not.
Since the other pluralists thought they could admit change while
denying the existence of void, their position is not reacted to that
of the Eleaticss. Even if it were reacted to it, this would noi conc.em
the issue whether there can be change in spite d the impossibility
of a coming-to-be from not-being. And here another differente
with the modem interpretation discusseti above emerges. Aristode
does not think the Eleatics in particular discovered that doxa, since
he assumes all the Presocratics (including the early monists) avere
adopting it. So, on his account, the Eleatics do not play the mie they
play according to the modem interpretation, since the pluralists are
not supposed to have reacted to their innovation.

4. The earliest view of the Presommic traditimi of physiologia

I am now going to illustrate my 'positive' point referring to an

approach to the Presocratics which, in fact, is not new with Aristotle.

a Empedoctes is mentioned in this connection as attemptMg, without success, to

account fa acring and being acted upon without recourse to void, not as developing
a position which involves a reaction to the Eleatic denial of change (cf. 32565 ff.).
Aristoteles on the Unity ot Presocratic Philosophy

As anticipated above, there was the idea of a tradition of inquiry

about nature which had a beginning and (at least provisionally) an
end. This idea, as it is clear enough from the evidence that will be
collected in what follows, was already well-established when Filato
carote his earliest dialogues. The philosopher appears to be fruniliar
with an abeady established denomination of Presocratic philosophy,
taken as a whole or in pan, as an inquiry about nature. In a dialogue
as early as the Lysis, he refers to «ffle writings of 0W wisest men»,
making it clear that these men are those «who discuss and write
about nature and the universe» (or «about nature as a whole»: oi
rept 1,SEWS TE Kal Toti 8Xou StaXEybgevot Kal 7od4mmes) (214b).
These «wisest men» are presented as saying «just the same» about
friendship (6iXta) as certain poets like Homer, namely diate it
depends on similarity, for «it is the like who is friend to the tike».
Plata mentions no one in particular, but it cannot be doubted that
Empedocles is one of the «wise men» he has in mind, cince he is
explicitly mentioned by Aristotle in a passage of the Nicomachean
Ethics, which cleady recalls the passape of the Lysis (cf 8, 2, I155a
33 ff.).
Another passage from an early dialogue to be mentioned is Pro-
tagaras, 315c, where Plato pictures Hippias enthtoned on a high
chair at Callias' home with a ctowd of admiring students mound
him, who «appeared to be asking him astronomical questions about
nature and the things high up» (Usa(vovro 8è smisi clakreWs re S.
1.ieTEoSpow etcrrpovoptia arra 8reparttw). It would setta that in
this passage the expression «about nature» tells the genera). subject,
including Tet gentopa, whole elOTp0V0p1KaL àTTa indicates the son of
questions that were asked, which in the main must have concemed
rà peréopct as a particularly important pan of nature.
Another relevant Platonic passage is the well-known one in the
Phaedo, where Socrates is supposed to give an account of his own
intellectual development (the historical reliability of the passage is
not of interest here). In this account he states that, «when he was
young», «he was extraordinarily keen on the kind of wisdom called
inquiry about nature» (oorgas Av &ii KaXaal TrEpt (plicran iatoplav)
(96a 6-8). From the context it is evident that this inquiry is meant
to provide knowledge of the causes of each thing: «why each thing
comes to be, why it perishes, and why it exists» (96a 9-10). From the
following examples of explanations of physical phenomena given
by those who pursued this sort of inquiry, it can be inferred that he
368 Walter Leszl

must have in mind at least Empedocles, Diogenes of Apollonia, and

Alcmaeon. A link later on in the text there is an explicit mention
of Anaxagoras and his book, and it is cleat enough that this thinker
is also supposed to have contributed to the inquiry about nature.
From this passage we gather that «inquiry about nature» was to
Plato a well-established denomination for the sori of search con-
ducted by Presocratic philosophers (taken by itself the passage of
the Lysis is well compatible with the introduction of this denom-
ination by Plato himself). This impression is confinned by three
passages from works by other authors which must be earlier than
the dialogues. The first of these passages belongs to eh. 20 of the
Hippocratic Ancieru medicine. There, the reference is to the discourses
by Empedocles and by «all the others who have ever written about
nature» (dXXot oi. trEpt 0504.09 yEypdcbautv), these being polemi-
cally said to belong to (1) t Xoalgo i a and not to medicine. It should
be noticed that alter this first reference to the study of nature the
author insists on this motif pointing out that what had previously
been written «about nature» did not really belong to medicine. He
claims, in fact that precise knowledge «about nature» can be origi-
nated only by medicine, for the inquiry (taropín) conceming man
can be carried out only by the physicist, who is thus the only one
who has knowledge «about nature», meaning the nature of mare.
A somewhat freer form of reference to the same son of inquiry is
to be found in a fragment by Euripides (fr. 910 Kannicht), in which
the acquirement of knowledge by inquiry (toropia) is said to lead to
the contemplation of the imperishable order (ccSatios) of immortal
nature". An allusion to it must also be present in Dissoi Ingoi, 8,
where the author talks of the ability to teach about the nature of all
things, of how they are and how they are generated.
Reference to an inquiry «about the nature of all things that are»
is to be found also in a passage in Xenophon's Memorabilia which
may be later than the passages considered so far (including Pla-
to's). In this passage Xenophon suggests that Socrates differed from
other intellectuals since he avoided discussing «about the nature of

9There are four occurrences in all of the expression «about nature..

I quote this passage in Heidel's translation: «Blessed is he who hath got knowl-

edge of science, beni neither on barra to his neighbors nor on ways of injustice; but,
conremplating the ageless order of undying nature, knoweth what it is and how..
369 Aristoteles on the Unity of Presocratic Philosophy

all things», regarding this as a sort of folly (cfr. 1, 1, 11). The for-
mula «about the nature of all things», with evident reference to the
Presocratics' speculation, is repeated a link later (1, 1, 14). That he
refers to the Presocratics is confirmed by the classification of ta onta
provided in this other passage, since this classification is typically
applied to them, and by the explicit reference to Anaxagoras in 4,
7, 6, where the sort of speculation pursued by thinkers like him is
also treated as a sort of folly.
From the evidence collected so far from the worIcs of Plato and
other authors, it becomes clear that certain thinkers, like Empedo-
cles and Anaxagoras, were regarded as having contributed to the
inquiry about nature in some typical way. It is rather likely — though
not certain — that Thales was already regarded as the protos heuretes
of this sort of inquiry. He is mentioned as the typical philosopher-
scientist by Aristophanes not only in the Clouds (180, where it is
suggested — not serlously of course — that the admiration he desetves,
clearly as a naturalist, grows pale before that deserved by Socrates)
but also in the Birds (1009, and context). As is usual with a protos
heuretes, significant anecdotes are told of him. In addition to the one
told by Plato in the 77teatems, there is also the one told by Aristotle
in his Politics (1, 11), and the one often told (starting already with
Herodotus, 1, 74) of him forecasting a solar eclipse. Conceming the
other end of this nadition, there was an awareness, at least among
the Socratics, that Socrates did not pursue this sort of inquiry inten-
tionally, so that his position was a sort of watershed (one can quote
Aristotle's testimony, but I think it is likely that on this point he is
just reporting what was a commonplace among the Socratics). Yet it
is not clear Lola this evidence whether all the Presocratics or only
some of them were supposed to have contributed to the inquiry
about nature. We may cast light upon this point if we look at some
passages in Aristotle, which imply some selectivity in the category
of the thinkers who contributed to it.

5. Arisrode's recognition of duce main Presocratic tradiriaru

Aristotle goes beyond the observations to be found in previous

authors not only on this point but also, as we shall see on some
other points (it seems likely that these developmentis are due to
him, though of course we cannot be sure). One has to keep in mind
370 Walter Leszl

that he regarded himself as belonging to the tradition of phyaolegia,

in that he was convinced he had given a new life to the inquiry
about nature. Ori the one hand he preserved the interne and, to
some extent, the approach of the Presocratics who had contributed
to physiologia, ori the other hand he integrated this appsoach with
explanatory principles (appealing to end and formi taken from
As regards the evidente, in the first piace, Aristotle presenta the
Presocratics who contributed to this inquiry as physicists (4opmico0"
or as «studentsiphilosophers of nature» filnamokfrym P' or a these
who deal with nature (oi irte). 4)60E69)13 in a nuther of passages.
The faci that he had the Presocratics in mind is sufficiendy rhaar
from the explicit or implica references contsined in these passages.
The second of the aforesaid denominations scema to be the most fre-
quent. The first denomination is not applied exclusively to a precise
group of people, sine Arisrode would occasionally talk ci the task
of the physicist (physikos) in generai (e.g. Ph., 2, 2,,193622.23i PA,
1, 1, 641a21; de An., 1, 1, 403a28; Meraph., 4, 3, in which 4tocrix69
in this sense immediately follows the mentioning of *your& with
reference to the Presocratics: see below). When using Ihe second
denomination he occasionally talks eithet of the, «ancient philoso-
phers of nature» (GA, 2, 6, 742a 16 and Sens., 3, 441k, 1-3) or the
«old philosophers of nature» (GA, 5, 1, 778b 7) or even the «earlier
philosophers of nature» (de An., 3, 2, 426a 20)". h would seem that
in these casca he i¢ implicitly opposing the Pnesocratic physiologoi,
as physiologoi -of ari old time, to the present , physiotogoi, v» must
include Aristotle himself (in the second passage the old &Molino,
are opposed to the present physiologo, because they do not redognire
the fina) cause). When no such qualifications are introduced only
the Presocratics appear to be taken into consideration.

" E.g. Ph., 1, 2, 184615 ff.; 1, 3, 186a19 ff.; 1, 4; Metaph., 4, 3, 1005a31; 12, 6,
1171626 ff.; 13,4.
u E.g. Ph., 3, 4, 2031714-15; 4, 6, 213a34-b4 Cael 2 14, 297a12-14; Meta66., 1,
5, 986a10 ff.; 1, 8, 9891329 ff.; 5, 23, 1023a17 ff.; EE, 7, l, 1235a10 ff. (also once, in
Cool 3, 1, 298630: physiologesantes).
'3 Ph., 1, 4, 187a35; 3, 4, 203a16; Metaph., 3, 4, 1001a12.
Since the reference in the fast passage is probably to Democritus, what is
involved u not a distinction of two groups of Presocratics.
371 Aristoteles on the Unity of Presocratic Philosophy

Secondly, in one of the passages just mentioned (Le., Ph., 1, 2,

184615 ff.) an opposition is established between the physicists
and the Eleatics, who are explicitly said not to deal with-nature.
The same opposition ú imphed in a passage belonging to the same
context (Le., 1, 3, 186a19 ff.). Elsewhere (Cael, 3, 1) Aristode says
explicitly that the Eleatics (Melissus and Parmenkles are mentioned)
did not deal with nature, since they simply eliminated generation
and conuption as a consequence of their maintaining that nothing
which is either comes into being or perishes. Titus «rhey do not
speak physically, since the existence of certa'', substances subject
neither to generation nor to any other kind of rnotion is not a topic
for the inquiry about nature (+umidi aKé$s) but rather for another
and higher inquiry» (2986 18-20). The same reflection is made,
though less explicitly, in Meraph., 1, 5 (esp. 986612-14), but with
the admission that a panini exception is Parmenides himeelf, since
he is said to have ben obliged to take the phainomenn into account
(cf. 986a10 ff.). Further, as we have akeady seen, Aristode inclines
to suggest that they rejected plurality and rnovement because they
were unable to give an account of them, thus deviarmi; from an
approach that was initially physical. On the whole, howevet, it
is clear enough that Aristotle, when re6ring to the istudents of
nature' and so forth, does not intend to include the Eleatics.
His attitude towards the Pythagoreans is more complete", and is
not quite independent from his attitude to Plato, since he shows an
inclination to treat the latta as a follower of Pythagoreart philoso-
phy (this is particularlyp clear in Metaph., 1,-6, where, atter having
discussed the Pythagoreans' position, he rematks that Plato followed
them on most points, but t6at his position is also Decollar on some
others; later he remarks that, in talking of the «participation» of
sensible things in intelligible things like numbers, he just changed
the name used by the Pythagoreans, who talked of «imitation»)".

" As Chemiss points out, Aristode's normal practice is that "of referring never
io the particular members of the school but indiseriminately to "the Pythagoreans",
"the Italia,,", or "the sowalled Pythagoreans". (Cmumass 1935, 37).
16 This tendency is also poinced out by CHEAMSS 1935, 46 ("the tendency to

treat Pythagoreanism and Platonism as closely related dottrina.), who, in the

context (35.46), gives a survey of the similarities and differences admitted by Aris-
rode. See also the following remark, immediately preceding the one I quote below:
372 Walter Leszl

In Ph., 3, 4, 203a1 ff. those who have dealt with nature (ot Sì crepi
cgoews, 203a16) are kept separate from the Pythagoreans and from
Plato, but they are all included among «those who are thought to
have touched upon this kind of philosophy [= the science of nature,
mentioned before] in a worthy manner». In MetaPh., 3, 4, 1001a4
ff. (where aporia 11th is discussed) those who have dealt with nature
(oi &2 utpi «men, alt) are clearly kept separate from Plato and
the Pythagoreans, without any suggestion there is any contact in
the inquiry they all held.
The most complete account of the Pythagorean theory is to be
found in Metaphysics, 1, 8. In the first part of this chapter Aristotle
starts his discussion with the monists, who are said to do physiolo-
gia about all things (netti TrdV11.01) 411)(71.0X07aVTES) and to inquire
about the causes of generation and corruption on the assumption
that only elements of corporea) things exist (cf. 988b24-28). Here
he considers the positions adopted by the monists (implicidy refer-
ring to Anaximenes, Heraclitus, etc.), but then, without transition,
he switches to Empedocles and Anaxagoras. At the end of this
account, he generalizes the consideration made about the monists
and asserts they were only concerned, in their discourses (X&yot),
with generation and corruption and with movement, in that they
looked for principles and causes relevant te this kind of reality
((biada). They are all kept separate from those who conducted their
inquiry about all entities, assuming that among entities some are
sensible (aioeird) and some are non sensible, and thus giving
attention to both types (cf. 989621-29). From what follows it is
clear that he puts both the Pythagoreans and Plato or the Platonists
under this heading. (The former are introduced with the formula:
oî tdv 0151) KaXoiSpitiot Ilveayópaoi, 989629, while the Platonic
position is introduced in ch. 9 with the formula: ot SÈ TI1S ts4as
Tieéptvoi, 990a34-b1)'7. He says: «The so-called Pythagoreans use

«The Pythagoreans are set apart from all of these philosophers [Le. Empedocles,
Anaxagoras, etc.] and treated as more closely related to the Platonists because
they appear to have been concemed as well with imperceptible as with perceptible
being, whereas the thinken so far considered re.stricted their attentino to genera-
tion, destruction, and motion in generai» (237).
17 The division of the exposition into two different chapters is of course not due

to Aristotle (just as all other divisione of the books into chapters are much later).
373 Aristoteles on the Unity of Presocratic Philosophy

principles and elements which are more foreign than those the
physicists use» since they let them be mathematical entities, and
these do not belong to the sphere of sensible things..Yet ali their
discussions and studies are concemed with nature, for they account
for the generation of the heavens, and make observations about
their parts and affections and activities so as to see what happens,
and they use up their principles and causes in this connection, as if
agreeing with the other physicists" that being is just this, namely
what is sensible and is contained in the so-called heavens» (989b
34 ff.). They do so in spite of the fact that their principles and
causes would be fitter to account for higher realities mther than
for nature. On this point, it is implied that they differed from the
Platonists, who (as is clear from the report he gives of their posi
tion) consciously assumed certain principles to account for intelli-
gible entities like Ideas and mathematical numbers (these must be
the One and the Indefinite Dyad, corresponding to the Limit and
Unlimited postulated by Pythagoreans).
In my view the comment on this passage by Chemiss is stili

The Pythagoreans, however, appear to Aristotle to stand midway between

the physical philosophers and the thinkers who followed Socrates lintend-
ing Nato ami the Platonistsl, for, although the principles they assumed
were non-sensible and so more fit to explain the higher realms of Being,
they applied those principles exclusively to the purpose of generating
the world and explaining the physical phenomena, so that their method
implies that they, like the physical philosophers, believed that only the
perceptible world is reaP9.

One may add that, from Aristotle's point of view, the Pythagoreans
stand midway alzo between the physical philosophers and the
Eleatics, whose inquiry does not belong to physics any more, even
though their starting point was the explanation of change in the
physical world.

'8 Probably the sense is that suggested by the following translation by Ross: «with
the othets, the physical philosophers» (othenyise there would be an inconsist-
CHERNISS 1935, 237 f.
374 Walter Leszl

h can be said, schematically, that three main trencls among the

Presocratics are distinguished by Aristotle: ( I ) the students of
nature, for whom reality coincides with what is sensible and con-
tained in the heavens; (2) the Pythagoreans — and later Plato,
some way — who dea( with physis and account for the generation
of the world, thus making the same assumption as the students of
nature, but going back to intelligible or extra-physical principles;
(3) the Eleatics, who do not do physics at all, since they are not
concemed with changeable entities.

6. Aristode's approach

On the whole Aristotle, in looking back at the previous tradition ci

physiologia, did not limit himself to asserting, in the most explicit way,
dan Thales was its protos heuretes and that with Socrates there had
been a sort of end to In the Tight of his own apprecia,tion for the
study of nature he assumed the main tradition of earher philosophical
and scientific inquiry was physiologia and he asked himself what was
the relation of Eleatics and Pythagoreans to this tradition. His answer
was that three were forms of deviation from mie physiologia. In the
case of the Eleatics because, by failing te account for change, they felt
compelled to deny change altogether (this has already been pointed
out above). In the case of Pythagoreans because, with their concerti
for ideai entities like numbers, they were led to introduce principles
that would have been approntiate to thcse ideai entities, but which
they in fact appiani to the physical world.
The Pythagoreans deviated from physiologia because of signifi-
cantly different reasons from those of the Eleatics. As I stressed
above (but of course this is a well-lmown fact), Aristotle sees a clone
connection between the Pythagoreans' position and that of Plato
and the Platonists. On the one hand they had the merit of having
recognized the existence of entities different from the sensible (and
physical and materia» ones; on the other hand this discovery is

zo Itis well known that in Meraph., 1, 3, 983620-21 he presenta Thales as the mi-
tiator of this sort of philosophical inquiry, and that in PA, 1, 1, 642a28-31, Meraph.
l, 6 and 13, 4 lie points out that with Socrates an attention for ethical issues at the
expense of the study of nature emerged.
375 Aristoteles on the Unity of Presocratic Philosophy

perverted, since they want to make these entities become principles

of the physical processes, while they are not appropriate to this end.
Thus, in a way, even Plato's position, not only that of the Pythago-
reans, is a deviation from the 'proper' physiologia.
While Pythagoreanism leads to Platonism, being both however
deviations from the proper physiologia, Eleaticism, despite having
played a mie in the formation of atomism, leads to nowhere (in any
case, it does not lead to the Sophists, see below). Actually Aristode
must have had some awareness that Nato, in his laser dialogues,
had given importane to the Eleatic theories, but when consideting
botti the fommtion of Platonism and its development, he does not
say anything on this point.
As far as the plumlists are concernei, Aristode appreciates Democrints'
contribution, because he showed greater rigour in accainting for
phainomendi . However, for reascms such as the fora elements' being
dmer to experience than atoms, he regards Empedocles' theory
as more fruitful and paradigmatic. In &a this tendency to regard
Empedoclean physics as paradigmatic is not esclusive of Aristotle,
but is to be found, at least to some extent, in Plato (I am thinking
mainly of the physical theory expounded in the Timaetts) and in
some Hippocratic authors. This implies that, when these authors
explain what physis is or when they refer to a standard theory of
elements, they have primarily Empedoclean physics in rnind. It ah°
implies that, when these authors consider the explanatory procedure
associated with the inquiry about nature, by reduction of what is
composite to its simple constituents, they have Empedoclean physics
in mind agairr. But if one accepts the suggestion (which cannot be
justified within the limits of the present paper) that this procedure
is a development of an approach m nature inherited by Hippocratic
physicians (or by some of them), the conclusion to be drawn (and to
which I shall come back at the end of this paper) is that Presocratic
physiologia was in some way stili alive for both Plato and Aristotle.

7. The inquiry about truth (aletheia)

h is not difficult to see that a reconstruction of Presocratic phi.

1.1 Cf. GC, 1, 2, 315a34 ff. and 316a5 ff., and 1, 8, 324b35-325a2.
376 Walter Leszl

losophy regarding Pythagoreanism and Eleaticism as some sort of

deviation from the main stream (which is physiologia as represented
by the Ionians and later by the pluralists) is not wholly satisfactory.
Aristotle himself seems to have been not quite satisfied with it,
since we can detect another approach in his works, which could be
put under the heading: «The inquiry about truth (dtkrWeert)» (where
'truth' is taken in the objective sense of 'truth about reality' or even
simply of 'reality'). This, in short, is an inquiry both about reality,
as it shows itself to the subject who has knowledge of it, and about
the knowledge we can have about reality. (For instance, one issue is
whether we have knowledge of a reality beyond the sensible appear-
ances.) It can be proved that a presentation of Presocmtic thought,
to be found at least in Aristotle, focuses precisely on the notion
suggested by the Greek term aietheia. The relationship between this
approach and the approach centering on physiologia remains rather
problematic. Certainly there is some overlap between the two. Nev-
ertheless, one main reason for adopting the bitter must have been
some awareness that treating Eleaticism as a deviation from physiola-
gia (as carried out by most of the other Presocratics) is rather restric-
tive. Another reason is that in the thought even of those who are
regarded (at least by Aristotle) as doìng physioiogia there are aspects
which go beyond it (for instance Heraclitus's reflection about the
logosa, or Democritus's epistemology).
In this connection the issue of the relationship between the
Eleatics and the Sophists can be raised, for this has a piace under the
aktheia heading rather than under the physiologia one. One main test
is Metaphysics, 4, 5. Here Aristotle follows, in the main, the account
already given by Plato in the Theaetetus, bui he focus:6 on the faci
that ali the thinkers he considers up to Protagoras rely on the senses
as the main source of knowledge and not on their accepting a form
of Heracliteanism according to which everything is in flUX". So he
can even fit Pannenides into this picture (while Plato regards him as

22 Aristotle's familiarity with what musi have been the beginning of Ms work,
i.e. fragment l, is cenain, given his remark, in Rhetoric, 3, 5, 14071214 ff., about the
difficulty of punctuating irs first line.
At least the conclusion to which he comes should be recalled: although «they
studied the truth about reality. (Trepl TCW 6V7411.1 i CaleieELCIV &agórouv), they sup-
posed that entities (ta orna) are only the perceptible ones (1010aI-3).
377 Aristotele on the Unity of Presocratic Philosophy

a stasiotes), though relying on a passage from the second part of his

poem. However, this does not result in making Protagonas depend
particularly on Parmenides or on Eleaticism in generai, so that this
is not an alternative to the account given by Plato, which implicitly
errluded that sort of dependence of Protagoras from Eleaticism.
Thus, the fact that Protagoras' work was entitled Aktheia was seen
as a reason to connect his view not with that of the Eleatics but
more probably, with the position of Heraclitus, whose concem with
truth is also evident.
Whether some relationship was recognized otherwise between the
Sophists and the Eleatics, depends very much on the intetpretation
of Aristotle's Sophistici Elenchi, ch. 12, 173a27 ff., where he attributes
to «all the ancients» (with an excessive generalization) the view
that nature (physis) and convention (nomos) are opposed, and he
associates truth (aletheia) to nature and what appears to the many
to convention. The passage is not as explicit as one would wish, so
that we cannot be sure about irs implications. However, it seems to
imply that the disjunction between physis and nomos assumed by the
Sophists is suggested, to some extent, by the disjunction between
Merita and dota assumed by the Eleatics. (Eleatic motifs can actu-
ally be detected in Antiphon's writing On Ma, cf., e.g., fr. B, col. Il,
21-22: oú yàp 8tà Meav oXeírTETat, dtXXà St' etMlOacr.)
Modem scholars are used to seeing the clearest link between the
Sophists and the Eleatics in Gorgias' writing On not-being". How-
ever this link does not fall ,cader the heading of `truth' because (as
far as 1 can see) in that work °orgia» is not claiming to be expound-
ing the truth". h has to do rather with `being'. Actually Mia is better
understood in Plato's Sophist than in whatever Aristotle has to say
when dealing with his predecessors. But it has to be observed that,
besides a classification of previous theories according to the number
of principles, a classification according to the number of (basic)

24 One may refer to CALooeao 1932; on the saure line is Patricia Curd's contribu-
tion to the present volume.
25 S. E., M., 7, 65-87 (= 82 B 3), in introducine that work and at the conclusion

of his exposition of irs contents, claims that it results in eliminatine the criterion
of truth, bue this is manifestly his view of Gorgias' purpose. The formula «if this is
true» which appears in the MXG version is embedded in the argument and does
not concem the generai purpose of the writing.
378 Walter Lessi

entities is suggested in Physics, 1, 2 as well, in a way recallirtg the

Sophist. Moreover, this sort of classification appears Si kocrates, with
an esplica mention of Gorgias: «the old Sophists, of whom one said
that the multitude of the things that are is infinite, Erapedocles that
it is made of bar [ l Parmenides and Melissus of one, and Gorgias
of none at ali» (Antidosis, 268)26. 1f there is a correspondenr,e, the
main difference between the version adopted by Nato and Aristode
and the version adopted by Isocrates consists precisely in giving a
piace to Gorgias as the one who admits zero entities. It is not likety
that this was an irmovation by Isocrates and that he was better
informed about Gorgias' writing than both Plato and Arinotle. It
radmr looks as if Plato left out Gorgias from a pre-existent classifica-
don and that Aristode followed him on this point. Gorgias' writing
is thus intentionally ignored by the two philosophers, and, as a con-
sequence, one link that could be seen between Sophists and Eleatics
is equally ignored. Whyt It is not easy to give a satisfactory reply
to this question, but it seems likely they wete not willing to regard
Gorgias as a genuine philosopher, or to treat him as a continuator
of the Eleaties. So far as this continuity is acnitted, it is tather the
Eleatic.s that are seen as the forerunners of the Sophists. Here again
modem interpretation differs from the ancient.

8. C,onclusion

It is open claimed that a thinker like Aristotle could not give

a sufficiendy objective account of the thought of his predecessora
because he lacked historical sense, in that he was ungi te regard-
ing the efforts of the Presocratics as stumbling attempts to reach
the truth he had reached himself or to which he was rather dose.
There is some truth in this claim: one needs only recali Metaphysics,
1, 10, where the Presocratics, who are able but to lisp, are seen as
the infancy of philosophy. But there is the risk of overlooking the
fact that Aristotle's attinide to Presocratic physiologia was not simply
historical, as is that of a modem scholar who deals with it. In his
time Presocratic physiologia was not dead, and his concem was not

26 For a closer study of these varianti of one main classification one may refer to
the contributions by Jaap Mansfeld (esp. Mnamems 1986).
379 Aristoteles on the Unity of Presocratic Philosophy

just to write a history about it, but rather what to do with it. Modem
scholarship is not sufficiently aware of this, and tends to be misled
by Aristode himself, who testifies that philosophers tumed to erhics
and politics at the time of Socrates. Presocratic physiologia was alive
even after Socrates' death, at least for two reasons. One teflon is
that Hippocratic doctors relied on it and continued to carry out
research on the basis of Presocratic theories on nature, though their
own research was restricted m man in his condition of health and
siclmess and did not bring about significant innovations in the more
generai field of the study of nature. Another rea on is that Presocratic
physiologia went on in other fields of the study of man, such as com-
parative ethnology, to which Aristode himself must have given
some important contribution, following Eudoxusn. Aristode's own
purpose was not only to continue this research about man, but to
give a new impetus to physiologia as the study of nature as a whole.
He was to some extent (or with some qualifications) anticipated by
Nato in his Timaeus. h is Indy in putsuing this end that bali of
them were led to reflect on the account of causation given by the
Presocratics and to point out irs limits, in order to revise it signifi-
cantly. This was clearly not just 'doing history', but the same can
be said of other passages where they discuss the Presocratics. Since
they were in touch with a live tradition, it was rather unavoidable
for them to be bad historians. But, if one sees them as inheritors of a
tradition which was stili alive, one can allo find in their works traces
of this tradition that allow to go beyond their explicit testimony and
to reconstruct the past.


27 There are freguent references in Aristotle's works to Eudoxus, whose Periodos

tes ges, in 7 beata, is unfortunately almost completely lost (for an attempt at recon-
struction of this work cf. GISINGER 1921). We know even kss of Aristotle's Nomima
barbanka (fts. 604-611 Rose') but tra s of his inrerest in these topics are to be
found in his preserved works, e.g. in Polincs, 7, 7. I think that Cicera is refening
to that lost work, and not only to the Consdtutions, when he states what foliows:
omnium fere ~anon non Crraeciae slum, sed edam bar&ariae ab Aristotele
insciatta, discipknas, a Theophrasto lega etiam corovimus (Fin., 5, 4, 11).
380 Walter Lezzi


CALOGERO 1932 = G. CALOGERO, Sudi sull'Eleatismo, Roma 1932 (Firenze

CHERNISS 1935 = H. Cionmuss, Aristode's CritiChni of Pre.socranc Philosophy,
Baltimore 1935
Climugass 1951 = H. CHERNISS, The Characteristics and Effects of Presocratic
philosophy, in «Joumal of the History of Ideas XII 1951 319-345 (repr.
in Io., Sekcted Papers, ed. by L. Tarón, Leiden 1977)
GIUNGER 1921 = E GIUNGER, Die Erdbeschreibung des Eudoxos Don Knidos,
Leipzig 1921
MANSFELD 1986 = J. MANSPELD, Atistode, Plani, and the Preplatonic Dox-
ography and Chronography, in Stotiografta e dossografia nella filosofia antica,
a cura di G. Cambiano, Torino 1986, 1-59 (repr. in lo., Studies in the
Historiography of Greek Philosophy, Assen 1990, 22-83).
POPPER 1963 - K. Poema, Baci( to the Presocratics, in ID., Conjectures and
Refutations: The Grondi of Scientiftc Knowledge, London 1963, 136-153
(.Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society», LIX, 1958-1959, 1-24)