Notes on what I'm reading

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

HoPwaG: Empedocles

Pythagorean elements to Empedocles' doctrines, e.g. reincarnation. Like Parmenides, writes in hexameter. Also, like Atomists and Anaxagoras, concerned with possibility of change, in the face of Parmenides and the Parmenidean constraint: non-being to being is ruled out, or no 'absolute change'.

So far, have had two proffered solutions to this problem:
  • Atomists: no absolute change, but the infinity of unchanging atoms recombine in different ways;
  • Anaxagoras: no absolute change, but the universal mixture of everything (except mind) recombines in different proportions.
Empedocles, too, respects this Parmenidean constraint, and gives a similar solution:
  • Empedocles: no absolute change, but the ultimate elements of the cosmos, the roots, get separated and combined in different ways, yielding the cosmos;
  • the roots: air, earth, fire, water (what Aristotle will later call elements);
  • though Empedocles terms these gods, not elements;
  • 'art' metaphor to explain how combination can yield cosmos: various pigments can be made from basic color building blocks;
  • note: some weirdness to the combination story: apparently, e.g., we get limbs first that combine bit-by-bit into people, and the combination happens randomly, with only 'suitable' creatures surviving and reproducing;
  • note how similar this is to theories of evolution! of course, without any account of inherited features (since he only has a random combination story) and, crucially, it reverses the reproduction-leading-to-fitness direction of Darwinian theory; rather, Empedocles has fitness-leading-to-reproduction (only the 'suitable' creatures reproduce).
Next question: what principle explains why the roots combine as they do? Is there, as suggested by the art metaphor, an artist in the picture? Empedocles says there are two principles:
  • love: unifies/orders elements
  • strife: sifts elements from each other
that yield the cosmos, i.e. play roughly the role mind played in Anaxagoras. The difference, of course, is that Anaxagoras' mind had nothing opposing it. With two principles, there is tension: yields Empedocles' theory of cosmic cycles. The power of each principle waxes and wanes. In between moments of dominance of one principle over another, get things like our cosmos.

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