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Topic #A8

Anaxagoras

 

26 September 2001

Scribes: John Kohler and Thomas Narsingh

 

These minutes were spoken on 28 September; for another version,

go to the unspoken minutes

 
 

 

Class began with Professor Hutchinson addressing a question posed by a student.  The student wanted to know the distinction between the cosmos and the universe.  This was an important question since these terms were used of by many of the ancient philosophers.  Hutchinson began his response by first considering the definition of universe.  In hopes to clarify its exact meaning, he mentioned the “unicycle”.  By definition, a unicycle has and only can have one wheel.  In the same way the universe can only be singular.  The two words share the prefix “uni” which identifies singularity; hence, there cannot be numerous universes. 

 

Furthermore, universe is associated with totality and related with the Greek word “pan” meaning “the all”.  “Pan” is used as a prefix in English words such as pandemic, which means something pertaining to all people.  The significance of the prefix “pan” in pandemic is made explicit in contrast to the word, epidemic, which is defined as something localized, and therefore, does not pertain to all people.  This can also be seen in the word panorama meaning to see all around.  Thus, universe is necessarily one thing that is all encompassing. 

 

Next, Hutchinson considered the definition of cosmos.  Words like cosmetics, having to do with the idea of arrangement or adornment, are related to it.  Cosmos is defined as an arranged part of the whole.  Hence, we can think of the stars, the earth and moon (which in part make up a cosmos) as an arranged part of the whole universe.  Ancient Philosophers were divided between the ideas of many cosmos or one cosmos.  

 

To identify and clarify primary and secondary sources, Hutchinson compared fragments and testimonies.  The class’s attention was directed to fragments 11 to 16, Pg127 of our text.  The fragments in this book were writings believed to originate from the particular ancient philosopher they were attributed to.  Fragments 11 to 16 have been translated from Greek, pieced together by Simplicius and ultimately originated from Anaxagoras.

 

Ancient scholars work with fragments because no texts from the Ancient world have survived.  Texts were originally hand copied from various media onto other media (e.g. wood or scrolls).  The only texts that survived were copies of copies.  What inevitably occurred was that the older transcripts perished while the younger ones survived.  Over time, many manuscripts of the same text would emerge, providing modern scholars with the problem of trying to establish the manuscript closest to the original writings.

 

An example of a primary source was T6 from Aristotle’s work.  His work was copied countless times into the Medieval Period where eventually scholars produced his work in books.  This passage is referred to as a testimony because it is Aristotle’s commentary on the fragments of Anaxagoras.  Hutchinson pointed out that even though T6 is considered an accurate account of Aristotle, whether this is an accurate account of Anaxagoras is debatable. 

 

Hutchinson used an example from Pg. 118 and 119 to address secondary sources.  He said that Waterfield, who wrote these pages, is a recent scholar whose interpretation of Anaxgoras is disputable and not factual.  Primary evidence is most important in considering these works.  One must ask what the antiquity of these works is.  Furthermore, when writing position papers students are to use ancient evidence and not primary evidence.  That is, rely on primary sources and not secondary sources. 

 

         Prof. Hutchinson corrected the raison, rice pudding analogy used to explain Epicurus’s cosmology in the minutes taken by the Sept. 24 speaking scribes.   The speaking scribes denoted that the rice pudding was scattered.  However, Hutchinson stated that the rice pudding (representing the universe) actually extends indefinitely, while the raisins (representing the cosmos) are scattered.

 

A student asked the question ‘what are we supposed to cite?’.  Hutchinson answered that he was not concerned about the direct method or if one chooses to use exact form.  However, his concern was that every passage used, is cited accurately relative to the text.  An accurate citation would provide an audience with enough information about the reference material for a second person to be able to find the exact source in a Library catalogue.  For example, if one chose to cite T6 from Pg. 126,127, one would begin by stating the author, Aristotle; then the work, Physics; then the line reference, translator (Waterfield) and the title of the Waterfield’s book, The First Philosophers: The Presocratics and Sophists.  The general idea is that you are stating where you found the reference in a practical fashion.  There are different functions for citation.  One is to indicate that the author is not plagiarizing.  At this academic level, the more significant function is to let your audience know how to get a hold of the material referenced.

 

         It is important to be reminded here that Ancient writings were never printed or written in books.  At the time, scrolls were used and the book structure did not appear until the late ancient period.  Scholars would not be able to use page numbers to reference each other to different passages in a work, making page numbers irrelevant to ancient texts.  Instead, they referred to a place in a text relative to how close the passage was to the beginning or end.  Many of the Ancient Authors used a personal, though consistent, referencing method.  Plato, for instance, used a different method than Aristotle.  The principle is to approach and reference the ancient thinkers’ texts the same way one would approach and reference the books in the Bible.  They are not referenced by page, but instead by book, chapter, and verse.  This is a subtle point, but one that any good scholar or student of Ancient Philosophy must take into consideration.  The exercise of citing the ancient texts serves a particular purpose.  It gives the student experience working with particular evidence and helps him or her understand the significance of the ancient texts.  The exercise of composing a position paper and referencing a passage or idea poses questions relevant to humanity scholarship, such as ‘what is a text?’.

 

         The life span of Anaxagoras is unclear.  It is believed that he was born roughly during the year, 500 BCE, and died either, 425 or 428 BCE.  He lived a relatively long life of 70 years or so.  He originated from Clazomenae and came to Athens in 480 BCE, where he stayed for 40 years. 

 

         During Anaxagoras’ life, Greece was attacked by Persia (Ancient Persia is present day Turkey).  In the initial stages of the attack, an Athenian soldier ran 26 miles from the community of Marathon to Athens to warn his people of the attack.  Due to this great act of heroism and endurance, the Athenians were able to respond to the attack by leading the Greek military to a victory, repelling the Persians.  Not surprisingly, the term “marathon”, as we use it today, originated out of this remarkable example of athleticism by the Athenian soldier. 

 

         As a result of the Athenians largely leading the Greek victory, Athens’s status in Greek society was elevated.  The neighboring states developed respect for Athens and desired to become military allies and trade partners.  They eventually paid tributes in return for Athens’s military protection and maintained an alliance similar to that of the NATO agreement.  However,

between 480 and 445 BCE, Athens experienced sudden prosperity and trade.  Anaxagoras would have benefited from this period of prosperity since he was friends with the well known Athenian statesman Pericles.  Pericles was a leader during this most successful period of the Athenian republic.  He is recalled as a successful and wise politician, who was trusted intimately by many.  It is a significant point that even in the beginning of Athens’ influence as an intellectual center, the first world leader of Athens had a philosopher at his side (Anaxagoras).

 

         Anaxagoras was put on trial (in 430 BCE) during his long lasting friendship with Pericles.  He was accused of impiety and Atheism.  For example, he stated that the sun was actually a hot stone while the people of Athens believed that the sun was a divine entity.  However, Hutchinson was convinced that there were different underlying political motives for these accusations due to the fact that Anaxagoras was friends with the leader of Athens, Pericles.  Hence, it is likely that the trial was an intended attack against Pericles’s power and position.  Hutchinson noted that this was likely a similar situation for Socrates insofar as the accusations of his trial (in 399BCE) had little to do with his execution.

 

         Anaxagoras’s main philosophical interest was a cosmogony that was similar in content to the Milesians (in particular, Anaximander, Anaximenes, and Xenophanes).  He associated with the most literate and wealthy people of the literate world.  Also, he was among the first thinkers to initiate the great intellectual and philosophical movement in Athens which was to last one thousand years. 

 

Hutchinson highlighted some of Anaxagoras’s thoughts concerning his cosmogony: the moon shines because of the sun’s illumination (F17); Anaxagoras understood rainbows to be caused by the sun shinning on the clouds (F18); earthquakes were caused by aither (T8); the sun was a fiery stone (T9); meteorites moved beneath the heavenly bodies (T9); the sun was larger than Peloponnese (T9).  Anaxagoras also addressed eclipses (T9), comets (T10), and the Milky Way (T11).  Furthermore, he stated that plants are alive and feel sensations (T12).  He expanded on Anaximander’s theory of animal evolution and generation (T13).  He had a theory about embryology, stating that the fetus is fed through the navel (T15).  Moreover, he provided an explanation for perception and sensation (T16).  Thus, Anaxagoras addressed many of the same issues as the Milesians in his cosmogony.     

 

         Hutchinson then went on to explain Anaxagoras’s theory of separation.  Anaxagoras stated that a process of separation occurred whereby air, water, and earth were divided.  The separation came as a result of vortexes forcing a dispersal of heavier things from lighter things.  Two new ideas resulted from Anaxagoras’s cosmogony.  First, there was the idea of the vortex and spinning phenomena that powered the separation.  Second, there was the profound idea that there were no infinitely small parts.  The implications of this idea were that the separation of elements would never be complete. 

 

         The tradition of earlier philosophers held the belief that there was one original being, which was then separated into fire, earth, water, air, animals, and plants.  Hutchinson declared that Anaxagoras, in his cosmogony, was likely replying to Zeno, and certainly Parmenides, because he questioned their belief of basic elements by questioning the logic of how something could come into existence that did not already exist.  The traditional philosophers of Anaxagoras’s time envisioned a handful of elements (four or five) used to create complex beings that make up the physical realm.  They proposed that if we have knowledge of the plants, animals, and other complex things then we must also have knowledge of the element that they are made up of.  However, Parminedes stated (and Zeno agreed), if there is knowledge, it must be of reality, which cannot change.  Therefore, since the complex things do change, we cannot have knowledge of them, and the elements, which do not change, are knowable and cannot come into in the same physical realm.  Parminedes’ theory relies on the existence of basic elements, and their existence is not explained.

 

         Anaxagoras stated that there are no smallest parts to satisfy his cosmogony that did not allow for something to come into existence that did not already exist. He proposed that there are no new things in the world, just rearrangements.  Thus, the transition from being to non-being is not an issue because the idea of infinitely small parts allows for everything to be a part of everything else.  This answered many problems, but the method relies on the existence of a vortex.  It relies on the motion in space, which remained unexplained in Anaxagoras’ cosmogony. 

 

         Anaxagoras’s idea about a seed clearly shows his belief that it is impossible for being to originate out of non-being.  His conception of a seed is dependent upon his idea of infinitely small parts.  As a result, it is possible to have infinitely many parts in a finite object, the seed.  Moreover, he believed eating bread contributed to hair growth because the substance that hair is made of is present in the bread.  Anaxagoras saw this theory as only consistent with the idea of infinitely small parts.  This ancient idea is remarkably similar to modern theories about proteins and organic compounds, which are used as our bodies’ building blocks.  The concept of infinitely small parts is contrasted with Democritus’ idea of atoms and least parts. Hutchinson added that although Anaxagoras’ idea was a guess, it was a fruitful one. The transformation of the world was explained without the use of real creation.

 

Professor Hutchinson then quoted from fragment five (Pg.122) and explained that Anaxagoras believed the vast universe was unlimited in complexity.  This great thinker saw no reason why the forces that separated this universe could not have occurred in another place in the universe. Hence, suggesting the idea of many cosmos.  This idea is currently being considered in modern science as a valid theory.