back to PHL200Y home page

back to course outline

 

Topic #A8

Anaxagoras

 

26 September 2001

Scribes: Elaine Barber and Sarah Minchom

 

These minutes were not spoken; for another version,

go to the spoken minutes

 

 

 

The lecture began with a discussion of the cosmos vs.  the universe.  Professor Hutchinson explained that the universe is necessarily one, a totality.  The Greek word for this is pan meaning "the whole".  The word cosmos is derived from the same word as cosmetic, meaning arrangement or adornment.  It implies the structured part of the whole.  It was noted that philosophers were divided as to whether there is one cosmos in the universe or many.

 

A student brought to Professor Hutchinson's attention that there was confusion identifying the secondary and primary voices in textbook.  To clarify this confusion Professor Hutchinson made a comparison between pages 119 and 127.  Translations found on page 127, by the ancient Greek, Simplicus, ( F11-14) are from Aristotelian and Platonian manuscripts.  Original copies had undergone much change, as manuscripts were repeatedly hand copied onto another medium and, as many texts were lost or destroyed, it was often only the younger copy, if any, that survived.  The editors of today's texts must read all the remaining manuscripts and then deduce from them what the original author's intent was.  In the cases where most of the work was lost the testimonies of more modern scholars, that had produced books or commentaries on the original manuscripts, would then be used to fill in the missing fragments of the surviving text through testimonials.  For example, T6 Pgs.  126-127.  In comparison with this, on page 119 it is the author's voice, giving his own interpretation of the meaning of Anaxangoras's theories.  But the author's interpretation is disputable because it was only written in the last few years and therefore, has no antiquity.  Prof.  Hutchinson stressed the analogous relationship between the author's words and reading a newspaper, thereby showing the importance of understanding the original source instead of relying on a second hand interpretation.

 

In a quick correction, Professor Hutchinson clarified that when he made the analogy that the universe and cosmos were like rice pudding with raisins, what he meant was that the rice pudding was the universe and that the raisins, infinitely spread throughout the pudding, were the individual cosmoi, or “cosmoses”. 

 

The question was raised as to how to properly cite a text.  Professor Hutchinson stated that he was more concerned with the principle of referencing than the technical requirements.  He stated that referencing is not just to "cover your ass" but also so that the person reading your composition will be able to easily find the text and (original texts) you are referring to, and therefore it is recommended that you give the title, author, and page.  If referencing testimonial or fragments one should give the original author, with the title of the book this fragment is found in, as well as the translator, and the secondary book.

 

It was also pointed out that when reading ancient philosophers' texts we need to remember that they each have their own system or convention for referencing other philosophers works, and will refer to a section as "in the beginning", etc., since there were no books in ancient times, rather scrolls.  Therefore, we should think of referencing ancient philosophers work as you would reference the Bible (i.e. book, chapter, verse)

 

Next we began the discussion on Anaxagoras, the date of whose life span is unclear, but estimated to be around 500BC-(425-428BC).  He came to Athens from the northern part of Aegean, Clazomenae around 480BC during the time of the Persians attempt to invade Greece.  Against all odds the Greeks managed to repel them because a civil soldier ran twenty-six miles to warn the Athenians of the approaching attack.  After defeating the Persians Athens prospered and their established alliances allowed them to share in a common defense (much like today’s NATO) and a common sphere of influence.

 

Anaxagoras, who was closely associated with the influential political leader Pericles, an internationally trusted nation builder and the first serious world leader, was accused of serious crimes (for his heretic belief that the sun was a glowing hot stone rather than the Athenian's divine being) and was driven out of the city.  As there were many other heretic thinkers in Athens it is unlikely that this was the actual reason for the trial, but more likely that he was persecuted for his association with Pericles (much like Socrates persecution for being associated with politicians in later times).  It was mentioned that from the fifth century on, Athens became the centre for Greek philosophy, remaining so for over one thousand years.

 

The Milesian cosmology is similar to Anaxagoras', concerning his theories with explanations of natural phenomenon, such as rainbows and earthquakes (for reference see the testimonials and fragments on pages 128-129).  Anaxagoras' standard cosmology, which was a very revolutionary idea for his time, was based on the idea of the process of separation, caused by a vortex.  With the idea of infinitely small parts, the separation into elements is never complete, and every least thing we have contains elements of every other thing therefore cannot have least parts.  Professor Hutchinson's suspicion is that Anaxagoras is replying to Zeno's problem of infinite divisibility, as well as that knowledge must be based on reality, and definitely to Parmenides' theories that what-is cannot come from what-is-not.

Anaxagoras realised that there are two views on the origins of the elements:

a) its beyond our comprehension so why question their coming into being

b) they've always existed, and therefore there is no change in the universe, just a rearrangement of elements and thus do not need to explain coming into being.

 

Anaxagoras decided the latter to be best answer to the cosmological problem of how can we have cosmology if it relies on knowledge?  As to the problem of Parmenides’ theory of the stationary nature of space, Anaxagoras either didn't think it important enough or we don't have is response.  Briefly, Professor Hutchinson pointed out Anaxagoras' belief that the building blocks of the world, seeds of material, were constantly being broken down, and recollecting.

 

To end the lecture Professor Hutchinson referred to F5 on page 122, which indicates Anaxagoras' belief that there is reason to believe that forces, which created this cosmology, could quite possible have created other cosmologies differing only in size, found inside our universe.  This is an idea which is being discussed still today.