Saturday, February 22, 2014

ANAXAGORAS WHO?


A short biographical reference is now in order.

Anaxagoras of Clazomenae (c. 500 BC–428 BC) by virtue of his birth belonged to what is now often called the Ionian School of philosophy. His world-historical importance, emphasized by Russell, is due to the fact that in his early adulthood he went to Athens, rapidly becoming the center of Greek culture, where he was to remain for some thirty years. There he had become a friend of the all-powerful Pericles, and thus exerted an enormous influence on the intellectual life of Athens during the Golden Age of Greece. Euripides was said to have been influenced by him (see above), and some sources suggest that perhaps Socrates, too, was at some time among his disciples.

His luck changed, however, when Pericles’ enemies started plotting against him and attacked his favorites, in order to undermine Pericles’ power. Anaxagoras was arrested and charged with impiety, as his theories demonstrably clashed with the established religious dogmas. Released, thanks to a personal intervention of his benefactor, Anaxagoras however was forced to flee Athens, now settling in Lampsacus in Ionia (circa 434), where he died a few years later. Local citizens erected an altar to Mind and Truth, in his honor, and turned the anniversary of his death into a school holiday, apparently, in accordance with his wish.

Of his philosophical works only a few fragments have survived, but it is to his philosophy that we are now turning our attention in the next entry. Anaxagoras made certain curious advances in his ontology, such as a presentiment of the atomic theory, the periodic table of elements, and the introduction of Nous, Mind, as the force that enters into the composition of all living matter, thus distinguishing it from dead matter. All these philosophical novelties together make his achievement worthy of occupying the first rank among the great pre-Socratic philosophers, and I believe that Nietzsche is more right in this than Russell, as he is also right in the case of Schopenhauer, who is, of course, one of the greatest philosophers in history, no matter what others may say.

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