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Ideas of Anaxagoras, by Text

[Greek, c.510 - 428 BCE, Born in Clazomenae. Taught the playwright Euripides. Died at Lampsacus.]

460BCE fragments/reports
p.5 Mind creates the world from a mixture of pure substances
     Full Idea: Anaxagoras assumed that Mind, which is God, is the efficient principle, and the multi-mixture of homoeomeries is the material principle.
     From: report of Anaxagoras (fragments/reports [c.460 BCE]) by - I.6
     A reaction: The choice of homoeomeries as basic is a good one. They are much better candidates than materials which are made of parts of a quite different kind, where the parts are a better candidate than the whole.
p.5 When things were unified, Mind set them in order
     Full Idea: All things were together, and Mind came and set them in order.
     From: Anaxagoras (fragments/reports [c.460 BCE])
     A reaction: This is presumably the source for the passionate belief of Plato in the importance of order. Existence seems like chaos, with order residing beneath it, but we can wonder whether if we go even deeper it is chaos again.
p.9 Anaxagoras was charged with impiety for calling the sun a lump of stone
     Full Idea: Anaxagoras was charged with impiety because he called the sun a lump of stone.
     From: report of Anaxagoras (fragments/reports [c.460 BCE]) by Plutarch - 14: Superstition 9
     A reaction: The point is that he was supposed to say that the sun is a god.
p.14 Anaxagoras said that the number of principles was infinite
     Full Idea: Anaxagoras said that the number of principles was infinite.
     From: report of Anaxagoras (fragments/reports [c.460 BCE]) by Aristotle - Metaphysics 984a
p.45 Snow is not white, and doesn't even appear white, because it is made of black water
     Full Idea: Anaxagoras not only denied that snow was white, but because he knew that the water from which it was composed was black, even denied that it appeared white to himself.
     From: report of Anaxagoras (fragments/reports [c.460 BCE]) by M. Tullius Cicero - Academica II.100
     A reaction: Not ridiculous. Can you deny that red and yellow balls look orange from a distance? A failure of discrimination on your part. It sounds okay to say 'what I am really perceiving is red and yellow'. [see 'Anaxagoras' poem by D.H.Lawrence!]
p.47 We reveal unreliability in the senses when we cannot discriminate a slow change of colour
     Full Idea: Our lack of sureness in the senses is shown if we take two colours, back and white, and pour one into the other drop by drop, we are unable to distinguish the gradual alterations although they subsist as actual facts.
     From: report of Anaxagoras (fragments/reports [c.460 BCE]) by Sextus Empiricus - Against the Logicians (two books) I.090
     A reaction: [Sextus calls Anaxagoras 'the greatest of the physicists'] I'm not sure what this proves. People with bad eyesight can distinguish very little, but that doesn't prove scepticism. And there are things too small for anyone to see.
p.52 Mind is self-ruling, pure, ordering and ubiquitous
     Full Idea: Anaxagoras says that mind is self-ruling, mixes with nothing else, orders the things that are, and travels through everything.
     From: report of Anaxagoras (fragments/reports [c.460 BCE]) by Plato - Cratylus 413c
     A reaction: This elevation of the mind in the natural scheme of things by Anaxagoras looks increasingly significant in western culture to me. Without this line of thought, Descartes and Kant are inconceivable.
p.80 Anaxagoras was the first to say that the universe is directed by an intelligence
     Full Idea: Anaxagoras, pupil of Anaximenes, was the first to maintain that the form and motion of the universe was determined and directed by the power and purpose of an infinite intelligence.
     From: report of Anaxagoras (fragments/reports [c.460 BCE]) by M. Tullius Cicero - On the Nature of the Gods ('De natura deorum') I.26
p.155 Anaxagoras says mind produces order and causes everything
     Full Idea: Anaxagoras asserted that it is mind that produces order and is the cause of everything.
     From: report of Anaxagoras (fragments/reports [c.460 BCE]) by Plato - Phaedo 097d
p.202 Anaxagoras says mind remains pure, and so is not affected by what it changes
     Full Idea: Anaxagoras says that intellect (which is a cause of change) is not affected by or mixed in with anything else; for this is the only way in which it can cause change, while being itself changeless, and control things without mixing with them.
     From: report of Anaxagoras (fragments/reports [c.460 BCE]) by Aristotle - Physics 256b24
     A reaction: I suggest that this is the germ of the original concept of freewill - of the mind as somehow outside the causal processes of the world, so that it can initiate change without itself being affected by other causes. Aristotle says he's right; I disagree.
p.327 The ultimate constituents of reality are the homoeomeries
     Full Idea: Anaxagoras contrasts with other thinkers in the formula that his 'elements' were not the air of Anaximenes or the fire of Heraclitus or the roots of Empedocles or the atoms of Leucippus, but the infinite variety of homoiomereia.
     From: report of Anaxagoras (fragments/reports [c.460 BCE]) by Gregory Vlastos - The Physical Theory of Anaxagoras III
     A reaction: Not sure about the 'roots' of Empedocles. Anaxagoras is particularly thinking of the basic stuffs that make up the body, such as hair, bone and blood. It is plausible to reduce everything to stuffs that seem to have no further structure.
p.357 Anaxagoras's concept of supreme Mind has a simple First and a multiple One
     Full Idea: Anaxagoras, in his assertion of a Mind pure and unmixed, affirms a simplex First and a sundered One, though writing long ago he failed in precision.
     From: report of Anaxagoras (fragments/reports [c.460 BCE]) by Plotinus - The Enneads 5.1.09
     A reaction: The crunch question is whether the supreme One or Mind is part of Being, or is above and beyond Being. Plotinus claims that Anaxagoras was on his side (with Plato, against Parmenides).
p.387 For Anaxagoras the Good Mind has no opposite, and causes all movement, for a higher reason
     Full Idea: Anaxagoras says the good is a principle as the source of movement, in the form of Mind. However it does it for the sake of something else, which is a further factor. And he allows no opposite to the good Mind.
     From: report of Anaxagoras (fragments/reports [c.460 BCE]) by Aristotle - Metaphysics 1075b
p.471 Anaxagoreans regard the homoeomeries as elements, which compose earth, air, fire and water
     Full Idea: The followers of Anaxagoras regard the 'homoeomeries' as 'simple' and elements, whilst they affirm that Earth, Fire, Water and Air are composite; for each of these is (according to them) a 'common seminary' of all the homoeomeries.
     From: report of Anaxagoras (fragments/reports [c.460 BCE]) by Aristotle - Coming-to-be and Passing-away (Gen/Corr) 314a28
     A reaction: Compare Idea 13207. Aristotle is amused that the followers of Empedocles and of Anaxagoras have precisely opposite views on this subject.
p.509 Basic is the potentially perceptible, then comes the contrary qualities, and finally the 'elements'
     Full Idea: We must recognise three 'originative sources': first that which is potentially perceptible body, secondly the contrarities (e.g hot and cold), and thirdly Fire, Water, and the like. Only thirdly, however, for these bodies change into one another.
     From: Anaxagoras (fragments/reports [c.460 BCE]), quoted by Aristotle - The History of Animals 529a34
     A reaction: The 'potentially perceptible' seems to be matter. The surprise here is that the contraries are more basic than the elements, rather than being properties of them. Reality is modes of matter, it seems.
p.695 Anaxagoras was the first recorded atheist
     Full Idea: Anaxagoras was the first recorded atheist.
     From: report of Anaxagoras (fragments/reports [c.460 BCE]) by Peter Watson - Ideas Ch.25
     A reaction: He was a very lively character, right in the middle of the Athenian golden age.
1216 p.232 Anaxagoras said a person would choose to be born to contemplate the ordered heavens
     Full Idea: When Anaxagoras was asked what it was for which a person would choose to be born rather than not, he said it would be to apprehend the heavens and the order in the whole universe.
     From: Anaxagoras (fragments/reports [c.460 BCE], 1216), quoted by Aristotle - Eudemian Ethics 8 'Finality'
     A reaction: [Anaxagoras, quoted by Aristotle, quoted by Korsgaard, quoted by me, and then quoted by you, perhaps]
B03 p.312 Things get smaller without end
     Full Idea: Of the small there is no smallest, but always a smaller.
     From: Anaxagoras (fragments/reports [c.460 BCE], B03), quoted by Gregory Vlastos - The Physical Theory of Anaxagoras II
     A reaction: Anaxagoras seems to be speaking of the physical world (and probably writing prior to the emergence of atomism, which could have been a rebellion against he current idea).
B10 p.307 Germs contain microscopic organs, which become visible as they grow
     Full Idea: In the germ there are hair, nails, arteries, sinews, bones, which are not manifest because of the smallness of their parts, but become distinct little by little as they grow. For how could hair come from not-hair, or flesh from non-flesh.
     From: Anaxagoras (fragments/reports [c.460 BCE], B10), quoted by Gregory Vlastos - The Physical Theory of Anaxagoras I
     A reaction: Compare Aristotle's apparent view that the physical world has no microscopic structure, and Democritus's view that hair can come from not-hair by the organisation of atoms. Is this the first suggestion that we need to know what is microscopic?
B12 p.11 Nous is unlimited, self-ruling and pure; it is the finest thing, with great discernment and strength
     Full Idea: Nous is unlimited and self-ruling and has been mixed with no thing, but is alone itself by itself. ...For it is the finest of all things and the purest, and indeed it maintains all discernment about everything and has the greatest strength.
     From: Anaxagoras (fragments/reports [c.460 BCE], B12), quoted by Patricia Curd - Anaxagoras 3.3
     A reaction: Anaxagoras seems to have been a pioneer in elevating the status of the mind, which is a prop to the rationalist view, and encourages dualism. More naturalistic accounts are, in my view, much healthier.
B12 p.85 Past, present and future, and the movements of the heavens, were arranged by Mind
     Full Idea: Whatever was then in existence which is not now, and all things that now exist, and whatever shall exist - all were arranged by Mind, as also the revolution followed now by the stars, the sun and the moon.
     From: Anaxagoras (fragments/reports [c.460 BCE], B12), quoted by Simplicius - On Aristotle's 'Physics' 164.24
B17 p.85 Nothing is created or destroyed; there is only mixing and separation
     Full Idea: No thing comes into being or passes away, but it is mixed together or separated from existing things. Thus it would be correct if coming into being was called 'mixing', and passing away 'separation-off''.
     From: Anaxagoras (fragments/reports [c.460 BCE], B17), quoted by Simplicius - On Aristotle's 'Physics' 163.20
B21 p.18 The senses are too feeble to determine the truth
     Full Idea: Owing to the feebleness of the sense, we are not able to determine the truth.
     From: Anaxagoras (fragments/reports [c.460 BCE], B21), quoted by Patricia Curd - Anaxagoras 5.1
     A reaction: Anaxagoras offers a corresponding elevation of the power of mind (Idea 13256), so I now realise that he is, along with Pythagoras and Parmenides, one of the fathers of rationalism in philosophy. They probably overrate reason.