Lesson 11ª







Development of Physics

In V BC, the opposition of theories between Heraclitus and Parmenides (then, between idealists and realists, supporters and opponents of dialectics, etc.) provoked the development of some important concepts of physics, which would later help interpret the universe for the next 2,000 years, after their systemization by Aristotle.

We can see both the influence of Parmenides and Heraclitus in these authors. As a result, the opposition found between both philosophers ended; even that anti-thesis was reconcilable, and Heraclitus, in the end, ended up being correct.

Empedocles of Agrigentum (492-432 BC)

Empedocles of Agrigentum : Fragments

(As arranged by Hermann Diels)

For straitened are the powers that are spread over their bodily parts, and many are the woes that burst in on them and blunt the edge of their careful thoughts! They behold but a brief span of a life that is no life, and, doomed to swift death, are borne up and fly off like smoke. Each is convinced of that alone which he had chanced upon as he is hurried every way, and idly boasts he has found the whole. So hardly can these things be seen by the eyes or heard by the ears of men, so hardly grasped by their mind! Howbeit, thou, since thou hast found thy way hither, shalt learn no more than mortal mind hath power.
(Frag. 2)

Go to now, consider with all thy powers in what way each thing is clear.  Hold not thy sight in greater credit as compared with thy hearing, nor value thy resounding ear above the clear instructions of thy tongue; and do not withhold thy confidence in any of thy other bodily parts by which there is an opening for understanding, but consider everything in the way it is clear.
(Frag. 4)

And I shall tell thee another thing. There is no substance of any of all the things that perish, nor any cessation for them of baneful death. They are only a mingling and interchange of what has been mingled. Substance is but a name given to these things by men.
(Frag. 8)

But they (hold?) that when Light and Air (chance?) to have been mingled in the fashion of a man, or in the fashion of the race of wild beasts or of plants or birds, that that is to be born, and when these things have been separated once more, they call it (wrongly?) woeful death. I follow the custom and call it so myself.
(Frag. 9)

Fools! -- for they have no far-reaching thoughts -- who deem that what before was not comes into being, or that aught can perish and be utterly destroyed. For it cannot be that aught can arise from what in no way is, and it is impossible and unheard of that what is should perish; for it will always be, wherever one may keep putting it.
(Frags. 11 & 12)

And in the All there is naught empty and naught too full.
(Frag. 13)

Come now, look at the things that bear witness to my earlier discourse, if so be that there was any shortcoming as to their form in the earlier list. Behold the sun, everywhere bright and warm, and all the immortal things that are bathed in heat and bright radiance. Behold the rain, everywhere dark and cold; and from the earth issue forth things close-pressed and solid. When they are in strife all these are different in form and separated; but they come together in love, and are desired by one another.

For out of these have sprung all things that were and are and shall be -- trees and men and women, beasts and birds and the fishes that dwell in the waters, yea, and the gods that live long lives and are exalted in honor.
(Frag, 21)

For all of these -- sun, earth, sky, and sea -- are at one with all their parts that are cast far and wide from them in mortal things. And even so all things that are more adapted for mixture are like to one another and united in love by Aphrodite. Those things, again, that differ most in origin, mixture and the forms imprinted on each, are most hostile, being altogether unaccustomed to unite and very sorry by the bidding of Strife, since it hath wrought their birth.
(Frag. 22)

Just as when painters are elaborating temple-offerings, men whom wisdom hath well taught their art, -- they, when they have taken pigments of many colors with their hands, mix them in due proportion, more of some and less of others, and from them produce shapes like unto all things, making trees and men and women, beasts and birds and fishes that dwell in the waters, yea, and gods, that live long lives, and are exalted in honor, -- so let not the error prevail over thy mind, that there is any other source of all the perishable creatures that appear in countless numbers. Know this for sure, for thou hast heard the tale from a goddess.
(Frag. 23)

So sweet lays hold of sweet, and bitter rushes to bitter; acid comes to  acid, and warm couples with warm.
(Frag. 90)

And just so far as they grow to be different, so far do different thoughts ever present themselves to their minds (in dreams).
(Frag. 108)

There is an oracle of Necessity, an ancient ordinance of the gods, eternal and sealed fast by broad oaths, that whenever one of the daemons, whose portion is length of days, has sinfully polluted his hands with blood, or  followed strife and forsworn himself, he must wander thrice ten thousand seasons from the abodes of the blessed, being born throughout the time in all manners of mortal forms, changing one toilsome path of life for another.  For the mighty Air drives him into the Sea, and the Sea spews him forth on the dry Earth; Earth tosses him into the beams of the blazing Sun, and he flings  him back to the eddies of Air.  One takes him from the other, and all reject  him.  One of these I now am, an exile and a wanderer from the gods, for that  I put my trust in insensate strife.
(Frag. 115)

For I have been ere now a boy and a girl, a bush and a bird and a dumb fish in the sea.
(Frag. 117)

From what honor, from what a height of bliss have I fallen to go about  among mortals here on earth.
(Frag. 119)

It is not possible for us to set God before our eyes, or to lay hold of him with our hands, which is the broadest way of persuasion that leads into the heart of man.
(Frag. 133)

For he is not furnished with a human head on his body, two branches do not sprout from his shoulders, he has no feet, no swift knees, nor hairy  parts; but he is only a sacred and unutterable mind flashing through the whole  world with rapid thoughts.
(Frag. 134)

(This is not lawful for some and unlawful for others;) but the law for all  extends everywhere, through the wide-ruling air and the infinite light of  heaven.
(Frag. 135)

Will ye not cease from this ill-sounding slaughter?  See ye not that ye  are devouring one another in the thoughtlessness of your hearts?
(Frag. 136)

And the father lifts up his own son in a changed form and slays him with a prayer.  Infatuated fool!  And they run up to the sacrificers, begging  mercy, while he, deaf to their cries, slaughters them in his halls and gets  ready the evil feast. In like manner does the son seize his father, and children their mother, tear out their life and eat the kindred flesh.
(Frag. 137)


His philosophy is as follows:

  • Limits and difficulties of human knowledge.
  • Reciprocity of brain activity and capability
  • The eternity of the being: birth and death are nothing but union and separation (LOVE – HATE).
  • The ‘4 elements‘: FIRE, EARTH, WIND, WATER

These ‘4 element’, inspired, of course, in the 'arche' of Ionian thinkers, are quoted together for the first time by Empedocles. They were later used by other authors in their own philosophical thought: Plato and Aristotle, for example.

  • Transmigration of souls
  • Concept of god.

Perhaps this ‘God’, which appears for the first time as well, is nothing more than the ‘divine’ of Heraclitus or the ‘being’ of Parmenides. It's hard to tell, given the few portions of the work made by Empedocles.