Chapter 6: Empedocles

*this blogpost is one of my reading summary series of History of Western Philosophy. For chapter 5, you can read here

Book 1: Ancient Philosophy
Part 1: The Pre-Socratics
Chapter 6: Empedocles

Empedocles was a native of Acragas, a Greek city in south Italy. He was a democratic politician and later time claiming that he was god. At that time there was a conflict between democracy and tyranny. The leaders of any party was at the moment executed and exiled. Empedocles was banished, of course. And at his banishment, he chose to be a sage. When he was young he was more or less Orphic; before he was exiled he combined politics and science; and at later life, as an exile, he became a prophet.

picture was from Wikipedia

Legend said many things about Empedocles. We are told that he worked with magic, he could control the winds, he restored to life a woman that already dead for thirty days, and he dead because he jumped into the crater of Etna to prove that he was god.

Empedocles' most important contribution to science was his discovery of air as a substance. (p. 61) He knew that there was sex in plants and he had a theory of evolution and survival of the fittest. In astronomy, he knew that the moon shines by reflected light; he said that light takes time to travel; he knew that solar eclipses by interposition of the moon. He founded the Italian school of medicine and it influenced both Plato and Aristotle.

He established that there were four elements. They were earth, fire, air, and water. Russell wrote:

Each of these was everlasting, but they could be mixed in different proportions and thus produce the changing complex substances that we find in the world. They were combined by Love and separated by Strife. ... The changes in the world are not governed by any purpose, but only by Chance and Necessity. There is a cycle: when the elements have been thoroughly mixed by Love, Strife gradually sorts them out again; when Strife separates them, Love gradually unites them. (p. 62)

His views on religion mainly are Phytagorean. At one time he spoke of himself as a god. At another time he felt that he was a great sinner. Such a wishy washy man. :P

Russell concluded this chapter as follows:

He rejected monism, and regarded the course of nature as regulated by chance and necessity rather than by purpose. In these respects his philosophy was more scientific than those of Parmenides, Plato, and Aristotle. In other respects, it is true, he acquiesced in current superstitions; but in this he was no worse than many more recent men of science.

So, that's all from Empedocles. Next, on chapter 7 we will discuss "Athens in Relation to Culture". Stay tuned! \m/

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