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The Pluralists. Empedocles and Anaxagoras. Pluralist Questions:. Metaphysics/Cosmology: what is the basic truth about the universe? Has it evolved and does it exist on its own? OR Is it the product of a Designer God? Anthropology: what is the place of man in nature?

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the pluralists
The Pluralists




pluralist questions
Pluralist Questions:
  • Metaphysics/Cosmology: what is the basic truth about the universe?
    • Has it evolved and does it exist on its own? OR
    • Is it the product of a Designer God?
  • Anthropology: what is the place of man in nature?
    • Is man a part of nature? OR
    • Is man alien to nature, ‘fallen’ into it and an immortal spiritual being?
  • Empedocles the ‘Pythagorean Naturalist’
    • The natural universe is the product of chance and evolution
    • Man is a divine spirit, incarnate in an animal body, but not ‘at home’ in this world
  • Anaxagoras the ‘Creationist’
    • The natural universe is the produce of a Divine Intelligence, who governs its motions
    • [Man can understand the universe, but Anaxagoras claimed no special state for man]
empedocles of sicily 492 432
Empedocles of Sicily (492-432) 
  • Legendary figure
  • Taught naturalistic theory of universe
  • Conceived of human life in Pythagorean terms

“I will tell a double story.”

cosmic origins
Cosmic Origins
  • I will tell you the beginning, from which all that we gaze upon came to be – clear earth  and moving sea and moist air and the Titan aither, squeezing all things round in a circle.
principles of love attraction and strife repulsion
Principles of Love/Attraction and Strife/Repulsion
  • I will tell a double story. For at one time they grow to be  only one out of many, but at another time they grow apart to be many out of one at one time all coming together into one by Love, and at another being borne apart by the hatred of Strife.
natural selection
Natural Selection
  • “On his view, it was of necessity that, for example, the front teeth grew sharp and well  adapted at biting, and the back ones broad and useful for chewing food; this result was coincidental, not what they were for.
  • Whenever such parts came about coincidentally as though for that purpose, the animals survived, since their form made them fit for survival.
  • Other animals, differently constituted, perished, as Empedocles says of the man-headed calves.”

--Aristotle, Physics II

immorality fall reincarnation
Immorality, Fall, Reincarnation

There is an oracle of Necessity, an ancient decree of the gods, that whenever anyone pollutes his own dear limbs with the sin of murder—commits crime and swears a false oath—he wanders away from the blessed ones for thrice ten thousand years, growing to be through time all different kinds of mortals, taking the difficult paths of life one after another.

One of them I am now, a fugitive from the gods and a wanderer. But what is lawful for all extends far through the wide-ruling aither and through the immense glare.


Empedocles’ theory = a scientific view of the universe + a religious anthropology; compare view of Christians who believe in both evolution and the human soul.


  • Can you be a scientist about nature and a religious person about the soul?
  • What are some reasons for saying yes/no?
anaxagoras 500 428
Anaxagoras (500-428) 
  • Migrated to Athens ~460
  • Member of Pericles’ circle
  • Prosecuted for impiety (?)
  • Distinguished causal and teleological explanations
  • Taught existence of two principles of being:
    • Matter
    • God = Mind (Nous)
causal naturalistic explanation
Causal-Naturalistic Explanation
  • When one-horned goat was born on Pericles’ estate, his enemies claimed it was a portent, showing he sought to become tyrant.
  • Anaxagoras cut open the head and showed the two horns had grown together —the phenomenon had a purely ‘naturalistic’ or ‘rational’ explanation.
causal origin of universe
Causal Origin of Universe
  • All things were together, unlimited in amount and smallness. These things being so, it is necessary to suppose that in all things that are being mixed together there are many things of all kinds, and seeds of all things.
  • Rotation caused the separating off, the dense is separated from the rare, the hot from the cold, the bright from the dark, and the dry from the wet. The dense and the wet and the cold and the dark came together here, where the earth is now, but the rare and the hot and the dry went out into the far reaches of the aither.
teleological explanation
Teleological Explanation
  • Anaxagoras also taught another kind of explanation – in terms of the goal (telos) to be attained e.g. the arrow is shot in order to hit the target.
  • Does the root grow in order to get water for the plant to live?
  • Are living things themselves teleological systems?
  • What is a teleological system?
  • Does the universe as a whole operate in accordance with a goal (telos) and plan?
teleological universe
Teleological Universe
  • Anaxagoras: “Mind rules all things that possess life—both the larger and the smaller. And Mind ruled the entire rotation, and started the rotation. And Mind set in order all things, whatever kind of things were to be—whatever were and all that now are and whatever will be.”
pluralism of anaxagoras
Pluralism of Anaxagoras
  • Physical reality
    • One universe
    • Composed of ‘seeds’
    • In space and time
    • Obeys causal laws
    • Coming-into-being, destruction
    • Evolution and development
  • Reality of God
    • One God-being
    • Divine mind (i.e. non-material)
    • Eternal
    • Sets universe in motion (act of mind)
    • To bring about goals (teloi)
puzzles re anaxagorean creationism
Puzzles re: Anaxagorean Creationism
  • Where is teleology in nature?
    • Anaxagoras says little about living organisms
    • Nor about life and the cosmos (e.g. day, seasons)
    • Does it relate to human beings?
  • Theology:
    • How does his God operate in the world?
    • What is ‘Mind’?
      • An entity of some kind = divine agent? (Maker, Ruler)
      • A symbol for the teleological structure of nature?

(universal providence)

socrates criticism of anaxagoras
Socrates’ criticism of Anaxagoras
  • “One day I heard someone reading from a book of Anaxagoras, that it is Mind that directs and is the cause of everything. I was delighted with this, and thought that Mind would arrange each thing in the way that was best. .... Once he had given this kind of explanation in regard to each thing, I thought he would go on to explain the good in things as a whole. This wonderful hope was dashed as I went on reading and found that the man made no use of Mind, nor gave it any responsibility in the management of things, but mentioned as causes only such things as air and aither and water and other things like that.”

-- Socrates, in Plato’s Phaedo

two types of explanation causation and teleology
Two types of explanation: Causation and Teleology

Natural science:

  • Physics, chemistry, biology
  • Physical event  causal explanation = causal mechanisms that bring about physical change

Social science?

    • motivation vs. reasons
    • evolutionary psychology, Marxist history

Historical knowledge:

  • History, Political Science:
  • Human action  reason or justification for action
    • Why pray? God will answer.
    • Why paint? To create a beautiful object.
    • Why war? Self-defense (or attain an empire).
    • Why climb? To reach the peak.

 But note: explanations also possible . . .

natural teleology and god
Natural Teleology and God

Teleology in nature = ‘evidence’ of divine creation, providence in the natural universe.

Design Argument:

  • Where there exists ‘evidence of design’ and it is highly improbable it came about by chance, there was a designer.
  • The universe shows enormous evidence of design in structure, life, and human reason
  • There was a Designer of the Universe, God.