Ancient Philosophers: The Pluralists, Empedocles

Classic Philosophers: The Great Thinkers of Western Philosophy

Ancient Philosophers: The Philosophy of the Early Greek Naturalists, by Jonathan Dolhenty

V. The Pluralists: Empedocles

Empedocles lived from approximately 490 to 430 B.C. Of Doric origin, he was a physician, naturalist, poet, philosopher, and wonder-worker. He wrote two books, Physics and Purifications, of which large fragments remain. It is said that the people revered him as a worker of wonders and that he died on a exploration of Mount Etna in Sicily.

Like Parmenides, Empedocles admits that being is not born nor does it die, because it is eternal. Unlike Parmenides, he says that being quadruple: land, water, air, and fire. These four elements are the roots of things, the latter being only different combinations of these elements. To explain the process of these combinations, Empedocles has recourse to two forces, primitive and fundamental — love and strife.

From the beginning, since elements were regulated by love, they were an indistinct whole and formed the sphere. In the process of time, strife, which circulated about the sphere, penetrated and divided the elements. Thus they came to form the stars (zone of fire), ether (air), the oceans, and the earth; and from the earth came forth all things, including plants and men. An alternating balance of hate and of love destroys men until, by a natural reaction of love, hatred will be banished and everything will return to form once more the ancient sphere, to begin again a new period of hate and love similar to the first.

That part of Empedocles’ theory dealing with the four elements endured longest, and fell into decline only with the advent of modern chemistry.

The late Dr. Jonathan Dolhenty was the Founder and President of The Center for Applied Philosophy and the Radical Academy, and is Honorary Philosophy Editor at The Moral Liberal. The Moral Liberal has adopted these projects beginning with a republishing and preserving of all of Dr. Dolhenty’s work. “Classic Philosophers: The Great Thinkers of the Western World” was designed and organized by Jonathan Dolhenty, Ph.D. Copyright ©1992 -2011 The Radical Academy. Copyright renewed in © 2011 -2013 The Radical Academy (a project of The Moral Liberal).

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