Like Empedocles, Anaxagoras denied that there could be any coming into being or
passing away (
The Greeks are wrong to accept coming to be and perishing, for no thing comes to be,
nor does it perish, but they are mixed together from things that are and they are
separated apart. And so they would be correct to call coming to be being mixed together,
and perishing being separated apart.
And, like Empedocles, he thinks that there is genuine qualitative difference among things.
But, unlike Empedocles, he does not limit himself to 4 elements. In their place, he helps
himself to an
of different stuffs.
For Anaxagoras, not only Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, but also blood, gold, hair, bone,
etc., are all
, not reducible to more primitive parts.
Why does he hold this? Cf. Robinson (p. 176):
According to Empedocles, bone is made up of earth, air, fire, and water, blended in a certain
proportion. It should be possible, therefore, to break it down again into these elements. The
difficulty is that when this is done the bone ceases to be bone any longer; and if Parmenides is
right, this is impossible. If bone
, it cannot cease to be.
Moreover, Anaxagoras seems to have reasoned that if bone is made up of those elements
in that proportion, you should be able to
bone out of something else, that is
bone. But Anaxagoras tried to be a good Parmenidean. As he writes (
For how could hair come from not hair or flesh from not flesh?
How does Anaxagoras propose to get out of this difficulty? Robinson again:
Anaxagoras sought to evade this difficulty by insisting that bone is
, i.e., made up of parts
having the same nature as the whole. No matter how far it is broken down, what remains is bone.
Bone is not made up of other elements. Every part of bone has the same nature as the
whole. Every part of bone is bone; every part of gold is gold, etc. This is Anaxagoras’s
notorious principle of
(or uniformity, lit. “like-partedness”):
(H) Every part of any kind of stuff, S, is itself S.
It is controversial whether Anaxagoras maintained (H), which is not asserted in any
fragments. There is evidence for it in the testimonia, however. Cf. Aristotle’s summaries
Anaxagoras says the opposite of Empedocles about the elements. . . . For the
homoiomerous things (I mean flesh and bone and each of the things of that sort)
are elements, but air and fire are mixtures of these and of all the other seeds, for
each of them is a conglomeration of invisible [amounts] of all the homoiomerous
Anaxagoras . . . says that the elements are unlimited in number. For he makes
the elements homoiomerous
things, such as bone and flesh and marrow, and each
of the others whose parts have the same name [as the whole].