Anaxagoras: Contributions and 15 Famous Quotes
Anaxagoras (500 BC – 428 BC) is one of the most renowned pre-Socratic natural philosophers. He was born in Clazomena (in present-day Turkey), although he lived and taught in the city of Athens for about 30 years.
Among his disciples were Pericles, Archelaus, Protagoras of Abdera, Thucydides, and Euripides. It’s thought that Democritus and Socrates were also among them.
He promoted the investigation of nature using experience, memory, and technique. However, he was accused of sacrilege and condemned to death after he suggested that the sun was a mass of red-hot iron and that the moon was a rock that reflected the sun’s light.
He managed to evade his punishment by going into exile and settling in Lampsackus, where it’s said that he starved to death. Let’s take a look at his contributions and some of his most famous quotes.
Contributions and thoughts of Anaxagoras
Among the most relevant contributions of Anaxagoras are the rational explanations of eclipses and the breathing of fish, as well as research on the anatomy of the brain.
On the other hand, in the few fragments that have been recovered from his work On Nature, it’s reflected how this great thinker tried to explain the plurality of objects in the world.
In this work, he claimed that all things would be formed of elementary particles, which he called seeds (spermata in Greek). He speculated that the difference between things lies in their composition. Furthermore, he believed that everything in the physical world contains a portion of everything else.
This last reflection he obtained by observing nutrition in animals, where the food they eat is then converted into bone, hair, meat, etc. Therefore, he assumed that this must contain a whole host of components.
He further assumed that these parts were not separate and that, on the contrary, everything was mixed together (with the exception of intelligence, for this was pure and unmixed). Later, Aristotle went on to take this idea of particles and called them homeomeres (similar parts).
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The nous as the principle of the cosmos
Anaxagoras’ great contribution to philosophical thought was to have introduced the notion of nous (or intelligence) into the explanation of the universe as a driving force that moved everything that existed. Therefore, it was above everything, infinite and autonomous, and could not be mixed by anything.
According to Aristotle, Anaxagoras conceives the nous as the origin of the universe and the cause of existence.
Furthermore, Anaxagoras includes this concept in the explanation of reality, stating that it’s an extremely subtle flow that seeps through matter and animates it with its movement. However, nous permeates some things and not others. Thus, this great thinker explains the existence of animate and inert objects.
Later, Plato would support the claim that nous is the cause of everything and leads to order and harmony. However, he disagreed with the search for material causes undertaken by Anaxagoras.
According to the Roman politician and philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero, Anaxagoras was the first philosopher to assert that the universe was designed by the rational power of an infinite mind. For this reason, Wilhelm Dilthey has considered him to be the founder of monotheism in Europe.
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15 famous quotes by Anaxagoras
In order to have a more complete idea of Anaxagoras’ thoughts, here’s a list of his most famous quotes:
- “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”
- “Intelligence knows all things and ordered all things that are to be and those that were and those that are now and those that are not.”
- “Intelligence is the purest of all things. It has total knowledge of everything and is the ultimate force.”
- “Motion defines what is alive.”
- “All things participate in everything, while intelligence is infinite and governs itself and is not mixed with anything.”
- “It must be supposed that in everything that is combined there are many things of all kinds, and seeds of all things, which have diverse forms and different colors and tastes.”
- “Everything has a natural explanation. The moon is not a god, but a great rock, and the sun, a hot rock.”
- “Men would live incredibly calmly if these two words – mine and yours – were taken away.”
- “Science does as much harm to those who do not know how to make use of it as it is useful to others.”
- “The spirit governs the universe.”
- “Man is intelligent because he has hands.”
- “Nothing is born and nothing perishes. Life is an aggregation, death a separation.”
- “When the voice of an enemy accuses, the silence of a friend condemns.”
- “Appearances are a vision of the unseen.”
- “The sun gives the moon its brightness.”
This philosopher was able to explain eclipses and put forward a worldview that earned him his death sentence at the time.
An ingenious and forward-thinking philosopher
Anaxagoras was a thinker who reflected on the origin and laws that govern everything that exists. His reflections on physical phenomena such as eclipses or the reflection of the sun on the moon show his great ingenuity. He was well ahead of his time.
All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.
- Curd P. Anaxagoras [Internet]. California: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; 2019 [consultado 17 may 2022]. Disponible en: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/anaxagoras/
- Seggiaro C. La noción aristotélica de Nous: conocimiento de los primeros principios y vida contemplativa en el protréptico de Aristóteles. Signos Filosóficos [Internet]. 2014 [consultado 17 may 2022]; 16(32): 38-70. Disponible en: https://www.redalyc.org/pdf/343/34335734002.pdf
- Segura E. La cuestión de la incorporeidad del Nous en el pensamiento de Anaxágoras. Revista De Filología y Lingüística Universidad Costa Rica [Internet]. 1978 [consultado 17 may 2022]; 4(1): 75-86. Disponible en: https://doi.org/10.15517/rfl.v4i1.16470