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History of Philosophy I

From Heraclitus to the Sophists


Michal Zvarík

This coursebook addresses key presocratics from Heraclitus to the sophists, who stand at the origin of philosophy as cornerstone of European spirituality. Readers might find that already at this point we encounter timeless and actual questions concerning the human condition in the world, limits of our knowledge, or the problem of adequate articulation of reality. Later thinkers did not philosophised from scratch, but criticised or were inspired by their predecessors. The coursebook thus provides an introduction to presocratic thought as an important field of our spiritual history.
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4. Anaxagoras


Anaxagoras (circa 500 – 427) came from Clazomene in Ionia, but his influence is mainly associated with Athens. Multiple sources (e.g.: DL II, 12-13) present him as a teacher and friend of Pericles. Therefore, he is known as a representative of the democratic mind-set. In terms of his life, it is interesting that he faced a trial and court of impiety, which can be associated directly with his cosmological views, such as claiming that the Sun is a red-hot stone mass. Doxography attributes to him the prediction of a meteorite fall in Aegospotami, which of course was not possible according to popular understanding at the time. This phenomenon could be seen as confirmation of the view that the heavenly bodies are “fiery stones” (59 A 42). Following accusation and court, Anaxagoras left for Lampsacus, where he was a distinguished man, and where he died. ← 59 | 60 →

4.1 The Basic Principles

Anaxagoras’ work is also a response to Eleatic philosophy, and its specific contribution consists in the possible polemics with Zeno and in an attempt to incorporate opposition to the interpretation of reality. Generation and destruction do not exist, but as with Empedocles, they are only a mixing and segregation of the basic elements:

“Coming to be and perishing the Greeks do not treat properly. For no object comes to be or perishes, but each is mixed together from and segregated into existing objects. And thus they should really call coming to be mixture...

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