Empedocles: (Material) Change we can believe in

Rufus F.

Rufus is an American curmudgeon in Canada. He has a PhD in History, sings in a garage rock band, and does many things. He is the author of the forthcoming book "The Paris Bureau" from Dio Press (early 2021).

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10 Responses

  1. Jason Kuznicki says:

    As a philosophy geek, I laughed out loud at the headline.Report

  2. Paul B says:

    Agreed on the headline (for more ancient-philosophy laughs see Lucian’s Icaromenippus, in which Empedocles has a cameo).

    But I’m not so sure a belief in souls is an argument against materialism — as far as I remember, Empedocles suggests that the soul is made of the same elements as everything else. I’d say it’s a big deal that Empedocles offers an alternative to the dualism of Plato’s material/ideal (or even Aristotle’s form/matter), pointing us instead to the more satisfying distinction between matter and energy.

    This way of thinking develops through Anaxagoras/Democritus/Leucippus/Epicurus into a way to resolve the being/becoming paradox through a notion of what we moderns would call “emergent phenomena” arising from the energetic flux of unchanging matter. That’s not to deny that there’s a mysticism present to varying degrees in all these philosophers, but I do think it’s a new type of mysticism more amenable to current modes of thinking.

    And speaking of mystics, good point about the parallels to Freud (although we should talk about his debt to Plato in the context of the Republic). It’s also notable that arch-materialist, arch-modern Marx was influenced by this school of thought, specifically Democritus’ deterministic atomism.Report

    • Rufus in reply to Paul B says:

      @Paul B, Okay, I can see that. I think part of the issue is that Empdocles is often very clear… except for when he really isn’t! Last night, however, as I was falling asleep, I was thinking of the last section of the poem, which a lot of people take as a separate work, and it occurred to me that he really is not talking about “souls” in the same way as, say, Aristotle. So it’s interesting to think of it as another path out of the wilderness so to speak.Report

      • Paul B in reply to Rufus says:

        @Rufus, I think “another path out of the wilderness” is a good way to put it. I don’t want to push a naively progressive view of the canon — I’m afraid I’ll end up making some ridiculous claim, like Empedocles anticipated the Grand Unified Theory (love = gravity, strife = electronuclear force) — but all the same it’s striking how some paths converge with ours over the millenia, even if they seemed to be dead ends at the time.

        One claim I’m perfectly comfortable making, though, is that without Empedocles we wouldn’t have Captain Planet.Report

        • Rufus in reply to Paul B says:

          @Paul B, I still like the old idea of looking at it as an ongoing conversation, or several ongoing conversations. Admittedly, we probably have a better idea of gravity; but I’m not sure we’re detailed romantic misery much better than Sappho.

          Actually, what got me started on this whole thing was studying the French Romantics and having to trace the sources of their thought back to the origins. The problem and the fun of doing intellectual history is that you just keep going back until you’re at the point of writing, “Starting with Homer, writers have…”

          Captain Planet will appear in the epilogue.Report

  3. Lauren says:

    Wow this is such a fag website like honestlt ppl get a life like wowww…. This is supposed to be a good educational website. Like wow u stupid retards get a life lauren out pce. Out suckersReport

    • Mark Thompson in reply to Lauren says:

      So….I was going to delete this comment for blatant spamming/trolling, but it hits a solid 87 on the Unintentional Comedy Scale, so I think I’ll allow it to stay.Report

      • Rufus in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        I’ll second that Mark. A few thoughts:
        1. I’ve been saying for some time that this is a fag website,
        2. If we ever add a header motto, I’d like it to be, “Supposed to be a good educational website”.
        3. If I find whoever’s been calling this a good educational website, I’m going to punch them in the nose.Report