In This Article Anaxagoras

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Texts and Commentaries
  • Studies
  • Bibliographies
  • Life and Work
  • The Basic Principles of Anaxagoras’ System
  • Anaxagoras, Parmenides, and Empedocles
  • The Range of the Ingredients
  • Seeds
  • Homoeomeries
  • No Smallest or Largest
  • Everything in Everything and the Principle of Predominance
  • Nous (Mind/Intellect)
  • Science
  • Heavenly Bodies, the Earth, and Eclipses
  • The Meteorite
  • Other Worlds
  • Knowledge and Perception
  • Anaxagoras and the Derveni Papyrus

Classics Anaxagoras
by
Patricia Curd
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0141

Introduction

The Presocratic philosopher Anaxagoras of Clazomenae (in Ionia, now western Turkey) was active in the mid-5th century BCE. He was probably the first of the early Greek philosophers to live in Athens, where he was said to be a friend of Pericles (we do not know if he knew Socrates, who was born in Athens in about 469). Anaxagoras is renowned both for his scientific and his more philosophical views. He claimed that the heavenly bodies were stones, not divinities, and was said to have predicted the fall of a meteorite. He argued that everything is in everything and that there is no largest or smallest share of anything. All the things that humans perceive are mixtures of all ingredients, and are ontologically dependent on the ultimate reality of those ingredients. In addition, he claimed that the rotation that caused and explains the development of the cosmos is itself caused by Mind or Intelligence (Nous). Nous is the only unmixed thing in Anaxagoras’ theory, and it is unlike and unaffected by any other thing. Anaxagoras also seems committed to the possibility of there being “other worlds,” which, although they develop independently, are like our own. As with some other early Greek philosophers, Anaxagoras’ views seem to have been known to Herodotus, and are reflected in some of the works of Euripides and in Aristophanes’ Clouds. Some have seen him as influential on Diogenes of Apollonia and on the author of the Derveni Papyrus (a late-5th- or 4th-century naturalistic and allegorizing interpretation of Orphic claims). His philosophical theories posed problems for and are discussed by both Plato (who seems to have been impressed by Anaxagoras’ theory of mixture and predominance) and Aristotle (who explores the implications of Anaxagoras’ account of Mind). Note: Anaxagoras’ views constitute a tightly connected system; whereas later thinkers would separate various parts of their accounts into what had become standard divisions in philosophy and science, the Presocratics combined the various parts in order to provide a unified explanation of everything. Most of the works listed in this bibliography will have something to say about more than one aspect of Anaxagoras’ thought, and also include comprehensive bibliographies.

The author would like to thank Harrison Hibbert for his assistance with this article.

General Overviews

These entries are good places for undergraduates to begin and for those looking for general accounts of Anaxagoras that place him within the wider context of early Greek thought (Curd 2011 is a general account). Guthrie 1965 is a clear overview of the state of classical scholarship at the time; Barnes 1982 addresses an audience more interested in examining philosophical arguments. Kirk, et al. 1982; McKirahan 2010; and Warren 2007 are textbooks with clear discussions (including translations) of Anaxagoras.

  • Barnes, J. 1982. The Presocratic philosophers. Rev. ed. London and New York: Routledge.

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    Philosophical history of Presocratic thought. Chapter 16 (pp. 249–267) treats Anaxagoras as an Ionian in the tradition of Anaximenes and provides analysis of Anaxagoras’ claims and arguments, with special attention to the theory of stuffs. Attempts to explain Anaxagoras’ system and how assumptions underlying it are (or are not) consistent.

  • Curd, P. 2011. Anaxagoras. In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Fall 2011 ed. Edited by Edward N. Zalta.

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    Entry in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; general introduction to philosophical problems in Anaxagoras, with bibliography. Good student resource.

  • Guthrie, W. K. C. 1965. A history of Greek philosophy. Vol. 2. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    Chapter 4 (pp. 266–388) is an excellent introduction to Anaxagoras. Clear discussion of problems faced by an interpreter of Anaxagoras’ theories, and a good guide to the basic questions of Anaxagoras scholarship.

  • Kirk, G. S., J. E. Raven, and M. Schofield. 1982. The Presocratic philosophers: A critical history with a selection of texts. 2d ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    Textbook on Presocratics. Includes Greek texts and translations with analysis. Although most of the second edition was substantially revised, the Anaxagoras chapter (chapter 12, pp. 352–384) was written by J. E. Raven for the first (1957) edition, with updates in notes by M. Schofield for the second edition based on Schofield 1980 (cited under Studies).

  • McKirahan, R. 2010. Philosophy before Socrates. 2d ed. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett.

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    Recently revised textbook on Presocratic philosophy. Translations of Anaxagoras fragments and some testimonia, with clear and helpful discussions of problems of interpretation (chapter 13, pp. 193–229). Excellent for students.

  • Warren, J. 2007. Presocratics: Natural philosophers before Socrates. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    Good introduction to early Greek philosophy, with attention to current controversies in scholarship. Anaxagoras is treated in chapter 7 (pp. 119–134). A solid and very useful introduction to the main parts of Anaxagoras’ system, written with undergraduates in mind.

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