Estimated reading time: 43 minute(s)
Judging from the evidence that has come down to us, Empedocles’ philosophical value seems to be inferior even to that of Anaxagoras. In any case, we are not shocked by the mockeries of Plato (cf. in particular Soph., 242, a) and the (quite relative) praise of Aristotle (cf. Met., 985 4-22 and 1000 “25) seems to us rather undeserved. Moreover, tradition seems to have placed Empedocles clearly below Anaxagoras, not to mention Parmenides or Heraclitus.
More exactly, one can wonder if Empedocles was a philosopher in the proper sense of the word. In other words, one can wonder if Empedocles spoke and wanted to speak (also) about what he said himself if he wanted and could answer the question of knowing what “is” the Concept as such and whether it is or not.
Undoubtedly, the beginning of Empedocles’ Poem consciously and voluntarily imitates that of the Parmenidean Poem. But Empedocles imitates Parmenides only to emphasize the irreducible difference between their works.
Thus, it is the Goddess who teaches the Truth to Parmenides. But it is Empedocles himself who teaches it to a certain Pausanias (who passed for his lover, moreover) (cf. Diels, 21, B, I).
Certainly, Empedocles also appeals to the Gods (in the plural!) And to the Muse (in the singular!) (Cf. ib., 1, 1-3) and he goes so far as to say to Pausanias that to listen to him is to hear the voice of God (cf. ib., 23:11).
But he only asks the Gods to remove from him the errors of ordinary men (cf. ib., 4, 1) and he asks the Muse not to lead him astray by raising him above the earth; and in so doing allows him to imagine that he knows more than a man can and to believe wrongly that he sits on “the heights of Wisdom” (cf. ib., 4, 3-8).
However, the errors of common men consist in the illusion of having found the Whole when, in fact, they can only see particular things, by definition temporal in the sense of temporary.
Thus, the great error from which Empedocles would like to be preserved with the help of the Gods is nothing other than what is for him the basic error of Parmenides.
So it is for him above all: “while walking [like Parmenides] from top to top, not to walk until the very end only one Path [as this same Parmenides did”] (ib., 24).
Therefore, for Empedocles there is nothing which is one in itself and unique in its kind, being everything that can both be and be conceived (if only in silence) and which is in fact and for us, as already for Parmenides, the Concept as such.
It, therefore, seems that, for us, Empedocles in fact “denied n the Concept, like Heraclitus, in this sense at least that for him too all that is, while also being able to be conceived”. It is by definition that the Temporal as/is a set of all – which is temporary.
But if he was so, Empedocles would only re-say Heraclitus. Now, in fact, he also re-says Parmenides.
And he contradicted himself to such an extent by telling them both that we have the impression that he did not understand exactly what they were saying and did not know that they were talking about the Concept. In this case, he himself would speak of the Concept only “unconsciously”, or even only in one, i.e., implicit, way, and would therefore not be a true philosopher.
However that may be, there is no doubt for us that Empedocles indeed re-said Parmenides, without however re-saying everything he had said; and he does this by also re-saying part of what Heraclitus said.
He also realized it himself, as well as his contemporaries. And it is probably to defend oneself against the reproaches of reprimands, even of “Plagiarism”, which he said (by provoking the mockery of Plato; cf. Gorg., 498, e) that “what is right can well be said even twice” (ib., 25).
Indeed, is it not re-saying Parmenides to say:
“The fools! Their thought is short, for they imagine that what was not previously exists or that something can perish and be destroyed; for as it cannot be that anything can be born from what does not exist in any way, it is likewise impossible and unheard of that what is can perish; for it will always be in whatever place it is placed [that is to say, everywhere]; and in the Whole, there is nothing empty and nothing too full; in the Whole, there is nothing empty; whence, consequently, could come something which augments it ”(ib., 11-14).
However, even if one disregards the dubious “consequence” contained in the end of the last sentence and the other small “imperfections”, this is not at all what Parmenides says.
For Empedocles speaks not of the One-all-alone, nor the One-which-is-all, nor even of the All-which-is-one, but of a set of particular, multiple, and varied things, which appear to be transient.
He also contradicts himself when he says, on the one hand, that nothing that is [by constituting in its entirety the All that is the Cosmos] can neither be born nor perish and, on the other hand, affirms that “we mortals are not even anything at all before been composed, and after being dissolved” (ib., 15, 4).
But this “contradiction” arises only from the general imprecision of Empedocles’ discourse. What is more symptomatic and more serious is that he expressly claims to be able to “reconcile” Parmenides with Heraclitus (whom, moreover, he does not name) in and by an “eclectic” system.
With the latter, he does not aim at a “balanced” or “synthetic” ending point, when his point of departure to correct Parmenides is rather antithetical, that is to say predominantly Heraclitean.
Now, this alleged “synthesis” of Empedocles is a veritable monstrosity from a philosophical point of view. However, it is through it that he mainly acted (especially on Aristotle) and it is therefore in the interest of stopping here a little.
The parathesis qua the eclecticism of Empedocles is “classic” and well known. Empedocles wants to reconcile the Parmenidean “Sphere” with the “River” that Heraclitus opposed to the One.
“Classically” a parathesis should partially affirm the two contrary theses, by not having any, if not in part: everything about which one speaks or, if one prefers, the Whole of which one speaks (and which is for Empedocles the Cosmos and not the Concept) is “At the same time” in part “River” and in part “Sphere”.
Only, the parathetic contradiction would then be too apparent, since, according to the Parmenidean Thesis, there is only the one all alone, motionless, while, according to the Heraclitean Anti-thesis, everything is “fluid” only.
This is why Empedocles uses a synthetic solution, replacing the co-existence in two opposites “which would be spatially limited to each other, by a succession in Duration, where one succeeds the other (by limiting itself temporally or temporarily) so that each can be unlimited in its extent, namely, during its entire duration.
To be sure: quite the contrary, Heraclitus was made to argue. it is the “eternal return”, even the purely spatial character, of the phenomenon in question.
Because there, where there is Tourbillon, there is no flow in the proper and Heraclitean sense of the word, that is to say, a certain flow where what flows disappears forever, as that which flows being fed by a spring from which new waters always flow.
Without doubt, in speaking of his “Sphere”, Empedocles has in view the Cosmos, even the Universe or the World · where · one · speaks, and not the Concept as such.
His “Sphere” is really “material” in the bodily sense and this to the point that he believes it useful to insist that the Cosmos in its spherical state has neither feet, nor knees, nor genitals [what Plato Will say but ironically so that to make fun of the spherical cosmos of Timaeus-Eudoxus, which impressed Aristotle to the point that he thought he had to praise the pre-Socratic precursor of the great Platonist scholar (cf. Tim., 33, bd)].
But if we interpret what Empedocles says about it by believing to re-say Parmenides again, we have to say that he is in fact talking about what the latter was talking about, namely, the Concept itself.
Or, the parathetic character of this so-called re-saying will then appear clearly to us, because we will see that according to these statements, the “spherical” Concept is the Eternal and not Eternity. Not only ! Because it is (spatially) unlimited like the One which is or the Being-one of Mélissos (cf. Diels, 21, B, 28) [which means that it extends and lasts by consequent at least in the sense that it is everywhere present “at the same time”, that is to say in a Present which is distinguished from the Past and from! Future], but also and above all because it has a (temporal) limit which is natural ”or“ necessary ”(in the sense that it is everywhere and always the same).
It carries Love (“spherical” or “Parmenidean”) and Hate (so that the Past of the “amorous Sphere” is the same as its future, while being different from its Present (cf. ib., 30).
Therefore, the Concept of which Empedocles speaks without knowing it is not! ‘Eternity.
And it is the Eternal only insofar as the Past of his past and the Future of its future are the same as the Present of its own presence; and it is eternal by its “relation” with Eternity which is the Eternal Return (already Aristotelian) of all things and hence, that which is the extended duration of these.
Empedocles is, moreover, perfectly aware of this himself, at least with regard to his picture of the Cosmos or the Whole of which he speaks and which constitutes the everything of which he speaks. In any case, he says so explicitly, over and over again.
… and does not deny trust to any of the other parts of your body through which there access to thought exists, but only thinks of each particular thing as to the extent that it presents itself clearly [ through the senses] ”(ib., 4, 9 and 12-13).
Undoubtedly, Empedocles attacks here eternity which is the transcendent Concept of Parmenides.
But Aristotle will not speak otherwise when he criticizes the “transcendence” of the (or: -Structured) Eternal-Multiple, that is, the Platonic Concept as “Cosmos noétos”.
However, the anti-Eleatism of Empedocles has a distinctly Heraclitean allure. And it is indeed there that the only interest of his Poem resides from the point of view of the history of Philosophy.
By going back to the sources, even the Empedocleean analogies of Aristotle’s philosophy, we see more clearly than if we only considered the latter, how well Plato saw things when he affirmed (notably in the Theaetetus, the Sophist and the Politician) that Aristotelianism (inspired by the Science of its time, as it was embodied in Eudoxus) had as a distant origin (if we disregard the views “of Homer and of Hesiod) the Anti Heraclitean thesis of the Thesis of Parmenides.
The Analogy between Aristotle and Empedocles is, moreover, almost complete in the sense that neither of them fully exploits the Heraclitean idea of Measurement in a quantitative or mathematical sense ”(as ‘have already done in their time, probably Theaetetus and certainly Eudoxus and his emulators).
Without doubt Empedocles speaks of a sworn contract “which forever determines this time” or the duration of the Cosmic Cycle (cf. ib., 30). But, just like Aristotle, he does not even try to measure the “Great Year” (as some have tried to do, if the Timaeus is to be believed).
This Cycle “is, for Empedocles, a “law”, fundamentally qualittive, just as the cyclical laws “of Aristote, as being determined “in the last analysis by the revolution of the First Heaven”., will be qualitative.
As well, they both seek their “laws “much more in the domain of Life and} “History than in the purely bodily domain”, where the Scientists themselves will soon attempt to establish this “measurable” relationship.
Anyway, it seems that the main, if not the only this philosophical merit of the eclectic system of Empedocles lies in the fact that he was perhaps the first to seek the Eternal “concept״ which “stabilizes” the Speech as Truth “) not outside or beyond” the Heraclitean river (by anchoring, as Plato does, this discursive Eternal in the ‘silent Eternity of the Parmenidean Hereafter), but in this River itself, by making it flow in circles ”and by discovering there whirlpools, “Cartesian” in nature, which Aristotle will also see there.
It seems in any case that Heraclitus correctly developed the Anti-thesis of Philosophy, at least in the sense that the Temporal had for him neither beginning nor end, being everywhere and always new, instead of being re-produced cyclically so as to be always and everywhere, even before or eternally, “the same, never becoming” as well as what it is “from all eternity.
Without doubt, Heraclitus seems to admit the “Cycle” which transforms Earth into Fire, Fire into Air, Air into Water and Water into Earth, etc: c – = :; – T – + F– + A – + E (cf. ib., 12, B, 76); Empedocles said again, speaking of: the “Cycle “c – = – + A – + E – + T – + F (cf. ib., 21, B, 115, 9-11).
But the fragment in the question of Heraclitus is obscure, mutilated, and doubtful, while, generally speaking, there is no trace, in him, of the “Eternal Return” (the “Cosmic Fire” being obviously a Stoic misinterpretation).
We can therefore admit that even if Heraclitus had glimpsed the impasse of the Antithesis in intuition of the parathesis, he deliberately did not commit to it, preferring to develop the Anti-thesis proper.
On the other hand, if the fragment in the question of Empedocles belongs to his religious Poem “, all that we know of the scientific poem” shows us that the notion of the parathetic Cycle “is at the very basis of everything that he said there.
All in all, if it is possible that it was Empedocles who made the great discovery of the “Eternal Return” or of the Eternal cyclic that is supposed to be “Eternity in this Time ”(that is to say in the Extended Duration of the Empirical Existence)- so dear to Aristotle- it is certain that he neither knew how nor wanted to expose it himself, either philosophically or scientifically.
He seems to have been too impressed by the Heraclitean River and by the River-Discourse, predicted by Heraclitus, to try, as Aristotle will do, to build anything that is definitive”, stable” or “eternal”, even prone to the permanent side, on the mobile basis of the “whirlwinds” that he had seen there.
He also seems to have resigned himself (moreover quite easily) to a “skeptical” Relativism, which soon takes on, among the neo-Heraclitean Sophists, a “sociological” or “historicist” appearance.
In any case, he warns us from the beginning of his scientific poem “that we will find there, to tell the truth, only “hypotheses”, which are as little certain “as those of which Plato will mock in Timaeus (cf. above all ib., 2 and 4).
No doubt he said to his friend-lover: “However, it is always the fact of low spirits to be wary of strong spirits; but you, learn as the revelations of our [in the sense of: my] Muse order, after his speech has passed through the sieve of your knowledge ”(ib., 5). But we are very far from the “Goddess” of Parmenides.
The “Muse” of Empédocles is only a literary mask (and perhaps a parody) which barely hides its own face and he is very close to admitting that what he is going to say can be contested.
In any case, he warns us that everything he is going to tell us will be only human, not to say “too human” (cf. ib., 2, 9). And he doesn’t worry too much.
However, his (rather great) ambition is far from being satisfied by a disillusioned skeptical “Relativism”, which only allows him not to be “worse than another.” He would also like to be “the best of all”. However, it is not in and through Philosophy that he wants to be: it suffices here to counteract Parmenides and “dethrone” his Wisdom (cf. ib., 4).
Neither is it a political role in the state that tempts him, nor the “wisdom” which would be recognized as a reward for a rigid “morality”. Empedocles wants to be great among the Great (and says he is) as a “religious” and Prophet (cf. ib., 112), by “imitating” perhaps Xenophanes. And there, despite his hateful attack on Parmenides, he seems ready to admit that there are things “to keep in your mute heart” (ib., 3).
However! This appeal to xenophano-Parmenidean silence is found in his “scientific” Poem, addressed to a young man whose father was perhaps very wise (cf. ib., 1), but who himself was considered to be his “Cute”.
This means that Empedocles was “in truth neither a Prophet nor a Sage, but a skillful dilettante and a more or less charlatanic” diviner “, who moreover seems to have ended badly (and still not as a hero of ‘a famous German prose poetry).
In any case, he does not seem to have seen what the Question of the Concept was and if he has glimpsed the Eternity-in-time that is the Eternal Concept of the antithetic Parathesis, we will have to wait for Aristotle to find out this parathesis of Philosophy to be developed in a philosophically complete and correct way.