Judging from the fragments which have come down to us, the philosophical value of Empedocles seems to be inferior even to that of Anaxagoras. In any case, we are not shocked to learn that his “theology” is handled in a teasing and contemptuous language by Plato (cf., in particular, Soph., 242, a) and the praise (moreover quite relative) of Aristotle (cf. Met., 985 4-22 and 1000″ 25) seems rather undeserved to us. At any rate, and as said already, the tradition appears 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 (“broad” or “narrow”) of the word. In other words, we can ask ourselves if Empedocles spoke and wanted to speak (also) of what he said himself, and if he wanted and was able to speak in order to answer the question of knowing what the Concept “is” (and thus, whether it is or not).
Doubtless, the beginning of the Poem of Empedocles consciously and voluntarily imitates that of the Parmenidean Poem. But Empedocles models himself on Parmenides only to focus attention on 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 this one, in listening to him, is actually hearing 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 this way allows him so much to imagine that he knows more than a man can know and to believe wrongly that he sits on “the heights of Wisdom” (cf. ib., 4, 3-8). Now, the errors of ordinary men consist in the illusion of having found the All 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 the basic error of Parmenides is for him. Moreover, for him, it is, above all, a question of: “walking [like Parmenides] from summit to summit, and not to travel only one Way to its very end [as this same Parmenides did”] (ib., 24) .
Therefore, there is not for Empedocles that Something which is one in itself and unique in its kind, being all that can both be and be conceived (even if only silently) 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” the existence of the Concept, like Heraclitus before, in the sense at least that for him too, the All that is, while also being able to be conceived, is by definition only the Temporal as a whole – which is temporary. But if that were so, Empedocles would only be saying Heraclitus again. Now, in fact, he also re-says Parmenides. And he contradicts himself so much by re-saying them both that we feel like he didn’t understand exactly what they were saying and didn’t know they were talking about the Concept. In this case, he himself would speak of the Concept only ‘unconsciously’, or even only in an ‘implicit’ way and would therefore not be a philosopher properly speaking.
Be that as it may, there is no doubt for us that Empedocles is, in fact, re-saying Parmenides, without, however, re-saying everything that the latter had said; and he does this by also re-saying part of what Heraclitus was saying. He realized this himself, as well as his contemporaries. And it is probably to defend himself against reproaches of re-sayings, even of “plagiarism”, that he said (provoking the mockery of Plato; cf. Gorg., 498, e) that “what is just may well be said even twice” (ib., 25). Indeed, isn’t it re-saying Parmenides to say: “Mad people! Their thought is short, for they imagine that what was not before comes into existence or that something can perish and be entirely destroyed; for as it cannot be that something 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 wherever it is placed [that is, everywhere]; and in the All, there is nothing empty and nothing too full; in the All there is nothing empty; whence, consequently, something that increases it could come” (ib., 11-14). Yet, even if we put aside the dubious “consequence” contained in the last phrase and the other small “imperfections”, this is not at all what Parmenides is saying. For Empedocles speaks not of the One-all-alone, nor of the One-which-is-all, nor even of the All-which-is-one, but of a set of particular things, multiple and varied and seemingly temporary. Moreover, he contradicts himself when he says, on the one hand, that nothing of what is [by constituting as a whole the Whole that is the Cosmos] can neither be born nor perish and, on the other hand, on the other hand, affirms that “we mortals are nothing at all before having been composed, and after having been dissolved” (ib., 15, 4). But this “contradiction” is only due to the general imprecision of Empedocles’ discourse. What is more symptomatic and more seriously grave is that he expressly claims to be able to ‘reconcile’ Parmenides with Heraclitus (whom he does not name, moreover) in and through an ‘eclectic’ system he wants to be as “balanced” or “synthetic” as (due to) “reconciling”, but which is, in fact, antithetical, that is to say predominantly Heraclitean. Now, this so-called “synthesis” of Empedocles is a veritable monstrosity from a philosophical point of view. However, through it, he mainly acted (notably on Aristotle), and it is therefore worth dwelling on it a little.
The para-thesis sketched out by the eclecticism of Empedocles is “classical” and well-known. Empedocles wants to reconcile the Parmenidean “Sphere” with the “River” that Heraclitus opposed to it. “Classically”, a para-thesis should partially affirm the two contrary theses, denying neither, if not in part: everything we are talking about or, if we prefer, the Whole we are talking about (and which for Empedocles is the Cosmos and not the Concept) is “both” partly “River” and partly “Sphere”. Only, the para-thetical contradiction would then be too apparent, since, according to the Parmenidean Thesis, there is only the One-all-alone, whereas, according to the Heraclitean Anti-thesis, there is ‘fluid’ only. This is why Empedocles has recourse to an apparently synthetic solution, by replacing the co-existence in the Extent of two “contrary things” which would spatially limit each other there, by a succession in the Duration, where one would succeed the other (limiting itself temporally or qua temporarily) so that each could be unlimited in scope for its entire duration. Only, this ‘eclectic’ solution has nothing to do with the Hegelian Syn-thesis. Because the ‘succession’ here is cyclical (even ‘rhythmic’), where there is a difference of identical cycles and, therefore, the whole thing here is spatiality and not temporality, properly speaking. In other words, it is not an Extended-Duration, but a Space with four ״ dimensions”, the fourth being pseudo-temporal. Now, in this four-dimensional Space, the Cosmos of which Empedocles speaks is effectively ‘parathetic’, in the sense that it is ‘both’ partially ‘Sphere’ or ‘Non-river’ and partially ‘River’ or “Non- sphere”. But, obviously, if the authentic Parmenidean “Sphere” has, if you will, a “limit” (or de-finition) [pseudo-]spatial, it is certainly not, being Eternity, a Something that can have a presence in a Present different from the Past and the Future; if only because this Something is absolutely absent from it. On the other hand, nothing prevents the Heraclitean “River” from constituting “for a time” (whose “measure” could even be “determined” so that this “time” is only an ” instant”) a ” spherical” concretion• where one of the “contrary principles “would temporarily mask” the other, so that nothing at all could be distinguished therein (just as, for Empedocles, Love masks Hate to distinguish the four “elements”, which nevertheless remain opposed to each other and therefore irreducible), because there, where there is Tourbillon, there is no flow in the proper and Heraclitean sense of the word, that is to say, a flow where what flows disappears forever, where what flows is fed by a spring from which flow ever new waters.
Undoubtedly, 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 sense of corporeal and this to the point that he thinks it useful to insist that the Cosmos in its spherical state has neither feet, nor knees, nor genital organs [which Plato will say ironically 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 Platonizing “scholar” (cf. Tim., 33, b-d)]. But if we interpret what Empedocles says about it by thinking it is re·saying Parmenides, we must say that he is, in fact, talking about what the latter was talking about, namely, the Concept itself. Now, the para-thetical character of this so-called re·saying will then appear clearly to us, for we will see that according to these statements, the “spherical” Concept is the Eternal, and not Eternity. Not only is it unlimited (spatially) like the One which-is or the Being-one of Melissos (cf. Diels, 21, B, 28) [which means that it extends and lasts consequently, at least in the sense that it is present everywhere “at the same time”, that is to say in a Present which is distinguished from the Past and from the Future], but also and above all because that it has a “natural” or “necessary” (temporal) limit (in the sense that it is everywhere and always the same). Because Love (“spherical” or “Parmenidean”) and Hatred are “so” mingled (so that the Past of the ״Love Sphere” is the same as its future, while being different from its Present (cf. ib., 30) Therefore, the Concept of which Empedocles unknowingly speaks is not Eternity, and it is indeed the Eternal only insofar as the Past of its past and the Future of its future are the same as the Present of their own presence. In other words, the “Concept” Cosmos of Empedocles is the Eternal, which is eternal only in and by its “relation” with the Eternity that is “the (already Aristotelian) Eternal-Return” of all things and which is then the extended duration of these.
Empedocles realizes this, and he is, moreover, perfectly aware of it himself, at least as regards his Cosmos or the All of which he speaks and which is all he speaks of. In any case, he says so explicitly on many occasions. “For just as they (i.e. thetic Love and antithetic Hate] were formerly ‘fluid’ (or ‘Heraclitean’), and each has ‘its time’, they will be so [in the future] and I believe (sic !) that infinite eternity will never be taken away from these two” (ib., 16). “And this perpetual change never ceases; sometimes everything unites in the One in Love, sometimes particular things separate again in the Hate of opposition; thus, insofar as the One is born from the Many and that Many are born again from the fragmentation of the One, there is birth and the life of things does not remain unchanged [or: does not last]; but, in so far as they never cease to exchange places, to that extent they remain during [the whole] Cycle [of the Gods] permanently unshakeable” (ib., 17, 6-13). “There are only these [four Elements and these two Principles] and insofar as they interpenetrate, sometimes this is born, sometimes that and always from the similar until eternity” (ib., 17, 34 -35). “They [that is to say the four Elements and the two Principles] dominate alternately in the revolution of the Cycle and they pass into each other according to the turn assigned to them)) (ib., 26 , 1-2).
It is useless to insist further. For it is already clear that if Empedocles has the avowed and obvious (“eclectic”) intention of “reconciling” the Parmenidean Thesis with the Antithesis of Heraclitus, it is the latter that he re-says much more than the first. This is why he succeeds in re-saying both of them ever so slightly (in his eclectic system) only by predicting what Aristotle will say (in his anti-thetical Para-thesis):
Namely, that one can and must speak only of what is eternal in the sense that what one says about it is re-produced everywhere and always in the extended duration of empirical-Existence, so that everything that is said about it can always and everywhere be re-said.
This prediction of Aristotle by Empedocles goes, moreover, quite far. For example, could not Aristotle himself have said what Empedocles had said at the beginning of his Poem, when speaking of Knowledge in general and of discursive “Truth”? Indeed, here is what he says about it: “Thus, each of them [that is to say, ordinary men] believes only in what he has encountered in the course of his multiple wanderings; and yet, everyone boasts of having found the All [“Parmenidean”]; to such an extent is it impossible for men to see it or to hear it or to grasp it by the spirit [whatever Parmenides may say; but you at least [i.e. the friend-lover Pausanias] must nevertheless learn it [from the mouth of Empedocles], since you have come hither [i.e. ‘to” Empedocles] by stepping aside [from the beaten track]; no more, however, than what is within the reach of mortal knowledge” (ib., 2, 5-9); “no, behold exactly every particular thing with every sense, so far as it presents itself clearly…and do not deny confidence to any of the other parts of your body through which there is access to thought, but do not think each particular thing only insofar as it presents itself clearly [by the senses]” (ib., 4, 9 and 12-13). True, and with a specific reference to Empedocles, Aristotle does attack the eternity “thing”, which is the “transcendent” One-Concept of Parmenides, and which, as we saw, has its remains, and naturally so, to what is still a para-thesis, a mixture of the thesis and anti-thesis of philosophy, even, that is, if the case of Empedocles is that of the anti-thetical para-thesis; hence, the attack is more on the remains, however essential…Also, and more importantly: Aristotle will not speak otherwise when he will criticize the “transcendence” of the Eternal-Multiple (or: -Structured) that is the Platonic Concept as “kosmos noetos”.
The Analogy between Aristotle and Empedocles is, moreover, almost complete in the sense that neither of them fully exploits the Heraclitean idea of Measure in a quantitative or “mathematical” sense” (as did, already in their time, probably Theaetetus and certainly Eudoxus and his followers). Doubtless Empedocles speaks of a “sworn contract” which forever determines the “time” or the duration of the cosmic cycle (cf. ib., 30). But, like Aristotle, he does not even attempt to measure the ‘Great Year’ (as some have tried to do, if we are to believe Plato’s Timaeus). This “Cycle” is, for Empedocles, a ‘law’ which is certainly universal but fundamentally qualitative, just as the ‘cyclical laws’ of Aristote will be qualitative, being determined in the final analysis by the revolution of the “First Heaven”. Both seek their “laws” much more in the realm of Life and History than in the purely bodily realm, where the Scholars, properly speaking, will soon attempt to establish “measurable” “relationships”.
Be that as it may, it seems that the main, if not the only philosophical “merit” of the eclectic system (of Empedocles lies in the fact that he was perhaps the first to seek the “conceptual” Eternal ( which “stabilizes” Discourse as “Truth”) not outside or “beyond” the Heraclitean “antithetical” River (anchoring, as Plato does, this discursive Eternal in the silent Eternity of the Parmenidean beyond), but in this River itself, by making it flow “in circles” and by discovering there “whirlwinds” of a Cartesian nature, which Aristotle will also see there. In any case, it seems that Heraclitus correctly developed the Antithesis of Philosophy, at least in the sense that the Temporal had neither beginning nor end for him, being everywhere and always new, instead of being reunited or produced cyclically, so as to be always and everywhere, even necessarily or “eternally”, the same, not becoming “as it is” from all eternity. No doubt, Heraclitus seems to admit the “Cycle” which transforms Earth into Fire, Fire into Air, Air into Water and Water into Earth, etc. (cf. ib., 12, B, 76); (cf. ib., 21, B, 115, 9-11). But the fragment in question of Heraclitus is obscure, mutilated and quite dubious, while, in general, 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 foreseen the impasse of the antithetical Para-thesis, he deliberately did not commit himself to it, preferring to develop the Anti-thesis proper. On the other hand, if the fragment in question from Empedocles belongs to his “Religious Poem”, all that we know of the “Scientific Poem” shows us that the notion of the para-thetical “Cycle” is at the very basis of everything he says there.
All in all, if it is possible that it was Empedocles who made the great discovery of the “Eternal Return” or of the cyclic Eternal that Eternity in “Time” is supposed to be (that is, say in the Extended Duration of Empirical Existence), so dear to Aristotle, it is sure and certain that he neither knew nor wanted to expose it himself philosophically or scientifically. He seems to have been too impressed by the Heraclitean River and by the Discourse-river predicted by Heraclitus, to try, as Aristotle would do, to construct anything “definitive”, “stable”, or “eternal”, even of really Prai, on the permanent, yet mobile, base of the “vortexes” that were glimpsed there. Moreover, he seems to have resigned himself (moreover rather easily) to a sceptical “relativism”, which soon took on, among the neo-Heraclitean Sophists, a “sociological” or “historicist” aspect. In any case, he warns us from the beginning of his “Scientific Poem” that we will find there, to tell the truth, only “hypotheses” “as uncertain” as those which Plato will make fun of in the Timaeus (cf. especially ib., 2 and 4). No doubt he said to his friend-lover: “However, it is always the fact of low spirits to distrust the strong spirit; but you, learn as the revelations of our [in the sense of: my] Muse command, (and) after its discourse has passed through the sieve of your knowledge” (ib., 5). But we are a long way from the “Goddess” of Parmenides. Empedocles’ “Muse” is just a literary mask (and maybe a parody) that barely hides the poet’s own face and he’s very close to admitting that what he’s going to say can be contradicted. In any case, he warns us that all he is going to tell us will be only human, not to say “all too human” (cf. ib., 2, 9). And it’s not overdone.
However, his (rather large) ambition is far from being satisfied by “Relativism”, as if to be a disillusioned sceptic, a state of things which only allows you not to be “worse than another” He would also like to be “the best of all”. Only, it is not in and by Philosophy that he wants to be: it suffices here for him to contradict Parmenides and to “dethrone” his Wisdom (cf. ib., 4, 😎. Nor as a scientist “physicist”, because he does not seem to want at all costs to promulgate an “original” science and is easily satisfied with a scientific “eclecticism” which borders on plagiarism. Nor is it a role in the state that tempts him, nor the “wisdom” that would be recognized as a reward for a rigid “morality.” Empedocles wants to be great among the Greats (and claims to be so) under the form of (&, as) “religious” 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 dumb heart” (ib., 3).
However! This Xenophano-Parmenidian call for silence is found in his “scientific” Poem, addressed to a young man whose father was perhaps very smart and wise (cf. ib., 1), but who himself was considered to be his ” cutie ” (boyfriend).
This means that Empedocles was “in truth neither Prophet nor Sage, but a skilful dilettante and a more or less a famous prose poet. In any case, he does not seem to have seen what the Question of the Concept was and if he glimpsed the Eternity-in-time, which is the eternal Concept of the antithetical Para-thesis, it will be necessary to wait for Aristotle to see this para-thesis of Philosophy developed in a philosophically complete and correct manner.
But before re-saying Aristotle, we must still speak of what has been said in the meantime and, in the first place, by Democritus.