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Empedocles philosophy/ Love and Strife

Dive into the ancient philosopher Empedocles' philosophical thinking with this enlightening overview of some of the major theories he proposed and Explore the philosophical world of Empedocles, one of the earliest philosophers from ancient Greece. Learn about his unique theories regarding Love and Strife, metaphysics, cosmology and natural philosophy, which shaped thinking for many years after him.

empedocles philosophy and love & strife

Who is Empedocles in philosophy

THE mixture of philosopher, prophet, man of science, and charlatan, which we found already in. He was a citizen of Acragas, on the south coast of Sicily; he was a democratic politician, who at the same time claimed to be a god. In most Greek cities, and especially in those of Sicily, there was a constant conflict between democracy and tyranny; the leaders of whichever party was at the moment defeated were executed or exiled. Those who were exiled seldom scrupled to enter into negotiations with the enemies of Greece - Persia in the East, Carthage in the West. 
Empedocles, in due course, was banished, but he appears, after his banishment, to have preferred the career of a sage to that of an intriguing refugee. It seems probable that in youth he was more or less Orphic; that before his exile he combined politics and science; and that it was only in later life, as an exile, that he became a prophet.
He was the founder of the Italian school of medicine, and the medical school which sprang from him influenced both Plato and Aristotle . it affected the whole tendency of scientific and philosophical thinking. His reputation as a medical man seems to have been based on more than pretensions to magic. Equal in importance to other medical traditions of the time. 

Empedocles philosophy

It is necessary to deal separately with his science and his religion, as they are not consistent with each other. I shall consider first his science, then his philosophy, and finally his religion. 
The Four Elements—Fire, Earth, Air, Water. Empedocles proposed four elements to explain natural phenomena—fire, earth, air, and water. He saw these elements as detachable substances that combined and recombined in various ways to form earth’s many objects and creatures. To explain bodily change and decay, he believed fire was the jolting force behind all alterations in the material world. For example, trees or animals burning at death was his explanation for their decomposition.

Empedocles love and strife theory

There is a similarity to Heraclitus, but a softening, since it is not Strife alone, but Strife and Love together, that produce change. As Love and Strife continued to push the four elements together, everything in nature was continually subject to change as it shifted between states of unification and separation.

I come now to his cosmology. It was he, as already mentioned, who established earth, air, fire, and water as the four elements (though the word "element" was not used by him). Each of these was everlasting, but they could be mixed in different proportions, and thus produce the changing complex substances that we find in the world. They were combined by Love and separated by Strife. Love and Strife were, for Empedocles, primitive substances on a level with earth, air, fire, and water. There were periods when Love was in the ascendant, and others when Strife was the stronger. There had been a golden age when Love was completely victorious. In that age, men worshipped only the Cyprian Aphrodite. 

Empedocles cosmic cycle was the changes in the world are not governed by any purpose, but only by Chance and Necessity. There is a cycle: when the elements have been thoroughly mixed by Love, Strife gradually sorts them out again; when Strife has separated them, Love gradually reunites them. Thus every compound substance is temporary; only the elements, together with Love and Strife, are everlasting.

Empedocles held that the material world is a sphere; that in the Golden Age Strife was outside and Love inside; then, gradually, Strife entered and Love was expelled, until, at the worst, Strife will be wholly within and Love wholly without the sphere. Then though for what reason is not clear an opposite movement begins, until the Golden Age returns, but not for ever. The whole cycle is then repeated. One might have supposed that either extreme could be stable, but that is not the view of Empedocles. He wished to explain motion while taking account of the arguments of Parmenides, and he had no wish to arrive, at any stage, at an unchanging universe. 

Consider also Empedocles’ account of the forces that impel change in the form of aggregation and disaggregation of the elements: ‘Love’ (philotes; some translators prefer ‘Friendship’) and ‘Strife’ (neikos). In humans these are emotions that govern a great many of the interactions between people, and as in other Pre-socratics  the need for an explanation of how the related phenomena of change and motion arise is attractively offered by
generalization from our experience of agency, and in particular how emotions of attraction and repulsion in general explain connections and disconnections with others. In the absence of other candidates for a motive force or forces, projection from the one clear and familiar example of such a thing is understandable.

Empedocles contribution to chemistry

His school taught that illness results from imbalance of heat, cold, dampness and dryness, these properties in different combinations being associated with the four elements he identified as the basis of all things: fire, air, water and earth. Some of the school’s doctrines seem perceptive, as for example that respiration occurs through all the body’s pores and not just the lungs, and is connected with the movement of the blood. In other respects they bear the marks of more primitive thought, for example locating the seat of consciousness in the heart.
Hippocratic - Hippocrates was a first doctor and father of medicine
Like Parmenides, Empedocles wrote in verse. Lucretius, who was influenced by him, praised him highly as a poet, but on this subject opinions were divided. Since only fragments of his writings have survived, his poetic merit must remain in doubt.

Empedocles contribution to science

 His most important contribution to science was his discovery of air as a separate substance. This he proved by the observation that when a bucket or any similar vessel is put upside down into water, the water does not enter into the bucket. He says: 

"When a girl, playing with a water-clock of shining brass, puts the orifice of the pipe upon her comely hand, and dips the waterclock into the yielding mass of silvery water, the stream does not then flow into the vessel, but the bulk of the air inside, pressing upon the close-packed perforations, keeps it out till she uncovers the compressed stream; but then air escapes and an equal volume of water runs in."

This passage occurs in an explanation of respiration.

He also discovered at least one example of centrifugal force: that if a cup of water is whirled round at the end of a string, the water does not come out.

He thought that we see by emitting streams of light from our eyes that illuminate the objects we look at, and that the whole surface of our skin is a sensory organ receptive to the effluences given off by things around us, with the combinations of elements constituting us responding to the combinations of elements in things outside us, so that we know them because of our similarity to them.

Empedocles evolution

He knew that there is sex in plants, and he had a theory (somewhat fantastic, it must be admitted) of evolution and the survival of the fittest. Originally, "countless tribes of mortal creatures were scattered abroad endowed with all manner of forms, a wonder to behold." There were heads without necks, arms without shoulders, eyes without foreheads, solitary limbs seeking for union. 
These things joined together as each might chance; there were shambling creatures with countless hands, creatures with faces and breasts looking in different directions, creatures with the bodies of oxen and the faces of men, and ot hers with the faces of oxen and the bodies of men. There were hermaphrodites combining the natures of men and women, but sterile. In the end, only certain forms survived.

What is Empedocles philosophy on religion

The views of Empedocles on religion are, in the main, Pythagorean. In a fragment which, in all likelihood, refers to Pythagoras, he says: "There was among them a man of rare knowledge, most skilled in all manner of wise works, a man who had won the utmost wealth of wisdom; for whensoever he strained with all his mind, he easily saw everything of all the things that are, in ten, year twenty lifetimes of men." In the Golden Age, as already mentioned, men worshipped only Aphrodite, "and the altar did not reek with pure bull's blood, but this was held in the greatest abomination among men, to eat the goodly limbs after tearing out the life."

At one time he speaks of himself exuberantly as a god: Friends, that inhabit the great city looking down on the yellow rock of Acragas, up by the citadel, busy in goodly works, harbour of honour for the stranger, men unskilled in meanness, all hail. I go about among you an immortal god, no mortal now, honoured among all as is meet, crowned with fillets and flowery garlands. Straightway, whenever I enter with these in my train, both men and women, into the flourishing towns, is reverence done me; they go after me in countless throngs, asking of me what is the way to gain; 
some desiring oracles, while some, who for many a weary day have been pierced by the grievous pangs of all manner of sickness, beg to hear from me the word of healing.  But why do I harp on these things, as if it were any great matter that I should surpass mortal, perishable men?"
At another time he feels himself a great sinner, undergoing expiation for his impiety: There is an oracle of Necessity, an ancient ordinance of the gods, eternal and sealed fast by broad oaths, that whenever one of the daemons, whose portion is length of days, has sinfully polluted his hands with blood, or followed strife and foresworn himself, he must wander thrice ten thousand years from the abodes of the blessed, being born throughout the time in all manners of mortal forms, changing one toilsome path of life for another. For the mighty Air drives him into the Sea, and the Sea spews him forth upon the dry Earth; Earth tosses him into the beams of the blazing Sun, and he flings him back to the eddies of Air. One takes him from the other, and all reject him. One of these I now am, an exile and a wanderer from the gods, for that I put my trust in insensate strife. 
He had learned from Parmenides to think of the senses as delusive, and therefore argued that we must apply reason in order to grasp the nature of things from all perspectives. From the Pythagoreans he took the doctrine of metempsychosis, and thought with them that the acquisition of knowledge so purifies the soul that it can escape the cycle of rebirth.
What his sin had been, we do not know; perhaps nothing that we should think very grievous. For he says:
"Ah, woe is me that the pitiless day of death did not destroy me ere ever I wrought evil deeds of devouring with my lips! . . .
"Abstain wholly from laurel leaves . . .
"Wretches, utter wretches, keep your hands from beans!"
So perhaps he had done nothing worse than munching laurel leaves or guzzling beans.
There are some  presumably those who abstain from sin through many incarnations-who at last achieve immortal bliss in the company of the gods:
There are some-presumably those who abstain from sin through many incarnations-who at last achieve immortal bliss in the company of the gods: But, at the last, they appear among mortal men as prophets, song-writers, physicians, and princes; and thence they rise up as gods exalted in honour, sharing the hearth of the other gods and the same table, free from human woes, safe from destiny, and incapable of hurt. 
In all this, it would seem, there is very little that was not already contained in the teaching of Orphism and Pythagoreanism.
The originality of Empedocles, outside science, consists in the doctrine of the four elements and in the use of the two principles of Love and Strife to explain change.
He rejected monism, and regarded the course of nature as regulated by chance and necessity rather than by purpose. In these respects his philosophy was more scientific than those of Parmenides, Plato, and Aristotle. In other respects, it is true, he acquiesced in current superstitions; but in this he was no worse than many more recent men of science.
 Empedocles cause of death

how did Empedocles die and Empedocles philosophy
Empedocles volcano

 Empedocles is a god - Empedocles committed  suicide at Mount Etna. His pupils said, he died by leaping into the crater of Etna to prove that he was a god. In the words of the poet:
Empedocles poem -''Great Empedocles, that ardent soul Leapt into Etna, and was roasted whole.''
A more sober alternative, also recounted by Diogenes Laertius, is that he broke a thigh when old, died soon afterwards and was buried in Megara where his tomb was known in antiquity.

Empedocles on etna summary

Reflection on Empedocles’ views, as with those of other Pre-Socratics, shows in what ways they are not as fanciful as they at first seem. The four ‘roots’ identified by Empedocles  earth, air, fire and water  can be seen as embodying or representing the forms in which physical things exist, as solids, liquids or gases and as combinations of these. Aristotle says that Empedocles intended us to understand that fire stands in a particular relation to the other three, as acting upon them in the course of their Love and Strife-driven interactions. His inclusion of air, which he called aither rather than aer in order to distinguish his own from Anaximenes’ view, was based on the discovery that air is an actual physical substance. 

It is said that he showed this experimentally by means of a clepsydra or water clock, by putting his thumb over the spout, inverting it and submerging it in water, then removing his thumb so that the trapped air bubbled out, thus demonstrating its real existence to those who had been waving their hands in front of their faces to support their claim that there was nothing there. Some, rather hyperbolically, have claimed that this is the first scientific experiment on record.


A History of Western Philosophy Book by Bertrand Russell
Graham, D. W. (ed.), The Texts of Early Greek Philosophy: The Complete Fragments and Selected Testimonies of the Major Presocratics, 2 vols., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010
Barnes, J., The Presocratic Philosophers, 2nd edn, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982
Hussey, E., The Presocratics, London: Duckworth, 1995 Kirk, G. S., J. E. Raven and M. Schofield, The Presocratic Philosophers,
2nd edn, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984 Osborne, C., Presocratic Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004


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