Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
107. The "Four Roots" 109. Mixture and Separation

From Chapter V., Empedokles of Akragas

108. Strife and Love
The Eleatic criticism had made it necessary to explain motion.86 Empedokles starts, we have seen, from an original state of the "four roots," which only differs from the Sphere of Parmenides in so far as it is a mixture, not a homogeneous and continuous mass. It is this that makes change and motion possible; but, were there nothing outside the Sphere which could enter in, like the Pythagorean "Air," to separate the elements, nothing could ever arise from it. Empedokles accordingly assumed the existence of such a substance, and he gave it the name of Strife. But the effect of this would be to separate all the elements in the Sphere completely, and then nothing more could possibly happen; something else was needed to bring the elements together again. This Empedokles found in Love, which he regarded as the same impulse to union that is implanted in human bodies (fr. 17, 22 sqq.). He looks at it, in fact, from a physiological point of view, as was natural for the founder of a medical school. No mortal had yet marked, he says, that the very same Love men know in their bodies had a place among the elements.

The Love and Strife of Empedokies are no incorporeal forces. They are active, indeed, but they are still corporeal. At the time, this was inevitable; nothing incorporeal had yet been dreamt of. Naturally, Aristotle is puzzled by this characteristic of what he regarded as efficient causes. "The Love of Empedokles," he says,87 "is both an efficient cause, for it brings things together, and a material cause, for it is apart of the mixture." And Theophrastos expressed the same idea by saying88 that Empedokles sometimes gave an efficient power to Love and Strife, and sometimes put them on a level with the other four. The fragments leave no room for doubt that they were thought of as spatial and corporeal. All the six are called "equal." Love is said to be "equal in length and breadth" to the others, and Strife is described as equal to each of them in weight (fr.17).

The function of Love is to produce union; that of Strife, to break it up again. Aristotle, however, rightly points out that in another sense it is Love that divides and Strife that unites. When the Sphere is broken up by Strife, the result is that all the Fire, for instance, which was contained in it comes together and becomes one; and again, when the elements are brought together once more by Love, the mass of each is divided. In another place, he says that, while Strife is assumed as the cause of destruction, and does, in fact, destroy the Sphere, it really gives birth to everything else in so doing.89 It follows that we must carefully distinguish between the Love of Empedokles and that "attraction of like for like" to which he also attributed an important part in the formation of the world. The latter is not an element distinct from the others; it depends on the proper nature of each element, and is only able to take effect when Strife divides the Sphere. Love, on the contrary, produces an attraction of unlikes.

Burnet's Notes


86. Cf. Introd. § VIII.

87. Arist. Met. A, 10. 1075 b 3.

88. Theophr. Phys. Op. fr. 3 (Dox. p. 477; R. P. 166 b).

89. Met. A, 4. 985 a 21; Γ, 4. 1000 a 24; b 9 (R. P. 166 i).

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