Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
115. Plants 117. Physiology

From Chapter V., Empedokles of Akragas

116. Evolution of Animals
The fragments which deal with the evolution of animals (57-62) must be understood in the light of the statement (fr. 17) that there is a double coming into being and a double passing away of mortal things. The four stages are accurately distinguished in a passage of Aetios,119 and we shall see that there is evidence for referring two of them to the second period of the world's history and two to the fourth.

The first stage is that in which the various parts of animals arise separately. It is that of heads without necks, arms without shoulders, and eyes without foreheads (fr. 57). It is clear that this must be the first stage in what we have called the fourth period of the world's history, that in which Love is coming in and Strife passing out. Aristotle distinctly refers it to the period of Love, by which, as we have seen, he means the period when Love is increasing.120 It is in accordance with this that he also says these scattered members were subsequently put together by Love.121

The second stage is that in which the scattered limbs are united. At first, they were combined in all possible ways (fr. 59). There were oxen with human heads, creatures with double faces and double breasts, and all manner of monsters (fr. 61). Those of them that were fitted to survive did so, while the rest perished. That is how the evolution of animals took place in the period of Love.122

The third stage belongs to the period when the unity of the Sphere is being destroyed by Strife. It is, therefore, the first stage in the evolution of our world. It begins with "whole-natured forms" in which there is not any distinction of sex or species.123 They are composed of earth and water, and are produced by the upward motion of fire seeking to reach its like.

In the fourth stage, the sexes and species have been separated, and new animals no longer arise from the elements, but are produced by generation.

In both these processes of evolution, Empedokles was guided by the idea of the survival of the fittest. Aristotle severely criticises this. "We may suppose," he says, "that all things have fallen out accidentally just as they would have done if they had been produced for some end. Certain things have been preserved because they had spontaneously acquired a fitting structure, while those which were not so put together have perished and are perishing, as Empedokles says of the oxen with human faces."124 This, according to Aristotle, leaves too much to chance. One curious instance has been preserved. Vertebration was explained by saying that an early invertebrate animal tried to turn round and broke its back in so doing. This was a favourable variation and so survived.125 It should be noted that it clearly belongs to the period of Strife, and not, like the oxen with human heads, to that of Love. The survival of the fittest was the law of evolution in both periods.

Burnet's Notes


119. Aet. v. 19, 5 (R. P. 173).

120. Arist. De caelo, Γ, 2. 300 b 29 (R. P. 173 a). Cf. De gen. an. A, 18. 722 b 19, where fr. 57 is introduced by the words καθάπερ Ἐμπεδοκλῆς γεννᾷ ἐπὶ τῆς Φιλότητος. S Simplicius, De Caelo, p. 587, 18, says μουνομελῆ ἔτι τὰ γυῖα ἀπὸ τῆς τοῦ Νείκους διακρίσεως ὄντα ἐπλανᾶτο.

121. Arist. De an. Γ, 6. 430 a 30 (R. P. 173 a).

122. This is well put by Simplieius, De caelo, p. 587, 20. It is ὅτε τοῦ Νείκους ἐπεκράτει λοιπὸν ἡ Φιλότης . . . ἐπὶ τῆς Φιλότητος οὖν ὁ Ἐμπεδοκλῆς ἐκεῖνα εἶπεν, οὐχ ὡς ἐπικρατούσης ἤδη τῆς Φιλότητος, ἀλλ' ὡς μελλούσης ἐπικρατεῖν In Phys. p. 371, 33, he says the oxen with human heads were κατὰ τὴν τῆς Φιλίας ἀρχήν.

123. Cf. Plato, Symp. 189 e.

124. Arist. Phys. B, 8. 198 b 29 (R. P. 173 a).

125. Arist. De part. an. A, 1. 640 a 19.

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