From Chapter VI., Anaxagoras of Klazomenai
In the first place, Nous is unmixed (fr. 12), and does not, like other things, contain a portion of everything. This would hardly be worth saying of an immaterial mind; no one would suppose that to be hot or cold. The result of its being unmixed is that it "has power over" everything, that is to say, in the language of Anaxagoras, it causes things to move.56 Herakleitos had said as much of Fire, and Empedokles of Strife. Further, it is the "thinnest" of all things, so that it can penetrate everywhere, and it would be meaningless to say that the immaterial is "thinner" than the material. It is true that Nous also "knows all things"; but so, perhaps, did the Fire of Herakleitos,57 and certainly the Air of Diogenes.58 Zeller holds, indeed, that Anaxagoras meant to speak of something incorporeal; but he admits that he did not succeed in doing so,59 and that is historically the important point. Nous is certainly imagined as occupying space; for we hear of greater and smaller parts of it (fr. 12).
The truth probably is that Anaxagoras substituted Nous for the Love and Strife of Empedokles, because he wished to retain the old Ionic doctrine of a substance that "knows" all things, and to identify that with the new theory of a substance that "moves" all things. Perhaps, too, it was his increased interest in physiological as distinguished from purely cosmological matters that led him to speak of Mind rather than Soul. The former word certainly suggests to the Greek an intimate connexion with the living body which the latter does not. But, in any case, the originality of Anaxagoras lies far more in the theory of substance than in that of Nous.
53. Arist. Met. A, 3. 984 b 15 (R. P. 152).
54. Plato, Phaed. 97 b 8 (R. P. 155 d).
55. Arist. Met. A, 4. 985 a 18 (R. P. 155 d).
56. Arist. Phys. Θ, 5. 256 b 24, διὸ καὶ Ἀναξαγόρας ὀρθῶς λέγει, τὸν νοῦν ἀπαθῆ φάσκων καὶ ἀμιγῆ εἰναι, ἐπειδήπερ κινήσεως ἀρχὴν αὐτὸν ποιεῖ εἰναι· οὕτω γὰρ ἂν μόνως κινοίη ἀκίνητος ὢν καὶ κρατοίη ἀμιγὴς ὤν.. This is only quoted for the meaning of κρατεῖν. Of course, the words ἀκίνητος ὤν are not meant to be historical, and still less is the interpretation in De an. Γ, 4. 429 a 18. Diogenes of Apollonia (fr. 5) couples ὑπὸ τούτου πάντα κυβερνᾶσθαι (the old Milesian word) with πάντων κρατεῖν.
57. If we retain the MS. εἰδέναι in fr. 1. In any case, the name τὸ σοφόν implies as much.
58. See fr. 3, 5.
59. Zeller, p. 993.
Created for Peithô's Web from Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, 3rd edition (1920). London: A & C Black Ltd. Burnet's footnotes have been converted to chapter endnotes. Greek unicode text entered with Peithô's Younicoder.
Web design by Larry Clark and RSBoyes (Agathon). Peithô's Web gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Anthony Beavers in the creation of this web edition of Burnet. Please send comments to: