Hegel’s Lectures on the History of Philosophy
Part One: Greek Philosophy. First Period, First Division.
E. Empedoclus, Leucippus and Democritus.

2. Empedocles.

The fragments of Empedocles left, have several times been collected. Sturz of Leipzig collected above 400 verses.

Peyron arranged a collection of fragments of Empedocles and Parmenides, which was put into print in Leipzig in 1810. In Wolff’s Analects, a treatise is to be found on Empedocles by Ritter.

Empedocles’ birthplace was Agrigentum in Sicily, while Heraclitus belonged to Asia Minor. We thus come back to Italy, for our history changes about between these two sides; from Greece proper, as the middle point, we have as yet had no philosophies at all. Empedocles, according to Tennemann (Vol. I. p. 415), flourished about the 80th Olympiad (460 B.C.). Sturz (pp. 9, 10) quotes Dodwell’s words: (De Štate Pythag. p. 220), which indicate that Empedocles was born in Olympiad 77, 1 (472 B.C.). They are as follows: “In the second year of the 85th Olympiad Parmenides had reached his 65th year, so that Zeno was born in the second year of the 75th Olympiad; thus he was six years older than his fellow-student Empedocles, for the latter was only one year old when Pythagoras died in the first or second year of the 77th Olympiad.” Aristotle says (Met. I. 3): “In age Empedocles is subsequent to Anaxagoras, but his works are earlier.” But not only did he philosophize earlier as regards time, that is, at a younger age, but in reference to the stage reached by the Notion, his philosophy is earlier and less mature than that of Anaxagoras.

From Diogenes’ accounts of his life (VIII. 59, 63-73), he also seems to have been a kind of magician and sorcerer, like Pythagoras. During his life he was much respected by his fellow-citizens, and, after his death, a statue was erected to him in his native town; his fame extended very far. He did not live apart, like Heraclitus, but in the exercise of great influence on the affairs of the town of Agrigentum, like Parmenides in Elea. He acquired the credit, after the death of Meton, the ruler of Agrigentum, of bringing about a free constitution and equal rights to all citizens. He likewise frustrated several attempts which were made by people of Agrigentum to seize upon the rulership of their city; and when the esteem of his fellow-citizens rose so high that they offered him the crown, he rejected their offers, and lived ever after amongst them as a respected private individual. Both of his life and death much which was fabulous was told. Seeing that he was famous in life, we are told that he wished not to appear to die an ordinary death, as a proof that he was not a mortal man, but had merely passed out of sight. After a feast he is said either to have suddenly disappeared, or else to have been on Etna with his friends, and suddenly to have been seen of them no more. But what became of him was revealed by the fact that one of his shœs was thrown up by Etna, and found by one of his friends; this made it clear that he threw himself into Etna, thereby to withdraw himself from the notice of mankind, and to give rise to the idea that he did not really die, but that he was taken up amongst the gods.

The origin and occasion for this fable seems to lie in a pœm in which there are several verses that, taken alone, make great professions. He says, according to Sturz, (p. 530: Reliquiae twn kaqarmwn, v. 364-376) —

“Friends who dwell within the fort on yellow Acragas
And who in the best of works are busy, I greet you!
To you I am an immortal god, no more a mortal man,
Do ye not see how that where'er I go, all honour me,
My head being ‘circled round with diadems and crowns of green?
When so decked out, I show myself in towns of wealth,
Men and women pray to me. And thousands follow
My steps, to seek from me the way to bliss,
Others ask for prophecies; others again,
Healing words for ailments manifold beseech.
But what is this to me — as though ‘twere anything
By art to conquer much corrupted man.”

But, taken in the context, this laudation means that I am highly honoured, but what is the value of that to me; it expresses weariness of the honour given him by men.

Empedocles had Pythagoreans as pupils, and went about with them; he is sometimes considered to have been a Pythagorean like Parmenides and Zeno, but this is the only ground for such a statement. It is a question whether he belonged to the League; his philosophy has no resemblance to the Pythagorean. According to Diogenes LaŰrtius (VIII. 56), he was also called Zeno’s fellow-pupil. There have, indeed, been many isolated reflections of a physical kind preserved to us, as also some words of exhortation, and in him thought as penetrating within reality, and the knowledge of nature seem to have attained to greater breadth and compass; we find in him, however, less speculative depth than in Heraclitus, but a Notion more imbued with the point of view of reality, and a culture derived from natural philosophy or the contemplation of nature. Empedocles is more pœtic than definitely philosophical; he is not very interesting, and much cannot be made of his philosophy.

As to the particular Notion which governs it, and which really begins in it to appear, we may call it Combination or Synthesis. It is as combination that the unity of opposites first presents itself; this Notion, first opening up with Heraclitus, is, while in a condition of rest, conceived of as combination, before thought grasps the universal in Anaxagoras. Empedocles’ synthesis, as a completion of the relationship, thus belongs to Heraclitus, whose speculative Idea, though in reality, is process, but this is so without the individual moments in reality being mutually related as Notions. Empedocles’ conception of synthesis holds good to the present day. He also is the originator of the common idea that has even come down to us, of regarding the four known physical elements of fire, air, water, and earth, as fundamental; by chemists they are certainly no longer held to be elements, because they understand by elements a simple chemical substance. I will now give Empedocles’ ideas shortly, and draw the many units mentioned into the connection of a whole.

His general ideas Aristotle’ shortly sums up thus: “To the three elements, fire, air, and water, each of which was in turn considered as the principle from which everything proceeded, Empedocles added the Earth as the fourth corporeal element, saying that it is these which always remain the same, never becoming, but being united and separated as the more or the less, combining into one and coming out of one.” Carbon, metal, &c., are not something existing in and for itself which remains constant and never becomes; thus nothing metaphysical is signified by them. But with Empedocles this undoubtedly is the case: every particular thing arises through some kind of union of the four. These four elements, to our ordinary idea, are not so many sensuous things if we consider them as universal elements; for, looked at sensuously, there are various other sensuous things. All that is organic, for example, is of another kind; and, further, earth as one, as simple, pure earth, dœs not exist, for it is in manifold determinateness. In the idea of four elements we have the elevation of sensuous ideas into thought.

Aristotle further says in reference to the abstract Notion of their relation to one another (Met. 1. 4), that Empedocles did not only require the four elements as principles, but also Friendship and Strife, which we have already met with in Heraclitus; it is at once evident that these are of another kind, because they are, properly speaking, universal. He has the four natural elements as the real, and friendship and strife as the ideal principles, so that six elements, of which Sextus’ often speaks, make their appearance in lines that Aristotle (Met. II. 4) and Sextus (adv. Math. VII. 92) have preserved: —

“With the earth, we see the earth, with water, water,
With air, heavenly air, with fire, eternal fire,
With love, love is seen, and strife with sorrowful strife.”

Through our participation in them they become for us. There we have the idea that spirit, the soul, is itself the unity, the very totality of elements, in which the principle of earth relates to earth, water to water, love to love, &c. In seeing fire, the fire is in us for whom objective fire is, and so on.

Empedocles also speaks of the process of these elements, but he did not comprehend it further; the point to be remarked is that he represented their unity as a combination. In this synthetic union, which is a superficial relation devoid of Notion, being partly related and partly unrelated, the contradiction necessarily results that at one time the unity of elements is established and at another, their separation: the unity is not the universal unity in which they are moments, being even in their diversity one, and in their unity different, for these two moments, unity and diversity, fall asunder, and union and separation are quite indeterminate relationships. Empedocles says in the first book of his pœm on Nature, as given by Sturz (p. 517, v. 106-109): “There is no such thing as a Nature, only a combination and separation of what is combined; it is merely called Nature by men.” That is to say, that which constitutes anything, as being its elements or parts, is not as yet called its nature, but only its determinate unity. For example, the nature of an animal is its constant and real determinateness, its kind, its universality, which is simple. But Empedocles dœs away with nature in this sense, for every thing, according to him, is the combination of simple elements, and thus not in itself the universal, simple and true: this is not what is signified by us when we speak of nature. Now this nature in which a thing moves in accordance with its own end, Aristotle (De gen. et corr. II. 6) misses in Empedocles; in later times this conception was still further lost. Because the elements were thus existent simply in themselves, there was, properly speaking, no process established in them, for in process they are only vanishing moments, and not existent in themselves. Being thus implicit, they must have been unchangeable, or they could not constitute themselves into a unity; for in the one their subsistence, or their implicit existence would be destroyed. But because Empedocles says that things subsist from these elements. he immediately establishes their unity.

These are the principal points in Empedocles’ philosophy. I will quote the remarks that Aristotle (Met. 1. 4) makes in this regard.

(a) “If we wish to follow this up, and do so in accordance with the understanding, not merely stumbling over it like Empedocles, we should say that friendship is the principle of good and strife the principle of evil, so that in a measure we may assert that Empedocles maintained — and was the first to do so — that the evil and the good are the absolute principles, because the good is the principle of all good, and the bad the principle of all evil.” Aristotle shows the trace of universality present here; for to him it may be termed essential in dealing with the Notion of the principle, that which is in and for itself. But this is only the Notion, or the thought which is present in and for itself; we have not yet seen such a principle, for we find it first in Anaxagoras. If Aristotle found the principle of motion missed in ancient philosophers, in the Becoming of Heraclitus, he again missed in Heraclitus the still deeper principle of the Good, and hence wished to discover it in Empedocles. By the good the “why” is to be understood, that which is an end in and for itself, which is clearly established in itself, which is on its own account, and through which all else is; the end has the determination of activity, the bringing forth of itself, so that it, as end to itself, is the Idea, the Notion that makes itself objective and, in its objectivity, is identical with itself. Aristotle thus entirely controverts Heraclitus, because his principle is change alone, without remaining like self, maintaining self, and going back within self.

(b) Aristotle also says in criticizing further the relationship and determination of these two universal principles of Friendship and Strife, as of union and separation, that “Empedocles neither adequately made use of them nor discovered in them what they involved (exeuriskei to omologumenon); for with him friendship frequently divides and strife unites. That is, when the All falls asunder through strife amongst the elements, fire is thereby united into one, and so is each of the other elements.” The separation of the elements which are comprised within the All, is just as necessarily the union amongst themselves of the parts of each element; that which, on the one hand, is the coming into separation, as independent, is at the same time something united within itself. “But when everything through friendship gœs back into one, it is necessary that the parts of each element undergo separation again.” The being in one is itself a manifold, a diverse relation of the four diversities, and thus the going together is likewise a separation. This is the case generally with all determinateness, that it must in itself be the opposite, and must manifest itself as such. The remark that, speaking generally, there is no union without separation, no separation without union, is a profound one; identity and non-identity are thought-determinations of this kind which cannot be separated. The reproach made by Aristotle is one that lies in the nature of the thing. And when Aristotle says that Empedocles, although younger than Heraclitus, “was the first to maintain such principles, because he did not assert that the principle of motion is one, but that it is different and opposed,” this certainly relates to the fact that he thought it was in Empedocles that he first found design, although his utterances on the subject were dubious.

(g) As to the real moments in which this ideal realizes itself, Aristotle further says, “He dœs not speak of them, as four” — equivalents in juxtaposition — “but on the contrary as two; fire he puts by itself on the one side, and the three others, earth, air, and water, on the other.” What would be most interesting is the determination of their relationship.

(d) In what deals with the relationship of the two ideal moments, friendship and strife., and of the four real elements, there is thus nothing rational, for Empedocles, according to Aristotle (Met. XII. 10), did not properly separate, but co-ordinated them, so that we often see them in proximity and counted as having equal value; but it is self-evident that Empedocles also separated these two sides, the real and the ideal, and expressed thought as their relation.

(e) Aristotle says with justice (De gen. et corr. I. 1) that “Empedocles contradicts both himself and appearances. For at one time he maintains that none of the elements springs out of the other, but all else comes from them; and, at another time, he makes them into a whole through friendship, and again destroys this unity through strife. Thus through particular differences and qualities, one becomes water, the other fire, &c. Now if the particular differences are taken away (and they can be taken away since they have arisen), it is evident that water arises from earth, and the reverse. The All was not yet fire, earth, water, and air, when these wore still one, so that it is not clear whether he made the one or the many to be, properly speaking, real existence.” Because the elements become one, their special character, that through which water is water, is nothing in itself, that is, they are passing into something different; but this, contradicts the statement that they are the absolute elements, or that they are implicit. He considers actual things as an intermingling of elements, but in regard to their first origin, he thinks that everything springs from one through friendship and strife. This customary absence of thought is in the nature of synthetic conceptions; it now upholds unity, then multiplicity, and dœs not bring both thoughts together as sublated, one is also not one.[1]


1. Hegel certainly used in his lectures, to follow the usual order, and treat Empedocles before the Atomists. But since, in the course of his treatment of them, he always connected the Atomists with the Eleatics and Heraclitus, and took Empedocles, in so far as be anticipated design, as the forerunner of Anaxagoras, the present transposition is sufficiently justified. If we further consider that Empedocles swayed to and fro between the One of Heraclitus and the Many of Leucippus, without, like them, adhering to either of these one-sided determinations, it is clear that both moments are assumptions through whose variations he opened a way for the Anaxagorean conception of end, which, by comprehending them, is the essential unity from which proceeds the manifold of phenomena, as from their immanent source.


Hegel-by-HyperText Home Page @ marxists.org