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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

A History of Greek Philosophy / THE ATOMISTS / ANAXAGORAS


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Elsewhere, however, Aristotle modifies this commendation. “Anaxagoras,” he says, “uses Mind only as a kind of last resort, dragging it in when he fails otherwise to account for a phenomenon, but never thinking of it else.” And in the Phaedo Plato makes Socrates speak of the high hopes with which he had taken to the works of Anaxagoras, and how grievously he had been disappointed. “As I proceeded,” he says, “I found my philosopher altogether forsaking Mind or any other principle of order, and having recourse to air, and aether, and water, and other eccentricities.”

Anaxagoras, then, at least on this side of his teaching, must be considered rather as the author of a phrase than as the founder of a philosophy. The phrase remained, and had a profound influence on subsequent philosophies, but in his own hands it was little more than a dead letter. His immediate interest was rather in the variety of phenomena than in their conceived principle of unity; he is theoretically, perhaps, ‘on the side of the angels,’ in practice he is a materialist.

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