Over the past decade, there has been a marked upsurge in scholarly activity concerning the development of Presocratic philosophy. Much of this research has focused on thematic relations between particular pairs, or amongst small groups, of Presocratics. But the larger issue of the development of Presocratic thought in toto has been tackled only twice: first, by Patricia Curd and, now, by Daniel Graham.1 Graham challenges the legitimacy of major strands within the traditional interpretation (the Aristotelian interpretation) of the development of Presocratic philosophy. According to Graham, none of the Milesians was a Material Monist; Heraclitus did not transgress the law of non-contradiction; an empirically-minded Parmenides ushered in a new era in astronomy; Anaxagoras and Empedocles were not opponents of Parmenides; and Diogenes of Apollonia, far from being both last and least amongst the Presocratics, actually introduced a significant theoretical innovation. Prima facie these claims are somewhat unsettling. Nevertheless, Graham displays deep philosophical insight and razor-sharp critical judgment as he advances careful arguments in support of his claims. Graham’s analysis is richly informed by the secondary literature, and the exemplary quality of his research compels the reader to earnestly consider this new approach to the Presocratics. Some readers will see Graham as a trusted guide, others will engage him as an effective stalking horse, and yet others will be wholly opposed to just about everything he says. Whatever the case, Graham’s investigation certainly broadens the scope of the current debate and it does so on multiple fronts. This book cannot be ignored by anyone who has a genuine interest in the Presocratics. In the coming years, only the most benighted amongst us shall venture even to discuss the development of Presocratic philosophy without having first come to grips with Graham’s interpretation.
This review does not supply a chapter-by-chapter synopsis. Instead, it traces Graham’s main line of argument by providing an overview of his more prominent departures from the traditional interpretation. In addition, the review points toward potential avenues of criticism in order to highlight some of the ways in which Graham’s analysis expands the contemporary debate.
(1) According to the traditional interpretation, the Milesians (Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes) embraced Material Monism (MM): they held that there is just one kind of stuff in the cosmos. Further, they held that any apparent physical difference is not a difference in kind, but a difference of state or phase. Consider Anaximenes. On the traditional interpretation, he thought all that exists is air. Neither stone nor fire differs in kind from air. Rather, stone is air, just condensed air, and fire too is air, just rarefied air. Graham, in opposition to the traditional interpretation, argues that the Milesians did not posit MM. As he sees it, Anaximenes (perhaps together with Thales and Anaximander) accepted a Generating Substance Theory (GST). According to GST, there is an original substance, which was at one time the only substance in the universe. Other substances, differing in kind from the original substance, are generated out of this substance, and this generation requires that the original substance perish into its successor substance. Thus, as Graham sees it, Anaximenes did not believe that stone, say, is air with a particular density, rather he believed that, when appropriate pressure is applied to a body of air, the air ceases to be and stone comes to be in its place. The attribution of GST to Anaximenes is, perhaps, Graham’s most controversial thesis. It is certainly a key element within his larger project insofar as he argues both that Heraclitus and Parmenides responded to Anaximenes’ GST and that Diogenes was the first champion of MM.
Graham’s justification for favoring GST over MM is threefold. He argues: (i) GST is historically appropriate, whereas MM is historically inappropriate; (ii) GST is philosophically coherent, whereas MM is philosophically incoherent; and (iii) GST is dialectically relevant, whereas MM is dialectically irrelevant.
(i) Regarding the issue of historical appropriateness, Graham thinks it unlikely that Anaximenes inherited MM from his immediate predecessor, Anaximander, and he also thinks it unlikely that Anaximenes left MM as a legacy to his immediate successor, Xenophanes. According to Graham, Anaximander’s cosmogony and cosmology stand at odds with MM. First, the testimonia concerning the generation of the cosmos out of the
Graham’s treatment of Anaximander holds some persuasive force. Yet, one might contend that Graham reads too much into the notion that, for Anaximander, the generation of the cosmos is akin to biological generation. Surely, parent and offspring can be (and in non-counterfactual cases are) made of the same basic stuff(s), and, so, the biological model does not in itself rule out the possibility that the elements are essentially modified
Graham contends that Anaximenes’ immediate successor, Xenophanes, advanced a physical theory that fits better with GST than with MM. Many contemporary scholars take Xenophanes to be a material dualist (MD) holding that earth and water alone are basic material kinds.2 If this view were fully substantiated, then, strictly speaking, Xenophanes’ theory would not fit with either GST or MM, but it would prove to be more closely allied with MM than with GST. (MD is, if you will, just one step away from MM.) Thus, if Xenophanes were to have posited MD, some credence would be given to the supposition that Anaximenes advanced MM. The fragments show that, for Xenophanes, there is some sort of continuum of water, wind, and cloud (and, perhaps, fire) and the testimonia suggest that transitions amongst these (say, from water to wind or from wind to cloud) are brought about through condensation and rarefaction. Graham’s strategy for countering the notion that Xenophanes accepted MD is, first, to argue that earth is located, as the original substance, within the continuum (of water, wind and cloud) and, second, to insist that the transitions, amongst items in the continuum, are changes in kind and not changes of state or phase.
Neither component of Graham’s strategy proves to be a manifest success. One pair of fragments (B29 & B33) clearly indicates MD, while another fragment (B27) can be viewed as suggesting earth is the original substance. Yet, the latter fragment need not be understood in this way and MD appears to fit quite well with the rest of what we know about Xenophanes’ cosmology. The second part of Graham’s strategy, his insistence that Xenophanean material transitions amount to generations (substantial changes) and not changes of state or phase, falls flat. In an important and influential paper, A.P.D. Mourelatos argues for the view that the Xenophanean claim ‘this too is cloud’, made in reference to St. Elmo’s Fire (the
(ii) The issue of philosophical coherence is central to Graham’s case for GST. The testimonia indicate both that Anaximenes considered air to be the original substance and that he took transitions from air to fire to be brought about by rarefaction, while he also took transitions from air to wind, cloud, water, earth or stone to be brought about by condensation. So, prima facie, Anaximenes looks to have posited MM. As Barnes states, “if Y comes to be from X … by condensation or rarefaction, then surely Y is made of X. If ice is condensed water … then it is made of water.”4 Graham, in opposition to Barnes, contends that such an inference betrays a modern prejudice. An essential component of modern chemical analysis is that claims of the form ‘Y is made of X’ rest on specifications (of material kinds) that are independent of immediate perceptual qualities: ice and steam are water, because both are H 2 O. Anaximenes’ scheme lacks a formal account of matter that is independent of direct perceptual manifestations, and, so, as Graham sees it, any suggestion that Anaximenes posited MM amounts to the suggestion that he advanced an incoherent theory. Thus, charity, Graham contends, requires us to view Anaximenean transitions as changes in kind.
Graham’s stance on philosophical coherence is thought-provoking. Certainly Anaximenes would not pass muster as a modern chemist, and clearly his physical theory is infelicitous, from the modern perspective. Yet, this might not be the core issue. What needs to be assessed is whether it is reasonable to view Anaximenes himself, within his own cultural milieu, as having considered condensation and rarefaction to be productive of phase-change. Here Anaximenes’ terminology is quite illuminating. Anaximenes is said to have described ‘condensation’ as ‘felting’ (
(iii) Graham contends that GST is dialectically relevant, while MM is not. He sets out two lines of argument in support of this view. The first deals with a purported inadequacy within the traditional interpretation of the relation between Parmenides and the Milesians. On the traditional view, Parmenides, in arguing that both change and motion are impossible, had Milesian MM squarely in his sights. Graham maintains that this view cannot be correct. Regarding the traditional interpretation, he states, “this interpretation makes it impossible to understand Parmenides historically, because MM already has a ready answer to his criticism of change: it rules out the most objectionable kind of change, coming to be and perishing” (P. 295). MM allows for neither generation nor destruction ( simpliciter), while GST permits both. So, Graham contends, GST must have been Parmenides’ target, not MM. Otherwise, Parmenides’ appraisal of generation and destruction would make no real dialectical sense.
A potential criticism of Graham’s initial argument concerning dialectical relevance runs as follows: if Parmenides had only Anaximenes in his sights and Anaximenes held MM, then Parmenides’ assessment of generation and destruction would be dialectically unmotivated. However, it is likely that Parmenides aimed to confront a broad array of perspectives, both philosophical and pre-philosophical, on the nature of reality. Parmenides was critical of those who accepted the possibility of locomotion and alteration (see B8.41). In this regard, his critique applies to the pre-philosophical masses, the mythographers, and earlier philosophers (including Anaximenes, whether he accepted MM or GST). Arguably, Parmenides was critical of those who posited changes in density (see B8.22-25 & 44-48). In this regard, his critique applies directly to Anaximenes (whether he accepted MM or GST). Further, Parmenides was clearly critical of those who posited generation and destruction. Yet, in this regard, he may have been concerned with the views of the pre-philosophic masses or the mythographers, not the philosophers. So, irrespective of the precise articulation of the traditional interpretation (does the interpretation require Parmenides to have had only Anaximenes in his sights or does it allow that he was critical of a range of views, including that of Anaximenes?), Parmenides’ critique does not reveal Anaximenean MM to be dialectically irrelevant. MM is relevant to much of the critique, even if it is not relevant to the whole of the critique.
Graham’s second line of argument in support of the thesis that only GST has dialectical relevance rests, interestingly, on the contention that GST is a more highly problematic theory than MM. As Graham sees it, GST has three intrinsic difficulties: the Problem of Primacy (why is one kind of matter prior to the others?), the Problem of Origination (if, at one time, only the generating substance existed, why did it change into anything else?), and the Problem of Being (what makes the generating substance a substance? What is it in its own right? What properties does it have that make it superior as a substance?). Graham contends that MM, insofar as it excludes the possibility of a plurality of substances, has neither the Problem of Primacy nor the Problem of Being, although it is saddled with the Problem of Origination. Thus, GST, burdened with a greater number of problems, is in one way inferior to MM. Graham, masterfully, uses the relative inferiority of GST to his own advantage. He argues that Heraclitus, looking back to the Milesians, attempted to address the Problem of Primacy, while Parmenides, also looking back, confronted the Problem of Being. Further, he contends that, since these two philosophers were concerned with problems that arise only for GST, they must have understood Anaximenes to have advanced GST, not MM. Thus, Graham argues, we too should understand Anaximenes to have advanced GST, not MM.
The second argument concerning dialectical relevance turns on the issue of how best to describe problems associated with GST or MM. Graham asserts that MM is burdened with the Problem of Origination. Yet, if the Problem of Origination is that of determining why the original substance ever comes to change into something else, into another substance, then the problem does not actually apply to MM. MM makes no allowance for the possibility of substantial change. So, when Graham claims that MM faces the Problem of Origination, he must have something slightly different in mind: a phase-change variant of the problem. The Problem of Phase-Change Origination would be the problem of determining why the
(2) In an especially thorough and systematic discussion of Heraclitus, Graham confronts the view (championed by Barnes5) that Heraclitus advanced a robust (but non-Cratylean) theory of flux which entails both the identity of opposites and the rejection of the law of non-contradiction. On this view, Heraclitus’ theory proves to be incoherent. In opposition, Graham maintains that Heraclitus, far from lapsing into unintelligibility, offered a subtle critique of GST and set out a revolutionary new theory, focusing on processes and global stability, not on (Milesian) stuffs. According to Graham, Heraclitus feigned acceptance of GST, hypothesizing fire as the initial generating substance; he advanced a relatively weak theory of flux, positing transformations amongst basic substances; and he supposed that transformations obey a principle of equivalence, according to which the total amount of each substance in the universe remains constant over time. One entailment that is drawn from Heraclitus’ masquerade as an adherent of GST is the corollary that there cannot be a time at which only one substance exists. (Many substances now exist, so, given the principle of equivalence, many substances exist at any time whatsoever.) This corollary runs counter to GST, which posits a primordial state in which there exists only one substance, the original generating substance. Thus, as Graham sees it, Heraclitus offered a reductio ad absurdum against GST. He insisted that due consideration of the Problem of Priority reveals GST to be untenable.
For Graham, Heraclitus provides evidence which buttresses his own contention that Anaximenes (and, perhaps, the rest of the Milesians) posited GST. Yet, if we suppose that Heraclitus feigned acceptance, not of GST, but of MM, hypothesizing the fire-phase of the
The crucial question (if we are to assume that the remainder of Graham’s account is, in broad outline, correct) is whether Heraclitus feigned acceptance of GST or of MM. To this question there is, perhaps, no clear answer. In his own discussion, Graham makes use of fragment B90, which he translates as follows: “All things are an exchange for fire, and fire for all things, as goods for gold and gold for goods (
(3) Traditionally, it has been thought that Parmenides attacked MM and argued for Numerical Monism (NM). He held that plurality, generation, alteration and locomotion are impossible; and all that exists, he maintained, is a lone unity (a numerical monad), lacking both internal difference and potential for change. Parmenides, on this view, was an arch-rationalist. He followed the argument where it led and he came to oppose the very possibility of physics and empirical investigation. Further, on the traditional view, Parmenides’ immediate successors, Anaxagoras and Empedocles, reacted against Parmenides and tried to rescue empiricism from the grips of his arch-rationalism. One perceived difficulty with the traditional view is that Anaxagoras and Empedocles do not appear to have argued for pluralism. Instead, they seem to have just postulated the existence of a multiplicity of material kinds: they seem to have begged the question against Parmenides. Recently, scholars have sought to rescue Anaxagoras and Empedocles from this unpleasant situation by arguing that Parmenides never supported NM and that he, instead, advanced a view which is compatible with both pluralism and (certain kinds of) change. Patricia Curd offers such an interpretation.7 She contends that Parmenides argued for Predicational Monism (PM). On Curd’s view, Parmenides held that anything which exists must have a unitary and unwavering nature. He was not interested in determining how many things (or how many kinds of things) might actually exist. Instead, he was only interested in the metaphysical issue of identifying the properties that anything must have if it is to count as an existing thing. Thus, Parmenides’ theory, as Curd understands it, is compatible with both NM and Numerical Pluralism (NP). Accordingly, Curd maintains that Anaxagoras and Empedocles worked within the framework established by Parmenides. They posited NP, but they did not beg the question against Parmenides: they rightly understood NP to be consistent with Parmenides’ own ontological theory.
Graham, like Curd, is interested in saving Anaxagoras and Empedocles from the charge of having begged the question against Parmenides. His solution, in comparison to Curd’s, yields more ground to the traditional interpretation. According to Graham, Parmenides defends NM in the
(i) Graham’s discussion of the
Beyond assessing the content of the
(ii) On the issue of the relationship between the
Graham understands the cosmology of the
Parmenides’ MD, on Graham’s account, inspired Anaxagoras and Empedocles to advance pluralism: both NP and Material Pluralism (MP). Empedocles posited four basic kinds of matter and Anaxagoras posited a vast variety of material kinds, but these philosophers, Graham contends, agreed with Parmenides in holding both that all matter possesses a stable nature and that generation and destruction are impossible. Accordingly, Graham contends, Anaxagoras and Empedocles did not beg the question against Parmenides. They did not stipulate pluralism in opposition to the NM of the
Anaxagoras and Empedocles, on Graham’s account, leave one important question unanswered: why favor full-blown MP over Parmenides’ MD? Graham conjectures that Anaxagoras and Empedocles may have found light and night to be too ephemeral in nature to be real substances. He also conjectures that they may have taken Parmenides’ substances to be definitional inverses and, thus, not suitably independent from one another in nature. However, these are merely conjectures. Anaxagoras and Empedocles provide us with no hint of an answer to the question. Further, they provide us with no hint of having been aware of the question. So, while Graham’s account saves Anaxagoras and Empedocles from the major charge of having begged the question against Parmenidean NM, it does turn out to saddle them with the lesser offense of having failed to explain their rejection of the master’s MD.
(iii) According to Graham, Parmenides was the first to realize that moonlight is reflected sunlight. Graham offers two lines of support for this position: first, he expresses appropriate skepticism about Aetius’ assertion (A 42) that Thales was first. Second, he argues that B14 and B15 together support his contention. Graham translates the fragments as follows: “[moon is a body] shining by night, wandering around earth with borrowed light (
(4) In opposition to the traditional interpretation, Graham contends that Anaxagoras and Empedocles, inspired by the dualism in the
Graham’s analysis of Empedocles’ appropriation of Parmenidean principles lends some credence to the idea that the Pluralists were interested in addressing the
Graham offers a fair case for taking Anaxagoras and Empedocles to have missed the point of the
(5) MM, on Graham’s interpretation, did not originate with Anaximenes (and his fellow Milesians). Nevertheless, Aristotle attributed MM to the Milesians. Aristotle erred, Graham contends, owing to the influence of Diogenes of Apollonia. Traditionally, Diogenes has been viewed as an unoriginal and minor figure: a banal imitator of Anaximenes. However, Graham is inclined to think that Diogenes was a significant and influential thinker. On Graham’s account, Diogenes developed MM (possibly in response to problems linked to the separation of force from matter in the theories of Anaxagoras and Empedocles) and his account was so influential that it eclipsed and obscured Anaximenes’ GST. Aristotle, befogged by circumstance, came to view Anaximenes through Diogenean lenses.
Diogenes’ theory, Graham contends, is distinct from Anaximenes’ theory. As Graham understands him, Diogenes viewed differences in the phenomenal character of air to be determined by temperature differences. Unlike Anaximenes (and Xenophanes), Diogenes did not think that change is brought about through condensation and rarefaction. Graham supports this contention in two ways: first, he asserts that there is no evidence in the fragments showing that Diogenes placed reliance on condensation and rarefaction. Second, he argues that B5 shows that Diogenes relied on temperature. Graham’s first point is correct, as far as it goes, but we have very few fragments and Diogenes’ reliance on condensation and rarefaction is certainly attested in the testimonia. So, this initial consideration is not especially compelling. Graham’s second consideration can be challenged directly. The topic of temperature is taken up in B5, but, in the fragment, temperature is not treated as a mechanism of phenomenal change. Diogenes notes that air can take on a number of qualities, and he mentions differences in temperature, moisture, flavor and color. (B5.9-14) But these specific ranges are listed coordinately and Diogenes offers no suggestion that a difference in one range should be considered to be causative of a difference in another. Diogenes goes on to link differences amongst living things to differences in the temperature of their souls. He states, “Furthermore, the soul of all animals is the same: air that is hotter than that which surrounds us, yet much colder than that around the sun. The heat of no two animals is alike (since not even the heat of different men is the same), but it differs not greatly, but in such a way as to be similar” (B5.15-20; trans. Graham, P. 285). Here Diogenes differentiates the living from the non-living, species from species, and individuals from individuals by appealing to differences in temperature. However, he neither discusses temperature change nor offers a causal account of physical alteration. In this section of the fragment, Diogenes established the rudiments of a taxonomy of living things, but he does not appear to broach the topic of general physics. Thus, while Diogenes mentions temperature in B 5, the fragment, contrary to Graham’s contention, does not show that he took differences in temperature to be causative of other differences in the phenomenal character of air. Graham allows that Diogenes may have erroneously considered himself to be a reviver of a non-existent Anaximenean MM. Yet, without a strong argument showing that there is a significant difference between their theories, it remains possible that Diogenes truthfully considered himself to be a reviver of an existent Anaximenean MM.
(6) In conclusion, Graham sets out an impressive new interpretation of the development of Presocratic philosophy which counters the traditional interpretation. According to Graham, Anaximenes did not champion MM, on the contrary he posited GST; Parmenides did not attack MM, on the contrary he confronted GST; and Anaxagoras and Empedocles did not oppose Parmenides, on the contrary they were Parmenides’ disciples. Graham’s interpretation shall, for years to come, shape scholarly debate concerning both localized issues of textual analysis and the more global issue of dialectical suitability. Dialectical suitability is, in essence, the issue with which Graham both begins and ends. In his estimation, the traditional interpretation fails to provide a dialectically plausible account of Presocratic development. Graham argues that the traditional view leaves Parmenides’ critique of generation and destruction unmotivated and, in addition, it requires that Anaxagoras and Empedocles begged the question against Parmenides. So, as Graham understands it, the traditional view fails to show that progress amongst the Presocratics rests on each philosopher’s critical understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the theories advanced by his predecessors. (In this review it has been suggested that the traditional interpretation does not fare as badly as Graham suggests.) Interestingly, Graham’s own interpretation appears to be open to the charge that it does not adequately represent philosophical progress amongst the Presocratics as a function of each philosopher’s understanding of his predecessors’ theories. At two critical junctures, Graham portrays progress as being dependent on a marked misunderstanding of earlier theories. First, as Graham sees it, Parmenides’ critique of generation and destruction was motivated out of Parmenides’ failure to adequately comprehend Heraclitus’ philosophy: progress was made because Parmenides misunderstood Heraclitus. Second, as Graham sees it, the development of Pluralism was motivated out of a failure, on the part of Anaxagoras and Empedocles, to grasp the meaning of Parmenides’
[For a response to this review by E. F. Beall, please see BMCR 2007.08.65.]
1. Patricia Curd, The Legacy of Parmenides: Eleatic Monism and Later Presocratic Thought, Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1998. Reprinted, with an expanded introduction, Las Vegas: Parmenides Publishing. 2004.
2. See, for example, J. H. Lesher, Xenophanes of Colophon: Fragments, Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 1992, pp. 131-134.
3. A.P.D. Mourelatos, “‘X is Really Y’: Ionian Origins of a Thought Pattern”, in K. Boudouris (ed.), Ionian Philosophy, Athens: International Association for Greek Philosophy, 1989, pp. 280-90.
4. Jonathan Barnes, The Presocratic Philosophers (revised edition), London: Routledge, 1982, p. 42.
5. Jonathan Barnes, ibid, pp. 65-80.
6. Richard D. McKirahan Jr., Philosophy before Socrates, Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1994, p. 124 (also see p. 140).
7. Patricia Curd, 2004, pp. 64-97.
8. I would like to thank Professor Prudence Jones and the students in my recent Senior Seminar on the Presocratics (E. Barranco, D. Beckman, P. Doko, B. Hillman, A. Lawler, S. Marotta, J. Moles, D. Mutter, D. Stroik, K. Verba, J. Ward, and S.L. Whitesell) for helpful discussion that has shaped my understanding of both Graham’s position and his supporting arguments.