BMCR 2007.07.64

Explaining the Cosmos: The Ionian Tradition of Scientific Philosophy

, Explaining the cosmos : the Ionian tradition of scientific philosophy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006. xiii, 344 pages ; 24 cm. ISBN 0691125406. $45.00.

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Table of Contents

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 ἄπειρον suggest that Anaximander considered this process to be akin to biological generation. Accordingly, as parent or matrix, Graham contends, Anaximander’s ἄπειρον cannot serve as material substrate for the elements. Second, once formed, Anaximander’s cosmos is a closed system. As Graham sees it, there is no causal interaction between the cosmic elements and the surrounding ἄπειρον. Instead, the elements undergo only reciprocal change into one another. So, in the cosmology, just as in cosmogony, the ἄπειρον fails to serve as material substrate for the elements. Thus, as Graham understands Anaximander’s theory, the ἄπειρον differs in kind from the elements and the elements differ in kind from one another. Thus, Anaximander did not accept (and, most likely, did not ever consider) MM.

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 ἄπειρον -ic stuff. Anaxagoras may have understood the ἄπειρον to exist in the manner of an independent deity, but this would not preclude its having given over some of its own matter (as substrate) in the generation of its progeny. Hesiod, for example, tells us that Oceanos and Tethys are the parents of Acheron. Accepting this as true, one may with confidence infer that Tethys and Acheron are not the same entity. Yet, it would be imprudent to infer that these two water -deities are not made of the same basic stuff: water.

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 Διόσκουροι) and to a broad range of astro-meteorological phenomena, cannot mean ‘this is generated from cloud’, but must mean ‘this is constituted of cloud’ (i.e., ‘this is a cloud-state’).3 Otherwise, Mourelatos contends, the discussion of such phenomena would play no effective role in Xenophanes’ larger project of replacing religious sentiment with naturalistic explanation. Mourelatos may be right or he may be wrong, but Graham fails to discuss Mourelatos’ thesis. (Unfortunately, Mourelatos’ paper is not even cited in Graham’s bibliography.) Owing to this omission, Graham’s analysis leaves the judicious reader unpersuaded to his position on Xenophanean transitions.

(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’ ( πίλησις, A17). Felting, for the Greeks (as for us), is the process of compressing and agitating wool until its fibers interlock. There is no evidence that the Greeks considered felt (the product of this process) to be constituted of anything other than the wool that had been compressed in its production, and, in fact, the metaphorical account of the preparation of wool for weaving, in Aristophanes’ Lysistrata (lines 574-586, but especially line 577), positively indicates that the Greeks considered felt to be constituted of wool. Anaximenes’ terminology shows that, as he understood it, the transition from, say, air to cloud, brought about by condensation, is analogous to the transition from wool to felt. So, even if we accept Graham’s position on the ultimate incoherence of Anaximenes’ system, the textual evidence suggests that Anaximenes himself considered these transitions to be changes of state and not changes in kind: it would seem that, for Anaximenes, just as felt is constituted of wool, so too is cloud constituted of air.

(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 ἀρχή ever comes to change away from its original state and into another state (for example, why air ever alters into, say, its fire-state?). But, if, as Graham’s position now may be taken to suggest, MM is saddled with a phase-change variant of the Problem of Origination, it seems likely that MM also faces a variant of the Problem of Priority : the Problem of Qualitative Priority (for example, why is the air-phase of the ἀρχή prior to its other phases?). Further, to the extent that the Problem of Being deals with the question of what secures the substancehood of a substance, MM is no more free of this problem than is GST. Surely, the metaphysical question of the fundamental nature of substance is not solved by postulating the existence of just one substance as opposed to many. So, it would seem that GST and MM face both kindred Problems of Priority and kindred Problems of Origination, while each is burdened with the Problem of Being. Thus, even if Heraclitus, looking back to Anaximenes, addressed a Problem of Priority, and even if, looking back, Parmenides confronted the Problem of Being, this does not, in itself, indicate that either philosopher understood Anaximenes to have advanced GST rather than MM.

(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 ἀρχή as its original phase, then, a parallel account, buttressing the contention that Anaximenes posited MM, and not GST, emerges. On this account, Heraclitus posited transformations amongst the phase conditions of the ἀρχή, and he supposed that these transformations obey a principle of equivalence, according to which the total quantity of ἀρχή in a given phase condition remains constant over time. One entailment drawn from this masquerade is the corollary that there cannot be a time at which the ἀρχή existed in only one phase condition. This corollary runs counter to MM. So, on this account, Heraclitus offered a reductio ad absurdum against MM, insisting that due consideration of the Problem of Phase Priority reveals MM to be untenable.

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 ( ὅκωσπερ χρυσοῦ χρήματα καὶ χρημάτων χρυσός)” (P. 126). According to Graham, the fragment suggests that a relation of weak equivalence obtains between fire and all (other) things. Just as gold does not turn into (or serve as substrate for) clothing or food, when it is given in exchange for such goods, so too, fire does not constitute (or serve as substrate for) air or water, when it is transformed into these things. The fragment, as translated, supports Graham’s case. However, an equally plausible alternative translation is provided by Richard McKirahan: “All things are an exchange for fire and fire for all things … as money for gold and gold for money.”6 When construed in this way, the fragment suggests that a relation of strong equivalence obtains between fire and other things. The Greeks coined money out of gold. So, Heraclitus may well have thought that fire, when compressed (when pressed or stamped, that is, when ‘coined’), becomes, say, air or water (the ἀρχή in its original phase condition, when compressed, is transformed into another phase condition). In this limited case, the text underdetermines the interpretation: B90 does not indicate that Heraclitus was dealing with GST as opposed to MM. Similarly, Graham’s appeal to related fragments (most notably B36 and B76) does not cement his case for taking Heraclitus’ dialectical target to be GST and not MM.

(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 ἀλήθεια, but he introduces a cosmology that is consistent with NP in the δόξα. Further, on Graham’s interpretation, Anaxagoras and Empedocles viewed the δόξα as establishing a legitimate line of scientific inquiry. Accordingly, they advanced NP, not as Parmenides’ opponents, but as his disciples. Graham attempts to buttress the view that Parmenides, like his predecessors, was interested in natural science, by arguing that he was “the premier figure in Early Greek astronomy” (P. 182). Parmenides, Graham contends, was the first to realize that the moon’s light is drawn from the sun. This realization ushered in a new era in astronomy. In addition, the realization inclined Anaxagoras and Empedocles toward the belief that Parmenides was a scientific reformer (not an arch-rationalist). In summary, Graham advances three core theses regarding Parmenides: (i) Parmenides argued for NM in the ἀλήθεια, (ii) he posited a cosmology that is consistent with NP in the δόξα, and (iii) he was the first to realize that moonlight is reflected sunlight.

(i) Graham’s discussion of the ἀλήθεια goes a long way toward correcting the excesses of Curd’s interpretation. Debate over the ἀλήθεια has, for decades, focused on Parmenides’ use of ἔστι (is). Curd argues that Parmenides’ ἔστι should be understood as a predicational-is: specifically, one that captures the nature and essence of a thing. Graham argues that Parmenides’ ἔστι should be understood (at least in most occurrences) as the existential-is, signifying existence, but not (directly) signifying the nature or properties of anything which might exist. Here Graham seems to have the stronger position. (For example, Parmenides’ identification of οὐκ ἔστι (what is not) with μηδενός (nothing) (B8.9-10) makes obvious good sense on the existential reading, but it makes little or no sense on the predicational reading.) Further, since Graham is not obliged to view Parmenides’ position in the ἀλήθεια as being harmonious either with NP or with the acceptance of locomotion espoused by Anaxagoras and Empedocles, he is able to take Parmenides at face value in passages where Curd must take him to be offering (somewhat tortured) metaphors. For example, Parmenides claims that what-is is ἀκίνητον (without motion, or without change, B8.26), and he goes on to criticize those who posit τόπον ἀλλάσσειν (change of place, B8.41). Graham understands these passages in a straightforward way: Parmenides rules out change of any kind and he specifically indicates that locomotion is untenable. According to Curd, Parmenides merely rules out change in essential character. (For, if he had gone farther and ruled out locomotion, then, in this specific respect, Anaxagoras and Empedocles would have begged the question against him.) This is barely passable as a reading of ἀκίνητον, but is untenable as a reading of τόπον ἀλλάσσειν.) There is much to be learned from Graham’s analysis of the content of the ἀλήθεια.

Beyond assessing the content of the ἀλήθεια, Graham claims that Heraclitus was the focal point of Parmenides’ critique. According to Graham, Parmenides did not recognize that Heraclitus offered a reductio ad absurdum against GST. Further, he did not recognize that Heraclitus proposed a viable alternative to GST. Instead, Parmenides took Heraclitus to have embraced GST, along with all its problems. Graham contends that, from Parmenides’ perspective, “[Heraclitus] becomes the reductio ad absurdum of Ionian philosophy … [and] an object lesson in how not to philosophize” (P. 154).

(ii) On the issue of the relationship between the ἀλήθεια and the δόξα, Graham contends ( contra Curd) that we should not consider the two sections of the poem to harmonize. Further, he contends that we should not take the δόξα to contain a false cosmology. Rather, giving a nod to Xenophanes’ epistemology, Graham suggests that the ἀλήθεια and the δόξα concern two different realms of inquiry. In the ἀλήθεια Parmenides studies a priori truths and in that realm he considers his own deductions to possess certainty. In the δόξα he deals with an inferior realm (that of experience)— a realm regarding which, he believes, one can have only opinion, not knowledge.

Graham understands the cosmology of the δόξα to be an improvement over GST. Parmenides advances a theory of MD. He opines that the world is a mixture of two stable substances: light and night. Parmenides’ account allows for phenomenal change in the world, but it rules out generation and destruction. For this reason, Graham contends, Parmenides’ MD is superior to GST.

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 ἀλήθεια. Instead, guided by the δόξα, they expanded Parmenides’ MD into MP. Graham makes it clear, however, that Anaxagoras and Empedocles were not Parmenides’ true disciples. Parmenides, Graham contends, was committed to NM at the level of ontological explanation. So, Anaxagoras and Empedocles made a mistake. They missed the strength of Parmenides’ critique in the ἀλήθεια and, in error, they came to view Parmenides as one who believed in the prospect of scientific knowledge. In this respect, Melissus and Zeno, Parmenides’ better-known disciples, did not miss the mark.

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 ( ἀλλότριον φῶς)” (B 14; Graham P. 179) and “ever peeking toward the sun” (B15; Graham P. 176). Graham takes the first fragment to show that the moon gathers its light from some other source, and he takes the second to show that the source in question is the sun. There are two difficulties with this half of Graham’s case: first, there is an ambiguity in B14. While Graham has “borrowed light” for ἀλλότριον φῶς, it is not unreasonable to take ἀλλότριον to mean something like “strange” (or “unnatural”). If we translate ἀλλότριον φῶς as “strange light”, Parmenides looks to be concerned with describing a perceptible quality of moonlight, not with hypothesizing a possible non-lunar source of moonlight. The second (and more important) difficulty with Graham’s argument from B14 and B15 is that he does consider the import of a passage from Plato. In the Cratylus, Socrates mentions “the recent doctrine of Anaxagoras that the moon receives ( ἔχει) its light from the sun” (409A11-B1). Here Plato’s testimony on the issue of who was first appears to be clear and unambiguous: as Plato sees it, Anaxagoras was first. Insofar as Graham does not discuss the Cratylus passage, his case for taking Anaxagoras and Empedocles to have regarded Parmenides as an empirically minded scientific reformer is significantly weakened. Further, the Cratylus passage fits well with the traditional view that Anaxagoras (and Empedocles) sought to rescue natural science from Parmenides’ stultifying rationalism.

(4) In opposition to the traditional interpretation, Graham contends that Anaxagoras and Empedocles, inspired by the dualism in the δόξα, advanced pluralism as disciples of Parmenides. They missed the point of the ἀλήθεια and chose to innovate upon the master’s MD by expanding the number of elements and by postulating a separation of force from matter. Regarding the latter innovation, Anaxagoras postulated the existence of a divine mind, νοῦς, that introduced motion into an initial static plenum and thereby caused the formation of the cosmos. Empedocles postulated a pair of opposed powers, Love and Strife, that are responsible for an ongoing cycle of change, a cycle which lacks any temporal beginning. Graham understands the proposal of a separation of force from matter to provide a route toward addressing the Problem of Origination, but he sees the chief motivation behind the innovation to be the desire, shared by Anaxagoras and Empedocles, to respond to Parmenides’ Problem of a First Event. Parmenides had argued against the possibility of a first moment of change. He asserted that there is no sufficient reason for a purported first cosmic event to have occurred at one time as opposed to another earlier or later time and, thus, no such event can ever occur. Anaxagoras’ solution to the Problem of a First Event was to propose a deistic scheme according to which matter itself is not responsible for the formation of the cosmos: νοῦς chose the time of the first event. Empedocles’ solution was to replace a linear cosmology with a cyclical one. For Empedocles, there simply had never been a first event; instead, the cosmos had as always been changing in a cyclical pattern. Interestingly, Parmenides’ argument for the Problem of a First Event is in the ἀλήθεια, not the δόξα (B8.9-10). So, in this instance, Graham shows openness to the idea that Anaxagoras and Empedocles responded to, and opposed, Parmenides’ position in the ἀλήθεια. Graham’s openness, in this limited case, leads one to consider whether there might be more to the traditional view of the relation between the Pluralists and Parmenides than is suggested by Graham’s more general thesis.

Graham’s analysis of Empedocles’ appropriation of Parmenidean principles lends some credence to the idea that the Pluralists were interested in addressing the ἀλήθεια. Empedocles, as Graham understands him, was critically aware of the ἀλήθεια. Empedocles posited the existence of the σφαῖρος at one stage within his cosmic cycle. The σφαῖρος constitutes the whole of physical reality, during this stage. It is complete, it is homogenous, and it is motionless. Scholars have maintained that the σφαῖρος has clear kinship with Parmenides’ numerical monad and Graham agrees. He states, regarding the σφαῖρος, “in a certain sense Empedocles builds the perfection of Parmenides’ what-is into a stage of the cycle itself” (P. 207). The observation is suggestive. Did Empedocles posit the σφαῖρος as a devotee of the δόξα who was, perhaps, a bit cheeky regarding the ἀλήθεια or did he posit the σφαῖρος as part of an attempt to establish pluralism in the face of Parmenidean monism? A kindred question can be asked regarding Anaxagoras. His primordial chaos is complete, it is homogenous, and it is motionless. Further, it bears a marked predicational similarity to Parmenides’ monad. Did Anaxagoras posit the chaos as a devotee of the δόξα or did he posit this initial state within his cosmology as an opponent of the ἀλήθεια ? In addition, we might ask why Anaxagoras and Empedocles proposed motion in a plenum, when Parmenides had argued, in the ἀλήθεια, against the possibility of motion. They may have simply missed the force of the ἀλήθεια, as Graham contends. Yet, it is possible that they actively sought to circumvent Parmenides’ prohibition. Parmenides had argued, in effect, that motion is impossible because it requires void (and void is impossible). Anaxagoras and Empedocles, in establishing a way to account for motion without postulating the existence of void, may have thought that they had rendered Parmenides’ specific prohibition irrelevant.

Graham offers a fair case for taking Anaxagoras and Empedocles to have missed the point of the ἀλήθεια and to have become devotees of the δόξα. Yet, despite Graham’s objections, it remains likely that Anaxagoras and Empedocles both understood the ἀλήθεια and articulated opposition to the monism established therein. Admittedly, Anaxagoras and Empedocles did not match Parmenides deduction-for-deduction and they failed to marshal even a single reductio ad absurdum against Parmenides. But we cannot lose sight of two basic truths: first, Parmenides introduced deductive argument to philosophy and, second, his peers did not immediately embrace his style of philosophizing. Anaxagoras and Empedocles are likely to have opposed Parmenides in a manner that was judged to be estimable and philosophically respectable within their own historical milieu.

(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’ ἀλήθεια : progress was made because Anaxagoras and Empedocles misunderstood Parmenides. Thus, Graham’s interpretation requires that we adopt a somewhat peculiar perspective on dialectical suitability. His interpretation rests on the notion that, at critical points, progress was made amongst the Presocratics because they simply did not understand one another. The question of whether Graham’s perspective on dialectical suitability is ultimately acceptable is left to the reader.8

[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.