Summary

Context

(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

Anaxagoras held that the universe is infinite in extent and composed of mind and matter, but mind is a special kind of matter. There is no empty space.

Matter

(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

Matter is not composed of primary units; it is infinitely divisible. “Nor is there a least of what is small, but there is always a smaller; for it cannot be that what exists should cease to be by being cut.” If you take a piece of a certain kind of matter—a hair, say, or a steak—and begin cutting, no matter how finely you cut it the pieces will still have the characteristics of hair or flesh. “How can hair come from what is not hair, or flesh from what is not flesh?”

Nevertheless, we eat bread, and the bread (we say) becomes hair and flesh. This is not accurate, Anaxagoras says: “The Greeks follow a wrong usage in speaking of coming into existence and passing away; for nothing comes into existence or passes away, but there is mingling and separation of things that exist. Therefore, they would be right to call coming into existence mixture, and passing away separation.” The “coming into existence” of the hair is really mixture, then, and the “passing away” of the bread is separation. However, this prompts one to ask: Mixture and separation of what? Any crumb of bread, however tiny, has all the properties of the whole loaf. Bread is not made of bits of hair and flesh. Likewise a hair is not separable into microscopic breadcrumbs. How then can hair be a “mixture” into which bread enters, while at the same time it cannot “come from what is not hair”?

The answer is that “The things that are in one world are not divided nor cut off from one another with a hatchet.” Although bread contains no particles of hair, it nevertheless contains...

(The entire section is 654 words.)

Mind

(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

Mind, like blackness or the smell of bread, is a real stuff; consequently, it has location (“it is certainly there, where everything else is”) and occupies space (“it is the thinnest of all things and the purest”). Although this seems sufficient evidence to make it a kind of matter, it must be remembered that Anaxagoras does not make a distinction between stuff and the qualities of stuff; indeed, refusal to make this distinction is the key to his philosophy. Mind has or is the properties that in our experience we find it to have: It is conscious and cognitive (“it has all knowledge about everything”) and powerful, manifesting itself as will power or élan vital in living things (“mind has the greatest strength; and it has power over all things, both greater and smaller, that have life”). It is unique in not entering into mixtures: “All other things partake in a portion of everything, while Mind is infinite and self-ruled, and is mixed with nothing but is alone, itself by itself.” Anaxagoras argued that “if it were not by itself, but were mixed with anything else, it would partake in all things if it were mixed with any; for in everything there is a portion of everything, and the things mixed with it would hinder it, so that it would have power over nothing in the same way that it has now being alone by itself.” The thought seems to be that if mind mixed, it would lose its peculiar power just as the blackness in snow or the...

(The entire section is 413 words.)