The Philosophy of Empedocles
Empedocles (c. 495-c.435BC), born in the Acragas, the modern Agrigento in the city of Sicily is one of the most prominent Greek philosophers during the Pre-Socratic period and a number of his works particularly the poems On Nature as well as Purifications still remain in fragments among modern philosophers (Craig, 293). Empedocles’ power as a poet and his vigor as a thinker are superbly married in unity in his works such as the biological explanations, sacrifices, cosmic history, cycle of change, biological paradigm and Pythagoreanism (Craig, 297). This is the reason why Empedocles has been regarded as a mystical theologian, a shamanic magician, a material physicist, a healer, a living god, a democratic politician and a fraud (Campbell).
However, Empedocles’ two main pieces of works of philosophy, the poem On Nature or Physics and Purifications provide incompatible and extremely different world outlooks (Richard). While these controversies stand out, it took philosophers almost twenty-two centuries to point out the disagreements in the doctrines maintained by Empedocles: the controversy of soul purification and reincarnation and his scientific doctrines. It is now accepted that in deed there exist some contradictions in Empedocles work (Trepanier, 2). However, his works of philosophy has been of great contribution to human understanding morality, religion, physical science and biological sciences.
Empedocles is regarded as a philosopher bridging the gap between philosophy and medicine (William, 608). With his well earned medical training, he introduces the concept of allopathy and further contradicts the belief on homeopathy maintained by most presocratic philosophers. In Greek medical beliefs, people believed in homeopathy but Empedocles, although one of the Greek philosophers introduces allopathy in virtue of him being a physician. He explains the concept of allopathy using the model of Love. Empedocles provides that Love is a phenomenon of attraction. To Empedocles, Love draws all types of elements but it is of reason to think of specific elements that Love can attract since there are two specific ontological categories that Empedocles believes in: the category of air, fire, water and earth and another category of all compounds of no less than two elements (Preus, 115). But it seems obvious that in any system of reasoning, Love is a principle of attraction.
However, Empedocles believes in two basic forces: Love and Strife which form two opposite forces and have to function oppositely. If this is the case, Strife is a repulsion principle and Empedocles outlines these concepts clearly in his work (Preus, 115). Empedocles, in his model of Love believes that for uniform aggregates of distinct element to be formed, the elementally intricate compounds have to be destroyed. He further maintains that any force that engenders one of the ontological categories members ultimately results to the decay of the other category (Preus, 116).
In his explanation of elements and allopathy, he attempts to reconcile the belief on monism or the school of Parmenides which asserts that being cannot be changed (Smith). This position contradicts the common sense world and Empedocles pluralism philosophy asserts that being can be changed. He becomes an empiricist and a rationalist attempting to reconcile the subjects of reason with his sensual testimonies. He attempts to marry empiricism and rationalism is the subject of his heated criticism in the philosophical world. However, he does this with sturdy stand providing convincing reasons of his position (O’Connor & Robertson).
Empedocles devotes his life to medical pursuits with enormous success and zeal (Blakey, 35). He seeks to find answers to the questions behind the science of the mind and with his commitments; he succeeds and postulates the theory of sensation. In his theory of sensation, Empedocles follows the common axiom maintained by his predecessors that, “the same thing could only be perceived by the same thing” (Blakey, 36). To each sense, Empedocles attaches a specific element and maintains that fire is exclusively perceived by the same fire which is sight. The air can only be perceived by air and the ear is an important element in perception of air. Empedocles joins to the whole senses, two other elements: discord and love (Schwegler, 24). He maintains that discord is only perceived by discord and love by love. In this regard, he observes that there is a correlation between what is perceived and the sensation per se. for instance, the colors perceived in objects are of certain forms which proceed from external things and then transmitted to the eyes which are organs of sight (Blakey, 36).
In his attempt to understand divinity, Empedocles distinguishes human knowledge from divine thus making his contributions to understanding religion (Blakey, 36). However, he does this inconsistently and often leads to a misunderstanding in the interpretation of his doctrines and philosophy. However, from his thinking about human knowledge and divine, man has in himself a certain portion of divine intelligence accorded to him so as to balance his own sensual knowledge (Gulyas). He however leaves some argument hanging and this argument has not been resolved even by other philosophers. The argument on how divine intelligence works, its limits, the extent to which divine intelligence counteracts with material agents and its influential factors is a question poorly understood.
Empedocles makes cosmic explanations in rather dimly shadowed manner but all in all he tries to shed light into understanding of the universe. Unfortunately, he finds himself in a bungling and very crude affair as he promulgates his understanding of the cosmic system. He carefully gathers all the principle elements, makes a distinction of them, descants individually upon the elements and mixes them up in a confusing manner (Blakey, 37). This makes it hard to even gain an insight of the system he talks of. His work on cosmic explanations has always been the point of criticism and philosophical attacks.
The most interesting and unique contribution of Empedocles to the field of biology, archeology and evolution is his explanation on the kinship of the entire natural system. He draws relationships between plants and animals and attempts to make observations that various animals share common features (Craig, 297). Even before Charles Darwin came up with his theory of evolution, Empedocles had already deciphered that living organisms had many features that they shared in common (Charles, 701). The contributions of Empedocles to the science of evolution deserve credit. For instance, Empedocles observes that some animals such as porcupines have spikes on their bodies for protection. Similarly, some plants have thorns that are used to protect them from being foraged or grazed upon by grazers. He further observes that birds have wings and that this feature of having wings is analogous to plants having leaves. The protection structures in plants such as the bark are analogous to the protection skin coverings in humans and other animals and the scales in fish (Craig, 297).
Another most important contribution of Empedocles is in the area of animal and human rights. Empedocles perceives animal bloodshed and human killing as madness (Craig, 298). He relates his blame over bloodshed to the torrential strife which is an exact opposite to love. He reasons that since all creations exist as a result of love, strife which is the opposite of love is the cause of death and dissolution of the creations (Craig, 297). His philosophical work can make a defense for the protection of animal rights in the modern world. The killing or the use of animals as guinea pigs is immoral according to Empedocles. Similarly, the sentencing of humans to death or capital punishments is regarded to be wrong according to Empedocles.
Empedocles is one of the most unique philosophers who strived to provide archaeological and scientific information that most thinkers could not think of. Empedocles argued that four main elements made up the cosmos: water, earth, fire and air. While the people never believed that the cosmos was made of air as one of the elements, Empedocles made a step further to prove to them using a clepsydra experiment (Alunsalt.com). He merges out to be unique as he always strived to prove his reasoning using empirical evidence.
Empedocles is one of the controversial philosophers that maintained two contradicting world views for reasons of imparting specific knowledge to humans. He believed in morals and maintained a strong distinction between love and strife. He successfully married faith and reason although he drew fierce controversy in his argument. Empedocles utilized his training in medicine to explain concepts of blood system and how they relate to human love. Since he believed that blood was life and life was made possibly by the power of love, he strongly opposed the killing or animal bloodshed. His philosophical works still remain to be a great lesson among modern philosophers, scientists and religious people.
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