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Anaxagoras [1]

an eminent Greek philosopher, was born at Clazomenae, in Ionia, about B.C. 500. Inheriting wealth, he was able to give his time wholly to study. When twenty years old he went to Athens, where among his pupils were Pericles, Euripides, and Socrates. Accounts differ somewhat as to the nature of the persecution which drove him from Athens. It seems, however, to have been superstitious. He was condemned to death, but by the eloquence of Pericles the sentence was commuted into banishment for life. He retired to Lampsacus, on the Hellespont, where he died at the age of seventy-two. It is not easy to ascertain what were the opinions of Anaxagoras in philosophy. Fragments merely of his works have been preserved, and even these are contradictory. But we are certain that he had a deeper knowledge of physical laws than any of his predecessors or contemporaries. His great contribution to ancient philosophy, however, was his doctrine as to the origin of all things. He held that all matter existed originally in the condition of atoms; that these atoms, infinitely numerous and infinitely divisible, had existed from all eternity; and that order was first produced out of this infinite chaos of minutia through the influence and operation of an eternal intelligence ( Νοῦς ). He also maintained that all bodies were simply aggregations of these atoms, and that a bar of gold or iron or copper was composed of inconceivably minute particles of the same material; but he did not hold that objects had taken their shape through accident or blind fate, but through the agency of the eternal mind, which he described as infinite, self-potent, and unmixed with anything else. He declares that it "is the most pure and subtle of all things, and has all knowledge about all things and infinite power." His theory is thus only one step from pure theism. He makes the work of the Eternal commence with Providence, not with creation. The fragments of Anaxagoras have been collected by Schaubach (Leips. 1827) and by Schorn (Bonn, 1829). See also Mullach, Fragmenta Philos. Groec. 1, 243- 252.