Thursday, February 20, 2014

Empedocles


What strikes me most about Empedocles is that the nature of many of his writings is very religious. In fact, a lot of his thoughts seem to be less philosophical and more theological. He believes the root of existence to be in the Gods Zeus, Hera, Nestis and Aidoneus, but dominating existence are the four elements (fire, water, air, and earth) and two opposing forces, Strife and Love. Love is fairly close to our conception of it; Empedocles parallels it with joy and says that it causes peaceful and just acts and kindness. Strife is the more interesting force because Empedocles believes it is an active evil and that it causes mortals to commit bloodshed.

     He writes that in an ancient decree set down by the Gods it is mandated that "whenever anyone pollutes his own dear limbs with the sin of bloodshed... commits offense and swears a false oath..." he is made to live changing forms of mortal life for thirty thousand years, returning to the Aither, an ethereal, omnipresent force that regenerates mortals and gives them "an alien garb of flesh" upon reincarnation. He writes that these must place their faith in "raving Strife." For this reason, Empedocles seems to condemn sacrifice to the Gods and the subsequent feasting. he refers to cases of sons killing and eating their parents, not knowing who they once were, and to a father sacrificing his son who has been reincarnated from the Aither as a beast. It is not clear if he condemns eating meat at all (since any animal might well have been another human, maybe even acquaintance), but it would seem to follow that he does. This interpretation of reality is a grim one, but appears oddly similar to some eastern religions with regard to reincarnation based on sins committed. It also appears that transcending this system is the goal, possibly something that Empedocles believes he has accomplished, hence his referring to himself as immortal, which would mean not eligible for reincarnation.

 

1 comment:

  1. You are right that he was religious in his orientation, but he was still very much interested in what we might call the scientific dimensions of philosophy. There is a lot of interplay with thought of the Indian subcontinent and the greek world.

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