Empedocles vs. Aristotle

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Empedocles was the first of the ancient Greek philosophers to bring forward the idea of a plural Archei as oppose to one Arche. Bringing us forward to a progression in the question of the metaphysics of the universe. In this post, I will elaborate on Empedocles way of thinking, on the four roots of the universe, the agents of change, and Aristotle’s stance on those same arguments as well as mine.

Empedocles reasoning and explanation for what makes the universe, are the four roots. Fire, earth, water and air. He recognized the four roots as the material causes of determinate things. He was also heavily influenced by Parmenides and his way of thought. That nothing truly comes to be or perishes. And that there is no actual change within existence, but rather a mixture of what already is. Empedocles states that these roots are the four equal building blocks of reality. All of which is unchangeable or imperishable, flowing through one another.

In his book the Metaphysics, Aristotle argues this claim of the four equal roots or elements as he re-names them, by stating that Empedocles does not consider them equal material causes but rather considers earth, wind, and water one cause and fire the other. Thus, giving us two principles, not four. And so, this shows us that Empedocles is lacking some sort of consistency in the argument he is trying to prove.

According to Empedocles and unlike some of his predecessors, he did not believe these roots were self-moving, he believed there was an agent of change. These roots which would later be called elements by Aristotle are segregated and aggregated by a ratio of two opposites, love, and strife. The idea is that you can produce an infinite number of possibilities from finite things when changing the ratios between them. As we see happen with primary colors, if they are mixed by different ratios we can produce an infinite amount of possible new colors or shades. He was the first philosopher to name these as principles and the idea that originally all things were bound together by love but that ultimately, they were separated into determinate things due to strife. Empedocles also believed that the elements held some sort of divine influence as he linked them with specific gods of ancient Greece. Along with the cosmic influence of love and strife as the agent of change in the universe.

Aristotle argues in his book the Metaphysics that in fact Empedocles gives no real reason as to why he believes it is love and strife that are the determining ratios to segregate and aggregate these elements. And does not elaborate enough on this point to be taken as a concrete argument for this claim. Although Empedocles believed strife was the principle of destruction and segregation, we see that Aristotle argues this claim by mentioning Empedocles contradicts himself. With the idea that strife can also produce fixed beings out of an undifferentiated whole. When it comes to love, Empedocles believed this was the principle that created being. Aristotle debunks this thought by showing once again another contradiction: That although love may bring everything together in an undifferentiated whole this can be also viewed as a sort of destruction of what they once were. Although the idea of love and strife as principles of change to make sense to some degree, we are still left with many questions and this cannot be taken as a fully valid point to explaining his position of change through these principles.

Empedocles position is questionable as to its validity based on the facts of, how can a human being’s characteristic be ascribed to an element of nature? Since nature does not have any human characteristics. I agree with Aristotle’s view that this argument of love and strife being an agent of change is not valid. Love and strife are not scientific principles and so, are not concrete enough to be taken as exact when dealing with what makes the universe. In conclusion, although Empedocles proved a progression in his ideas, those ideas were not adequately justified. I agree with Aristotle’s position on the lack of explanation Empedocles give for his account of the Archei and the holes in his argument. He did not elaborate his understanding on the elements he considered to be at the nuclease of his reasoning for the inner workings of the metaphysics quite enough for it to be justified or considered complete. With that being said, I do believe Empedocles pushed us in a crucial and right direction of a more progressive way of thinking for other philosophers such as Aristotle to now build on.

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