Ancient atheist Greeks #2

Sat 16 May 98 16:59
By: Hal White
To: Day Brown

Hi Day,

DB> None have yet offered a name or argument of any philosophers who
-> were, or advocated Atheism. Nor, from Anaxagoras to Zeno, is it
-> clear that there is any other universal error they *all* made.

It's too bad you don't usually make citations to back up claims, and I don't intend to type out philsophy intros. for you, much more.

It seems reasonably clear that in descending order of probability, Leucippus& and Democritus, Anaxagorus, and Anaximenes were atheists, or at very least posited universes in whose workings God or gods played no part, and had no parts to play.

From An Introduction to Ancient Philosphy, by A.H. Armstrong

On Leucippus:

"His elementary bodies are the Atoms, small lumps of stuff which may be logically analysable into parts--that does not interest him-- but are physically indivisible...They are all different shapes and sizes.... These atoms are in perpetual movement. There is no cause for their movement and no directing force. ...These are the only basic realities, atoms and void, and the various universes, of which there may be many, and all individual things in them, are simply produced by chance comings-together of atoms in their endless movement in the void. " (pp 18-19)

On the Milesians, Thales, Anaximines, and Anaximander

"They postulate as the first reality a single living stuff, indefinite in extent and character, for which the world and all things in it develop spontaneously. ....Anaximenes called it air or breath. It appears that, like many other ancient philosophers, he held that the life of the universe resembled that of man, with air, the breath of life, of which the human sould was made, for its principle. This stuff they call 'divine' by which they probably mean no more than that it is living and everlasting, two characters which it must have if it is to be for them a sufficient explanation of the cosmic process." (pp. 2-3)

Anaxagoras was prosecuted for atheism, since he declared the sun and stars to be flaming stones. B. Russell in his _History of Philos_ agrees that Anaxagoras was probably an atheist. It is true A postulated _nous_ (Mind, Intelligence) as a moving principle, which "starts a 'vortex' a whirling motion in chaos which begins the process of orderly separation, eventually resulting in the the universe we know." [Armstrong's words, at p 17]

Yet Armstrong notes

"Socrates complaint against Anaxagoras in the Phaedo of Plato is not that he made Intelligence a mere mechanical initiating force, but that he made no attempt to explain the purpose for which it acted and how it ordered all things for the best."

The reference in Phaedo is 97c-98b

Socrates, on his discovery of he writings of Anaxogoras,

"I was prepared also in the same way to receive instruction about the sun and moon and the other heavenly bodies,... in what way it is better for each one of them to act or be acted upon as it is. It never entered my head that a man who asserted that the orderings of things is due to mind would offer any other explanation for them than that it is best for them to be as they are.... I lost no time in procuring the books [of Anaxagoras]. It was a wonderful hope, my friend, but it was quick dashed. As I read on I discover that the fellow made no use of mind and assigned to it no causality for the order of the world, but adduced causes like air and aether and water and many other absurdities. "

Plato, Collected Dialogues, Ed., E Hamilton (Pantheon), 1961, p. 80.

The traditional theism of Socrates contrast very nicely with the types of explanations offered by A, and clearly A's fellow citizens agreed. A was apparently banished for his atheism.

Best regards, Hal.

Go Back to Shy David's New Pages Page.