COSMOLOGY AND COSMIC JUSTICE IN ANCIENT GREEK THOUGHT, Anaximander

Anaximander

Βέικος Θεόφιλος

The problem, whether the idea of regularity had been originally derived from nature and was, afterwards, applied to the social life or if a scheme of human life had been extended into nature, cannot easily receive an one-sided solution like the ones given by R. Hirzel and J. Burnet. We should think, based on the primary event that nature and human society constituted a single reason, that man, in the beginning of his meditation on the cosmic problem, would, naturally and directly,pass from society to the wider cosmic totality and vice versa.

However, the formation of the first greek philosopher’s thought would have been impossible without basic points of reference and certain schemes of thought resulting from the observed organization, regularity and justice of human society. This is evident in Anaximander, first of all: this milesian philosopher had found the pattern of the construction and function of the world in the human state or he had seen the reflection of a social problem in the general cosmological problem.

Anaximander (c. 610 – c. 546 BC) was a pre-Socratic greek philosopher who lived in Miletus, a city of Ionia; Milet in modern Turkey. He belonged to the Milesian school and learned the teachings of his master Thales. He succeeded Thales and became the second master of that school where he counted Anaximenes and arguably, Pythagoras amongst his pupils.

Specifically, the world order has been interpreted according to a scheme of compensatory justice through which all the opposing elements of the world exchange damage and reparation rendered each other, so that all the opposing powers are counterbalanced. This, no doubt, constituted a new, bold and revolutionary conception of the world. Nevertheless, we can retrospectively discover certain elements which show that this revolution had been preparated, in some way, through previous periods
of thought.

Dike had a natural character in the mythical tradition and she expressed the way through which the world of living things and of man existed. It specifically represented the idea of a dynamic equilibrium which exactly presents a special and effective operation in Anaximander’s cosmology. The dynamic character of Dike is particularly emphasized in the mythical tradition as well as in the early philosophical thought (Anaximander, Heraclitus, Parmenides) by the fact that the cosmic justice is connected with the idea of a rhythm in the temporal succession of the phenomena.

 


In ancient greek culture, Dike (greek: Δίκη, english translation: «justice») was the spirit of moral order and fair judgement based on immemorial custom, in the sense of socially enforced norms and conventional rules. According to Hesiod (Theogony, l. 901), she was fathered by Zeus upon his second consort, Themis.

 

An 1886 base-relief figure of Dike Astraea
in the Old Supreme Court Chamber at the Vermont State House.

The idea of justice appears to be especially persistent in Hesiod. Zeus, however, though he represents this idea, punishes a whole town sometime because of an evil man’s sin (Op. 240-47). For the archaic greeks, guilt
could be hereditary just as maladies and material goods or debts. This notion can be explained by the fact that the family originally constituted a self-existent and responsible unit and by the relative primitive belief that the son constituted an extension of his father’s life. The guilt that is inherited presupposes members who are at an equal rank. The isomoiria, which already occurs in Homer (O 186 ff., 209), and even on a cosmic ground, is particularly characteristic in Anaximander, who definitely presents justice to operate in the world among factors which are equal in honor and dignity.

There is another form which may be deduced from Solo’s poetry. Solo could think of justice related to the normal condition of the world: e.g. the sea is stirred up by the winds; if nothing moves it, the sea is πάντων δικαιοτάτη (fr. 11).

In regard to the pre-philosophical tradition, which is expressed by the orphic-pythagorean movement, it seems that Anaximander could not find anything in it, which would have some influence on him. It is especially difficult to explain satisfactorily Anaximander’s thought on the basis of the οrphic-pythagorean doctrine concerning the soul which was considered as δίκην δίδουσα. The reasons for this difficulty are as follows:

(1) in the οrphism there is a sequence of fault and penalty in successive phases of life, while in Anaximander injustice and compensation take place in one and only one plane of existence

(2) if we had followed the οrphic doctrine, as it is attested in our sources (Kern, fr. 8. Arist. Protr. fr. 10b Ross), we should have said that, in Anaximander, birth gives evidence of a crime which had been committed previously and not, as one may infer from the context of the doxographical text, that birth constitutes a crime which is punished by death and

(3) if we had adopted the οrphic-πythagorean concept of transmigration, we should have missed the image of the opposites which are mutually interchangeable (the αλλήλοις of Anaximander’s text).

In the earlier tradition, with the conception of orphism and pythagoreanism, thought had been formed, though still imperfectly, under such conditions which were convenient for the development of Anaximander’s meditation. In addition to that, this new consideration of the world can be partly explained as a reaction against the traditional religious representation of the world, because arbitrariness and terror prevailed behind a deceptive cosmic order which gods guaranteed. Zeus himself, as well as the other gods, had the right to intervene in nature arbitrarily in order to check the natural order according to their will (Hom. Σ 239. T 404 ff. ψ 241. Archil. fr. 74, 4 ff. Pi. Pai. IX, 1 ff. etc.). Anaximander, on the contrary, conceives the function of the world in terms of justice which is derived from the structure of the world itself.

Anaximander is a cosmologist and his capacity as such is, philologically, tenable. If he interpretes the generation and the process of the world in terms of a compensatory justice, this does not mean that he developes a metaphysical thought.

Detail of Raphael’s painting
The School of Athens
, 1510–1511.
This could be
a representation of Anaximander
leaning towards Pythagoras on his left.

The fragment which is referred to Anaximander (B 1, Diels-Kranz) constitutes a group of problems which can only be investigated in relation to one another. So,I am citing it in the beginning with the context by Simplicius and I am attempting an arrangement of Anaximander’s text, which leads to the opinion that the fragment B 1 (Diels-Kranz) is not one but three different fragments which present different schemes of thought in Anaximander’s cosmology: frr. 1, 2, 3.

THE PROBLEM OF THE TEXT is an acute one. The following terms attributed to Anaximander’s fragment B 1, are questionable:

αρχή
. The meaning of the relative doxographical text is not that Anaximander introduced “this term αρχή” but “this name άπειρον” for what one understood, from Aristotle and latter, under the term αρχή. Theophrastus is interested in the history of the terms which were attributed to αρχή at different times and he, naturally, since a new term comes into question (το άπειρον), reports the earlier usage of this term; or else he would have had to report who first introduced the term στοιχείον to which the term αρχή appears to be related in Theophrastus; or, evenmore, we should expect him to declare also who introduced the term το άπειρον identified with the term αρχή.

τα όντα. This, also, is not an archaic philosophical term and it takes the place of πάντα in the text. The word πάντα is often found in archaic philosophical texts and specifically in relation to one and only one factor which is exactly presented as omnipotent: θεός – πάντα (Xenoph. B 25), δαίμων – πάντα (Parm. B 12, 3), σοφόν / γνώμη / λόγος / πόλεμος / εν – πάντα (Heracl. B 50, 41, 1, 53, 10). In this way, Anaximander’s text, which is reproduced in Theophrastus’ phrase αρχήν και στοιχείον των όντων το άπειρον, was very likely formed according to the relation άπειρον – πάντα [like the Arist. Phys. πάντα κυβερνάν (το άπειρον)].

εξ ων – γίγνεσθαι. Although the terms γένεσις – φθορά constitute a stereotyped peripatetic pair of concepts, the words which form this concept, taken separately one by one, are archaic ones. The word γένεσις is already found in Homer (Ξ. 201,246) and, even in both cases, it is used in a cosmological sense. So, it is not strange if Anaximander has used it as a technical term. The word φθορά, however, is never found in archaic texts laden with a philosophical meaning and if Anaximander had to express the coplementarily opposite to γένεσις, he would have used the word όλεθρος or θάνατος, which is found in other archaic philosophical texts. Also the scheme εξ ων – εις ταύτα reveals that the whole phrase which is contained in it, is nothing more than a peripatetic reproduction of Anaximander’s text, based on a common aristotelian formula (Metaph. 983 b 8, Phys. 204 b 3, de gen. 325 b 17). This paraphrase, conveyed from Theophrastus’ text by Simplicius in his work, aimed at complementing the thought about the generation of ουρανοί (worlds) out of the Boundless with the meaning of corruption. And yet, it is especially emphasized that the worlds return, at their death, back “to those from which” they had originated, being the cosmogonic germs (γόνιμα), as we can partly infer from another cosmogonical text which also depends on Theophrastus ([Plut]. Strom. 2).

κατά την τού χρόνου τάξιν. Although this expression caused many discussions (Dirlmeier and others),there are, however, serious reasons which persuade us that it must be considered as a genuine anaximandrian
word. The χρόνος is very well settled in the text and it is inspired by the nature of the legal relationship which is represented in it (it occurs in an analogous way in Solo, fr. 24,3). Besides, this is followed by Theophrastus’ remark that Anaximander had said these things using “poetic expressions”, in which the phrase κατά την τού χρόνου τάξιν is obviously included.

A close consideration of the sequence of the three sentences, that compose the fragment B 1, shows that there is no visible connection between them: the first sentence expresses a general relationship of the Boundless with all that exists, the second one expresses the necessary return of the worlds “to those out of which” they were born. (The expression εξ ων – εις ταύτα cannot certainly be referred to the singular άπειρον). And the third one expresses an exchange of damage and recompense among opposite cosmological factors in fixed periods of time.

Below I am resolving the meaning of these three sentences which are named, according to their order, fragments 1, 2, 3.

FRAGMENT 1. αρχήν και στοιχείον των όντων (πάντων) το άπειρον. It is difficult to reproduce the original form of Anaximander’s text, whose meaning is stated in this expression: however I think it was probably constructed according to the relation το άπειρον – πάντα. But the following interpretive problems arise:

(1) what is άπειρον and what does it mean; and

(2) what does the relation άπειρον – πάντα mean for Anaximander.

Anaximander’s άπειρον was and had the meaning of

(1) the infinite in space; it is a vast mass extended boundlessly in the space and it is represented as a spherical mass impenetrable from every point;

(2) the infinite in time; such an immense mass, in space or quantity, requires an inexhaustible activity in time. Anaximander gives an exact and complete explanation of the world including the aspect of time;

(3) the indefinite in quality; since the άπειορν is an immense and impenetrable mass, it is, at the same time, necessarily indefinite in quality, because it remains inaccessible by human experience.

The second question, concerning the meaning of the relationship between the άπειρον and all existents, is mainly connected with the conception of the άπειρον as a divine factor which περιέχει άπαντα και πάντα κυβερνά (Arist. Phys. 203 b 11). Like Xenophanes’ θεός and, especially, Parmenides’ δαίμων and Heraclitus’ το σοφόν or γνώμη, Anaximander’s το άπειρον is the impersonal deity which confines, holds together and governs the vehicle of the world. The άπειρον cannot be constructed on the basis of the mythical Χάος, χάσμα or Νυξ of the earlier cosmogonies. The presentation of the άπειρον as a deity must be considered in a specific cosmological sense. Anaximander constructed his meditation, contemplating on the concrete natural reality, which appeared before him as a battle field of opposite factors: warm – cold, wet – dry, day – night, winter – summer etc. Evenmore, he discerns, beyond every spatial, temporal or inner limitation, something that confines the opposites and cannot be designated neither day or night nor winter or summer etc. This common factor of everything was conceived as an immense mass containing everything and, for this reason, it could not be susceptible of any empirical confirmation.

In this way, the world receives a complete explanation from a spatial and a temporal point of view, as well as an interpretation of not only its general characrer but also its corresponding concrete content, namely the reality given in separate parts.

 

Parmenides of Elea
(early 5th century BC)
was an ancient greek philosopher
born in Elea, a greek city
on the southern coast of Italy.
He was the founder
of the Eleatic school of philosophy.

FRAGMENT 2. (λέγει την αρχήν) φύσιν άπειρον, εξ ης γίνεσθαι τους ουρανούς και τους εν αυτοίς κόσμους, εξ ων δε η γένεσίς εστι τοις ούσι και την φθοράν εις ταύτα γίνεσθαι κατά το χρεών. This text concerns the primary fact of generation and the final death of the worlds which entails their return in “those out of which” they were born. There is a question that has not been answered in Simplicius’ statement, which is what are “those out of which…”. This void is partly filled by the important but fragmentary statement from Anaximander’s cosmogony contained in Pseudo-Plutarch’s Stromateis. Here we meet the sequence αΐδιον (Boundless) – γόνιμον – θερμόν and ψυχρόν. However, the formation of our world, as it is described in this text and as it is generally appointed by an inner necessity of Anaximander’s system, presupposes, also, the separating off (αποκρίνεσθαι) of one more γόνιμον, which begets the dry and wet. So it seems that we have two cosmogonical germs producing the two known pairs of opposites: dry and wet, warm and cold. Here, these opposites are conceived as maxima membra mundi and not as basic constituent elements of things. The formation of the world starts at the moment when the Boundless allows two germs to be separated. These germs pass through a condition of pregnancy and grow up to a certain point, when they emit separate opposite elementary masses which occupy their corresponding places in space.

Like our own world, all the other worlds arise from their germs, too, and, at their death, they necessarily perish, returning exactly into the same germs of their own origin and not into other ones. The χρεών, in the text, expresses this necessity exactly and not a necessity according to which corruption comes after generation.

Heraclitus of Ephesus (c. 535 – c. 475 BCE)
was a pre-Socratic greek philosopher,
a native of the greek city Ephesus,
Ionia, on the coast of Asia Minor.

FRAGMENT 3. δίδωσι γαρ αυτά (πάντα) δίκην και τίσιν αλλήλοις τής αδικίας κατά την τού χρόνου τάξιν. A philological investigation of this text, which is the only continuous and literal citation from Anaximander’s text itself (with the exception of γαρ, that has been added, and αυτά, that has substituted the original πάντα), proves that the elements, of which the text is composed, can be very well justified in the construction of the archaic language. Herodotus, 1, 2, especially, presents a reciprocal relation (of historical factors) which can be compared with the relation of cosmological factors, namely the litigants mentioned in Anaximander’s text. On the other hand, the inevitable character of compensation, that is expressed by the phrase κατά την τού χρόνου τάξιν, already occurs in Solo (frr. 24,3; 3,16).

A well graded interpretation of the text, from a philosophical point of view, must he free from the former idea that the generation of things constitutes an injustice committed against the Boundless and expiated by the final return of everything into the victim itself of the primary injustice. This interpretation, as well as all its different variations, is inevitably opposed to the basic argument that the αλλήλοις remains unexplained.

A relationship of opposite cosmological factors appears in the text, explained according to a scheme of compensatory justice (jus talionis): the opposites exchange damage and equivalent recompense, so that all the opposing powers become counterbalanced. Here, the world is an autonomous and self-potent organism and all the controversies in it are arranged by the interested members themselves. They are considered as equal among themselves or peers, an idea designated by nature itself through the legal relation which is represented in the text. The participants in this original cosmic strife are in Anaximander’s thought

(1) the opposite elementary masses which create aworld through the various alterations that occur between them

(2) opposing cosmological factors designating the movement of a differentiated world and

(3) opposite individual things or concrete phenomena, animals and human beings.

The opposite elementary masses, which formed the body of our world, necessarily got involved in war among them: the dry and the wet, the warm and the cold extended, through their own nature, to penetrate into each other; and, perhaps, an excessive activity of the warm against the wet could have had as a result the expansion of the airy mass, because of the accumulation of vapors, and the burst of the fiery peel, which caused the creation of the stars. After the formation of the world,when something wet meets something dry, a collision takes place and the one tries to penetrate into the area of the other. The same thing happens, when fire meets the water, as, also, happens to all the other opposites when they meet each other. For this reason, injustice consists in the avidity of the opposites.

Although here we are shown the image of a world whose formation and function are designated in terms of mutual interaction between opposites, this fact does not mean that the opposites’ strife is carried on in disorder, otherwise the world would not be a κόσμος but a chaos. All the actions are mutually limited, so that a dynamic equilibrium will always be preserved in spite of the continuous fluctuation of the opposites. If, for example, the warm was not confined by the cold and could increase itself unlimitedly into everything, the world would be completely destroyed by fire. On the contrary, a final battle never takes place in the cosmic war: the opposing powers attain prevalence alternately and in a limited scale; every retreat is counterbalanced by an equivalent counterpoising predominance and vice versa.

We can realize it in a better way, if we properly estimate the factor χρόνος in the function of the cosmic justice. The faults of the things are certainly marked in the process of time and a certain period of time is always determined in every case, during which every illegal profit is inevitably requited. Everything pays justly, that is they make reparation equivalent to the damage they have committed. The most characteristic example is the alternation of day and night, a phenomenon which is interpolated by Parmenides, too, in connection with the conception of justice: the day overcomes the night and vice versa. Injustice is alternately repaid in fixed periods of time. Their alternative counterpoising predominance implies the presentation of a dynamic equilibrium in nature. There is also a similar phenomenon of the alternation of the seasons during the revolution of the yearly circle; here, however, the reparation is made much in longer periods of time.

Such phenomena shows that the world’s system can be self-cοntrolled, since it appoints standard analogies, according to which the committed damages are counterpoised by equivalent recompenses. Anaximander had observed some phenomena during his research concerning marine biology, that were particularly important for this case. He had also had some idea about the fluctuation of certain marine organisms’ population and, in addition, he had discerned that there are causal relations between the diminution of a population and increase of another.

An observant eye can easily perceive such fluctuations which are especially exciting in regards to the problem of cosmic justice. For, in spite of all the fluctuations, there is preserved a biological equilibrium, in all of nature generally, because of the interdependence, the interactions and the mutual limitations of a biocenosis.

This organic development in the area of cosmology, of compensatory justice, which means a counterbalance of the opposing cosmological factors, was an important and, undoubtedly, bold innovation for the cosmological thought which was in the beginning of its evolution. The world is governed by the principle of a dynamic equilibrium and it is represented in such a way that the philosophical conception seems to support or oppose a political system.

We distinguish three different types of political schemes which designate the cosmological factors in Anaxirnander’s system:

(1) strife. The concept of equilibrium and equivalence of the cosmological factors presupposes the perturbation of the powers. Their equivalence can only be conceivable through their continuous fluctuations which are determined by a regularity in their alternative prevalence;

(2) community of opposite factors; they are equivalent or peers, they settle their controversies by themselves and they constitute a self-regulated system of balance, consisted of opposing powers;

(3) a supreme principle, the άπειρον; this is the one and only one factor which encompasses this system. The άπειρον remains neutral in the cosmic strife and it is neither just nor unjust by itself.

The equilibrium of the world, as an autonomous system, is owed to:

(1) the equivalence of the cosmological powers

(2) the inevitable character of recompense in the process of time and

(3)
the counterpoising analogy of the reparation to the damage.

The particular significance of Anaximander’s thesis consists in the fact that greek cosmology is raised up to a first decisive phase by his own meditation and gains a significant progress, as it is involved in an inner relation to justice. In this way, cosmology has been definitely cut and separated off from the mythical cosmogony and theology.

After Anaximander, cosmic justice gets to a remarkable development in Parmenides and Heraclitus and, also, it appears in ancient medical thought and in Empedocles’ and Plato’s cosmology. Cosmic justice in the cosmological thought after Anaximander is the subject of a further research.

Theofilos Beikos

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