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Anaxagoras (ănˌəksăgˈərəs), c.500–428 B.C., Greek philosopher of Clazomenae. He is credited with having transferred the seat of philosophy to Athens. He was closely associated with many famous Athenians and is thought to have been the teacher of Socrates. His belief that the sun was a white-hot stone and that the moon was made of earth that reflected the sun's rays resulted in a charge of atheism and blasphemy, forcing him to flee to Lampsacus, where he died. Rejecting Empedocles' four elements (earth, air, fire, and water), Anaxagoras posits an infinity of particles, or “seeds,” each unique in its qualities. All natural objects are composed of particles having all sorts of qualities; a preponderance of similar though not identical particles creates the difference between wood and stone. Anaxagoras' universe, before separation, was an infinite, undifferentiated mass. The formation of the world was due to a rotary motion produced in this mass by an all-pervading mind (nous). This led to the separating out of the “seeds” and the formation of things. Although Anaxagoras was the first to give mind a place in the universe, he was criticized by both Plato and Aristotle for only conceiving of it as a mechanical cause rather than the originator of order.


See D. E. Gershenson and D. A. Greenberg, Anaxagoras and the Birth of Physics (1964); M. Schofield, An Essay on Anaxagoras (1980).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



Born circa 500 B.C., in Clazomenae, in Asia Minor; died circa 428 B.C. A philosopher of ancient Greece.

Anaxagoras was the first to have taught philosophy professionally in Athens. Accused of impiety, he moved to Lampsacus, where he founded a school of philosophy. With Empedocles and the atomists, he developed a natural philosophy about indestructible elements, the seeds of things (they were later called homoeomeries), which he visualized as infinite in quality and in quantity. Each element is in turn composed of an infinite number of smaller particles, the parts of which are equivalent to the whole. Applying the principle that everything is in the whole, Anaxagoras explained every destruction as the dissociation into indestructible elements and every becoming as the union of qualities dispersed over all the elements. The driving principle of the world order is nous (“mind” or “reason”), which organizes the elements. Anaxagoras was also a mathematician and astronomer and worked on problems of perspective in theatrical scenic designing.


[Fragments], in A. Makovel’skii. Dosokratiki, part 3. Kazan, 1919. Pages 104–61.
[Fragments], in Antichnye filosofy [evidences, fragments, and texts]. Kazan, 1955.
Diels, H. Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker. . . , 5th ed., vol. 2. Berlin, 1935. Pages 5–44.


Asmus, V. F. lstoriia antichnoi filosofii. Moscow, 1965. Pages 59–79.
Cleve, F. M. The Philosophy of Anaxagoras. New York, 1949.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


?500--428 bc, Greek philosopher who maintained that all things were composed of minute particles arranged by an eternal intelligence
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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