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Fantasy portrait of Anaxagoras in the Nuremberg Chronicle Hartmann Schedels (1493)
Figure of Anaxagoras, Natural History Museum, Vienna

Anaxagoras ( Greek Ἀναξαγόρας Anaxagóras ; * around 499 BC , probably in Klazomenai ; † 428 BC , probably in Lampsakos ) was a pre-Socratics from Klazomenai in Asia Minor . His philosophical thinking, handed down only in fragments and mainly from Aristotle , is interpreted as a merging of the approaches of Heraclitus and the Eleaten . With Anaxagoras, the Ionic Enlightenment came to Athens , because there he spent the most important decades of his life and was close to the leading statesman Pericles as a philosophical teacher and advisor. The tragedy writer Euripides was also introduced to philosophical thinking and research by him. As a mathematician, he was mainly concerned with squaring the circle .


Anaxagoras went around the year 462 BC. BC to Athens, made his teachings known there and experienced the political breakthrough to the developed Attic democracy . According to Plutarch , it was he who taught Pericles "that strength, that firm and steadfast courage to lead the people, and generally raised his character to a special dignity and perfection". Pericles, who held Anaxagoras in great esteem, is said to have been "instructed in the knowledge of unearthly and heavenly things" by him. Through the lessons of Anaxagoras, Pericles achieved "a high way of thinking and a sublime lecture that was completely clean of all artificial gossip aimed at popular favor".

Around 430 BC BC Anaxagoras was accused of godlessness because of his denial of the divinity of the sun , saved from the death penalty by the influence of Pericles , but banished permanently. He spent the last two or three years of his life in Lampsakos in exile. His work “On Nature” was sold under the hand for a drachma in Athens and also impressed Socrates .

Meaning and teaching

Anaxagoras is considered to be one of the first representatives of a merging of theology with cosmology and ontology, a desacralization of the world, the "retreat of the gods". "The previously holy or divine is drawn into the maelstrom of a world-explaining Logos and a life-shaping ethos, both of which go their own way and follow their own laws."

Carl-Friedrich Geyer sees Anaxagoras in the tradition of the Ionian natural philosophers in search of the first reasons for the world and at the same time for the ordering principle for the originally amorphous mass of the world. Anaxagoras is based on a primordial mixture in which an infinite number of small components of different kinds are contained, the homoiomeries . In contrast, Rapp doubts that Anaxagoras would have used this term at all, and rather ascribes its origin to Aristotle's interpretation of Anaxagoras. According to Rapp, four principles form the core of Anaxagoras' philosophical thinking. They say that in the beginning everything was mixed together, that in everything there is a part of everything, that there is no smallest part of anything and that nothing arises from something that is not.

In addition to the mixed material, Anaxagoras placed an impersonal world spirit ( nous ) as a kind of second principle , which set in motion and separated what had previously rested together. In the relevant fragment B 12 it says:

“The mind is the only one that is not mixed with any other thing, therefore it only exists for itself. It is infinite and rules independently. He is the finest and purest of all things, has knowledge of everything and possesses the greatest power. The spirit is not only the cause of the cosmic circular motion, it has also planned and arranged everything. [...] "

The sun looked Anaxagoras not like many of his contemporaries as a deity but as a red-hot stone, which is larger than the Peloponnese . He was the first philosopher to advocate the knowledge that the moon does not shine by itself, but only indirectly when it is illuminated by the sun.

According to Aristotle (384–322 BC), Anaxagoras is said to have held the view that humans are the smartest living beings because they have hands. The hands are therefore the reason why humans have become the most intelligent living beings. Aristotle contradicted this materialistic explanation by countering it with his teleological explanation. According to this explanation, people have hands because they are the smartest living things. The teleological explanation presupposes that the cosmos and nature are built up appropriately and sensibly. For Aristotle, "hands are a tool, and nature, like a clever person, always assigns anything to whoever can use it." Anaxagoras' explanation comes, and that distinguishes her without this premise . In the modern natural sciences, the teleological has been replaced by the materialistic way of explaining - instead of a causa finalis (purpose or target cause), a causa efficiens (effective cause) is asked for; although functionalism could in turn be interpreted as a further development of the ultimate cause.

The study of natural phenomena on an experimental basis also occupied Anaxagoras. A water clock , the so-called Klepsydra , served him as a supposed proof of the non-existence of the empty space . In Plato's dialogue Phaedo , Socrates (469–399 BC) says that he was very interested in the natural sciences in his youth (96A ff) and was happy to have found a good teacher in Anaxagoras (97D). But then he again deviated from natural philosophy, because Anaxagoras could not answer the decisive question of what reason is to which we owe our insights into the nature of nature. It is a sham statement to say that someone moves from one place to another because they have two legs. The explanation must relate much more to the thoughts that lead someone to this change of location. This is the starting point of the Socratic Revolution against the natural philosophers. These asked about the nature of nature, but Socrates asked about the nature of our thinking.


According to Max Horten , the Muʿtazilite theologian and philosopher an-Nazzām adopted various elements of his natural philosophical system of thought from Anaxagoras.

The moon crater Anaxagoras is named after Anaxagoras . The plant genus Anaxagorea A.St.-Hil. from the Anonaceae family is named after him.

Text editions and translations


Overview representations in manuals



  • Carmela Baffioni : Anaxagore dans l'Islam. In: Richard Goulet (ed.): Dictionnaire des philosophes antiques. Volume supplément. CNRS Editions, Paris 2003, ISBN 2-271-06175-X , pp. 751-759.

Web links

Commons : Anaxagoras  - collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. Geyer, p. 124.
  2. ^ Donald Kagan , The Peloponnesian War. Athens and Sparta in Savage Conflict 431-404 BC , HarperCollins Publishers, 2003, p. 12.
  3. Geyer, p. 124.
  4. Bernhard Waldenfels , Hyperphänomene , Berlin 2012, p. 373
  5. Rapp, p. 197f .: “That Anaxagoras is the philosopher who represented the homoiomeries can be found in almost every history of philosophy. However, the fragments obtained do not mention the expression homoiomerês . Comparative linguistic studies even make it unlikely that Anaxagoras himself could have coined or used such an expression. "
  6. Rapp, p. 194.
  7. Quoted from Rapp, p. 206.
  8. Ekschmitt, p. 80.
  9. Aristotle , Parts of Animals IV 10, 687a 8-10
  10. Max Horten : "The doctrine of the Kumūn at Naẓẓām († 845). A contribution to the history of philosophy in Islam." in the journal of the German Oriental Society 63 (1909) pp. 774–792. Here pp. 776, 784f, 790, 792. Digitized
  11. Lotte Burkhardt: Directory of eponymous plant names - Extended Edition. Part I and II. Botanic Garden and Botanical Museum Berlin , Freie Universität Berlin , Berlin 2018, ISBN 978-3-946292-26-5 doi: 10.3372 / epolist2018 .