1902 Encyclopedia > Evolution > Evolution in Philosophy: Pythagoreans. Eleatics. Heraclitus.

(Part 9)


Pythagoreans.—We may press by that curious mode of conceiving the world as a development out of numbers regarded as active principles which was adopted by the Pythagoreans, since it is too remote from modern conceptions of cosmic evolution.2

Eleatics.—The Eleatics, Xenophanes, Parmenides, and Zeno need to referred to here simply on the ground of their denial of all plurality and individuality in objects and of any real process of change, development, or transformation in the world. It may be added, however, that both Xenophanes and Parmenides have their way of regarding the origin of the cosmos and of animal and human life, though these conjectures are put forward as matters of "opinion," having to do with the illusory impressions of the senses only.

Heraclitus.—The next Greek thinker, Heraclitus, deserves a prominent place in a history of the idea of evolution. This writer distinctly sides with the Ionian physicists, as against the Eleatics, by asserting the reality of motion, change, and generation. He differs from the former, as Grote observes, by regarding the problem of change rather as one of ontology than of physics. Heraclitus conceives of the incessant process of flux in which all things are involved as consisting of two sides or moments—generation and decay—which are regarded as a confluence of opposite streams. In thus making transition or change, viewed as the identity of existence and non-existence the leading idea of his system, Heraclitus anticipated in some measure Hege’s peculiar doctrine of evolu

FOOTNOTE (p.755)

(1) According to Ueberweg (who calls their systems Hylozoism), they all conceived of this matter as vital.

(2) Grote calls attention to an analogue of this notion of number in Oken’s Elements of Physio-Philosophy. See his Plato, i. p. 10, note E.

Tion as a dialectic process.1 At the same time, we may find expressed in figurative language the germs of thoughts which enter into still newer doctrines of evolution. For example, the notion of conflict (GREEK), as the father of all things and of harmony as arising out of a union of discord,2 and again of an endeavour by individual things to maintain themselves in permanence against the universal process of destruction and renovation, cannot but remind one of certain fundamental ideas in Mr Darwin’s theory of evolution. According to Grote, it is doubtful how far Heraclitus intended to supply by his idea of fine a physical, as distinguished from a metaphysical, doctrine of the world-process.

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