Of the various qualities attributed to Empedocles, humility was not one of them. He is quoted as saying:
“I am among you as an immortal god, no longer mortal, honored by you all, wreathed in garlands and crowns.”
As a physician, he earned this reputation by performing some noteworthy feats such as saving the Sicilian town of Selinus from a plague.1 Through sorcery and magic arts, he claimed the power to control winds and storms, to reverse aging, and to ward off evil. He dressed flamboyantly and went from town to town performing his healing arts as well as miracles. He wrote:
“To whatever famous town I go, I am praised by men and women, accompanied by thousands, who thirst for deliverance, some asking for prophecies, and some to be cured by all kinds of diseases.”
Empedocles was born in the 5th century B.C. in Acragas (modern day Agrigento) on the southwestern coast of Sicily to a wealthy aristocratic family. Acragas was founded in 581 B.C. by Greek colonists from Gela, which was about 45 miles to the east.2 His grandfather, who was also called Empedocles, had the distinction of winning the horse racing event of the Olympic Games of 496 B.C.3
Sixth century Acragas was mainly dominated by tyrants, of which Phalaris is most notorious – he enjoyed roasting men alive inside a bronze bull, their tormented shrieks of pain akin to bellowing. Yet Acragas also flourished as a cultural arts center during this time, with artists of sculptures, paintings, metalwork, and mosaics. In summary, it was a city full of diverse activities.
In 470 B.C., Acragas became a democracy. This is the world that Empedocles knew for most of his life for he was about 20 years old when this occurred. Even though he favored democracy, he never gave up his flamboyant, aristocratic ways.
As a philosopher, Empedocles is most known for teaching that the universe was controlled by the opposing forces of Love and Strife. Either he had some profound insight or he was just projecting the state of his marriage onto the universe. Empedocles’ views on Love and Strife had a significant influence on subsequent theories of philosophy, medicine, mysticism, cosmology, and religion.4
Empedocles was the last Greek philosopher to write his philosophy in epic verse.5 Of all of the ancient Presocratic philosophers, his fragments are the most plentiful, all of them coming from his two poems, “Purifications” and “On Nature.”6 After Empedocles, there would not be another great philosophical poem until “De Rerum Natura” by Lucretius in the first century B.C.
In 1992, at the University of Strasbourg, France, Belgian scholar Alain Martin found fragments of Empedocles’ poetry in the university library on papyrus fragments that had been hidden away for almost a century.7 It is remarkable that new writings of an ancient philosopher would be rediscovered as late as 1992 and that this was the only such work of an ancient philosopher to be discovered on pieces of papyrus.8
Life and Works
Being from Sicily and having been influenced by Parmenides, it is no surprise that he practiced medicine, albeit with a mystical influence. The Southern Italians were the first in the ancient world to develop the practice of medicine into an art. From the life of Parmenides and others, we see that there was a strong mystical tradition that accompanied the healing arts. He is credited with founding the Sicilian school of medicine.
In my opinion, Empedocles is the most mysterious and enigmatic of the Presocratics. He was considered to be a poet, physician, philosopher, mystic, magician, prophet, and statesman. Empedocles was also seen as a great orator. Just as Aristotle attributed the invention of dialectic to Zeno of Elea, he attributed the invention of rhetoric to Empedocles.
This fierce contender for democracy and equality used to dress in the manner of royalty, wearing a purple robe, golden girdle, bronze sandals, and donning a laurel wreath on his head. Despite his lofty manner, he was very practical, curing the plague of Selinus by restoring the supply of fresh water.
In addition to being influenced by Parmenides, he was also a follower of Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans. This explains his belief in reincarnation and his strict vegetarianism. He was known for preaching against the killing of animals for food or sacrifice.
Empedocles and the Four Elements
Empedocles is different from the other philosophers we have studied so far in that he did not develop a new philosophy. Instead, he sought to bring cohesion to and reconcile the thoughts of his predecessors.9
For the most part, the philosophers I have written about had only one archè of the universe, one universal cause or substance that gave rise to all other things. Empedocles was unique in that he came up with four archès: the elements earth, air, fire, and water. This is the foundation of his belief, that there are four elements that give rise to all other things. He also called these “roots,” using a botanical metaphor to stress the seed nature of these elements in sprouting and growing into all that exists.10
This view of four elements has been with us ever since Empedocles derived it. Although we know from modern chemistry that there are 92 naturally-occurring elements, there is something mysterious about Empedocles’ designation that has intrigued us ever since.
Below are four paintings by impressionist painter Elena Kotliarker, born in Kiev, Ukraine in 1969. These are entitled Four Elements: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. Can you guess which painting corresponds to which element?
These elements were able to create all things, living and inanimate, through the various combinations and proportions by which they were mixed. Even though Empedocles’ idea of the nature of an element was wrong, he did articulate correctly the fundamental concept of modern chemistry – elements come together in various combinations and proportions to make everything in existence.
This symbolism of Empedocles’ four elements is very prevalent in modern and pop culture. In addition to myriad paintings and artworks depicting an artist’s take on the elements, we have come across the idea in the music industry as well. For example, when musician Maurice White founded a band in 1969, he eventually named the band after three of the four elements that related to his astrological chart; each of the four elements is connected in various ways to the 12 astrological signs. The band was Earth, Wind, and Fire.
Empedocles’ Four Elements in History
Empedocles called these elements “roots” using the Greek word ῥιζώματα (rhizōmata) from which we get the botanical term rhizome. Plato adopted this four element idea and was actually the first person to call them “elements.” He used the Greek word στοιχεῖον (stoicheîon), which meant element, because it designated the smallest division of something.11
Aristotle, in On the Heavens, defined the term:
“An element, we take it, is a body into which other bodies may be analyzed, present in them potentially or in actuality (which of these, is still disputable), and not itself divisible into bodies different in form. That, or something like it, is what all men in every case mean by element.”– On the Heavens, III.3, 302a 17-19
The following diagram illustrates the four elements as described by Aristotle in Generation and Corruption.13
In addition to the four, Aristotle named a fifth element αἰθήρ (aither), known as the classical element aether. Aristotle reasoned that the four earthly elements were corruptible, but since the heavenly regions do not change, the stars and so forth must be made out of a different, unchangeable substance.14
According to the physician Galen, Hippocrates equated the four elements to the four humors of the body: Fire – Yellow Bile, Earth – Black Bile, Air – Blood, Water -Phlegm.
Hippocrates believed that in each person, usually one of the four predominated and determined a person’s temperament.15 He developed the theory of the four temperaments which is still popular today: Yellow is the choleric, black the melancholic, blood the sanguine, and phlegm the phlegmatic.
Irrespective of Empedocles, this intuitive system is found throughout various cultures. While Buddhism has the traditional four elements, most other religions or philosophies have the five that are identical to Aristotle’s elements, e.g., Hinduism and ancient Tibetan philosophy have a system of five elements, and Japanese philosophy, Godai, has the five denoted by the characters 五大 which literally means “five great.”
In the West, this system of the four basic elements, albeit with some modifications by the medieval alchemists, persisted from the time of Empedocles until the publication of the first modern chemistry book by French chemist Antione Lavoisier entitled Traité Élémentaire de Chimie (Elementary Treatise of Chemistry) in 1789. Lavoisier defined an element as a substance whose smallest units cannot be broken down into a simpler substance:
“I shall therefore only add upon this subject, that if, by the term elements, we mean to express those simple and indivisible atoms of which matter is composed.”17
In his book, he named a list of elements, that which could not be broken down further, that included oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, phosphorus, mercury, zinc, and sulfur. These formed the basis of the modern periodic table, thus breaking out of the paradigm of Empedocles’ four elements after over 2000 years.
Nevertheless, some modern scientists see a parallel between the four states of matter – solid, liquid, gas, and plasma – and the four elements.18 Plasma physicist Mitsuru Kikuchi has stated the following about Empedocles:
“Empedocles proposed that the world was made of earth, water, air, and fire, which may correspond to solid, liquid, gas, and weakly ionized plasma. Surprisingly, this idea may catch the essence.”
Maybe Empedocles was not too far off after all. Regardless of the findings of modern science, I believe that Empedocles’ philosophy of the four elements will always hold a place in our imaginations.
The Quest of the Presocratic Philosophers
To summarize the quest of the Presocratic philosophers up until this point, they were all looking for the unifying principle of the universe. This started with Thales, who was the first to move away from the superstitious Homeric gods as an explanation and toward a more naturalistic yet not atheistic one.
They started to recapture what had been lost for generations: an appreciation for the existence of the one true God, whose nature they could partially discern not through superstitious myths but by the created order itself. One might say that they took advantage of natural revelation. With them, we have what we would consider an odd combination today -that of scientist, philosopher, and theologian.
Greek philosophy centers around the problem of the One and the Many.19 This started with the Presocratics and continued with Plato and Aristotle, who made substantial progress in this vein but never solved the problem. All of the Presocratic philosophers were cosmologists and philosophers first and scientists second. As cosmologists, they intuitively recognized the metaphysical reality that everything is one, that there is a profound unity to the universe. At the same time, they had to account for the world as we know it, the diversity that we experience with our senses.
Mere scientists would not have made this leap like Thales did, from water being ubiquitous to water being the unifying principle of the universe. This was a purely metaphysical assumption. As Copleston states, this “power of metaphysical intuition” has secured for them a certain glory and a prominent place in the history of philosophy, and Empedocles was no different. He simply looked to modify the ideas of his contemporaries, like Anaxagoras and Parmenides, and his predecessors, like the Ionian philosophers, and come up with his own version of reality.
Empedocles Seeks a Solution
Thales and the other Ionians had various contenders for the unifying principle that included water, fire, and air, among other things. The problem is that they did not account for how these things would have given rise to the diversity we see. The more they tried to do so, the more diluted their unifying principles became.
The Italian philosophers emphasized unity at the expense of plurality. Parmenides represents this camp the best. He really had an iron-clad contender for unity, which was Being, but his theory was extreme to the point that change and motion were not possible. Reality as we know it with its diversity and change was just an illusion. His arguments were more internally consistent than those of the Ionians, but at the expense of denying our sense experience completely.
What we have here in this early philosophical thought is a tension between reason and sense experience that would begin to be defined more fully during the Enlightenment.
Parmenides held that Being is and that Being, being material, neither comes into existence nor goes out of existence. To this extent, Empedocles agreed with Parmenides. For if matter is eternal and indestructible, then this is the only reasonable conclusion.20 In this sense, Empedocles was a rationalist. On the other hand, like the Ionians, he could not deny his sense experience, so when looked at from this angle, Empedocles was an empiricist. The question is how did Empedocles reconcile the two?
This next section gets deep into the philosophical weeds. If you wish, you can skip to the following section entitled “Love and Strife.”
The Problem of Motion
The problem of motion is important because in addition to a universal originator of the universe such as fire, water, air, or earth – or in the case of Empedocles, all four elements – motion was necessary in order to cause the generation of all other things from those basic substances. Without motion, creation was impossible.
That is why the concept of motion was central to ancient Greek philosophy; indeed it was essential for life itself.21This is especially evident in the writings of Aristotle. The Greek word for motion is kinesis from which we get words like kinetic. Aristotle said that nature (physei) is dependent upon motion (kinesis). Nature could be living or non-living entities as long as they were “natural” such as earth and water, and not man-made such as clothing.
Something can only be “by nature” if it has the principles of motion and rest (stasis) within itself. This motion does not have to originate from the object, but in the case of an inanimate object, it can be acted upon from the outside such as when someone pushes a rock. Aristotle stated:
“The obvious difference between [natural] things and the things which are not natural is that each of the natural ones contain within itself a source of change (kinesis) and stability (stasis), in respect of either movement or increase and decrease or alteration.”22– Physics 192 b 8-15
For the ancients, there were two problems with conceptualizing motion; one was ontological and the other involved bringing space and time together.23 The latter problem is evident in Zeno’s paradoxes of which I have already written two posts. The former is what Parmenides focused on.
The ontological problem concerns the idea of Being and non-Being. Motion or change is necessary in order for object O at point 1, p1, to end up at point 2, p2. Before this motion occurs, object O is at p1 which means that Being exists at that point while p2 is characterized by non-Being. After the motion occurs, p1 is characterized by non-Being and p2 by Being, which means that Being went out of existence at p1 and came into existence at p2.
So, as the argument goes, in order to have motion or change, Being would have to be able to come into existence and pass out of existence. Because kinesis connected Being and non-Being, some of the Greeks like Parmenides saw motion as indefinite or indeterminate. This was the problem to be solved by Parmenides’ successors. It wasn’t enough to just have primordial physical substances at the beginning for without motion, nothing else could arise from those substances.
Anaxagoras tried to solve the problem by developing a quasi-theistic universal Mind that was above all things. In its transcendence, the Mind could provide motion for the entire cosmos.
Empedocles came up with a completely different and more dramatic solution to Parmenides’ motion problem: Love and Strife.
Love and Strife
Now it was Empedocles’ turn to take a stab at the problem of motion and Being. Like the other Presocratics, he had his basic elements of earth, air, fire, and water, out of which everything else originated.24 Motion was the missing element. Parmenides’ challenge was how to have motion without violating the nature of Being.
All of the other Ionian philosophers had failed to do this. For example, Anaximenes, who posited air as the originating substance, simply said that air transformed itself by its own inherent power into all of the objects we are familiar with through our sense experiences.25 Empedocles believed instead that active forces were necessary in order to accomplish this.
Empedocles proposed the two forces of Love and Strife, or Harmony and Discord. We should not let the names mislead us for he believed that these were real physical and material forces. Empedocles posited that Love brought the particles of the four elements together to build them up, and Strife separated the particles, causing an end to the being of objects that were comprised of the four elements.
Therein lies his solution to Parmenides’ problem. The particles that comprised the four elements were eternal and indestructible, thus preserving Parmenides’ idea that Being cannot come into or go out of existence. On the other hand, change is possible because as these four elements come together and “mingle” in various ways, they form the various objects that we experience with our senses. When the particles are separated, the objects, not the elemental particles, pass out of existence. The concept of Love and Strife was Empedocles’ way of having his cake and eating it, too.
He summarizes this process in fragment 17:
“Twofold is what I shall say: for at one time [the elements] grew to be only one, Out of many, at another time again they separate to be many out of one. And double is the birth of mortal things, double their death. For the one [birth] is both born and destroyed by the coming together of all things, While the other inversely, when they are separated, is nourished and flies apart. And these incessantly exchange their places continually, Sometimes by Love all coming together into one, Sometimes again each one carried off by the hatred of Strife.
In summary, Love and Strife are engaged in an eternal battle where Love dominates at certain times and Strife at others. It is in the context of this battle that the universe is created and then destroyed in endless recurring cycles.26
At the beginning of the cycle, Love dominates as she draws all of the elements together within a Sphere called “blessed god.” Even though the elements are not fused together into one big mass, they are indistinguishable from one another. At this stage, no matter exists and life is impossible.
Love’s power gradually weakens and Strife’s power begins to grow. Strife gradually separates the elements from the Sphere. When there is enough separation, matter comes into existence, the world is created, and all life is born.
When Strife achieves total domination, the elements are separated completely and the world is destroyed in what Empedocles calls the Whirl. Strife’s power then begins to wane. As his power wanes, Love’s power grows stronger again.
As Love’s power grows, she again draws all of the elements together, and life is born once again, but this time, it’s a new and different world from the one previously created by Strife. As the cycle continues, we return to the beginning where all matter is again together and indistinguishable in one big mass.
According to Empedocles, there are two distinct worlds that never meet – one created by Love and the other by Strife. He believed that the present world that we inhabit is the world of Strife.
What Empedocles tried to do is account for change while affirming the eternality and unchangeableness of matter, trying to answer Parmenides’ charge while at the same time affirming the world of the senses as a reality. He did not succeed, but rather created a quasi-mythological world dominated by the personifications of Love and Strife. Perhaps he was also trying to account for the “fallenness” of the world by constructing a paradigm that accounted for the strife between people, while affirming inherent goodness at the same time.
Empedocles and Nietzsche
Empedocles resurrected the doctrine of Eternal Recurrence first seen with Heraclitus and developed further by Anaximander. This concept as well as other ideas of the Presocratics captivated the modern philosopher Nietzsche.
In the summer of 1872, Nietzsche, who was then a professor of classical psychology at the University of Basel, lectured on the Presocratic philosophers.27 Most people then, as now, viewed the Presocratics as simply a warmup band for Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, but not Nietzsche. In his lectures, the young professor made it clear that he did not view them as forerunners but as philosophers in their own right, full of profound significance and vital experience for the modern thinker.
Nietzsche was fascinated by the Presocratics’ emphasis on Being. He felt the Presocratics knew that “Being was to be understood as Presence, a numinous awareness of the all-embracing Whole, expressed by Thales as water, Heraclitus as fire, by Anaximenes as air, and Parmenides as the universal world-spirit.”28
Nietzsche felt that for the Presocratics, the totality of Being was self-evident; everything was in organic unity. They saw the grand scheme of the unity of the whole, but one that did not obscure Reality. For the Presocratics, “the interrogation of Being was creative and fundamental.”29
In his fourth lecture, Nietzsche discussed Empedocles as the forerunner of natural selection as proposed by Darwin. Even though Empedocles’ theory did not include the transformation of one species into another, it did account for the paring down of all the original species that were created to those that were most suited to survive.
According to Nietzsche, Empedocles was the first to conceive of a purpose in nature, what later philosophers such as Aristotle would term telos. According to Nietzsche’s interpretation of Empedocles, in order to ensure their survival, all species strive for the highest perfection. It is this striving for perfection in order to survive that formed the basis of Nietzsche’s concept of Will to Power. What is interesting is that he credits not Darwin but Empedocles for this.
A Fiery Death
If I had to award a prize to the philosopher who had the most dramatic death, I would award it to Empedocles. According to Diogenes Laertius, Empedocles jumped into the live volcano of Etna in Sicily in order to propagate the belief that his body had vanished because he had turned into an immortal god.
His death has been immortalized in a dramatic poem by Matthew Arnold. Here is an excerpt from that poem:
“To the elements it came from Everything will return. Our bodies to earth, Our blood to water, Heat to fire, Breath to air.”
What do you think is Empedocles’ most significant contribution to Western thought? Please comment below. And don’t forget to check out the featured books below. Thank you!
Footnotes and Endnotes:
- Grayling, A.C., The History of Philosophy, pp.39-40, Penguin Press, New York, 2019
- Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Agrigento.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 4 Apr. 2013, https://www.britannica.com/place/Agrigento
- Campbell, Gordon, “Empedocles,” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Kingsley, K. Scarlett and Richard Parry, “Empedocles,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2020 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2020/entries/empedocles
- “Empedocles,” New World Encyclopedia
- Campbell, Gordon, “Empedocles,” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Kingsley, Peter, “Empedocles for the New Millennium,” Ancient Philosophy, Vol. 22, Issue 2, pp. 333-413, Fall 2002
- van der Ben, N. “The Strasbourg Papyrus of Empedocles: Some Preliminary Remarks.” Mnemosyne, vol. 52, no. 5, Brill, 1999, pp. 525–44
- Coppleston, S.J., Frederick, A History of Philosophy, Book One, p. 61, An Image Book published by Doubleday, 1985
- Campbell, Gordon, “Empedocles,” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Plato, Timaeus and Critias, translated by Robin Waterfield, [48b], p. 39, Oxford World Classics, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2008
- Aristotle, On the Heavens, translated by J.L. Stocks, III.3.302a17-19
- Lloyd, G.E.R., Aristotle: The Growth and Structure of his Thought, pp. 166-169, Cambridge University Press, July 1, 1968
- Lloyd, G.E.R., Aristotle: The Growth and Structure of his Thought, pp. 133-139
- Lindemann, Mary (2010). Medicine and Society in early Modern Europe. Cambridge University Press. p. 19
- Quote taken from an article by Melissa Snell entitled “Alchemy in the Middle Ages,” ThoughtCo., updated July 3, 2019
- Lavoisier with Robert Kerr, trans. (1790) Elements of Chemistry. Edinburgh, Scotland: William Creech., p. xxiv
- Kikuchi, Mitsuru (2011), Frontiers in Fusion Research: Physics and Fusion, London: Springer Science and Business Media, p. 12
- Coppleston, S.J., Frederick, A History of Philosophy, Book One, p. 76
- Coppleston, S.J., Frederick, A History of Philosophy, Book One, p. 61
- Sattler, Barbara M., The Concept of Motion in Ancient Greek Thought, p. 17; For an interesting and in depth discussion of motion in Greek thought, see pages 17-27.
- Aristotle, Physics, translated by Robin Waterfield, p. 33, Oxford University Press; Oxford, New York, Revised 2008
- Sattler, Barbara M., The Concept of Motion in Ancient Greek Thought, p. 19-21
- Of course Empedocles was the first to posit four elements, where most of the others posited only one element.
- Copleston, S.J., Frederick, A History of Philosophy, Book One, pp. 62-63
- Campbell, Gordon, “Empedocles,” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, b. Cosmology
- Raymond Furness (1971) Nietzsche and Empedocles, Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology, 2:2, 91-94
- Ibid. The quote is taken directly from the article.
- Campbell, Gordon, “Empedocles,” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. a. Origin of Species
- Aristotle, Physics, translated by Robin Waterfield, Oxford University Press; Oxford, New York, Revised 2008
- Aristotle, On Generation and Corruption, wherever you may find it
- Aristotle, On the Heavens, translated by William Keith Chambers Guthrie, Loeb Classical Library No. 338, Hardcover, Harvard University Press; Illustrated edition, January 1, 1939
- Arnold, Matthew, Empedocles on Etna, A Dramatic Poem
- Coppleston, S.J., Frederick, A History of Philosophy, Book One, An Image Book published by Doubleday, 1985
- Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, translated by Pamela Mensch, edited by James Miller, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2018
- Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, translated by C.D. Yonge, Digireads.com Publishing, 2020
- Empedocles, Fragments of Empedocles, translated by John Burnet, edited by Taylor Anderson, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (December 12, 2017)
- Grayling, A.C., The History of Philosophy, Penguin Press, New York, 2019
- Hoare, Alexandra, Salvator Rosa, Friendship and the Free Artist in Seventeenth-century Italy (Studies in Baroque Art) (English and Italian Edition) Harvey Miller Publishers; Bilingual edition, hardcover – December 20, 2018
- Kikuchi, Mitsuru, Frontiers in Fusion Research: Physics and Fusion, Springer; 2011th edition, February 17, 2011
- Lindemann, Mary, Medicine and Society in Early Modern Europe, Cambridge University Press; 2 edition, 2010
- Lloyd, G.E.R., Aristotle: The Growth and Structure of his Thought, Cambridge University Press, July 1, 1968
- Lucretius, On the Nature of the Universe, translated by Ronald Melville, Oxford University Press; Reissue edition (February 15, 2009)
- Nietzsche, Friedrich, The Birth of Tragedy: Out of the Spirit of Music (Penguin Classics), London, Paperback – January 1, 1994
- Nietzsche, Friedrich, The Pre-Platonic Philosophers, translated by Gregory Whitlock, (International Nietzsche Studies (INS)), University of Illinois Press, Champaign; Reprint edition Paperback – June 5, 2006
- O’Brien, Denis, Empedocles’ Cosmic Cycle: A Reconstruction from the Fragments and Secondary Sources (Cambridge Classical Studies) Reissue Edition, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, (January 18, 2009)
- Plato, Timaeus and Critias, translated by Robin Waterfield, Oxford World Classics, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2008
- Sattler, Barbara M., The Concept of Motion in Ancient Greek Thought, Cambridge University Press; Cambridge, New York, 2020, paperback 2021
- The First Philosophers, translated and commentary by Robin Waterfield, Oxford University Press, New York, 2000
From Amazon Reviewer Joshua Leeger: “This is indispensable – both for a clearer understanding of the Pre-Socratic/Platonic philosophers, but especially for understanding Nietzsche as a thinker. What an incredible book! The (non-German-reading) world owes the translator a huge thanks for what must have been a massive effort in bringing this book (and commentary) to print! Thank you!!!!”
From Amazon: “The cosmic cycle described in the surviving fragments of Empedocles’ poem is the alternation, in endless succession, of Love and Strife. Love is the cause of happiness and unity; Strife the cause of separation and misery. These forces rule in turn as they cause the One and the Many. Love makes the elements into a blissful whole, the Sphere; Strife breaks into the Sphere and causes movement and division – the condition of the world, according to Empedocles, in which we now live. Dr O’Brien’s book is primarily an analysis of this elaborate system. It seeks to determine the positions which Love and Strife occupy in the world at different times, the processes involved in becoming one and becoming many and the duration of being one and being many. It examines such associated themes as Empedocles’ view of the nature of the soul and his use of the traditional motif ‘like to like’. Finally, Dr. O’Brien considers Empedocles; place in the subsequent development of Greek philosophy. He sees Empedocles’ work as a primitive anticipation of Plato, a significant union of spiritual other-worldliness with the philosophical and scientific traditions of the Presocratics.” – Amazon description
Adamson, Peter, “All You Need is Love, and Five Other Things: Empedocles,” History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps, Posted on 16 January 2011, Kings College, London, https://historyofphilosophy.net/empedocles