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Primavesi, Oliver (2015): Olearius on Atomism and Theism in Heraclitus: A Presocratic in late 17th century Germany. In: Rhizomata : A Journal for Ancient Philosophy and Science, Vol. 3, No. 1: pp. 94-123 [PDF, 662kB]


In a 1697 monograph, Gottfried Olearius (1672–1715) endeavours to establish Heraclitus as an important new witness for a general thesis upheld by Ralph Cudworth in 1678. According to Cudworth, Greek philosophers earlier than or independent of Leucippus combined a version of atomism with the belief that the world is ruled by God(s). Olearius tries to improve on Cudworth by showing that Heraclitus, who does not figure among Cudworth’s authorities, also upheld both atomism and theism. As to Heraclitean atomism, Olearius starts from a contra diction within the doxographical tradition: According to some authors, the first principle of Nature in Heraclitus is fire, according to others it is exhalation, i.e. air. Olearius suggests that neither “fire” nor “exhalation” can bear their ordinary meaning here, but that Heraclitus uses both terms to hint at very small, swiftly moved, indivisible particles; yet defining such particles as principles of nature must count as atomism. This result is confirmed by a metallurgical simile, apparently used by Heraclitus, which was taken by Aristotle and the doxographical tradition to imply that Heraclitus traced back everything there is to very small and indivisible fire particles prior to the One. The ascription of theism to Heraclitus, in turn, rests on two further texts which report that Heraclitus ascribed the periodical condensation and rarefaction of matter to a Fate (εἱμαρμένη) functioning as Demiurge, and that this power is to be identified with Logos and God.

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