Innumerable Worlds in Presocratic Philosophy

Classical Quarterly 28 (1):1-16 (1934)


Zeller argued that the ‘innumerable worlds’ mentioned in accounts of Anaximander's system must be an endless succession of single worlds, not an unlimited number of coexistent worlds scattered through infinite space, some always coming into being while others are passing away. Zeller pointed out that a succession of single worlds is grounded in the principles of the system. ‘Things perish into that from which they had their birth… according to the order of Time,’ a cycle of birth, existence, and destruction. A world ends, and the living divine stuff begets a new world to take its place. On the other hand, there is much in the system to contradict the idea of coexistent worlds. Anaximander's successors, Anaximenes, Anaxagoras, and Diogenes, show that this idea is not a necessary consequence of the unlimitedness of the original world-stuff. Nothing in the appearances of Nature suggests it. Anaximander is a monistic hylozoist, whereas Democritus is a pluralist with his innumerable independent atoms producing, by similar processes, independent world-systems in different parts of an infinite void.

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