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Anaximander of Miletus and His Philosophy on the Origin of All Things

Anaximander of Miletus and His Philosophy on the Origin of All Things


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Whence things have their origin,
Thence also their destruction happens,
As is the order of things;
For they execute the sentence upon one another
– The condemnation for the crime –
In conformity with the ordinance of Time.

-Anaximander on generation and destruction

Anaximander of Miletus was a Pre-Socratic philosopher. Many scholars regard him as the first metaphysician due to his belief in the “Boundless.” Despite their faults, his views opened up the cosmos for others and make him one of the first speculative astronomers.

This philosopher belonged to the Milesian school. As indicated by its name, this school of thought was based in the city of Miletus on the western coast of Anatolia, modern day Turkey. Anaximander is one of the three prominent figures in this philosophical school, the other two being Thales and Anaximenes, the former commonly thought to have been Anaximander’s teacher, and the latter, his student.

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A relief representing Anaximander of Miletus.

Three Thoughtful Men with Little More than Location in Common?

These three early philosophers held quite distinct views on most subjects, so their grouping is based on geographical convenience rather than on shared opinions. Nevertheless, it may also be said that these pre-Socratic philosophers focused on questions regarding nature (for example, what is the quintessential substance of the universe?) which allows them to be grouped together.

Anaximander is thought to have been born in 610 BC. This year of birth is reckoned based on a piece of work known as ‘The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers ,’ which was written by an ancient author by the name of Diogenes Laertius. Quoting another source, Diogenes wrote:

“And Apollodorus, in his Chronicles, states, that in the second year of the fifty-eighth Olympiad, he (Anaximander) was sixty-four years old.”

In other words, in the year 546 BC, Anaximander was 64 years old. Counting backwards, we may say that this philosopher was born in 610 BC. Using this piece of information, we may also determine if it was possible that Anaximander had studied under Thales, as tradition suggests.

Although Thales’ exact year of birth is not provided by the ancient sources, he is recorded to have predicted the occurrence of a solar eclipse in 585 BC. This would mean that at the time when the eclipse occurred, Anaximander was 25 years old. Therefore, it is entirely possible that Anaximander had been a student of Thales.

Anaximander’s Creations

Very little is known about Anaximander’s life. Additionally, it is hard to ascertain if details about the philosopher’s life are true in the first place. In Diogenes’ work, Anaximander might have been the inventor of the gnomon, “the raised piece of a sundial whose shadow indicates the sun’s position,” as well as several other useful gadgets.

The gnomon is the triangular blade in this sundial.

“He also was the first discoverer of the gnomon; and he placed some in Lacedaemon on the sun-dials there, as Favorinus says in his Universal History, and they showed the solstices and the equinoxes; he also made clocks. He was the first person, too, who drew a map of the earth and sea, and he also made a globe;”

Possibly what the lost first map of the world by Anaximander looked like.

Another random piece of trivia mentioned by Diogenes shows us some insight into the philosopher’s personality. He is said to have acted solemnly, but had no issue with dressing ostentatiously. Apparently, when Anaximander sang children would laugh and when the philosopher heard about this he is reputed to have said:

“We must then sing better for the sake of the children.”

Anaximander is also believed to have been well-traveled and possibly the founder of a colony known as Apollonia on the Black Sea coast.

Anaximander’s Philosophical Views

Fortunately, we have a better idea of Anaximander’s philosophical views. Like Thales, Anaximander practiced material monism (a belief in which the physical world is explained by the idea that all objects in the world are comprised of a single element), and was interested in seeking the archê (‘origin’ or principle’) of all things.

According to Thales, this is water. Anaximander, however, disagreed with his teacher. One of the arguments against water, or any of the other elements as the archê is that none of the elements can include all the opposites found in nature. For example, water can only be wet, and never dry.

Detail of Raphael's painting The School of Athens, 1510–1511. This could be a representation of Anaximander leaning towards Pythagoras on his left.

Therefore, Anaximander proposed that the archê is a substance known as apeiron, which may be translated either as “limitless, boundless, indefinite,” or “unable to be got through, what cannot be traversed from end to end.” It is unclear exactly which of these two meanings of the apeiron Anaximander sought to convey. That means that while some have argued that apeiron is a substance that is inexhaustible and undefined, other favors the idea that it refers to a spatial or temporal quality.

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Another difference between Thales’ and Anaximander’s philosophical views can be seen in the way they perceived the cosmos. Thales suggested that the earth rests on water. Anaximander, disagrees once more. One of the reasons he sees against that proposal is that if the earth rests on water, what does the water rest on?

If one thing needs to be supported by another, then there will be no end. Instead, Anaximander proposed that the earth is a cylinder with a flat surface. Around this cylinder are rings of fire surrounded by mist. As a result of the mist, the fire is almost invisible. There are, however, holes in these rings, allowing the fire to shine through.

Illustration of Anaximander's models of the universe. On the left, daytime in summer; on the right, nighttime in winter. (CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Anaximander, the Speculative Astronomer

This, according to Anaximander, allows us to see the stars, the Moon, and the Sun. More remarkable, perhaps, is his statement that the earth stays in equilibrium at the center of the cosmos. The reason for this, according to the ancient philosopher, is that there is no sufficient reason for it to be moving in one direction rather than the other.

This view and reasoning are said to have been accepted by most of Anaximander’s successors , until the birth of modern astronomy under Copernicus in the 16th century AD.


5 Contributions of Anaximander to Philosophy

The Anaximander's contributions to philosophy they are framed in their works on the principle of all things, called arje or arche, and in the concept of empire relative to it.

In addition, they highlight their contributions on cosmology, that is, the formation of the world. Finally, he elaborated certain theories about the appearance of man and animals on Earth.

Anaximander

Anaximander is a philosopher born in Miletus in the year 610 a.c. It seems that he was a contemporary of Tales of Miletus and he is presented as a student and continuator of his work.

Part of the difficulty in studying the Greek philosopher is that he only left a written work, so the rest of his contributions are found by references of other later thinkers, such as Aristotle .


Anaximenes Of Miletus

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Anaximenes Of Miletus, (flourished c. 545 bc ), Greek philosopher of nature and one of three thinkers of Miletus traditionally considered to be the first philosophers in the Western world. Of the other two, Thales held that water is the basic building block of all matter, whereas Anaximander chose to call the essential substance “the unlimited.”

Anaximenes substituted aer (“mist,” “vapour,” “air”) for his predecessors’ choices. His writings, which survived into the Hellenistic Age, no longer exist except in passages in the works of later authors. Consequently, interpretations of his beliefs are frequently in conflict. It is clear, however, that he believed in degrees of condensation of moisture that corresponded to the densities of various types of matter. When “most evenly distributed,” aer is the common, invisible air of the atmosphere. By condensation it becomes visible, first as mist or cloud, then as water, and finally as solid matter such as earth or stones. If further rarefied, it turns to fire. Thus hotness and dryness typify rarity, whereas coldness and wetness are related to denser matter.

Anaximenes’ assumption that aer is everlastingly in motion suggests that he thought it also possessed life. Because it was eternally alive, aer took on qualities of the divine and became the cause of other gods as well as of all matter. The same motion accounts for the shift from one physical state of the aer to another. There is evidence that he made the common analogy between the divine air that sustains the universe and the human “air,” or soul, that animates people. Such a comparison between a macrocosm and a microcosm would also permit him to maintain a unity behind diversity as well as to reinforce the view of his contemporaries that there is an overarching principle regulating all life and behaviour.


Anaximander

Rating:
Audience: General Public
Difficulty: Medium

Aimed at a general audience, the book discusses the legacy of Anaximander (c. 610 – c. 546 BCE) and how his method and theories are relevant to the development of science and scientific inquiry.

Carlo Rovelli is first and foremost a scientist, an Italian theoretical physicist, who came to worldwide attention with his book, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics (2015 CE). Anaximander (first published in English in 2011 CE) is an earlier book that examines the legacy of Anaximander (c. 610 – c. 546 BCE). Carlo Rovelli's books are written originally in his native Italian, but the elegance of his ideas and writing are not lost in translation or diminished.

Our knowledge of Anaximander is not vast, indeed we have a single fragment of his work and various later references to Anaximander that enables an understanding of his ideas and thoughts. The written fragment is from Theophrastos' Physic Opinion and is believed to have quoted Anaximander's own words.

The book begins with a description of Greece in the 6th century BCE, contextualising the 6th century BCE with the past, and then discusses Anaximander's theories and discoveries. 6th-century BCE Miletus was a place of pioneering thinking, Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes, Hecataeus were all part of the Ionian school of Greek philosophy centred there. Anaximander examined the ideas of his tutor Thales of Miletus and then put forward his own ideas, crucially in written form and suggesting at the same time that the ideas of Thales were not altogether correct. Thus the process of scientific inquiry had begun, indeed “a conceptual revolution” was underway.

Anaximander's ideas are important because essentially his theories were correct. Anaximander's explanations such as the cyclical nature of water are based on “natural things, without reference to the divine”. This, of course, was a departure from cultural norms of that era that saw the gods as involved in the creation myths and legends as well as impacting daily lives.

Rovelli discusses the social, cultural, and political implications of the train of thought that Anaximander had set in motion in ancient Greece and the centuries that followed, going beyond the ancient world to the relevance of the scientific method to the modern day. Underlying Rovelli's writing is progressive thinking and an understanding that scientific truth is discovered by trial and error, a viewpoint that being wrong is not necessarily a bad thing if it advances the truth by examination and critical thought.

Rovelli discusses the ideas and the legacy of Anaximander affectionately, recognising and celebrating Anaximander's contribution to science. Interestingly, the author's latest book The Order of Time (2017 CE) is titled from the one existing fragment of Anaximander's written record.

Anaximander is difficult to categorise as it is both an ancient history book and also a book that examines the principles of scientific thought. In many ways it is a book for the 21st century CE but with its roots in the 6th century BCE, expanding to cover the advances that have been made since.

In my opinion, Anaximander is a wonderful book that should appeal to the ancient historian and also to those interested in science. The reader will find that they are taken on a journey from Anaximander's era to Einstein and beyond, with Anaximander always in mind. It achieves its objective of examining Anaximander's contribution to science and celebrates his legacy, placing his legacy squarely and relevantly in the modern world. The ancient historian might find the book too concerned with science, that, however, would be a disservice to Anaximander and his achievement.


Anaximenes (6th century BC): infinite air.

Very little is known about Anaximenes' life or dates, except that he is said to have been a pupil of Anaximander. He lived for at least part of his life under Persian rule, and may have witnessed the Ionian rebellion against the occupation.

Although he is traditionally described as believing that everything derived from air, it seems clear that he was not referring to everyday air but to an infinite variety of air, using the same word "apeiron" used by his tutor.

No fragment survives in which he specifically says that the prime matter of the universe is divine, but Anaximander indicates that even the gods derived from it.

Infinite air is the principle from which things and gods and things divine, all come into being.

Anaximenes &hellip said that infinite air was the principle from which things that are becoming, and that are, and that shall be, and gods and things divine, all come into being &hellip It is always in motion: for things that change do not change unless there be movement. [Hippolytus, Refutation of all Heresies.]

Anaximenes &hellip also says that the underlying nature is one and infinite, but not undefined as Anaximander said but definite, for he identifies is as air and it differs in its substantial nature by rarity and density. Being made finer it becomes fire, being made thicker it becomes wind, then cloud, then (when thickened still more) water, then earth, then stones and the rest come into being from these. He too makes motion eternal and says that change, also, comes about through it. [Simplicius, Physics.]

Background image:
Tarantula Nebula in the Large Magellanic Cloud, photo by European Southern Observatory.

ARE YOU ATTRACTED BY THE IDEAS OF THE ANCIENT MATERIALISTS? THEN YOU MAY WELL LIKE SCIENTIFIC PANTHEISM.

If you would like to spread the message of scientific pantheism please include a link to Pantheist pages in your pages.

Suggestions, comments, criticisms to: Paul Harrison, e-mail: pan(at)(this domain)


Anaximander and the Milesian School of Philosophy

(Probably) Anaximander , from a detail of Raphael ‘s painting The School of Athens , 1510 – 1511 .

At about 610 BC , pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Anaximander of Miletus was born. He belonged to the Milesian school and learned the teachings of his master Thales . According to available historical documents , he is the first philosopher known to have written down his studies , although only one fragment of his work remains. An early proponent of science he tried to observe and explain different aspects of the universe , with a particular interest in its origins, claiming that nature is ruled by laws, just like human societies , and anything that disturbs the balance of nature does not last long.

“There cannot be a single, simple body which is infinite, either, as some hold, one distinct from the elements, which they then derive from it, nor without this qualification.”, As quoted in Physics by Aristotle

Little is known about the Life of Anaximander

Like for many other ancient Greek philosophers, little is known about the life of Anaximander. Anaximander, son of Praxiades, was born in the third year of the 42nd Olympiad, i.e. 610 BC. According to 2nd century BC grammarian Apollodorus of Athens , he was sixty-four years old during the second year of the 58th Olympiad (547–546 BC), and died shortly afterwards. 4th century rhetirician Themistius mentions that he was the “first of the known Greeks to publish a written document on nature.” Therefore, his texts would be amongst the earliest written in prose, at least in the Western world. According to Aristotle , philosopher Thales precedes Anaximander.[7] It is debatable whether Thales actually was the teacher of Anaximander, but there is no doubt that Anaximander was influenced by Thales’ theory that everything is derived from water. Anaximander is reported to have travelled widely, and founded a colony called Apollonia on the coast of the Black Sea.[1] It is also reported that he displayed solemn manners and wore pompous garments.[3]

Anaximander’s Writings

None of Anaximander’s writings survive but we do know something about his works which were still available to Aristotle and Apollodorus. Anaximander’s theories were influenced by the Greek mythical tradition as well as by observations made by older civilizations as e.g. the Babylonian astrologers. All these were elaborated rationally. In his desire to find some universal principle, he assumed, like traditional religion, the existence of a cosmic order and in elaborating his ideas on this he used the old mythical language which ascribed divine control to various spheres of reality. His main writings are thought to have been On Nature, On the Fixed Stars, Geometric Surveying, Sphere, Map of Greece, and Map of the World. The importance of his work is that he introduced scientific and mathematical principles into the study of astronomy and geography.

The Earth is a Cylinder

Anaximander believed that the earth was a cylinder. If this seems a little strange, then we believe that his reasoning was that if one looked around one saw a circle, then he used a symmetry argument to argue that there was another circle with a cylinder between. He appears to have been the first person to argue that the sun, moon, planets and stars revolved around the earth so the sun which rose in the morning was the same sun that had disappeared on the evening of the preceding day. He saw each heavenly body as being a hole in an opaque circular wheel containing fire and encircling the earth. He also argued that the heavenly bodies were at different distances from the earth, but he was entirely wrong in believing that the stars were closer than any of the other heavenly bodies. In Anaximander’s model the earth is suspended in the middle of the circling heavenly bodies.[1]

Anaximander’s Cosmogony

Anaximander also attempted to give an explanation for how the universe came into being. His philosophy argued that all things arose from ‘apeiron‘, the Boundless. Unlike other Pre-Socratics, he never defines this principle precisely, and it has generally been understood as a sort of primal chaos. As Aristotle writes “a germ, filled with hot and cold, was separated off from the Boundless, then out of this germ a sphere of fire grew around the vapor that surrounds the earth, like a bark round a tree.” The sphere of fire split into several wheels which were then the wheels of the stars, moon, and sun. Anaximander maintains that all dying things are returning to the element from which they came ( apeiron ).

The Plurality of Worlds

Anaximander already speculated on the plurality of worlds, similar to later philosopher Epicurus . He discussed the origins of life, as well as the origins of the cosmos. He argued that the young earth was covered in seas, some of which began to dry out due to the heat of the sun. Life began in the mud of the seas as they dried out. The first animals had skin covered with spines but after they began to live on dry land, the heat of the sun gradually caused the animals to have fewer spines. He argued that man was not suited to live in this early world, so could only have arisen from the animals living on dry land after conditions became suitable.[1]

A Map of the World

Both Strabo and Agathemerus (later Greek geographers) claim that, according to the geographer Eratosthenes ,[5] Anaximander was the first to publish a map of the world. This map, of course, no longer exists, but it must have shown a circular earth – the top of the cylinder. It would have the Mediterranean Sea at its centre and show lands to the north and south, since this was the known world at the time. Some writers credited Anaximander also with the invention of the sundial gnomon. But that can hardly be correct. According to historian Herodotus this instrument came from Babylon, and Thales must have used it to determine the solstices and equinoxes.[4,6,7]

“Anaximander the Milesian, affirmed the infinite to be the first principle, and that all things are generated out of it, and corrupted again into it. His infinite is nothing else but matter.”
– Plutarch

At yovisto academic video search, you may be interested in a short video explanation on Thales of Miletus.


CRITICAL SUMMARY

Although most scholars accept that Anaximander believed there to be an infinite number of universes, there is some disagreement over what he had to say about the relationship of the opposites to the apeiron.Their reabsorption into the unlimited may well have been a reparation for having brought about injustice: but was this because they had trespassed against each other or against the unlimited? The second view seems more likely if the unlimited is to be thought of as a kind of cosmic judge. As for his argument about the supposed non-movement of the Earth, this was certainly original but it may not be valid there need be no contradiction in thinking of movement as random and uncaused.Nevertheless this early thinker continues to be of interest for the rationality of his geometrical model of the universe and his tacit appeal to what later came to be called 'The Principle of Sufficient Reason'


Anaximander’s Life

Anaximander was born in 610 B.C.E. in Miletus (present-day Turkey). Little is known about his early life but it is believed that he was a student of the Greek philosopher Thales of Miletus (Encyclopedia Britannica). During his studies, Anaximander wrote about astronomy, geography and the nature and organization of the world around him.

Today only a small portion of Anaximander’s work survives and much of what is known about his work and life is based on reconstructions and summaries by later Greek writers and philosophers. For example in the 1 st or 2 nd century C.E. Aetius became compiling the work of early philosophers. His work was later followed by that of Hippolytus in the 3 rd century and Simplicius in the 6 th century (Encyclopedia Britannica). Despite the work of these philosophers, however, many scholars believe that Aristotle and his student Theophrastus are most responsible for what is known about Anaximander and his work today (The European Graduate School).

Their summaries and reconstructions show that Anaximander and Thales formed the Milesian School of Pre-Socratic philosophy. Anaximander is also credited with inventing the gnomon on the sundial and he believed in a single principle that was the basis for the universe (Gill).

Anaximander is known for writing a philosophical prose poem called On Nature and today only a fragment still exists (The European Graduate School). It is believed that many of the summaries and reconstructions of his work were based on this poem. In the poem, Anaximander describes a regulating system that governs the world and the cosmos. He also explains that there is an indefinite principle and element that form the basis for the Earth’s organization (The European Graduate School). In addition to these theories Anaximander also early new theories in astronomy, biology, geography, and geometry.


Key Facts & Information

BIOGRAPHY

  • Son of Praxiades, Anaximander was born in the Ancient Greek city of Miletusin approximately 610 BCE
  • According to Apollodorus of Athens, Anaximander was sixty-four years old in the second year of the 58th Olympiad (547–546 BCE), and died shortly afterwards.
  • Little is known of Anaximander’s work and life. Information that exists now was written by authors like Aristotle in later times.
  • Before Anaximander was born, Miletus had been the hometown of the first scientist in recorded history, Thales.
  • Aelian, the 3rd-century Roman rhetorician, described Anaximander as the leader of the Milesian colony to Amphipolis, hence some have inferred that he was a prominent citizen.
  • Themistius, a 4th-century Byzantine rhetorician, stated that Anaximander was the first of the known Greeks to produce a written document on nature.

ANAXIMANDER AS A STUDENT

  • Anaximander was one of the first students of Thales, perhaps the very first. Pythagoras was one of Thales’ later students who was also taught by Anaximander.
  • Thales’ core belief, which he passed on to Anaximander, was that rational explanations rather than the Ancient Greek gods should be used to account for natural phenomena.
  • Anaximander’s dream was astonishing. He aimed to understand the origin of things and explain the universe.

THEORIES OF ANAXIMANDER

  • Anaximander’s theories were influenced by Greek mythical tradition, learnings from Thales – the father of philosophy – and by observations made by older civilizations in the Near East, especially Babylon.
  • Being concerned with the origin of things, Anaximander found an explanation. In Anaximander’s theory, the Apeiron (the infinite), he abandoned with Thales the old mythological cosmogonies.

COSMOLOGY AND THE APEIRON

  • Anaximander’s reputation is due mainly to cosmological work, little of which remains.
  • We discover from the few extant fragments that he believed the beginning or first principle (arche, a word first found in the writings of Anaximander, and which he probably invented) had grown from a seed – a primordial substance called Apeiron. The Apeiron was infinite and couldn’t be created or destroyed everything we can sense in the universe had grown from it.
  • Based on the tradition, the sky was a solid hemisphere carrying the heavenly bodies. It was supported above the earth by Atlas, a Titan from Greek mythology.
  • Anaximander stated that the heavenly bodies didn’t all lie on a single great celestial hemisphere. He located the sun and the moon including the stars at different distances from Earth.
  • However, after getting this right, Anaximander got the details wrong. This has generally been understood (for instance by Aristotle and Augustine) as a sort of primal chaos.
  • He imagined there were three rings of fire around the Earth – each one for the sun, moon, and stars. Although he correctly said the moon was closer to us than the sun, he incorrectly located the stars closer to us than the moon.
  • Anaximander’s realization that the Earth floats free without falling and doesn’t need to be resting on something has been indicated by many as the first cosmological revolution. Thus, this was the starting point of scientific thinking.

EVOLUTION

  • Anaximander viewed the life around him (man and animals) and concluded that it must have evolved from different lifeforms, probably in the world’s wetter environments, and spread to drier places.
  • Anaximander believed that humans couldn’t have appeared on Earth in their current form. His reasoning was that some young animals can look after themselves from the moment they are born. However, human children need to be taken care of for several years. He thought that, if this had always been the case, humans could not have survived.
  • Anaximander theorized that our ancestor may have been a fish-like creature which gave birth to humans when they reached an age when they could survive even without parents to look after them.

Anaximander Worksheets

This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about Anaximander across 20 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use Anaximander worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about Anaximander who was the second of the physical philosophers of Ionia (in modern-day Turkey), a citizen of Miletus. Anaximander belonged to the Milesian school and was a pupil of his master Thales.

Complete List Of Included Worksheets

  • Anaximander Facts
  • Biography
  • Arrange the Philosophers
  • Commentary
  • Crossword
  • Ancient Era of Philosophy
  • Atlas
  • Evolution of Humans
  • Anaximander’s Contribution
  • Other Accomplishments
  • Credit to Anaximander

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Anaximander: Evolution, Earth as a body in space, and the first experiment

Anaximander of Miletus (c. 610 – 546 BCE) is thought to have been a student of Thales, the Ionian Greek philosopher also of the city of Miletus, who started philosophy in the early 6th century BCE. Like his mentor, Anaximander was concerned about what things were made of, how things were formed, and how things changed. Likewise, he did not credit personal gods for the happenings that humans observed around the world.

One example of this is Anaximander’s hypothesis about thunder and lightning. In Greek mythology, these phenomena were attributed to the god Zeus, who literally threw lightning bolts that he carried around in his pocket. That’s not something that you could really test and disprove if you defined Zeus as an extremely powerful being capable of hiding himself within clouds (as he did on several occasions in the Greek myths). But Anaximander proposed that thunder resulted from two clouds crashing together, sometimes generating a bright flame if the movement of air from the interaction of clouds was very strong. This was not something that the ancient Greeks could test either, but at least the mechanism depended only on the presence of air, water, and clouds –things whose presence in the world were not contested by anybody.

Detail of Raphael’s painting “The School of Athens,” possibly showing Anaximander here leaning towards Pythagoras on his left (not shown).

Anaximander also thought that Earth was shaped something like a drum, a short cylinder, with the continents and life forms located on one of the circular faces. Though it was way off from the real shape of Earth, Anaximander envisioned his oddly-shaped planet as floating within a substance, the Apeiron, a word that has been translated to mean something like ‘boundless’ or ‘indefinite’. This was related to his point of disagreement with Thales. Whereas Thales thought the source of everything was water, Anaximander thought the Apeiron filled this role. Since Anaximander’s Apeiron has been likened to a kind of undetectable part of existence that would become the focus of later philosophers, and that dominates many religions today, some historians of philosophy have considered Anaximander as the originator of metaphysics. They consider his ideas as being more advanced compared with his mentor Thales and also more advanced compared with his student, Anaximenes, the subject of our next post. Another perspective is that the Apeiron was the way that Anaximander expressed his idea (common to many Ionian philosophers) that all matter contained some kind of vital force, or ‘hylozoism’.

Anaximander’s concept of the cylindrical Earth.

What’s important to the development of science is that Anaximander thought of his Apeiron as filling the space between the Earth, sun, moon, planets, and stars. This contrasted with Thales’ model in which Earth was only the land (continents), floating on water (the ocean), while the sun, moon, planets, and stars moved above, with air above the land and ocean at the bottom of everything. In Anaximander’s cosmological model, Earth, including the water, was suspended in the Apeiron, with nothing holding it up. This meant that the sun, moon, and stars, traveled around Earth, not just above it from morning to night, but also underneath. This may sound childish to us today, knowing that there is no “underneath” Earth, since gravity pulls everything from all around Earth’s surface toward the center. But if you consider that Greek mythology imagined the sun, Helios, as a god traveling each night by boat from the western end of the Earth to the eastern side in preparation for his rising the next day, Anaximander’s idea starts to look like a major advance. By postulating the Apeiron, Anaximander invented the idea of outer space, a necessary step before humans could think of the world as a planet going around something else.

During Anaximander’s time in Ionia, philosophers at the other end of the Greek world, the colonies of southern Italy, were developing the view that knowledge of the world could be obtained through thinking alone. The Ionians, on the other hand, thought that observation of the world was as valuable as mental analysis, and Anaximander may have taken things a step further by performing a genuine experiment. Using a rod called a gnomon to cast a shadow and measure the angle of the sun’s passage through the sky, he calculated the length of a year and the seasons. 25 centuries later, this would earn Anaximander praise from the late astronomer and science communicator, Carl Sagan, who said, “For ages, men had used sticks to club and spear each other. Anaximander of Miletus used the stick to measure time.”

Anaximander teaching the art of the gnomon.

Anaximander, like his mentor Thales, also recognized that life depended on water, but Anaximander saw water as the origin of life. 2,400 years before the birth of Charles Darwin, Anaximander theorized that life had begun in the water and that humans had evolved, very gradually, from fish or some kind of creature very similar to fish. Based on fragments of his writing preserved by later writers, it is likely that Anaximander developed his idea of “evolution” based on fossils that he had discovered and studied. He also reasoned that the first humans could not have been infants because human infants could not survive on their own, whereas fish were independent at the time of their hatching from eggs. So Anaximander decided that humans must have been around for much longer, possibly beginning as primitive eggs that emerged from the seafloor mud with no parents at all.

Written by David Warmflash

David is an astrobiologist and science writer. He received his M.D. from Tel Aviv University Sackler School of Medicine, and has done post doctoral work at Brandeis University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Johnson Space Center, where he was part of the NASA's first cohort of astrobiology training fellows. He has been involved in science outreach for more than a decade and since 2002 has collaborated with The Planetary Society on studying the effects of the space environment on small organisms.

The views expressed above do not necessarily represent those of Visionlearning or our funding agencies.


Watch the video: ANAXIMANDER and the BOUNDLESS Apeiron - History of Philosophy with Prof. Footy (October 2022).

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