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Pre-socratic Philosophers

  1. Jun 28, 2004 #1
    Hello everyone! I want to ask some questions...

    What are the main concern/ objectives of the ionian school of thought?

    Thales said that the essence of all things is water. Why?

    Anaximander said that the lump of material that is infinite and eternal called apeiron ("The Unlimited") is the essence of all things. Why?

    Also, Anaximenes claimed that the world was made of air and not water or the apeiron. Why?

    Heraclitus said that fire is the essence of all things. Why?
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  3. Jun 28, 2004 #2


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    Thales knew that water could exist in solid, liquid, and gas forms. It was the only substance he knew of that could do that. So he thought that if there was ONE substance that underlay the different forms of matter (monism), then that substance would have to be the only thing that could appear in different forms - water.

    Thales was basically a mathematician, and he gave reasons for his belief. The others, it seems to me, were mystics, and their statements were based on visions. But I am open to correction here. IIRC, the later Greeks credited Thales with discovering that the angle inscribed in a semicircle is a right angle.
  4. Jul 5, 2004 #3
    The Ionians which include the atomists, the Pythagoreans and others, essentially were concerned more with the physics and cosmogony than with epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, logic etc.. Basically, they were much closer to today's modern physicists than were their successors, Plato and Aristotle. Socrates used to say that "ruminations on such matters as the heavens and astronomy is futile and foolish." Such was the trend he would set for 2,000 years.

    Early philosophers seemed to work from a basic set of axioms, one being that the universe was in constant flux (though some did disagree with this to be fair) and one that everything is made from the same substance (monism as the previous poster said). Thales' conclusions were simply a result of his ratiocination on this matter with the aforementioned axioms taken into account. Thales is also credited with making the first correct mathematical predictions of a solar eclipse, though some think he may have been unfairly given credit for this as the cycle was already long known before his time according to some.

    Anaximander, along with Heraclitus and Democritus, is my favorite of the Pre-Socratics, and is also someone that was far ahead of his time with his speculations. Were you aware that Anaximander, instead of telling the usual tale of creation associated with the Gods of Olympus as Plato and Aristotle did, believed that human beings had "evolved" from fish (which is correct according to modern Biology)? Say hello to Darwin for me.

    As for your question, he believed the apeiron to be the basis of all things because of the axioms I mentioned above. Most of the pre-Socratics believed that the universe was comprised of the same "Stuff" but just in different forms (which really isn't that far off the mark).

    --shrugs-- Who knows what was in the "Riddler's" head?

    The pre-Scoratics, though not as widely studied or influential, are much more in line with modern though than are Plato and Aristotle. They upheld the modern tenets of reductionism and mechanism, something Plato and Aristotle refused to see the beauty in.

    For instance, Aristarchus believed the earth revolved around the sun in an eliptical orbit. Anaximander, as I said above, believed in human evolution for rather ingenius and persipicacious reasons, Eudoxus and Archimedes invented a rudimentary version of calculus 1,000 years before Newton/Leibniz. Eratosthenes made a very accurate trignometric calculation of the earth's circumference. The list goes on and on. Plato and Aristotle killed this revolution and set back science 2,000 years.
  5. Jul 5, 2004 #4


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    While it is not very accurate to name Archimedes as pre-socratic, it is true that he gives credit to Democritus for some formulae, particularly the ones for volume of cone and pyramid.
  6. Jul 5, 2004 #5


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    Hmm I remember a "time travel" book where a roman soldier was brought to the XXth century. Everyone was expecting him to panic when entering in a car, and indeed he almost does, then he asks "how does this magic work", and the driver explains about exploding petrol and turning gears. So the roman soldier answers "ah, well, sure it is another of these greek inventions, isn't it? I have seen similar gadgets in Alexandria..."
  7. Jul 6, 2004 #6
    Well if you want to be nitpicking then it isn't correct to name Parmenides, Democritus and numerous other commonly referred to "Pre-Socratics" as Pre-Socratic. Socrates lived during the lives of all of the above and studied under Parmenides as a kid.

    "Pre-Socratic" is simply a generalization to separate the big three from the rest of Greek philosophy.
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