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Who is Anaximander in philosophy

  philosophy of Anaximander (610 - 546)

Anaximander was one of the earliest Greek philosophers to make bold and creative contributions to both early science and philosophy. He formulated theories around subjects such as mathematics, astronomy, cosmology, and physics which became the foundation on which much of subsequent Greek philosophy was built. He is credited with discovering the modern notion of an infinite universe populated with stars and other celestial bodies. Additionally, he championed a belief in cosmic justice, which argued that natural forces like wind and earthquakes could not solely be attributed to divine intervention. He postulated that nature followed its own laws rather than being guided arbitrarily by gods or fate.

philosophy of Anaximander and who is anaximander

Who is Anaximander in philosophy

Anaximander, the second philosopher of the Milesian school, is much more interesting than Thales
 He was an exceedingly original and audacious thinker. He was probably born about 611 B.C. and died about 547. He was an inhabitant of Miletus, and is said to have been a disciple of Thales. It will be seen, thus, that he was a younger contemporary of Thales. He was born at the time that Thales was flourishing, and was about a generation younger. He was the first Greek to write a philosophic treatise, which however has been unfortunately lost. He was eminent for his astronomical and geographical knowledge, and in this connection was the first to construct a map. Details of his life are not known.

He held that all things come from a single primal substance, but that it is not water, as Thales held, or any other of the substances that we know. It is infinite, eternal and ageless, and "it encompasses all the worlds" for he thought our world only one of many. 

This is a remarkable leap from the idea that the arche must consist of some form of matter. Unlike his teacher, he wrote a book, ‘On Nature’, Peri Phuseos, and a quotation from it by Simplicius counts as the very first recorded words of philosophy.

Greeks people said that Anaximander is master of Pythagoras

Anaximander theories

Anaximander's exploration into cosmology, the universe and its origins had a great influence on Pre-Socratic philosophy. He proposed that everything began with an infinite substance known as “Apeiron”, or the indefinite which served as the fundamental source of all existence. This led to him rejecting the idea of gods controlling nature and introduced a new idea that everything in nature could be explained through mathematics and observation. This opened up a whole new realm of philosophical possibilities for later thinkers.

Anaximander arche

Anaximander theory of universe Aperion is central to the cosmological theory created by Anaximander in the 6th century BCE.

Anaximander is credited with being the founder of physical science, introducing his own theories about the relationships between the elements and their movements. He was also one of the first thinkers to explore questions of moral and ethical behaviour and to consider cause and effect in an effort to understand how things work. His unique contribution helped fuel a rapid expansion of understanding about nature, physics, and humanity that continues to this day.

Anaximander’s most distinctive thesis, however, concerns the arche. He said that the apeiron, ‘the infinite’ or ‘indefinite’, is that from which everything comes into being and into which everything finally reverts, by a process which is like reciprocity or compensation. Those famous first ever words of philosophy, as quoted by Simplicius, express this idea: ‘where things have their origin there too their passing away occurs according to necessity; they pay justice and reparation to one another for their injustice in conformity with the ordinance of time.’

 The concept at work is that nature operates according to laws, and when they are disturbed ‘reparation’ sets in to restore their proper operation. When ‘justice’ is interpreted as ‘balance’ the point becomes yet clearer. His view is reported at more length by Plutarch thus: ‘the infinite is the universal cause of the generation and destruction of the universe. From it the heavens were separated off and in general all the worlds, infinite in number. He asserted that destruction, and, much earlier, generation occur from time immemorial, all the same things being renewed.’

The primal substance is transformed into the various substances with which we are familiar, and these are transformed into each other. As to this, he makes an important and remarkable statement: "Into that from which things take their rise they pass away once more, as is ordained, for they make reparation and satisfaction to one another for their injustice according to the ordering of time."

Anaximander had an argument to prove that the primal substance could not be water, or any other known element. If one of these were primal, it would conquer the others.  these known elements are in opposition to one another. Air is cold, water is moist, and fire is hot. "And therefore, if any one of them were infinite, the rest would have ceased to be by this time." The primal substance, therefore, must be neutral in this cosmic strife.

The idea of justice, both cosmic and human, played a part in Greek religion and philosophy which is not altogether easy for a modern to understand; indeed our word "justice" hardly expresses what is meant, but it is difficult to find any other word that would be preferable. 

The thought which Anaximander is expressing seems to be this: there should be a certain proportion of fire, of earth, and of water in the world, but each element (conceived as a god) is perpetually attempting to enlarge its empire. But there is a kind of necessity or natural law which perpetually redresses the balance; where there has been fire, for example, there are ashes, which are earth. This conception of justice of not overstepping eternally fixed bounds was one of the most profound of Greek beliefs. The gods were subject to justice just as much as men were, but this supreme power was not itself personal, and was not a supreme God. Anaximander had an argument to prove that the primal substance could not be water, or any other known element. If one of these were primal, it would conquer the others.

Anaximander Evolution

Anaximander also developed a origin of life theory about the origin and evolution of living beings. In the beginning the earth was fluid and in the gradual drying up by evaporation of this fluid, living beings were produced from the heat and moisture. In the first instance these beings were of a low order. They gradually evolved into successively higher and higher organisms by means of adaptation to their environment. Man was in the first instance a fish living in the water. The gradual drying up left parts of the earth high and dry, and marine animals migrated to the land, and their fins by adaptation became members fitted for movement on land. The resemblance of this primitive theory to modern theories of evolution is remarkable. It is easy to exaggerate its importance, but it is at any rate clear that Anaximander had, by a happy guess, hit upon the central idea of adaptation of species to their environment.

There was an eternal motion, in the course of which was brought about the origin of the worlds.  There was evolution also in the animal kingdom. Living creatures arose from the moist element as it was evaporated by the sun. Man, like every other animal, was descended from fishes. He must be derived from animals of a different sort, because, owing to his long infancy, he could not have survived, originally, as he is now.

Anaximander map

What did Anaximander discover

 Anaximander was full of scientific curiosity. He is said to have been the first man who made a map. he is said to have predicted an earthquake. He held that the earth is shaped like a cylinder. He is variously reported as saying the sun is as large as the earth, or twenty-seven times as large, or twenty-eight times as large.

The teaching of Anaximander exhibits a marked advance beyond the position of Thales. Thales had taught that the first principle of things is water. The formless matter of Anaximander is, philosophically, an advance on this, showing the operation of thought and abstraction. Secondly, Anaximander had definitely attempted to apply this idea, and to derive from it the existent world. 

Wherever he is original, he is scientific and rationalistic.

Anaximander's ideas had a profound impact on both ancient and modern philosophy, inspiring new ways of looking at the world around us. His unique perspective helped shape the thinking of scholars that followed him, from Socrates to Plato and Aristotle. By introducing new theories and insights, he challenged prevailing wisdom and encouraged others to think independently and investigate their own conclusions. As a result, his work still resonates today as we continue to explore the world and our place in it.

External link


A History of Western Philosophy Book by Bertrand Russell
Graham, D. W. (ed.), The Texts of Early Greek Philosophy: The Complete Fragments and Selected Testimonies of the Major Presocratics, 2 vols., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010
Barnes, J., The Presocratic Philosophers, 2nd edn, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982
Hussey, E., The Presocratics, London: Duckworth, 1995 Kirk, G. S., J. E. Raven and M. Schofield, The Presocratic Philosophers,
2nd edn, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984 Osborne, C., Presocratic Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004


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