What were the main ideas of the Pre-Socratics?

Thales (c. 624—c. 545 b.c.e.), Anaximander (c. 610—545 b.c.e.), and Anaximenes (c. 580—500 b.c.e.), who were all from the city of Miletus, thought that the natural world was made up of one kind of material, such as water, the "unbounded," or air. (The "unbounded" probably meant something like what we mean by something that is infinite.) Pythagoras thought that everything was made up of number. This did not mean that everything was based on mathematics, as we might think, but rather that numbers themselves were real things that existed in everything else that existed. Heraclitus (c. 540—480 b.c.e.) noted that the world and things in it are constantly in flux, and he claimed that change was more important than what the world was made up of. Parmenides (c. 515—450 b.c.e.), on the other hand, thought that change requires that things come into existence from non-being, and for that reason he believed that change was not possible or real. Heraclitus and other Milesians held that the real stuff or substance that makes up the world cannot change, so that to account for change there has to be a number of substances making up the world. Empedocles (c. 495—435 b.c.e.) built on this idea to posit the four elements: earth, wind, water, and fire. Anaxagoras (c. 500—428 b.c.e.) thought there were more than four basic elements— perhaps as many as an infinite number. Democratus (c. 460—371 b.c.e.) posited that everything is made up of atoms.

What did the dialogue between the Pre-Socratics reveal about their philosophy?

The philosophy of the Pre-Socratics can be viewed as one big intellectual conversation. We can see the historical development of their ideas and a kind of progress in their thinking over time if we consider them in (more or less) chronological order. A pattern was thus developed as each generation of students carefully examined and criticized the ideas of their teachers, as well as the rivals of their teachers. Ever since the Pre-Socratics, philosophers have thought about the ideas of their predecessors and tried to perfect or disprove them.

What was Thales' contribution as the first philosopher in Western history?

It's not the content of Thales' (c. 624—c. 545 b.c.e.) thought that proved to be so important, but rather his willingness to boldly think about the whole of physical existence. Thales' home was Miletus, which had strong ties to Egypt. Like the Egyptians, he believed that the earth floated on water and that water or moisture was the primary substance or stuff of the world. Aristotle thought that Thales had been impressed by the importance of water and fluids for life generally. Indeed, Thales seems to have thought that life is present in every part of the universe and that it was divine; hence, he is said to have remarked, "Everything is full of gods." Thales' most striking and novel insight was that the movements and qualities of water could be used to explain the behavior of living things, as well as natural events. The behavior of water was, in

What was the gossip about Thales?

Not only did Thales rely on water or moisture to explain the universe. When Thales was not philosophizing, he was shrewd about practical affairs. In a dry year, after he predicted good weather for the next season's olive crop, he bought up all the olive presses. He was said to have made a fortune when the bumper crop came, and he was the only one who could process the olives into oil. It was reported, doubtlessly ironically, that Thales died of dehydration while watching an athletic event.

Socrates, in Plato's Theatetus, tells of "the clever witty Thracian handmaid who mocked Thales when he fell into a well when gazing up at the stars. She said that he was so eager to know what was going on in heaven that he could not see what was before his feet." Socrates goes on to say: "This is a jest which is equally applicable to all philosophers. For the philosopher is wholly unacquainted with his next-door neighbor; he is ignorant, not only of what he is doing, but he hardly knows whether he is a man or an animal; he is searching into the essence of man."

that way, a primary moving principle (a primary moving principle was a thing that was responsible for the movement of all other things), at the same time that water was held to be the primary "stuff" of the universe.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Next >