Presocratic monists

Door Mbk282 gepubliceerd op Saturday 11 January 17:13

There are three presocratic philosophers who are considered to be monists. This means that they believe that everything that is, is made out of the same substance. Those three philosophers are Thales, Aneximander and Anaximenes. Tradition has it that they are all from a the Greek town Miletus and that Aneximander was taught by Thales and later became a teacher of Anaximenes.

           They all struggled with the same questions but they came up with different answers. They tried to figure out why things that are, are. They tried to figure out what the substance, or archè, of all things was. Thales thought this archè to be water. Aristoteles later speculated on why he thought this: “He may have gotten this idea from seeing that the nourishment of all things is moist” (The Milesians, 11A12).

           Aneximander thought differently: “This [the infinite, apeiron], does not have an archè, but this seems to be the archè of the rest, and to contain all things and steer all things, as all declare who do not fashion other causes aside from the infinite” (The Milesians,12A15) . This means that he reasoned that the full capacities of the archè could not be captured by the definition of water, or in fact by any definition, because every definition of the archè contributes properties to it in one way or another. And having one property necessarily excludes having another property, for something that is wet can never be dry, nor can something red be blue. And aneximander explains that since the archè is the foundation of all things, it must be able to have all properties. Therefore it must be limitless. And since any definition implies the exclusion of one or more properties, or limits the archè, the archè cannot have a definition. Aneximander calls this limitless and undefinable archè ‘apeiron’.

           Following him was Anaxmenes.  Anaximenes criticized Aneximander for thinking the archè had to be something without limits that cannot be defined. Anaximenes claimed that something that is not bounded or definable in any way, is not at all. He therefore came back to a similar concept for the archè as Thales; he thought it was air*. He preferred air over water because thought the breathing (the expanding and compressing) of air could explain the change we perceive in reality. He stated: “Becoming finer [the air], it comes to be fire; being condensed, it comes to be wind, then cloud, ; and when still further condensed, it becomes water, then earth, then stones, and the rest come to be from these.” (the Milesians, 13A6).

           So in conclusion there were three pre-Socratic monists; Thales, Aneximander and Aneximenes. They were monists because they thought that everything is made out of the same archè, their archès respectively being water, apeiron and air.

* Aneximenes is not talking about the air that is everywhere around us, he is talking about a thick, mist-like kind of air: aer. 







A presocratic Reader: The Milesians, 11A12, 12A15 and 13A6.

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