D. Clint Johnson
12 April 2013
The Pre-socratics: Thales Thales, born in Miletus in the 6th century B.C.E was credited for many things in western philosophy and history including developing the scientific theory and being the first to state that the world is round instead of flat as most people thought at the time. Thales chose to explore and think about things analytically and studied many different things including astronomy, mathematics, and of course philosophy. One of the things that Thales focused on the most in his studies was answering many questions about the Earth and things such as how it was supported, its size and timing solstices. For most of his life and philosophical career Thales tended to focus on nature as well as the Earth and how it cohabitated with the people living in it. Although Thales focused on a lot of things I will focus mainly on his thoughts about nature and how that and the universe cohabitate with living man. Thales enjoyed speaking often about nature and the universe and how man was able to fit into the equation and how they lived in harmony with one another. One of the main theories that he spoke to and came to the conclusion about was that the Earth was indeed round instead of flat. While many modern philosophers stated that “…Thales regarded the earth as flat, thin, and circular” (O’Grady), it was stated by Aristotle in some of his early writings that:
“…may have attributed knowledge of the sphericity of the earth to Thales, an opinion which was later reported by Aëtius (Aët. III. 9-10) and followed by Ps.-Plutarch (Epit. III.10). Aristotle wrote that some think it spherical, others flat and shaped like a drum (Arist. Cael. 293 b33-294 a1), and then attributed belief in a flat earth to Anaximenes, Anaxagoras, and Democritus (Arist. Cael. 294 b14-15). If following chronological order, Aristotle’s words, ‘some think it spherical’, referred to the theory of Thales”. He was the first person to attest to that fact and it was amazing that he was able to figure all of these things out without any way of traveling from one side of the ocean to the other to see if it was actually round or not. Thales also spoke about the fact that water is the beginning and ending of all of both livings and non-living things in the universe. In fact, the main theme that Thales spoke about and believed in was that water was the root of everything and that “…water had the potentiality to change to the myriad things of which the universe is made, the botanical, physiological, meteorological and geological states” (O’Grady). For water to truly be the root of everything in the universe and be able to change into anything physically that it needed to was a bold statement to make, but many of the philosophers of the time believed that different elements were responsible for creating all things in the world including Anaximenes who believed that air was the fundamental principle, Heraclitus who believed that fire was the fundamental principle of the universe, and Anaximander who believed that the apeiron (a non-perceptible ultimate being) was the fundamental object of all life form (Wildman).
Thales believed that water was in charge of forming all things and could therefore be broken apart and divided to create and form different things. He was also under the belief that the Earth floated on water as well. Aristotle wrote in “Metaphysics” that Thales was under the belief that “…everything comes out of water and that the earth floats on water” (Philosophers). Aristotle often studied the work of Thales and relied heavily on his findings for his own work. Another philosopher who believed that Thales was correct about water being the root of everything in the world including how earthquakes came about through water was Seneca who stated that “…the philosopher used the floating earth theory to explain earthquakes. This means that Thales of Miletus rejected the supernatural and mystical theories