McIntyre, M 11
29 October 2014 Essay 1 Archê is the Greek word for first principle, and Aristotle said the Milesian philosophers concentrated their efforts on finding out the archê of all things, which they consider to be matter or hulê.1 In what follows I will explain the archê, given by each of the three Milesians and explain how each tried to improve on his predecessor. For the Presocratics the physis was either some basic constituent or some law-like pattern. The first three philosophers from Miletus were Thales, Anaximander and Anaximines. The very first among the Milesian philosophers was Thales, 625 BCE, who believed that water was the basic material of all things. Thales didn’t write anything himself, and what we know of him comes from later sources. He’s known for his studies in astronomy, geometry, and engineering, and according to one story, he successfully predicted an eclipse of the sun in the year 585 BCE. A common stereotype of philosophers is that their skills cannot be applied to the real world, and Thales proves them wrong by amassing wealth from investing in olive oil. Through his skill in astronomy, he calculated that there would be a large harvest of olives that year. Then, he put deposits on all the olive oil businesses, which he was able to purchase at a low price, since there was no one to bid against him. When the season came for making oil, people wanted the rights, and he sold them all at once for whatever price he desired. The best accounts of Thales were from Aristotle. Thales chose water as the principle physis of nature. According to Aristotle: Thales said the principle was water, because he declared that the earth rests on water.2 He got this idea from observing that the nutrition of all things is moist, and that heat itself is generated from the moist and kept alive by it. In addition, the fact that the seeds of all things have a moist nature, and that water is the origin of the nature of moist things justifies his arguments that the world derives from water, the world rests on water, the world is full of gods, and soul produces motion.
Following Thales, was his student and also a Milesian named Anaximander, 547 BCE, who believed the physis of everything was an apeiron known as the boundless. Anaximander was credited as an astronomer, made the first time-mechanism, and was supposedly the first person who drew a map of the earth. Anaximander said that the first element of things was the boundless. Like Thales Anaximander believed heavens come to exist because soul produces motion.3 Anaximander agreed with Thales that there was a single source of all things, but he argued that water was not the fundamental element. He, specifically, argued that none of the traditional four elements could be the physis. Aristotle explains that, according to Anaximander, there is a body distinct from the elements, the boundless, which is not air or water. Anaximander agreed with Thales that their must be one fundamental material, but he disagreed with the idea that it had to be one of the four elements. Anaximander actually made a cosmological model, in which there is initially nothing except the apeiron, but then different elements spontaneously begin to separate from the apeiron, whether Anaximander means that everything is fundamentally is made up of apeiron, or just