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He predicted an eclipse of the sun that occurred in 585 BC.
I would say perhaps he "explained" the eclipse. There is a very interesting article: Electronic Antiquities Volume III, Number 7
about this subject. Any astronomers out there who have run this eclipse data? Anyhow, even to have given a rational explanation must have been quite an amazing feat in its time.
What we know of Thales is large anecdotal, but from these we see him as an archetype of the new thinking associated with the Pre-Socratics in general that began the separation of philosophy from religion and cosmological perspectives.
I love this Eastern, Western distinction. Not to distract from the topic of Thales but what draws the distinction. Is it a line through the earth's crust, the one that seperates Europe from Asia, a form that derives from the building of a democracy being Greece and all that followed her footsteps, or was it something as subtle as hatred of all things non Christian. My other reason for asking this is, what do we call any philosophy that begins in Africa.
The apophthegm, "know yourself," is his; though Antisthenes in his Successions, says that it belongs to Phemonoe, but that Chilon appropriated it as his own. - Diogenes Laertius from Lives of the Philosophers
Unfortunately, that's it for Thales, because the rest of his philosophy lay in the idea that the world was created from a single material substance: water.
Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
Genesis seems to suggest that water is the first principle as well.
Sounds like a first principle to me.
Then we have the floods of Noah as a recreation of the world. The world is returned to the first principle of water and then formed again. And there is an echo of this idea to be heard in the Christian tradition of baptism.
So the idea of water as first principle was floating around the Mediterranean when Thales was around. Thales was really just giving a more scientific sounding spin to an much older more mythological idea. or maybe scholars have been putting a scientific spin on Thales.
The birth of philosophy can be interpreted as a qualitative step, moving, but never completing, its way from the Myth to the Logos.
One fundamental premise of the ancient Myth is that reality functions in a very similar way to that of human experience. If, for example, humans come into existence by birth and procreation, then, likewise, so does the cosmos. If humans are angered, yet their anger can often be appeased by kind words, groveling and gifts, then so too the gods.
The ultimate causal subject known to man is himself, and if there are events which cannot be explained by man's own intentionality, then the Myth offers up intentionality to the gods, the spirits and to nature. Essentially, then, the Myth works by analogy and it was the subversive nature of ancient philosophy, its absolute radicality, to question and oppose this basic assumption of Myth.
The ancient philosophers sought the first principle - that which explains or causes - in the arche, and the arche, contrary to Myth, was assumed to be not of some human, divine quality, but something more material, something like matter, or substance.
The ancient philosophers sought Being: that which determines the origin and nature of all things, or, again, that which is the most basic structure from which all details of existence are set, and they believed that Being's most basic essence was material.