Thales: An Introduction

  1. Philosophy Forum
  2. » Thales of Miletos
  3. » Thales: An Introduction

Get Email Updates Email this Topic Print this Page

Reply Sun 27 Jul, 2008 06:01 pm
Thales (circa 624 BC-546 BC) is the first known Western philosopher. He is most famous for demanding a non-theist explanation for nature.

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.
 
Deftil
 
Reply Sat 2 Aug, 2008 03:59 am
@Victor Eremita,
He's also referred to as Thales of Miletus, as he was from Miletus in what is now known as Turkey, which is east of Greece.

He predicted an eclipse of the sun that occurred in 585 BC.

More on Thales:
Thales - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Thales of Miletus [Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy]

http://www.daviddarling.info/images/Thales.jpg
 
CarolA
 
Reply Sun 21 Sep, 2008 08:14 pm
@Deftil,
Deftil wrote:


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.
 
Deftil
 
Reply Mon 22 Sep, 2008 02:23 am
@CarolA,
CarolA;25371 wrote:
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.

Well, many sources have passed on the idea that he "predicted" it, or that he "predicted it according to Herodotus", but that of course doesn't mean it really happened. Your point and that of the paper that it probably didn't happen that way is definitely a good one.
 
CarolA
 
Reply Mon 22 Sep, 2008 05:54 am
@Deftil,
Yes, Herodotus mentions this as it was apparently the cause of two opposing armies stopping their fight, but he just says the day turned to night (so we guess this means an eclipse), he also says that Thales worked out navigation routes so I presume he was quite skilled at taking readings of the sun and stars like mariners did before GPS!
But whether or not he could "predict" an eclipse without understanding the paths of the earth and moon in relation to the sun, he still stands as a very important early "scientist", as opposed to the belief in mythological explanations for natural events.
 
jgweed
 
Reply Mon 22 Sep, 2008 07:08 am
@CarolA,
What we know of Thales is largely 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.
 
Victor Eremita
 
Reply Mon 22 Sep, 2008 08:37 pm
@jgweed,
jgweed wrote:
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.


That's pretty much what Thales is all about, IMO anyway.
 
jgweed
 
Reply Sun 2 Aug, 2009 07:00 pm
@Victor Eremita,
Two accounts, probably spurious, but nevertheless telling, show Thales as a "typical" philosopher even then (see Kirk and Raven):

Plato (Theaetetus 174A) relates that a servant laughed at Thales for falling into a well while intently gazing at the stars.

Aristotle (Politics 1259a9) relates that when reproached for his poverty, Thales borrowed money in the winter and secured all the olive-presses in the area, his observations predicting a large harvest. When it came to pass that the crop was bountiful, he rented the presses at a good rate and made a large profit. Aristotle writes that this "demonstrated that it is easy for a philosopher to be rich, if they wish, but it is not in this that they are interested."
 
urangutan
 
Reply Mon 3 Aug, 2009 03:20 am
@Victor Eremita,
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.
 
longknowledge
 
Reply Mon 30 Nov, 2009 11:34 pm
@urangutan,
urangutan;81045 wrote:
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.


Egyptian! Check it out.
 
Deckard
 
Reply Mon 21 Dec, 2009 05:35 am
@longknowledge,
Huh, interesting, some say the "know thyself" maxim was his.

Quote:
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
 
The Jester phil
 
Reply Mon 21 Dec, 2009 07:06 am
@Victor Eremita,
Victor Eremita;19904 wrote:

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.


Which I consider to be true, for water created life, all living beings - thus I would say the world as we know it. So yes, the world was created from that single material.
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Mon 21 Dec, 2009 08:20 pm
@Victor Eremita,
Just trying to reduce the world to one thing is still an advance, in its way. It sets the stage for more and more abstract conceptions of this one ingredient. Isn't a kind of forerunner to saying "the universe is made of energy vibrating at different frequencies"? I'm not saying I "believe" either, but I can see the value in the search for an elemental substance.

But "know thyself" is probably more important.
 
Deckard
 
Reply Mon 21 Dec, 2009 10:47 pm
@Reconstructo,
Genesis seems to suggest that water is the first principle as well.

Quote:
Genesis 1:2
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.


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.
 
jgweed
 
Reply Tue 22 Dec, 2009 07:08 am
@Victor Eremita,
What we know of Thales comes from bits and pieces either "quoted" or discussed in later Greek and Latin writers, so his actual philosophy is a matter of great conjecture even by them. Like many of the Presokratics, Thales did not make the "leap" to philosophical discourse, but blended in a transitional way what we would want to call giving an account with figurative and poetical metaphors.

Our primary understanding of Thales water principle comes from Aristotle (Metaphysics,983b6) in his discussion of earlier philosophers who "thought that principles in the form of matter were the only principles of all things." What is generally seen as significant in Thales's thinking is that he looked for a natural rather than supernatural or mythological explanations for causes.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Tue 22 Dec, 2009 08:20 am
@Deckard,
Deckard;113425 wrote:
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.



As for Thales, the story goes that it was after he fell into a well that he popped out and and announced that all was water. Thus, he provided the very first example in philosophical history of the fallacy of hasty generalization. It is that for which he should be famous.
 
Strato of Ga
 
Reply Tue 25 May, 2010 05:14 pm
@Victor Eremita,
And Strato of Lampascus also encourages the use of the presumpton of naturalism as Thales does rather than any divine intent. Both then are ahead of Aristotle with his teleology behind Nature.:brickwall:
 
qualia
 
Reply Tue 25 May, 2010 07:47 pm
@Strato of Ga,
I would love to fill this in with pre-Thales thinking and the such, to get back to our roots, but it doesn't seem the right thing to do in this thread. Nevertheless, if you've got a few minutes bear with me....

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.

In other words, reality could be explained by means of its materiality. Here, we witness with the birth of philosophy, a paradigmatic shift in thinking which can be offered in no less terms than the radical superlative.

The ever moving step from Myth to Logos can be seen taking place in Miletus around 600BCE. Miletus was a prosperous, international market place on the west coast of Turkey. It was organised as a Polis which allowed a degree of free thought to develop.

Miletus had a slave based economy - something absolutely essential to early philosophy - governed by impersonal and uniform laws and not the arbitrary acts of some despot or religious clique. It was a buzzing port and open to more experimentation than the sluggish metropolis that was Athens.

Certain men, the citizens, were freed from the shackles of labour, they had free time and some of them wanted to know things. They started asking questions, and above all - for the interest of early philosophy - they began asking themselves:

"what is the arche? What is Being? What is the most basic substance, the fundamental and most simple element and first principle of all existing things?"

And with these questions, man began a new transcendence, the moving beyond self, beyond the world of myth, beyond that world of practical self interest, and wished to know simply for its own sake. The birth of philosophy was beginning.

When Thales affirmed that 'everything is water', he might have been saying something like: nature has a natural explanation based on a very concrete substance that everyone can observe.

Semen, blood, sap, and the basic fluids of life are all humid; all living things depend on water; water passes through all the visible states of creation known at the time (solid, liquid and gas), so water must be the first basic principle of Being.

This is not meant in the sense of creation, but as the arche, the substance of which everything is composed. This is essentially a scientific inquiry and perspective, and thus, Thales is considered the first, or one of the first, scientists known to man. Minimally, Thales is where philosophy begins for most Westerners.

Probably influenced by the ancient Greek myth of Ocean (the son of Ouranos-heaven and Gaia-earth), for Thales the first principle, the arche, Being itself is a matter called Water. This means that the origin of all things is merely the modification and transformation of water, and in the world of ever becoming water is the unchanging substance.

It follows, that what we see as change is merely an illusion derived from our senses, but beyond appearance is a greater reality, fixed and immutable. This perspective, a completely new paradigm in thought, one in which our senses must not be trusted, the other seeking the grand mover, the first principle, the arche, would play a massive role on the thinking and ideas generated by Western kind.

Thales also believed that all things are 'full of gods' or souls and what he probably meant by this was that water was the first principle, the grand mover (god) which shares of itself in all individual things. Participation in the first principle is the cause of all motion and change and thus manisfestations of that one god, Water.

We can imagine that once Thales offered his theory on Being and the cosmos, ancient Greek debate probably centered around the problem of opposites.

That is, if any of the elements were infinite, and thus by ancient Greek reasoning, divine, this element would remain eternal and unchanging. So how can things, the opposites, arise from it? The infinite element, in this case water, would be everything and all the other elements would either not be able to come from it, or if they could, they would ultimately be destroyed by it, for this single element would be the most powerful. Such an idea is also alluded to in Aristotle's Physics (Book 3, Section 5).

Clearly, a new theory into the arche was needed, but not before Thales set the playing field, essentially, the search for a unifying cause or principle which lay beyond all the diverse occurring events and existing things in the cosmos.

Needless to say, the traditional notions of Occidental science would go down one path, and Occidental religion another in their search and understanding of this singular first principle, but both paths appear to begin to take root in those early debates established by Thales and his contemporaries in Miletus.
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Tue 25 May, 2010 10:55 pm
@qualia,
qualia;168853 wrote:

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.

First, the whole post was great. Thank you, my friend.

How interesting, the leap described above. And indeed, quite radical. And what then? Philosophy at some point moves being away from material into something like mind? And in some cases to a monism, a nondual substance on which distinctions are imposed? Or is there a duality of concept and non-concept? Number and that which is numbered? Words and that which words refer to? If any "thing"...

Anyway, great post.
 
Strato of Ga
 
Reply Wed 26 May, 2010 03:27 pm
@Victor Eremita,
jgweed,yea! That's my inspiration. I also call myself Thales.
 
 

 
  1. Philosophy Forum
  2. » Thales of Miletos
  3. » Thales: An Introduction
Copyright © 2019 MadLab, LLC :: Terms of Service :: Privacy Policy :: Page generated in 0.03 seconds on 05/20/2019 at 11:42:32