Great Influence of Anaximander on Greek Thought

Topics: Virtue Ethics

The following sample essay describes Anaximander’s great influence on Greek thought. Read the introduction, body and conclusion of the essay, scroll down.

Anaximander, a Milesian philosopher, was the first great influencer of Greek thought. He traveled, and presented his discoveries from the outside world to Greece. He is sometimes credited with the discovery of the gnomon, a type of sundial telling hours of the day, equinoxes, and solstices; however, it was most likely a transplanted invention from the Babylonians. He is also said to have constructed a celestial globe mapping the heavens.

Anaximander can be considered the first geographer and although his maps suffered massive criticism from later philosophers, he completed a map of the world based on his own travels to Sparta and the Black Sea, and upon conversations with merchants and travelers. Anaximander also created a model of the universe using a geometric structure and basing measurements on multiples of three. He conjectured that the heavenly bodies were seen when fire showed through vents in the heavens.

By using this single supposition, he was able to explain phenomena such as eclipses by a single occurrence: the blockage of heavenly vents.

He can be considered the first metaphysician because he rationalized and hypothesized about the Aperion as the Arche. Unlike Thales, Anaximander speculated that the Aperion differed from the elementals and reasoned instead that since it was the fundamental source of all things and surrounded the heavens and worlds, it could not be any one of those things or possess their characteristics.

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This is why the earth does not move in space, because the Aperion has an “equal relation to the extremes” and there is no reason for it to move.

According to Anaximander, the Aperion must be spatially unlimited because it environs the universe. As an unlimited material, if the Aperion possessed a definite set of characteristics, it would obliterate everything with opposing characteristics. It must perpetually be in motion for change to occur in the world. It is ageless and eternal, because if there was a time when the Aperion was not, then it must have come from something other than itself, and as the inspiration for the creation of all things, this would be impossible.

Anaximander explains the existence of the world not through traditional divinities and mythology, but rather by elements separating off from the Aperion. He found explanations for the world that were logical and uncomplicated. Anaximander taught that either of any two opposites can overwhelm the other, but share equal influence, although they are constantly in conflict. When one gains greater power, it will eventually pay the penalty to the other, keeping the world in balance. Heraclitus was the dark, riddling philosopher who expounded the theories of eternal change.

Heraclitus was very critical of past philosophers and peers. The former he condemned for valuing learning over insight, while the latter he denounced for being unreceptive to unfamiliar concepts, not caring for truth, misusing their senses and intelligence, and erratically following tradition and authority. Heraclitus was the first philosopher to connect human values to philosophy. He transcended physical theories in order to discover principled appliances and metaphysical fundamentals.

He went beyond the Milesian philosophers’ study of the material foundation of the world to the rhythm of nature affecting the Logos. However, he did not believe, as Anaximander did, that opposites were in a universal unrest, but rather that they existed in a law like flux and transformational uniformity. For example, the sea water, which is most polluted for humans, but most pure for the sea creatures; it gives both death and life in different respects. He viewed conflict as a necessity in life, but not as an impediment to living.

He stated that it is the inevitable law of nature for things that are hot to become cold and that since they are already hot, they cannot become hot. The potential for both extremes always exists within the same object. Heraclitus associated Logos with fire, the dramatic, violent, hot element of gradual change. However he also believed that fire, water, and earth were constantly changing into one another. This idea of constant motion of the elements reflects Anaximander’s. He uses the example of a river: if the river stops flowing and changing it fails to remain a river, and becomes a lake.

Just so, if the Kosmos ever stopped changing it would lose its identity and fail to exist as we know it. The existence of Logos keeps the world in order. Thus, he presents his idea of the Logos not only as elemental, but also relating to justice, law, and God. He criticized people for looking at the world as made of individual parts instead of looking at all the separate parts as they relate to the whole which they all come from. By fully grasping what the whole is, we can see the way individual things interact within it. Heraclitus put much emphasis on logic and relying upon the senses.

He said that most people live in a private dream world, and while they are physically all in the same reality, they are not conscious of it. He disvalues things taught in favor of things learned for oneself through experience. He particularly valued knowledge gained through sight, but he warned that when the soul is barbaric, the person’s reception will be skewed. The highest virtue that Heraclitus extols is that of understanding. Although only divinities can have complete insight into nature, is a virtue humans must work toward.

He uses the Logos as fire to argue morals. Souls are made of fire, and to die is to be extinguished or become wet. He warns against drinking to excess because it moistens the soul; much the same, when a person is sick, it indicates that their soul is moist. Greeks believed it valiant to die in battle, with a fiery soul. Thus it was shameful to die of disease because the soul would remain impure. Heraclitus stated that the Logos was a wholesome cosmic fire and the fieriest soul was the wise soul.

He warned that it was the individual’s character and actions that determined his or her fate, rather than gods from any mystery religion. Parmenides was the first philosopher to combine the analytical logic with philosophy. He branched off from the theories of Anaximander, Heraclitus, and Pythagoras. Like Heraclitus, he emphasized the importance of learning the truth about existence and nature, except he believed the way to reach that understanding was through reason separate from the senses, because humans tend to deem whatever seems to be as unconditional reality.

This principle led to forms of rationalism and influenced Plato’s writing. Expounding upon Pythagorean thought, Parmenides found explanations for the universe that were mathematical and logical. He also uses verse to present his philosophy, reiterating Greek tradition and thought. He plays up the images of chariots and wise steeds, referencing Achilles’ in Homer’s Iliad, he alludes to Hesiod’s work when describing Chaos, and although he doesn’t use the term god, Parmenides employs Anaximander’s Justice and opposition in his tale.

In the poem, Parmenides presents three possibilities for reality and the state of the universe. The first way is to believe that everything is, the second is to believe that nothing is, and the third is to believe that everything is and is not. The way of Objective Truth is both unswerving and coherent, the Unthinkable Way is consistent but incoherent, and the way of Subjective Belief is incomprehensible and incoherent. (The first and second ways are both enlightened, but should not carry the same merit. ) Humans often fail to see the first way as feasible because they rely upon their senses.

Parmenides argued that if something can be conceived, that on some level of existence it exists because it has properties that can be described. This is why the second way is incorrect. By talking about nothing, it is described with certain attributes and, itself, becomes something. There are benefits to the way of Subjective Belief, in looking at the universe and truth objectively. The fallacy comes when people on this path try to understand themselves or their immediate surroundings. The Kosmos does exist independently, but not to the omission of all other potential Kosmoi.

The objective truth is that conceivably all Kosmoi are similarly existent, therefore Parmenides concludes that the Plenum is continuous, undivided, imperishable, timeless, motionless, and unchanging, which is utterly divergent from Heraclitus’ view of an ever-changing Aperion. Parmenides’ view of the world can be compared to a block of marble. It is possible to create anything out of that block until it is changed and one chunk is carved off. The possibility to create any number of designs is immediately eliminated. Therefore, since it is possible for every imaginable universe to exist, the Plenum can never change.

It is also contingent on properties of time rather than space. >Parmenides’ Plenum was made up from two opposites: fire which gives light and translucent, and night which is dark and dense. Much as Anaximander described it, Parmenides’ world was made from these two elements separating off in a type of vortex, and combining with each other; however they can never become one another. In Plato’s Meno, Socrates shows his idea of virtue and knowledge by questioning Meno, a high-class, educated man, and an uneducated slave.

He begins speaking as if he knows nothing about virtue, and asks Meno to explain it to him. However, he quickly tears apart Meno’s confidence. He tries to discover what virtue is, because until one knows what something is, one cannot know its qualities, and it cannot be taught. Socrates eventually brings Meno to the conclusion that virtue is knowledge or temperance. Then Socrates defines teaching as remembering knowledge from previous lives. He questions a slave-boy in geometry much in the same style that he questioned Meno, first utterly bewildering him before leading him to the answer.

The slave would have had no education, but was able to discover the truth by answering questions, and thus must have been remembering that particular truth. They determine that virtue is knowledge, and knowledge can be taught. Thus, divulging knowledge to a person is the same as divulging virtue. By teaching that virtue is beneficial, and supposing that a person would not choose to do something detrimental to them, then knowing that something is a virtue they will choose it, and since they are choosing virtue, they must be virtuous. Consequently, to teach virtue is simply to teach that virtue is knowledge.

Therefore, Socrates teaches Meno virtue in the dialogue. However he contradicts this by saying that the slave discovered some true opinion, not knowledge, and Socrates did not teach him because he was not paid as teachers must be. Therefore virtue cannot be knowledge because virtue cannot be taught. He offers four ways in which humans may acquire virtue: teaching, practice, nature, or some alternative way. An alternative to virtue being knowledge is that it is true opinion, which cannot be taught. If it is not taught then it must be a divine gift.

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Great Influence of Anaximander on Greek Thought. (2017, Dec 18). Retrieved from

Great Influence of Anaximander on Greek Thought
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