Thales was the first of three philosophers of the Milesian School. The second one was Anaximander. He is much more interesting than Thales. A lot of achievements are ascribed to him, namely the publishing of the first map of the world, the creation of the first mechanistic model of the world, and other considerable accomplishments about which we will talk below.
According to Apollodorus, Anaximander was born during the 42nd Olympiad (610 BC), and he was 64 years old during the second year of 58th Olympiad (546 BC), shortly after which he died.
He is the first philosopher ever known to write his studies, although only one work remained – “On Nature”.
Anaximenes and, probably, Pythagoras were his students.
Anaximander had a good grasp of geometry. He was the one who introduced gnomon in Greece. Gnomon (greek “one that knows” or “examines”) is the part of a sundial that casts the shadow. It is also used in 3-D computer graphics as an aid in positioning objects in the virtual world.
He also contributed a lot to the development of other sciences. In physics, his postulation that apeiron was the source of all things led Greek philosophy to a new level of conceptual abstraction. His map of the world helped to advance in geography. Anaximander had also been involved in politics of his city, and even sent to one of its colonies.
It is not known whether Thales was actually a teacher of Anaximander, but the latter had certainly been influenced by the former’s theory that everything is made of water.
Pre-Socratics were searching for the element that constitues all things. While Thales held that it is water, and Anaximenes thought it was air, Anaximander understood the first principle to be an endless primordial mass – apeiron (indefinite). Apeiron is subject to neither old age nor decay, and it perpetually yielded fresh materials from which everything we perceive is derived. He also maintains that all dying things are returning to apeiron, the element they came from.
Anaximander had an argument for proving that neither water, nor any other known element could be a primal substance because in this case one of these could conquer the others. “And therefore, if any one of them were infinite, the rest would have ceased to be by this time.” Therefore, the primal substance has to be neutral in the cosmic strife.
The creation of the first mechanical model of the world is attributed to Anaximander. In this model, the Earth floats freely in the middle of infinite space, not supported by anything. His view on this has been marked by a lot of people as the first cosmological revolution because this model allowed celestial bodies to pass under Earth, thus opening the way to Greek astronomy.
Anaximander believed Earth to be a cylinder with a height one-third of its diameter. He supposed that we are living on the upper surface while there is another antipodal of us. This model fitted well into his conception that everything comes out of interaction of opposites.
According to his theory of genesis of the world, in the beginning, after the separtion of hot and cold, a ball of flame appeared. First, it surrounded the Earth like a bark of a tree, but then this ball collapsed and formed the rest of the Universe.
The Universe was a system of wheels that surround the Earth. The Sun was the fire that we can see through a hole the same size of Earth. It was on the farthest wheel. The other, whose fire was less intense, and which was closer to Earth, was Moon. Its hole can change its size, which would explain lunar eclipses. Stars and planets, which were even closer, followed the same model. It was said that the diameter of Sun’s wheel is twenty-seven or twenty-eight times as Earth’s radius.
According to Simplicius and Hippolytus, Anaximander had speculated on the plurality of the worlds, like the Atomists and Epicurus would later do. All of them supposed that there are many worlds appearing and disappearing for a while. Because, as they claimed, “without movement, there can be no generation, no destruction”, this movement is eternal.
Cicero also states that Anaximander attributed different gods to the countless worlds.
Anaximander had also speculated about the origin of animal life, and his theory is somewhat similar to that of Darwin’s theory of evolution. Taking into account the existence of fossils, he claimed that all animal life forms, including humans, came out of sea long ago. As the early humidity evaporated, dry land emerged and, in time, humankind had to adapt.
Anaximander put forward the idea that humans had to spend part of this transition inside the mouths of big fish to protect themselves from the Earth’s climate until they could come out in open air. I have said above that his theory is similar to Darwin’s, but we must not forget that, as we are now explaining theories using language of science, and during Middle Ages people used the language of religion, ancient Greeks used the language of mythology.
It may seem strange, but Anaximenes, about whom we will talk later, had been reverenced in Ancient Greece more, than Anaximander, while a modern would make the opposite choice. There is no doubt that Anaximander contributed a lot to advancement of sciences, even though we understood that almost two milleniums later.
1) Bertrand Russell. The History of Western Philosphy.
2) John Burnet. Early Greek Philosophy.
3) Friedrich Nietzsche. Philosophy in the Tragic Age of Greece.
4) Aristotle. On the Heavens.
5) Cicero. On Divination.