EARLY GREEK PHILOSOPHY / by Caitlin Murray

THE PRIMARY SUBSTANCE

The chief interest of all is the quest for what is abiding in the flux of things. 

Ionia proper was a country without a past. That explains the secular character of the earliest Ionian philosophy. 

In its religious sense the word "god" always means first and foremost and object of worship, but already in Home that has ceased to be its only signification. Hesiod's Theogony is the best evidence of the change. It is clear that many of the gods mentioned there were never worshipped by any one, and some of them are mere personifications of natural phenomenon or even human passions (No one worshipped Okeanos and Thethys, or even Ouranos, and still less can Phobos and Deimos be regarded as gods in the religious sense). This non-religious use of the word "god" is characteristic of the whole period we are dealing with, and it is of the first importance to realize it.  No one who does so will fall into the error of deriving science from mythology.

what are you if you are a non-religious god? what does that mean? what is your purpose? who are you? 

CHAPTER I: THE MILESIAN SCHOOL

It was at Miletos that the earliest school of scientific cosmology had its home. Miletos prospered during over half a century of peace through treaty-relations with the Lydians (Croesus was the leader of the Lydians). 

THALES (floruit, 585 BC)

The founder of the Milesian school and the first-person of science / Herodotus says that Thales foretold an eclipse of the sun, although he would not have known its cause - "To explain what we are told about Thales no more is required. He said there would be an eclipse by a certain date; and luckily it was visible in Asia Minor, and on a striking occasion." The introduction of Egyptian geometry into Hellas is ascribed to Thales and it is probable that he did visit Egypt; for he has a theory of inundations of the Nile. Thales applied the empirical rule to practical problems which the Egyptians had never faced, and that he was thus the originator of general methods. This is a sufficient title to his fame. It was also common for these early philosophers to be involved in politics. 

So far as we know, Thales wrote nothing, and no writer earlier than Aristotle (b. 384 BC) knows anything of him as a scientific man and a philosopher - in older traditions he was an engineer and an inventor. He was said to have introduced the practice of steering a ship's course by Ursa Minor. He also created an almanac and gave, for a series of years, the equinoxes and solstices, the phases of the moon, the heliacal risings and settings of certain stars and also weather predictions. 

Aristotle makes the following claims about the cosmology of Thales:
1. The earth floats on water. 2. Water is the material cause of all things. 3. All things are full of gods. The magnet is alive for it has the power of moving iron.

The claim was that water was the stuff of which all other things were transient forms. The prevailing interest at this time was meteorological. Why did he think this? Of all the things we know, water seems to take the most various shapes. 

The third claim mentioned above is supposed by Aristotle to imply that Thales believed in a "soul of the world." All of this has to be taken very cautiously. Burnet spends hardly any time on this claim. 

AXANIMANDER (floruit, 565 BC)

Also a citizen of Miletos - an associate of Thales and a generation younger. Some writers have credited him with the invention of the gnomon (sundial), but that can hardly be correct. Herodotos tells us this instrument came from Babylon and Thales must have used it to determine the solstices and equinoxes. Anaximander was also the first to construct a map - of enterprise in the Milesian enterprise in the Black Sea. What we know of Anaximandar comes from the First Book of Theophrastos (b. 371 BC):
 

     Anaximandar of Miletos, son of Praxiades, a fellow-citizen and associate of Thales, said that the material cause and first element of things was the Infinite, he being the first to introduce this name of the material cause. He says it is neither water nor any other of the so-called elements, but a substance different from them which is infinite, from which arise all the heavens and the worlds within them. 
     He says that this is "eternal and ageless," and that it "encompasses all the worlds."
     And into that form which things take their rise they pass away once more, "as is meet; for they make reparation and satisfaction to one another for their injustice according to the ordering of time," as he says in these somewhat poetical terms.
     And besides this, there was an eternal motion, in which was brought about the origin of the worlds. 
     He did not ascribe the origin of things to any alteration in matter, but said that the oppositions in the substratum, which was a boundless body, were separated out.

Anaximandar taught, then, that there was an eternal, indestructible something out of which everything arises, and into which everything returns; a boundless stock from which the waste of existence is continually made good. His argument as preserved by Aristotle:

Further, there cannot be a single, simple body which is infinite, either, as some hold, one distinct from the elements, which they then derive from it, or without this qualification. For there are some who make this (i.e. a body distinct from the elements) the infinite, and not air or water, in order that the other things may not be destroyed by their infinity. They are in opposition to one another - air is cold, water moist, and fire hot - and therefore, if any one of them were infinite, the rest would have ceased to be by this time. Accordingly they say that what is infinite is something other than the elements, and from it the elements arise. 

If Thales had been right in saying water was the fundamental reality, it would not be easy to see how anything else could have existed. We must, then, have something not itself one of the warring opposites, something more primitive, out of which they arise, and into which they once more pass away. It was natural for Aristotle to regard this theory as an anticipation or presentment of his own doctrine of "indeterminate matter" and that he should sometimes express the views of Anaximandar in terms of the later theories of "elements." It is clear that he would not have used the word "elements" which no one thought of before Empedokles. 

Anaximandar's reason for conceiving the primary susbance as boundless was, no doubt, as indicated by Aristotle, "that becoming might not fail." It is not clear that these words are his own, though the doxographers speak as if they were. The "opposites" are we have seen, at war with one another, and their strife is marked by "unjust" encroachments on either side. The warm commits "injustice" in the summer. We must picture, then, an endless mass, which is not any one of the opposites we know, stretching out without limit on every side of the world we live in. This mass is a body out which our world once emerged, and into which it will one day be absorbed again. 

We are told that Anaximandar believed that there were "innumerable world in the Boundless" and that, though all the worlds are perishable, there are an unlimited number of them in existence at the same time. When a portion of the Boundless was separated off from the rest to form a world, it first differentiated itself into the two opposites, hot and cold. The hot appears as flame surrounding the cold; the cold, as earth with air surrounding it. Thales had said that the earth floated on the water, but Anaximandar realized that it was freely suspended in space and did not require any support. 

The traditional cosmos had given place to a much grander scheme, that of innumerable vortices in a boundless mass, which is neither water nor air. In that case, it is difficult to resist the belief that what we call the fixed stars were identified with the "innumerable worlds" which were also "gods."

We have seen enough to show us that the speculations of Anaximandar about the world were of an extremely daring character. We come now to the crowning audacity of all, his theory of the origin of living creatures. The Theophrastean account of this has been well preserved by the doxographers:

     Living creatures arose from the moist element as it was evaporated by the sun. Man was like another animal, namely a fish, in the beginning. 
     The first animals were produced in the moisture, each enclosed in a prickly bark. As they advanced in age, they came out upon the drier part. When the bark broke off, they survived for a short time. 
     Further, he says that originally man was born from other animals of another species. His reason is that while other animals quickly find food by themselves, man alone requires a lengthy period of suckling. Hence, had he originally been as he is now, he would never have survived. 
     He declares that at first human beings arose in the inside of fishes, and after having been reared like sharks, and become capable of protecting themselves, they were finally cast ashore and took to land. 

It is clear from this that Anaximandar had an idea of what is meant by adaptation to environment and survival of the fittest, and that he saw the higher mammals could not represent the original type of animal. 
 

ANAXIMENES (floruit, 546 BC)

Of Anaximenes, Theophrastos wrote:

Anaximenes....who had been an associate of Anaximandar, said, like him, that the underlying substance was one and infinite. He did not, however, say it was indeterminate, like Anaximander, but determinate; for he said it was Air. From it, he said, the things that are, and have been, and shall be, the gods and things divine, took their rise, while other things come from its offspring. "Just as," he said, "our soul, being air, holds us together, so do breath and air encompasses the whole world." 

At first, it looks like a falling off from the more refined doctrine of Anaximandar to a cruder view; but this is not really the case. On the contrary, the introduction of rarefaction and condensation into the theory is a notable advance. 

The primary substance bears the same relationship to the life of the world as to that of man. Now this was the Pythagorean view, and it is also an early instance of the argument from the microcosm to the macrocosm, and so marks the beginning of an interest in physiological matters. 

CHAPTER II: SCIENCE AND RELIGION

The spirit of the Ionians in Asia was thoroughly secular, and so far as we can judge, the Milesians wholly ignored traditional beliefs. Their use of the term "god" for primary substance and the innumerable worlds had no religious significance. 

The Orphic religion had two features which were new in Greece. It looked to a written revelation as the source of religious authority, and its adherents were organized in communities, based, not on any real or supposed tie of blood, but on voluntary adhesion and initiation. The main purpose of the Orphic observances and rites was to release the soul from the "wheel of birth," that is, from reincarnation in animal or vegetable forms. The soul so released became once more a god and enjoyed everlasting bliss. They believed in philosophy as a way of life - this idea has long-lasting influence. Science became a religion and to that extent it is true that philosophy was influenced by religion. 

There was a religious revival at this time and we would expect that it would have influence on philosophy, but this was not the case. Phythagoreans and Empedokles, who took part in the religious movement themselves, held views about the soul which flatly contradicted the beliefs implied in their religious practices. There is no room for an immortal soul in any philosophy of this period. Ancient religion was not a body of doctrine. Nothing was required but that the ritual should be performed correctly and in a proper frame of mind; the worshipper was free to give any explanation of it he pleased. 

PYTHAGORAS OF SAMOS (floruit, 532 BC) 

It is not easy to give any account of Pythagoras that can claim to be regarded as historical. He was well-known in the fifth century, both as a scientific man and as a preacher of immortality. It is said that Phythagoras left Samos in order to escape the tyranny of Polykrates and that he founded his society in Kroton. 

The main purpose of the Pythagorean Order was the cultivation of holiness. In this respect it resembled an Orphic society, though Apollo, and not Dionysus, was the chief Pythagorean god. This is doubtless due to the connexion of Pythagoras with Delos, and explains why the Krotoniates identified him with Apollo Hyperboreios. 

Pythagoras apparently preferred oral instruction to the dissemination of his opinions by writing, and it was not till Alexandrian times that any one ventured to forge books in his name. He taught the doctrine of transmigration. This is most easily explained as a development of the primitive belief in the kinship of men and beasts. Further, this belief is commonly associated with a system of taboos on certain kinds of food, and the Pythagorean rule is best known for its prescription of a similar forms of abstinence. 

Examples of Pythagorean rule:

1. To abstain from beans
2. Not to pick up what has fallen
3. Not to touch a white cock
4. Not to break bread
5. Not to step over a crossbar
6. Not to stir the fire with iron
7. Not to eat from a whole loaf
8. Not to pluck a garland
9. Not to sit on a quart measure
10. Not to eat the heart
11. Not to walk on highways
12. Not to let swallow's share one's roof
13. When the pot is taken off the fire, not to leave the mark of it in the ashes, but to stir them together. 
14. Do not look in a mirror beside a light
15. When you rise from the bedclothes, roll them together and smooth out the impress of the body. 

It would be easy to multiply proofs of the close connection between Pythagoreanism and primitive modes of thought, but what has been said is sufficient for our purpose. Now, were this all, we should be tempted to delete the name of Pythagoras form the history of philosophy, and relegate him to the class of "medicine-men."