Anaximander : biography
Anaximander ( Greek: Anaximandros; c. 610 – c. 546 BC) was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher who lived in Miletus, a city of Ionia; Milet in modern Turkey. He belonged to the Milesian school and learned the teachings of his master Thales. He succeeded Thales and became the second master of that school where he counted Anaximenes and arguably, Pythagoras amongst his pupils.
Little of his life and work is known today. According to available historical documents, he is the first philosopher known to have written down his studies,Themistius, Oratio 36, §317 although only one fragment of his work remains. Fragmentary testimonies found in documents after his death provide a portrait of the man.
Anaximander was one of the earliest Greek thinkers at the start of the Axial Age, the period from approximately 700 BC to 200 BC, during which similarly revolutionary thinking appeared in China, India, Iran, the Near East, and Ancient Greece. He was an early proponent of science and tried to observe and explain different aspects of the universe, with a particular interest in its origins, claiming that nature is ruled by laws, just like human societies, and anything that disturbs the balance of nature does not last long.Park, David (2005) The Grand Contraption, Princeton University Press ISBN 0-691-12133-8 Like many thinkers of his time, Anaximander’s contributions to philosophy relate to many disciplines. In astronomy, he tried to describe the mechanics of celestial bodies in relation to the Earth. In physics, his postulation that the indefinite (or apeiron) was the source of all things led Greek philosophy to a new level of conceptual abstraction. His knowledge of geometry allowed him to introduce the gnomon in Greece. He created a map of the world that contributed greatly to the advancement of geography. He was also involved in the politics of Miletus and was sent as a leader to one of its colonies.
Anaximander claimed that an "indefinite" (apeiron) principle gives rise to all natural phenomena. Carl Sagan claims that he conducted the earliest recorded scientific experiment.Sagan, Carl (1985) Cosmos, Ballantine Books, ISBN 0-345-33135-4, pg 143–144.
According to the Suda:Themistius and Simplicius also mention some work "on nature". The list could refer to book titles or simply their topics. Again, no one can tell because there is no punctuation sign in Ancient Greek. Furthermore, this list is incomplete since the Suda ends it with , thus implying "other works".
- On Nature ( / Perì phúseôs)
- Around the Earth ( / Gễs períodos)
- On Fixed Bodies ( / Perì tỗn aplanỗn)
- The Sphere ( / Sphaĩra)
Anaximander’s theories were influenced by the Greek mythical tradition, and by some ideas of Thales – the father of philosophy – as well as by observations made by older civilizations in the East (especially by the Babylonian astrologists).C. Mosse (1984) La Grece archaique d’ Homere a Eschyle. Edition du Seuil. p236 All these were elaborated rationally. In his desire to find some universal principle, he assumed like traditional religion the existence of a cosmic order and in elaborating his ideas on this he used the old mythical language which ascribed divine control to various spheres of reality. This was a common practice for the Greek philosophers in a society which saw gods everywhere, therefore they could fit their ideas into a tolerably elastic system.C. M. Bowra (1957) The Greek experience. World publishing Company. Cleveland and New York. p168,169.
Some scholars saw a gap between the existing mythical and the new rational way of thought which is the main characteristic of the archaic period (8th to 6th century BC) in the Greek city states.Herbert Ernest Cushman claims Anaximander has "the first European philosophical conception of god" , A beginner’s history of philosophy, Volume 1 pg. 24 Because of this, they did not hesitate to speak for a ‘Greek miracle’. But if we follow carefully the course of Anaximander’s ideas, we will notice that there was not such an abrupt break as initially appears. The basic elements of nature (water, air, fire, earth) which the first Greek philosophers believed that constituted the universe represent in fact the primordial forces of previous thought. Their collision produced what the mythical tradition had called cosmic harmony. In the old cosmogonies – Hesiod (8th – 7th century BC) and Pherecydes (6th century BC) – Zeus establishes his order in the world by destroying the powers which were threatening this harmony, (the Titans). Anaximander claimed that the cosmic order is not monarchic but geometric and this causes the equilibrium of the earth which is lying in the centre of the universe. This is the projection on nature of a new political order and a new space organized around a centre which is the static point of the system in the society as in nature.C. Mosse (1984) La Grece archaique d’Homere a Eschyle. Edition du Seuil. p 235 In this space there is isonomy (equal rights) and all the forces are symmetrical and transferrable. The decisions are now taken by the assembly of demos in the agora which is lying in the middle of the city.J. P. Vernart (1982) Les origins de la pensee grecque. PUF Pariw. p 128, J. P. Vernart (1982) The origins of the Greek thought. Cornell University Press.