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« Anaximander ( c.610-after 546 BC) The Greek philosopher Anaximander of Miletus followed Thales in his philosophical and scientific interests.

He wrote a book, of which one fragment survives, and is the first Presocraticphilosopher about whom we have enough information to reconstruct his theories in any detail.

He was principallyconcerned with the origin, structure and workings of the world, and attempted to account for them consistently,through a small number of principles and mechanisms.

Like other thinkers of his tradition, he gave the Olympiangods no role in creating the world or controlling events.

Instead, he held that the world originated from a vast,eternal, moving material of no definite nature, which he called apeiron ('boundless' or ‘unlimited').

From this, through obscure processes including one called 'separation off', arose the world as we know it.

Anaximanderdescribed the kosmos (world) and stated the distances of the celestial bodies from the earth.

He accounted for the origin of animal life and explained how humans first emerged.

He pictured the world as a battleground in whichopposite natures, such as hot and cold, constantly encroach upon one another, and described this process astaking place with order and regularity.

1 Life and work Very little is known of Anaximander's life.

His dates ( c.610 BC-shortly after 546 BC) are not certain, but make him a generation younger than Thales, whose pupil, successorand associate he is variously called.

Like Thales he was a Milesian.

He is said to have travelled to Sparta, where hepredicted an earthquake and set up a gnōm ōn (a Babylonian invention for marking the length of the sun's shadow, which he is credited with discovering) on the sundials there to mark solstices, equinoxes and the hours of the day.He is also said to have led a Milesian colony to Apollonia on the Black Sea and, it is reported, made the first mapand the first 'sphere' or celestial globe.

He wrote at least one work, known as On Nature (the title the Alexandrian scholars later gave to the works of most of the Presocratics; it is not Anaximander's title) in which he presented his views on the kosmos .

(We hear of several other works - Circuit of the Earth , On the Fixed Stars , Celestial Globe - but these are dubious.) As with other reported discoveries of the Presocratics, this evidence demands cautioustreatment.

The map is possible, although it will have been extremely crude and founded more on principles ofsymmetry than on measurement.

(See Herodotus, IV 36 for a critical assessment of early maps.) And, sinceAnaximander had views about the size and shape of the kosmos , he may have constructed a model of it.

If he foretold an earthquake however, it was just a lucky guess.

Alternatively, later authors could have invented theprediction to give Anaximander something comparable to Thales ' prediction of an eclipse.

The report about the gnōm ōn is usually accepted as likely, as it agrees with Anaximander's undoubted interest in astronomy.

2 The apeiron Anaximander is best known for his physical theory, which described the original material of the universe as apeiron : 'boundless' or 'unlimited' or, possibly, 'indefinite' (the word later acquired the more technical meaning of 'infinite' ).

What this material is like, how it is related to the kosmos around us, and how Anaximander justified his view are basic and controversial issues in understanding his thought.

To begin with, what kinds of bounds or limitsdoes it lack? The description 'eternal and unageing' indicates that it is unlimited in time, and since it 'surrounds all the kosmoi [plural of kosmos ]' (Hippolytus, Refutation I 6.1, A11) it is vast in extent, and if not infinite, at least unlimited in that there is nothing outside it that limits or determines its size.

Furthermore, since it is 'neither water nor any other of the things called elements, but some different apeiron nature' (Simplicius, On Aristotle's Physics 24.16, A9), it is without any definite character or qualities.

Hence some argue that it was called unlimited becauseit lacks internal boundaries or distinctions.

It is not clear that the word apeiron can bear this meaning, but Anaximander's original substance is nevertheless indefinite in this way too.

The original substance was also the originative substance 'out of which came to be all the heavens and the kosmoi in them' (On Aristotle's Physics 24.17, A9).

Anaximander presented a cosmogony in which the kosmos arose from the apeiron in a series of developmental stages.

Thus, the apeiron is the ancestor of all that exists.

Aristotle and his followers present another view: the apeiron is the element or substance out of which everything is composed, an Aristotelian material cause (see Aristotle §9 ).

Thus, everything is made of apeiron in the way coal and diamonds are made of carbon. Aristotle occasionally identifies the apeiron instead as a mixture of the four elements that he recognized, and also as a substance intermediate between fire and air or between air and water.

These 'mixture' and 'intermediate' interpretations must be discarded as guesswork, and the idea that it is a material cause must be rejected asAristotelian invention too, since it does not fit the rest of the evidence on the role of the apeiron in Anaximander's system.

Not only is the apeiron our ancestor, it is divine.

Anything that is 'eternal and ageless' and also 'in motion' (On Aristotle's Physics 24.13, A9), which is 'immortal and imperishable' and which 'surrounds all and steers all' counts, for the Greeks, as a divine being (Aristotle, Physics 203b11-13, A15).

It is disputed how many of these words were Anaximander's , but the ideas they represent seem authentic.

Just what ‘divine' means in this context is of critical importance.

In some sense the apeiron is the Creator, but it is remote from the Greeks' anthropomorphic conception of the Olympian gods, who demand worship, intervene in human affairs and are motivated by pride,anger and favouritism.

Like Xenophanes' god, the apeiron is 'not similar to mortals in form or thought' (Xenophanes, fr.

23) (see Xenophanes §3 ).

Unlike Xenophanes' god, the apeiron lacks perceptive and cognitive capacities (Xenophanes, fr.


It seems to have generated the kosmos not through any conscious purpose, but somehow as the result of its eternal motion, and the sense in which it 'steers all' seems to be simply that the way the kosmos was generated guarantees that the events that take place in it are governed by an immutable, impersonal, universallaw.

Why make the originative substance apeiron ? The sources attribute two arguments for this thesis to Anaximander (although other ancient arguments are sometimes thought to go back to him as well).

The first, whichargues that it must be apeiron in the sense of 'unlimited in extent' , goes as follows: 'it must be unlimited lest generation fail' (Aristotle, Physics 208a8, A14; Aëtius , I 3.3, A14).

Aristotle criticizes the argument on the grounds that 'the destruction of one thing can be the origin of another, the total being limited' .

If Anaximander is assumed to be referring either to our own finite kosmos or to a succession of finite kosmoi , one after another (see §3), it is indeed a bad argument.

But if he held that there are an unlimited number of kosmoi at the same time, as Aëtius' text suggests, the argument succeeds as far as the vagueness of the term 'unlimited' permits.

The second argument concludes that the apeiron is qualitatively indefinite: 'The elements have opposite qualities.

Air is cold, water wet, fire hot.

If any of them were infinite, the others would have been destroyed.

Therefore, the elements. »