With his discoveries, Anaxamander of Miletus attempted to bring the realm of
the unreal to the world where common man could conceive it. As successor and
pupil of Thales of Miletus, Anaxamander worked on the fields of geometry,
natural science, and astrology. The culmination of his life attempted to define
the indefinite or undetermined. He was the first to discover and apply the
theory of the unlimited. For a philosopher of this time period, he had many
radical ideas. Anaxamander believed many different things about the position of
the Earth. He also published a book, On Nature, which revealed his theories
about the evolution of Earth and man. Under the tutelage of Thales, Anaxamander
studied numerous things about earth and life. While he did make some
contributions to the world of mathematics, his greatest achievements were
probably in science and astrology. His most notable accomplishment, however, was
the gnomon. The gnomon is the large rod that is erected from the base of the
sundial. This led him to other things, such as the prediction of solstices and
equinoxes. His attempts at prediction carried over and allowed him to create
maps of both the real and celestial worlds. In addition to his celestial
interests, Anaxamander believed that the Earth hung in the middle of the sky and
was held there by the pull of objects at either side. Along this line he also
believed that the world possessed a cylindrical form. He believed that the Earth
was encompassed by a flame, that was broken into pieces in order to generate the
sun, moon, and stars. The heavenly bodies, Anaxamander thought, were each a
wheel of fire. When holes in the wheel were clogged then an eclipse occurred.
The seas upon the earth were the result of leftover primal moisture. Strong
winds came through and dried some places, which are now land; what was left
became the seas and oceans. Anaxamander’s attempt to bring the world of the
unknown to reality was the most difficult task that one could encounter.
Well-known for his theory of Apeiron, or the unlimited, Anaxamander pursued the
changes of the Earth. He basically thought that apeiron compensated for the many
changes the Earth undergoes. As a fragment from Anaxamander says, “the unlimited
is the first principle of things that are. It is that from which the
coming-to-be takes place, and it is that to which they return when they perish,
by moral necessity, giving satisfaction to one another and making reparation for
their injustice, according to the order of time.” Coming to be is the separation
of opposites and does not involve any change in the natural being of a
substance. Anaxamander thought that it was neither water nor any other
substance, but it is of entirely different nature than that in which the
unlimited exists. He believed that all things existed in some place. Whether
they were absent or conspicuous was irrelevant; they still existed. He believed
that qualities came into existence, vanished away, only to return again.
Anaxamnder took into consideration that “there was a storehouse or reservoir
from which the qualities that now confront us have ‘separated off’ and into
which, when their contraries come forth in time, they will go back; the process
being repeated in reverse, and so on in never-ending cycles.” Anaxamander,
unlike most philosophers of this time, assessed that the world was created from
air, not water. He assumed that everything was created from nothing. This
nothing, however, was actually the unknown. The unknown, as Anaxamander defines
it, can best be described as the other half of what is. The undetermined is what
is not and cannot be seen. Equally as important are water, land, and fire that
were created by the density in the air. Each of these three things, as seen from
Anaxamander’s point of view, were the origin of all the rest of what exists.
Water, of course, was the origin of life. From this water, first came fish that
would evolve into what is now man.
Kirk,G.S. and Raven, J.E. The_Presocratic_Philosophers. London: Cambridge
University Press, 1957 Wheelwright, Philip. The Presocratics. New Jersey:
Prentice Hall, 1966 15 Oct. 1999.
http://viator.ucs.indiana.edu/~ancmed./foundations.htm 15 Oct. 1999.
http://acnet.pratt.edu/~arch5143/help/pre-socratic.html 13 Oct. 1999.