Philosopher

Thales Of Miletus

Thales Of Miletus biography
By Ernst Wallis et al (own scan) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Thales Of Miletus biography

Thales of Miletus, as his name suggests and in the style of the time, was born in Miletus, which today is what we know as Turkey. It is estimated that he was born in 624 b.C and died in 548 b.C. Although not many details of his life are known, he is recognized as a Greek philosopher and mathematician. One of the fundamental reasons for his recognition is that he was named by Aristotle in his book Metaphysics and in this he considered him as the first to suggest a constitution of matter (arche) and to think nature from a cause-effect relationship of phenomena, thus leaving the mythological beliefs and consecrating as the first philosopher of ancient Greece.

Miletus was a prosperous coastal city (now Turkey’s coast), which was considered the birthplace of Western thought because in the sixth century before the common era, it was the site that saw the birth and growth of Milesian philosophers, first men to reflect on their reality and nature: Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes. This time is considered a milestone in history because it goes from myth (the Greek pantheon that gave mythological and religious explanations) to logos, that is, to reason, this does not mean that the myth is left totally because it is a cultural characteristic, but man began to look for answers by means of reason and for reason, thus begins Western philosophy.

One of the convergent points between these three philosophers was the search for arche, that is, the origin or principle of things, moving away from the foundational myth. For Thales, the arche was water and for his companions (one his disciple and another his contemporary) was the indefinite (Anaximander) and the air (Anaximenes). This theme, the search for the element or principle of all things would be a topic of discussion for many other philosophers after Thales and these are known as pre-Socratic, because after Socrates philosophy was responsible for seeking other questions and answers.

Now, why water was considered as the arche? Thales of Miletus thought that it was the beginning of things because it is found everywhere, between continents and around the Earth (for him the earth was a flat disk floating in an infinite ocean). In addition, its importance has always been highlighted because everything is born of water, that idea, which later would be corroborated by evolution, did not have those scientific connotations, but Thales believed that giving life to plants could be a constitutive part of everything. Another important characteristic of water as arche was its variability since it can be vapor, liquid and solid. Although other philosophers did not follow his proposal of water as an origin and part of everything, Thales is considered the father of philosophy for thinking, by means of deduction and observation, that there was a universal principle of things, thus giving an order to the chaos of reality.

Although not verifiable, there are some interesting stories about Thales of Miletus. It is said that in his youth he traveled to Egypt and he learned geometry and astronomy when he returned, he taught Greek astrosophy (a mixture between both). It is also believed that he ran a nautical school and came to give political advice. So, in the popular image that has been created by some mentions in ancient history, Thales of Miletus is consolidated as a man of many qualities and different jobs. Finally, he was a teacher of Pythagoras and Anaximenes. According to Plato in his dialogue, Theaetetus, Thales of Miletus fell into a pit while looking at the stars and a peasant mocked the philosopher as he replied: “I was anxious to know the things of heaven but that what was … right at his feet escaped”

As he has been seen, he is always related to his disciple Anaximenes and his contemporary Anaximander, nowadays the three are known as “Miletus School” since they shared some questions and concerns: from the arche and the constituent element, the idea that there is no absolute beginning because everything is constituted by an eternal and changing thing, the search for rationality that is evident in the cause and effect relationship that rejects the magical and contradictory, the search for a law that regulates the universe and the absence of distinction between science and philosophy.

It is not possible to think about his knowledge and position before the world without relating it to geometry because after studying in Egypt he elaborated some theorems and deductive reasonings that Euclides later collected in his work Elements. For this reason, he is considered, in addition to the father of philosophy, the first to introduce geometry to Greece. Even so, all we know about this character has come to us through books by Herodotus, Xenophanes, and Aristotle since none of his works survived time.

It is believed that he died at the age of 78, as Apolodoro wrote in Chronicles. Others say that he died at the age of 90 in the LVIII Olympiad. Many historians accept that his death was about 546 b.C; that is, between his hypothesis of birth and death, Thales of Mileto lived 76 years.

 

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