The First Philosophers

The First Philosophers
Have you ever wondered who the first philosophers were and what made them so famous? Find out right here!The birth of philosophy, in the classical form, coincides with the thoughts expressed by some of the most influential Greek minds. It is important to underline "classical form", because in its more subtle form, philosophy has existed from the dawn of mankind. The only problem was that, until the "Greek miracle", it played a secondary role hidden in religious works.

Text books frequently tell us that classical philosophy started on May 28th 585 BC. You may be wondering how it is possible to pinpoint with such precision this type of event. Well, on that day there was a solar eclipse that was predicted by the first known philosopher, Thales. He was born in Miletus in Asia Minor, a city that was influenced by a number of cultures, including Egyptian and Mesopotamian, and therefore embraced a more open minded atmosphere. The first philosophers came from similar cities. Only later the majority of them had the residence in Athens.

Thales is considered the first pre-Socratic. The pre-Socratics were philosophers that lived and carried out their activity before Socrates (examples: Anaximander, Anaximenes, Pythagoras, Heraclitus, Parmenides and many others). They are the first philosophers. The pre-Socratics are famous for trying to solve the so called problem of the "one" and the "many". You see, the first philosophers were keen observers of the world they lived in. Looking around them they saw trees, pigs, roses, chairs, people, stars and many other things. In other words, they saw a diversity of stuff from which the world is made of. But they believed that there must be some kind of a connection, something that holds everything in place, something which stands out from the "many": the one or the unity. Therefore, the problem of the "one" and the "many" can also be expressed as the relationship between unity and diversity. As a tribute to this major contribution of the pre-Socratics, we have the word Universe (which combines the two terms).

The problem of the "one" and the "many" is of vital importance because of the consequences it implicates. The world is made of stuff, but how do all this bits come together? Is there something that offers unity? In other words, do we live in a "kosmos" (a Greek word that means a universe that has fix laws and is dominated by order) or in "chaos" (a world that has no sense and therefore is absurd)? This dilemma also implies the question of "telos" (the Greek word for purpose).

Why are things arranged in this matter? Do they serve a purpose? The first philosophers believed that the world has laws that are rational and that can be identified by the human intellect. As a consequence they started meditating in order to identify the ONE, the thing that hold everything in place.

In their quest for the ONE, the pre-Socratics invented a concept called "archē" which is an imperfect synonym of the ONE. Archē means beginning, origin, first cause and it offered the answers to the questions: from what do all things emerge? What is the substance that holds everything in place? What is the origin of life? What is the origin of motion?

Remember the first philosopher, Thales? Well, his answer to all this problems was water. Let us analyze. Does water explain diversity? Thales saw that all things are either solid, liquid or in the form of a gas. Water can easily take any of these forms. The connection between water and life is also clear. What about motion? Thales believed that water can move itself. But other philosophers offered different answers.

Anaximenes, for example, believed that archē is air. Other thinkers proposed fire. At some point, some pre-Socratics believed that reality can be reduced to four basic elements: air, water, fire and earth. But if all reality is reduced to four elements are we not still in the domain of the "many" and not the ONE? This is the reason why there is not a perfect synonymy between ONE and archē.

Therefore, the search for the ONE continued and philosophers tried to find the fifth element or the quintessence that would unite the other four elements. The quest still goes on nowadays in the realm of science.

In conclusion, there are not that many fundamental questions that can be asked regarding the world in which he lived and the majority of them were expressed by the ancient Greeks. The Greek uniqueness stays in the fact that while everywhere else in the world people had saints and priest, the Greeks had sages (wise men).

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