Anaximander Essay, Research Paper
Anaximander was a Greek philosopher of Miletus, born 611 BCE., and hence a younger contemporary of Thales and Pherecydes. He lived at the court of Polycrates of Samos, and died 547. He wrote a prose work in the Ionic dialect of which on fragment survives. Anaximander thought it unnecessary to fix upon air, water, or fire as the original and primary form of body. He preferred to represent it simply as a boundless something from which all things arise and to which they all return again. He was struck by a fact which dominated all subsequent physical theory among the Greeks, namely, that the world presents us with a series of opposites, of which the most primary are hot and cold, wet and dry. If we look at things from this point of view, it is more natural to speak of the opposites as being ’separated out’ from a mass which is as yet undifferentiated than it is to make any one of the opposites the primary substance. Anaximander argued that Thales made the wet too important at the expense of the dry. Some such thought, at any rate, appears to underlie the few words of the solitary fragment of his writing that has been preserved. He said that things ‘give satisfaction and reparation to one another for their injustice, as is appointed according to the ordering of time.’ This conception of justice and injustice recurs more than once in Ionic natural philosophy, and always in the same connection. It refers to the encroachment of one opposite or ‘element’ upon another.
The formation of the world is due to the ’separating out’ of the opposites. Anaximander’s view of the earth is a curious mixture of scientific intuition and primitive theory. On the one hand, the earth does not rest on anything, but swings free in space. The reason he gave was that there is nothing to make it fall in one direction rather than in another. He inferred this because his system was incompatible with the assumption of an absolute up and down. On the other hand, though, he gives the earth a shape intermediate between the disc of Thales and the sphere of the Pythagoreans. He regarded it as a short cylinder ‘like the drum of a pillar’. With regard to living beings, Anaximander held that all life came from the sea, and that the present forms of animals were the result of adaptation to a fresh environment. It is possible that some of this biological theories were grotesque in detail, but it is certain that his method was thoroughly scientific. He was much impressed by the observation of certain sharks or dogfish, and evidently regarded them as an intermediary between fishes and land animals. His proof that man must have been descended from an animal of another species has a curiously modern ring. The young of the human species require a prolonged period of nursing, while those of other species soon find their food for themselves. If, then, man had always been as he is now he could never have survived.