Category: Plato in 80 entries

Presocratic Philosophers

The name Presocratics is attributed to the philosophers who made their appearence in broader Greece after 600 B.C. Only fragments remain extant from their works. They contain the first theories that attempt to describe the origin and the structure of the natural world as well as the position of man in it. Presocratics distanced themselves from the traditional mythological narratives about the world; instead, they attempted to lay out theories which pivot on reason and argumentation.

First made its appearance the triad of the Milesians: Thales postulated water as the principle of the world, whereas Anaximande the indefinite, and Anaximenes air. Very little is known about Pythagoras, but pythagorianism was largely promulgated on account of its belief on the mathematical structure of the universe, and on reincarnation. Xenophanes criticized the anthropomorphism of traditional religion, and explored the limits of human understanding.

Presocratic philosophy came to its head with Parmenides and Heraclitus around 500-480 B.C. The former sought the unity of the world in its Being – and not in any of its constituents (water, air, fire, etc.). The latter stressed out the constant change of things, but also propounded that they are permeated by the principle of Logos, which also reconciles every phenomenal opposition between the things in the universe.

In the next generation of philosophers, we find Anaxagoras, Empedocles and Democritus. The first described a universe which is operated by the Mind (Nous). The Mind regulates the configuration of the basic ingredients of the universe. Empedocles spoke of four "roots" (earth, water, air and fire) upon which the motive forces of Love and Strife are exercised. Finally, Democritus was the first to propose the existence of "atoms": that is, indivisible elementary particles, which come together while they move in void.

Author: Panagiotis Thanasas
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