1902 Encyclopedia > Anaximander

Greek philosopher
611 - c. 547 B.C.)

Anaximander, the second of the physical philosophers of Ionia, belonged like his predecessor Thales, to the city of Miletus. His biography is a blank. The computations of Apollodorus have fixed the year of his birth at 611, and of his death a short while after 547 B.C. Tradition, probably correct in its general estimate, represents him as a successful student of astronomy and geography, and as one of the pioneers of exact science among the Greeks. But it is not to his delineations of the divisions of the globe, or to dialling, or to his enlarged acquaintance with the celestial phenomena, especially of the obliquity of the ecliptic, that we can attribute the preservation of his name to the present day. That honour he owes to the broad views of the origin of things which his glimpses of natural knowledge suggested, and which he propounded in a treatise on nature or growth (phusis). Of that work only a few words are left. The beginning of the first principle (arche, a word which, it is said, he was the first to use) was an endless, unlimited mass (apeiron) subject neither to old age nor decay, and perpetually yielding fresh materials for the series of beings which issued from it. It embraced everything, and directed the movement of things, by which there grew up a host of shapes and differences. Out of the vague and limitless body there sprang up a general mass -- this earth of ours, cylindrical in shape, poised equidistant from surrounding orbs of fire, which had originally clung to it like the bark round a tree, until their continuity was severed, and they parted into several wheel-shaped and fire-filled bubbles of air. Man himself and the animals had come into being by like transmutations. Mankind was supposed by Anaximander to have sprung from some other species of animals, probably aquatic. But as the measureless and endless had been the prime cause of the motion into separate existences and individual forms, so also, according to the just award of destiny, these forms would at an appointed season suffer the vengeance due to their earlier act of separation, and return into the vague immensity whence they had issued. Thus the world, and all definite existences contained in it, would lose their independence and disappear. The "indeterminate" alone is perennial and godlike, all-embracing and all-guiding. The blazing orbs, which have drawn off from the cold earth and water, are the temporary gods of the world, clustering around the earth, which to the ancient thinker, is the central figure. (See Ritter et Preller, Historia Phil. sections 17-22; Mullach, Fragmenta Phil. Graec. i. 237-240.)

The above article was written by William Wallace, M.A., Merton College, Oxford University, 1867; Whyte's Professor of Moral Philosophy, Oxford University, from 1882; author of The Logic of Hegel, Epicureanism, Kant, and the Life of Arthur Schopenhauer.

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-23 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries