Most of those who first engaged in philosophy supposed that the only principles of all things were to be found as material elements. That of which all things that are consist, that from which they first arise and into which they finally vanish away,,,

Most of those who first engaged in philosophy supposed

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Most of those who first engaged in philosophy supposed that the only principles of all things were to be found as material elements. That of which all things that are consist, that from which they first arise and into which they finally vanish away, that of which the “basic being” persists although the perceptible characteristics are changed, this, they say, is the prime element and first-principle of things. Therein they hold that nothing either comes-to-be or is destroyed, since this kind of “basic nature” always persists. As to the nature of what is fundamental, however, and even as to whether it is one or many, there was much disagreement.

Thales, the founder of this type of philosophy, says that the first principle is water (for which reason he declared that the earth rests on water), getting the notion perhaps from seeing that the nutriment of all things is moist, and that heat itself is generated from the moist and kept alive by it (and that from which they come to be is a principle of all things).

He got his notion from this fact, and from the fact that the seeds of all things have a moist nature, and that water is the origin of the nature of moist things. Some think that even the ancients who lived long before the present generation, and first framed accounts of the gods, had a similar view of nature; for they made Ocean and Tethys the parents of creation, and described the oath of the gods as being by water, to which they give the name of Styx; for what is oldest is most honorable, and the most honorable thing is that by which one swears.

It may perhaps be uncertain whether this opinion about nature is primitive and ancient, but Thales at any rate is said to have declared himself thus about the first cause. (Aristotle, Metaphysics, i. 3 ; 983 b 6)

The Unlimited is the first principle of the things that are. It is that from which the coming-to-be [of things] takes place, and it is that into which things return, by moral necessity, giving satisfaction to one another and making reparation for their injustice in accordance with the ordering of time. (Anaximander, Fr. 1)

Anaximenes was an associate of Anaximander and agreed with him that the essence of all things is one and unlimited; on the other hand, he declared that it is not indeterminate but it has the specific nature of air, which differs in rarity and density according to the kind of things into which it forms itself. Rarefied it becomes fire; condensed it becomes wind, then cloud, and as the condensation increases it becomes successively water, earth, and then stones. Everything else gets made out of these. (Simplicius, Commentaria)

 

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