Thales’s Nature of Things (Arkhesi) View of WaterJune 28, 2021
According to Thales, the nature of things is water. When we say that the nature of things is water, we mean that water is the main element of everything, the main substance, the first cause from which everything comes from. Water is the main substance that does not change but all other beings are born from and return to itself.
Aristotle takes this view, which characterizes Thales, in two respects. According to Aristotle, this view is based on experience on the one hand and mythology on the other. The experiential aspect of the existence of water at the origin of everything is that everything is nourished by humidity, and life originates from water and humidity (Metaphysics, 983b27). The mythological foundations of the acceptance of water as the origin are found in the myth about Oceanos, on which the understanding of the earth above water is also based. According to this understanding, Oceanus is located at the beginning of the world. The daughters of Oceanos, on the other hand, help people to renew their life force. In addition to these two related myths, the ancients and heroes swearing on Styx, a branch of Oceanus, is also stated as one of the indicators that water is considered sacred (Metaphysics, 983b27-30).
The philosophical discussion of Thales’s understanding, which accepts that water is at the root of everything, takes place mainly in Aristotle’s book On Creation and Decay, taking into account the changes in the objects in the world. According to the narratives in this book, philosophers are classified by Aristotle in terms of their views on the Elements they accept as a principle to explain the multiplicity in the universe. Aristotle distinguishes between philosophers who argue that the universe consists of a single element and those who argue that the universe consists of more than one element. While the first of these argue that the basis of the sensible bodies is one, the number of these elements is more than one for the second ones.
According to the philosophers in the first group, including Thales, everything arises from an element in the material structure. All other things arise from the element in question by dilution and concentration through quantitative change. The fundamental problem is how the multitude in the entire universe can be composed of a single element. According to Aristotle, the representatives of both understandings can only partially explain the changes in the world. According to Aristotle, in order to explain that the universe consists of a single substance, these philosophers have to accept that becoming and metamorphosis are the same. Because each element of the rest of the universe has to consist of the transformation of this element. Therefore, according to Aristotle, philosophers who accept a single substance are uncomfortable with this. Because in this case the subject remains one and the same. However, Aristotle states that both metamorphosis and growth and contraction occur in a single object.
On the other hand, for the philosophers who argue that there are many elements in the basis of the universe, becoming and metamorphosis mean different things. For these latter, becoming is the coming together and decomposition of the multiplicity of elements in various ways (On Becoming and Decay, 214a-215a).
B.C. In the 2500s, the Minoan civilization in Crete and later the Mycenaean civilization in Greece relied on religion to explain physical phenomena.
B.C. In the 1100s, the Babylonian creation myth, Enuma Elish, said that the first state of the world consisted of a body of water. B.C. In the 700s, the Greek thinker and poet Hesiods, wrote a great work on how the gods created the universe. B.C. At the beginning of the 5th century, Empedocles stated that the universe consisted of four elements: earth, water, air and fire. B.C. In the 400s, Leucippos and Democritus decided that the cosmos consists only of atoms and space.
During the Archaic period (mid 8th to 6th century BC), the peoples of the Greek peninsula gradually formed a group of city-states. They developed an alphabetical writing system and laid the foundations for what is now known as Western philosophy. Earlier civilizations resorted to religion to explain the phenomena around them, but these new generation philosophers, whose name we have mentioned above, tried to make more natural and rational explanations.
The first of these new scientific thinkers, as far as is known, was Thales of Miletus. Although none of Thales’ writings have survived, we can see many things about him by looking at the history of philosophy.
Thales, BC. He is famous for predicting the total solar eclipse in 585. This practical way of thinking instilled in him the idea that events in the world do not occur by supernatural interventions, but by natural causes that can be revealed by reason and observation. Thales also realized that every large piece of land seems to end at a water’s edge. For this reason, he reached the assumption that the whole earth was floating on a water bed from which it emerged.
Thales also stated that earthquakes are caused by some fluctuations and turbulence in the water. However, another issue as interesting as the details of Thales’ theories is that they are based on Thales’ philosophy.