Thales’s view that all things are full of spirits

Thales’s view that all things are full of spirits

June 28, 2021 Off By Felso

The third view about Thales, which is discussed in terms of philosophy, is the understanding that “everything is full of spirits and is alive”. When considered in terms of our subject, Thales is mentioned among the philosophers who say that the soul is motion.

One of the main reasons for Thales to be included in the group of thinkers claiming that the soul is the driving force is that Thales realized that the magnet has a gravitational force. It is stated that this power led Thales to think that the spirit is the driving force (On the Spirit, 405a15-20). These movable elements are also found in the air, which is why for these philosophers, air is considered to be a vitalizer. Aristotle states that the source of this understanding can be found in Orphean poems. According to these poems, the soul is an element that enters into the body of a living thing from the outer universe through a breath or similar way. In other words, this is living materialism. The concept of ‘living matter’, which Aristotle attributes to Thales, albeit indirectly, is aimed at solving the problem, which is also the focus of Aristotle’s criticisms.

This view, which is based on the possibility of spontaneous movement and asserts that there are spirits in everything, is criticized by Aristotle within the framework of his ‘material cause’ doctrine. According to Aristotle, accepting only the material cause is far from giving us the movement in the sense of becoming and decay. Because, considering the opposite, what is accepted as a basis will also have to be the reason for its own change. More clearly, “for example, the reason why wood or bronze changes is neither wood nor bronze. The wood that makes the bed is not the bronze that makes the statue” (Metaphysics, 984a23).

Nevertheless, the statements that show how much Aristotle was influenced by this thought are remarkable: “Animals and plants occur in soil or water. Because there is water in the soil and ‘pale’ (pneuma) in the water. In every ‘breath’ there is ‘soul warmth’ (thermoteta psükhiken). Thus, it is understood that everything is filled with the “spirit” (Metaphysics, 762a 20). When this understanding of “living matter” is considered together with the thought attributed to Thales, that necessity is the greatest power because it controls everything, the changes and transformations that occur in existence, according to Hesiod’s understanding of gods, are internal and to some extent arbitrary dynamics instead of external and to some extent arbitrary. It suggests that an understanding that excludes “goodness” has been introduced, although examples such as Oceanus or Styx, which was sworn on in ancient times, are cited by Aristotle as the reason for Thales’ choosing water as the first principle of everything, but now Oceanus is a father and Tethys is a mother and springs and streams, with their anthropomorphic divine features as streams surrounding the world, are not included in Thales’ explanations about natural events.

Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook