What was Thale's philosophy

Course: First Contact - An Introduction to Philosophy / History

Who invented it? [Edit]

At this point the large dusty book is taken from the top shelf and opened. As you have probably already guessed, this is the history book and it should help us shed some light on the origins of philosophy.

Foreplay [edit]

Ptolemaic hieroglyphic text on the temple of Kom Ombo

Everything starts around 4000 BC. At that time, Egypt and Babylon were the advanced civilizations of the world. The Egyptians enjoy painting ideograms (small pictures) on papyrus and houses and thus invent the world's first writing system.


The priests of both the Babylonians and the Egyptians look to the sky and observe the movements of the stars.

Merchant and pirate ships cruised the Mediterranean, which was largely the same at the time. The peoples of the Mediterranean trade and exchange knowledge and cultural goods by sea when they are not cutting their heads.

In this historically wild back and forth, the coast of today's Greece will be settled over the next few years. One shouldn't think of ancient Greece as a modern state of today. So a big piece of land called Greece and various cities in this country.

They were a number of small autonomous states with their own laws, different dialects, and each with their own interests.

These states often consisted of nothing more than a city and a little farmland around it. There was war and trade between the individual states and there must have been a very varied culture in this country.

There were the Spartans, for example. A people of aristocrats who were fed by serfs from other tribes.

In addition, there were peasant regions that lived mainly from the produce of their agriculture, such as Arcadia. Old fertility cults often prevailed in such areas and people's thinking was permeated with superstition that led to human sacrifice.

Cities with access to the sea generally became wealthy quickly through trade and piracy, which led to the limitation of superstition, so that one contented oneself with sacrificing objects and animals to the gods. The wealth was invested in an economic industry which, through slave labor, made the citizens even more wealthy.

Rich city-states like Corinth and Athens consisted of a city and the farmland around it.

They were first ruled by monarchs and aristocrats before the citizens gained power and tyrants replaced the aristocracy. In bloody unrest, the citizens finally demanded power for themselves and thus created democracy (which then alternated with tyranny for a number of years).

But of course you didn't just beat your heads with your rulers and neighbors, there were also the Phoenicians.

Phoenicians and Greeks traded and fought for supremacy in the Mediterranean.

Knowledge of the world was shaped by Egyptian and Babylonian influences.

This is the time of Homer, who science today assumes was not a single poet but a whole series of poets dating from about 750-550 BC. Worked.

Homer was a huge influence on Greek culture. For example, the young Athenians had to learn Homeric poetry by heart in their training.

Homer's gods are very human beings who really only differ from humans in their immortality and superhuman powers. From today's perspective, Mount Olympus with its gods has little religious in itself.

The gods did not create the world, they conquered the land. They fight, eat, make music and get drunk. Mount Olympus is a place of intrigue. The gods of this Olympus consider people to be toys.

The people don't look any better in Homer's poetry, either. It tells of blasphemy, murder, fraud, adultery, cannibalism and human sacrifice.

The great questions about the connection between life, people and gods are answered by the traditional legends. But there are many contradicting stories about the gods in Olympus in the different regions of the country.

The ancient poet Hesiod finally brought order to the world of the gods by drawing up a list of the gods' descent.

The writings of Homer or Hesiod are not to be understood as pure entertainment either, but rather as a teaching on the causes of the world and individual problems. In this way, transitoriness, the origin of evil, life after death and questions of responsibility and guilt are already addressed by Homer and Hesiod.

It was in this environment that natural science and western philosophy were born.

Hour of birth [edit]

Today Thales of Miletus (approx. 624-546 BC) is generally referred to as the "father of philosophy".

He ran a nautical school, gave political advice, observed the movements of the stars in the sky and worked as an architect. It is likely that he visited Egypt when he was younger, which can be compared to going to Harvard, MIT, or any other famous university today.

There is a freely available 60 minute amateur film about Thales von Milet by Bodo Gaßmann. However, the film is not intended to be sprinkled. Its content should be viewed critically and its statement questioned. Perhaps it will encourage discussion in the study group.

But why is he called the "father of philosophy"?

Well, he owes this title to Aristotle. Aristotle tells us about Thales as the first to practice a certain way of thinking.

Thales lived in Miletus, then a powerful trading town on the coast of Asia Minor, in what is now the Turkish part of the Aegean coast.

The landscape of Asia Minor, richly supplied by the meandering rivers, allowed its farmers two or more harvests per year.

Milet's four ports formed the gateway to the world for this country, so to speak. The trade between the Near East and ancient Greece is practically carried out through this city.

Thales, who is counted among the seven wise men of antiquity, looks at the world from a rational point of view for the first time, as far as has been handed down.

Thales probably learned of the Babylonian sky observations on his trip to Egypt. It was found there that certain events in the sky were repeated regularly. For example, they could predict a lunar eclipse and knew that every 18 years and 11 days a solar eclipse is very likely.

With this knowledge, Thales managed a solar eclipse in 585 BC. Successfully predict.

This prediction caused a stir at the time. He, a man, correctly predicted a solar eclipse and then not even the gods had whispered it to him, but he had counted it on his fingers, calculated it.

For Thales, the arbitrariness of the gods is no longer the cause of what happens in the world. The storm is no longer god's fart, but, Thales suspects, the equalization of two different temperatures, similar to what happens in the chimney. For the first time an attempt is made to find laws for nature. Thales sets up rules that should apply to similar things and is therefore no longer dependent on random observations of nature for individual objects.

Like all natural philosophers, Thales was also on the lookout for the primordial material of the world. He believed to have found him in water, i.e. for Thales water was the stuff of which the whole world was made.

Today we know that Thales was very wrong with this assumption. We know of atoms and even smaller building blocks called protons, neutrons, and electrons (there seem to be even smaller ones). Nevertheless, with his idea that the primary material of this world is water, Thales caused quite a stir in the ancient world and made today's rational thinking possible in the first place.

By designating water as the primary material of the world, he assumed a cause for the world as well as for the solar eclipse and the wind.

But what does that mean for understanding the world?

It is said that the world must be based on principles. Everything has a cause, a reason that can be seen. And whoever has recognized the reasons for something can influence the world. Once I have realized that hot stovetops are a cause of pain, I will be careful when using stovetops. If I know that my tomatoes will grow better in the garden with good care than if I leave them to their own devices, I will fertilize and water them regularly.

That all means'Not'Thales no longer believed in the gods, but his understanding of the gods was radically different from that of many of his contemporaries. Thales is said to have said: "Everything is full of gods". So he was not a materialist or an atheist, rather he distinguished between being and its basic principle, in his opinion water and the origin of being, the divine.

After Thales, others also dealt with the question of the origin of being - including Pythagoras and Heraclitus.

The pre-Socratics were followed by the sophists, who placed man at the center of their considerations and left nature behind. They were scholars and gifted speakers. The youth of wealthy citizens could learn the art of arguing from them. A skill that should not be underestimated in ancient Greece. At a time when you had to speak in court to assert your interests, the art of rhetoric was a helpful and important tool. Nevertheless, the sophists did not enjoy a good reputation, they questioned everything and were of the opinion that it was important to rhetorically throw the interlocutor off track and push through his own arguments instead of convincing with the means of reason.

Socrates overcomes the skepticism and corrosive criticism of the sophists, although he himself is often compared to them. He opens a new door to philosophy.

His pupil Plato and his pupil Aristotle finally lead philosophy to the climax of antiquity. Your ideas still have an impact on our thinking today. They are dedicated to the eternal questions of philosophy and influence the thinking of coming generations to a not inconsiderable degree.

Literature [edit]

  • Johannes Hirschberger History of Philosophy Comet ISBN 978-3-89836-656-4
  • Bertrand Russell Philosophy of the Occident Europe Verlag Zürich ISBN 978-3-89340-080-5
  • There is a freely available geo-article on the history of Sparta that gives an impression of the life of this ancient Greek people. It's only four double pages, so feel free to take a look.
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