CHAPTER VIII. GRECIAN PHILOSOPHY.
He was the first who attempted a logical solution of material phenomena, without resorting to mythical representations. Thales felt that there was a grand question to be answered relative to the beginning of things. "Philosophy," it has been well said, "may be a history of errors, but not of follies" It was not a folly, in a rude age, to speculate on the first or fundamental principle of things. He looked around him upon Nature, upon the sea and earth and sky, and concluded that water or moisture was the vital principle. He felt it in the air, he saw it in the clouds above, and in the ground beneath his feet. He saw that plants were sustained by rain and by the dew, that neither animal nor man could live without water, and that to fishes it was the native element. What more important or vital than water? It was the prima materia, the [Greek: archae], the beginning of all things - the origin of the world. [Footnote: Aristotle, Metaph., 1. c. 3; Diog. Laertius, Thales.] I do not here speak of his astronomical and geometrical labors - as the first to have divided the year into three hundred and sixty-five days. He is celebrated also for practical wisdom. "Know thyself," is one of his remarkable sayings. But the foundation principle of his philosophy was that water is the first cause of all things - the explanation, of the origin of the universe. How so crude a speculation could have been maintained by so wise a man it is difficult to conjecture. It is not, however, the reason which he assigns for the beginning of things which is noteworthy, so much as the fact that his mind was directed to the solution of questions pertaining to the origin of the universe. It was these questions which marked the Ionian philosophers. It was these which showed the inquiring nature of their minds. What is the great first cause of all things? Thales saw it in one of the four elements of nature, as the ancients divided them. And it is the earliest recorded theory among the Greeks of the origin of the world. It is an induction from the phenomena of animated nature - the nutrition and production of a seed. [Footnote: Bitter, b. iii. c. 3; Lewes, ch. 1.] He regarded the entire world in the light of a living being gradually maturing and forming itself from an imperfect seed state, which was of a moist nature. This moisture endues the universe with vitality. The world, he thought, was full of gods, but they had their origin in water. He had no conception of God as Intelligence, or as a creative power. He had a great and inquiring mind, but he was a pagan, with no knowledge of a spiritual and controlling and personal deity.
[Anaximenes. Air the animus mundi.]
Anaximenes, his disciple, pursued his inquiries, and adopted his method. He also was born in Miletus, but at what time is unknown, probably B.C. 529. Like Thales, he held to the eternity of matter. Like him, he disbelieved in the existence of any thing immaterial, for even a human soul is formed out of matter. He, too, speculated on the origin of the universe, but thought that air, not water, was the primal cause. [Footnote: Cicero, De Nat. D., i. 10.] This seemed to be universal. We breathe it; all things are sustained by it. It is Life - that is pregnant with vital energy, and capable of infinite transmutations. All things are produced by it; all is again resolved into it; it supports all things; it surrounds the world; it has infinitude; it has eternal motion. Thus did this philosopher reason, comparing the world with our own living existence, - which he took to be air, - an imperishable principle of life. He thus advanced a step on Thales, since he regarded the world not after the analogy of an imperfect seed-state, but that of the highest condition of life, - the human soul. [Footnote: Ritter, b. iii. c. 3.] And he attempted to refer to one general law all the transformations of the first simple substance into its successive states, for the cause of change is the eternal motion of the air.
[Diogenes. Air and soul identical.]