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The Boundary Of The Boundless Of Anaximander Philosophy Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Philosophy
Wordcount: 3094 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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This study tells about Anaximander’s theory of Apeiron and as well as his life and his philosophical background. Anaximander is said to be a younger contemporary of Thales, who also sought for the first material principle; he was a disciple and successor of Thales and philosophized in dialogue with him. He was not mentioned until the time of Aristotle. Unlike Thales, Anaximander wrote a philosophical work, entitled On Nature; unfortunately, neither this nor any of his other works has survived. The information about his philosophy came from summaries of it by other writers, especially Aristotle and Theophrastus. Anaximander was said to have drawn the first map of the inhabited world on a tablet, which was a marvel in his day (Agathemerus I, 1)

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Statement of the Problem

Anaximander’s theory of Apeiron, a Greek word which literarily means “boundless, indeterminate, unlimited, infinite, or indefinite” is an unintelligible idea about the origin of all things. It gave confusion with his Arche which means “beginning, or origin”. He explains how the four elements of ancient physics (air, earth, water and fire) are formed, and how Earth and terrestrial beings are formed through their interactions. However, unlike other Pre-Socratics, he never defines this principle precisely, and it has generally been understood (e.g., by Aristotle and by Saint Augustine) as a sort of primal chaos.

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Background of the Study

Anaximander’s Biography

Anaximander, son of Praxiades, was born in Miletus during the third year of the 42nd Olympiad (610 BC). According to Apollodorus of Athens, Greek grammarian of the 2nd century BC, he was sixty-four years old during the second year of the 58th Olympiad (547-546 BC), and died shortly afterwards.

Establishing a timeline of his work is now impossible, since no document provides chronological references. Themistius, a 4th-century Byzantine rhetorician, mentions that he was the “first of the known Greeks to publish a written document on nature.” Therefore his texts would be amongst the earliest written in prose, at least in the Western world. By the time of Plato, his philosophy was almost forgotten, and Aristotle, his successor Theophrastus and a few doxographers provide us with the little information that remains. However, we know from Aristotle that Thales, also from Miletus, precedes Anaximander. It is debatable whether Thales actually was the teacher of Anaximander, but there is no doubt that Anaximander was influenced by Thales’ theory that everything is derived from water. One thing that is not debatable is that even the ancient Greeks considered Anaximander to be from the Monist school which began in Miletus with Thales followed by Anaximander and finished with Anaximenes 3rd-centuryRoman rhetorician Aelian depicts him as leader of the Milesian colony to Apollonia on the Black Sea coast, and hence some have inferred that he was a prominent citizen. Indeed, Various History (III, 17) explains that philosophers sometimes also dealt with political matters. It is very likely that leaders of Miletus sent him there as a legislator to create a constitution or simply to maintain the colony’s allegiance.

Philosophical View

The Apeiron

Anaximander shares Thales assumption that all things originate from one original element and ultimately are that element; to use Aristotle’s terminology, he holds that there is a first (material) principle (arche) of all things. Unlike Thales, however, Anaximander asserts that the first principle is not water but what he calls theapeiron, translated as the indeterminate or limitless. Simplicius , drawing upon theophrastus’ work, gives following account of anaximander’s.

Anaximander named the arche and element of existing things the apeiron, being the first to introduce this name for the arche. He says that it is neither water nor any other of the so-called elements, but a different substance that is limitless or indeterminate, from which there come into being all the heavens and the worlds within them.

Harmony of the Opposites

Dependent upon Theophrastus, Simplicius says according to Anaximander, “things perish into those things out of which they have their being, according to necessity; for they make just recompense to one another for their injustice according to the ordinance or assessment of time.

The Aperion as Unconditioned and God

We cannot say that the apeiron has no effect, and the only effectiveness which we can ascribe to it is that of a principle. Everything is either a source or derived from a source. But there cannot be a source of the apeiron, for that would be a limit of it. Further, as it is a

Beginning, it is both uncreatable and indestructible. For there must be a point at which what has come to be reaches completion and also a termination of all passing away. That is why, as we say there is no principle of this, but it is this which is held to be the principle of other things, and to encompass all and to steer all; as those assert who do not recognize, alongside the infinite, other causes such as mind or friendship.


Anaximander’s theories were influenced by the Greek mythical tradition, and by some ideas of Thales – the father of philosophy – as well as by observations made by older civilizations in the East (especially by the Babylonian astrologists). All these were elaborated rationally. In his desire to find some universal principle, he assumed like traditional religion the existence of a cosmic order and in elaborating his ideas on this he used the old mythical language which ascribed divine control to various spheres of reality. This was a common practice for the Greek philosophers in a society which saw gods everywhere; therefore they could fit their ideas into a tolerably elastic system.


For Anaximander, the principle of things, the constituent of all substances, is nothing determined and not an element such as water in Thales’ view. Neither is it something halfway between air and water, or between air and fire, thicker than air and fire, or more subtle than water and earth. Anaximander argues that water cannot embrace all of the opposites found in nature – for example, water can only be wet, never dry – and therefore cannot be the one primary substance; nor could any of the other candidates. He postulated the apeiron as a substance that, although not directly perceptible to us, could explain the opposites he saw around him. Anaximander maintains that all dying things are returning to the element from which they came (apeiron). 


Anaximander’s bold use of non-mythological explanatory hypotheses considerably distinguishes him from previous cosmology writers such as Hesiod. It confirms that pre-Socratic philosophers were making an early effort to demythify physical processes. His major contribution to history was writing the oldest prose document about the Universe and the origins of life; for this he is often called the “Father of Cosmology” and founder of astronomy. However, pseudo-Plutarch states that he still viewed celestial bodies as deities.

Anaximander was the first to conceive a mechanical model of the world. In his model, the Earth floats very still in the centre of the infinite, not supported by anything. It remains “in the same place because of its indifference”, a point of view that Aristotle considered ingenious, but false, in On the Heavens. Its curious shape is that of a cylinder with a height one-third of its diameter. The flat top forms the inhabited world, which is surrounded by a circular oceanic mass.

Such a model allowed the concept that celestial bodies could pass under it. It goes further than Thales’ claim of a world floating on water, for which Thales faced the problem of explaining what would contain this ocean, while Anaximander solved it by introducing his concept of infinite (apeiron).

Multiple Worlds

According to Simplicius, Anaximander already speculated on the plurality of worlds, similar to atomists Leucippus and Democritus, and later philosopher Epicurus. These thinkers supposed that worlds appeared and disappeared for a while, and that some were born when others perished. They claimed that this movement was eternal, “for without movement, there can be no generation, no destruction”.

In addition to Simplicius, Hippolytus reports Anaximander’s claim that from the infinite comes the principle of beings, which themselves come from the heavens and the worlds (several doxographers use the plural when this philosopher is referring to the worlds within, which are often infinite in quantity). Cicero writes that he attributes different gods to the countless worlds.

This theory places Anaximander close to the Atomists and the Epicureans who, more than a century later, also claimed that an infinity of worlds appeared and disappeared. In the timeline of the Greek history of thought, some thinkers conceptualized a single world (Plato, Aristotle, Anaxagoras and Archelaus), while others instead speculated on the existence of a series of worlds, continuous or non-continuous (Anaximenes, Heraclitus, Empedocles and Diogenes).

 Meteorological phenomena

Anaximander attributed some phenomena, such as thunder and lightning, to the intervention of elements, rather than to divine causes. In his system, thunder results from the shock of clouds hitting each other; the loudness of the sound is proportionate with that of the shock. Thunder without lightning is the result of the wind being too weak to emit any flame, but strong enough to produce a sound. A flash of lightning without thunder is a jolt of the air that disperses and falls, allowing a less active fire to break free. Thunderbolts are the result of a thicker and more violent air flow.

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He saw the sea as a remnant of the mass of humidity that once surrounded Earth. A part of that mass evaporated under the sun’s action, thus causing the winds and even the rotation of the celestial bodies, which he believed were attracted to places where water is more abundant. He explained rain as a product of the humidity pumped up from Earth by the sun. For him, the Earth was slowly drying up and water only remained in the deepest regions, which someday would go dry as well. According to Aristotle’s Meteorology (II, 3), Democritus also shared this opinion.

Origin of humankind

Anaximander speculated about the beginnings and origin of animal life. Taking into account the existence of fossils, he claimed that animals sprang out of the sea long ago. The first animals were born trapped in a spiny bark, but as they got older, the bark would dry up and break.

Anaximander put forward the idea that humans had to spend part of this transition inside the mouths of big fish to protect themselves from the Earth’s climate until they could come out in open air and lose their scales. He thought that, considering humans’ extended infancy, we could not have survived in the primeval world in the same manner we do presently.

Other Accomplishments


Maps were produced in ancient times, also notably in Egypt, Lydia, the Middle East, and Babylon. Only some small examples survived until today. The unique example of a world map comes from late Babylonian tablet BM 92687 later than 9th century BCE but is based probably on a much older map. These maps indicated directions, roads, towns, borders, and geological features. Anaximander’s innovation was to represent the entire inhabited land known to the ancient Greeks.

Such an accomplishment is more significant than it at first appears. Anaximander most likely drew this map for three reasons. First, it could be used to improve navigation and trade between Miletus’s colonies and other colonies around the Mediterranean Sea and Black Sea. Second, Thales would probably have found it easier to convince the Ionian city-states to join in a federation in order to push the Median threat away if he possessed such a tool. Finally, the philosophical idea of a global representation of the world simply for the sake of knowledge was reason enough to design one.


The Suda relates that Anaximander explained some basic notions of geometry. It also mentions his interest in the measurement of time and associates him with the introduction in Greece of the gnomon. In Lacedaemon, he participated in the construction, or at least in the adjustment, of sundials to indicate solstices and equinoxes. Indeed, a gnomon required adjustments from a place to another because of the difference in latitude.

In his time, the gnomon was simply a vertical pillar or rod mounted on a horizontal plane. The position of its shadow on the plane indicated the time of day. As it moves through its apparent course, the sun draws a curve with the tip of the projected shadow, which is shortest at noon, when pointing due south. The variation in the tip’s position at noon indicates the solar time and the seasons; the shadow is longest on the winter solstice and shortest on the summer solstice.

However, the invention of the gnomon itself cannot be attributed to Anaximander because its use, as well as the division of days into twelve parts, came from the Babylonians. It is they, according toHerodotus’ Histories (II, 109), who gave the Greeks the art of time measurement. It is likely that he was not the first to determine the solstices, because no calculation is necessary. On the other hand, equinoxes do not correspond to the middle point between the positions during solstices, as the Babylonians thought. As the Suda seems to suggest, it is very likely that with his knowledge of geometry, he became the first Greek to accurately determine the equinoxes.

Prediction of an earthquake

In his philosophical work De Divinatione (I, 50, 112), Cicero states that Anaximander convinced the inhabitants of Lacedaemon to abandon their city and spend the night in the country with their weapons because an earthquake was near. The city collapsed when the top of the Taygetus split like the stern of a ship. Pliny the Elder also mentions this anecdote (II, 81), suggesting that it came from an “admirable inspiration”, as opposed to Cicero, who did not associate the prediction with divination.

Philosophy Contributions

Cosmology – the production of the opposite and their separating off are important in his cosmology “penalty and retribution of the opposites in accord to the assessment of time. The earth is cylindrical in shape and its depth is 1/3 its breath. It is immobile (the earth does not rest on water ) in the center of the universe by way of its equilibrium. The earth may someday become dry. Concerning the formation of the heavenly bodies: the sun is equal to the earth. The circles and spheres carry the heavenly bodies. An eclipse occur when the aperture of the sun or moon are blocked. Concerning meteorological phenomena: the winds thunder and lightning – all these have to do with winds.

Zoogamy – the 1st living creatures were born in moisture and enclosed in thorny barks. As their age grows they came forth into the drier part and the bark was broken off.

Anthropology- Anaximander held the theory of evolution of animals. Man was born from animals of another species (man come into being inside fishes).


Anaximander was indeed one of the greatest minds that ever lived. By speculating and arguing about the “Boundless” he was the first metaphysician. By drawing a map of the world he was the first geographer, by boldly speculating about the universe he broke with the ancient image of the celestial vault and became the discoverer of the Western world-picture. The Boundless has no origin. For then it would have a limit. Aristotle once said “there is no beginning of the infinite, or in that case it would have an end. But without beginning and indestructible, as being, a sort of first principle is necessary for whatever comes into existence should have and end and there is a conclusion of all destruction. But there is no principle of this Apeiron” (www.egs.edu/library/anaximander/qoutes) and Anaximander himself affirm that that all dying things are returning to the element which they came which is the apeiron. The fact that things dies, decays, or wither states its limit, therefore it is limited, finite, and is bounded by the natural law. We find his theory of Apeiron unbelievable especially when it is first; a theory and has no proof, second; a paradox itself in a way that he viewed the world as tangled in a neatly bounded category. It’s hard to believe on what someone has said when that someone, itself, defies what he have stated and thus formed a seemingly contradictory paradox that leads to confusion.


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