Milesian School Philosophy | Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes | Index
It was not accidental that the first Western Philosophers, pre-Socratics were citizens of Miletus, a prosperous trading centre of Ionian Greeks on the Asiatic coast, where Greek and Oriental cultures met and mingled.
Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes were all from the city of Miletus in Ionia (now the western coast of Turkey) and make up what is referred to as the Milesian “school” of philosophy.
Tradition reports that Thales was the teacher of Anaximander, who in turn taught Anaximenes.
Aristotle begins his account of the history of philosophy as the search for causes and principles (in Metaphysics I) with these three.
The Milesian heritage included the myths and religious beliefs of their own people and their Eastern neighbours and also the store of Egyptian and Babylonian knowledge—astronomical, mathematical and technological.
The influence of this heritage was considerable:
Yet the Milesians consciously rejected the mythical and religious tradition of their ancestors, in particular its belief in the agency of anthropomorphic gods, and their debt to the knowledge of the East was not a philosophic one. That knowledge was limited because its aim was practical.
Astronomy served religion; mathematics settled questions of land measurement and taxation:
For these purposes the careful recording of data and the making of certain limited generalizations sufficed, and the realm of ultimate causes was left to dogmatism.
For the Greeks knowledge became an end in itself, and in the uninhibited atmosphere of Miletus they gave free play to the typically Greek talent for generalization, abstraction, and the erection of bold and all-embracing explanatory hypotheses.
Consciously, the revolt of the Milesian philosophers against both the content and the method of mythology was complete:
No longer were natural processes to be at the mercy of gods with human passions and unpredictable intentions. In their place was to come a reign of universal and discoverable law.