Anaximenes | by Ancient Philosophers


Anaximenes | by Ancient Philosophers

Ancient sources say that Anaximenes was a younger associate or pupil of Anaximander:

Like Anaximander he agrees with Thales that there is a single cause, but he disagrees with both Thales and Anaximander about what it is:

He calls this basic stuff aēr (usually translated “air,” although aēr is more like a dense mist than what we think of as air, which is ideally transparent).

Aēr is indefinite enough to give rise to the other things in the cosmos,
but it is not as vague as Anaximander’s Apeiron (or indefinite).

Anaximander seems to have left it unclear just what it is that comes from the Apeiron and then produces the hot and the cold, and Anaximenes could well have argued that the Apeiron was simply too indefinite to do the cosmic job Anaximander intended for it.

In a major step away from Thales and Anaximander, Anaximenes explicitly includes condensation and rarefaction as the processes that transform aēr and the other stuffs of the cosmos.

Like the other Pre-Socratics, Anaximenes gave explanations of all sorts of meteorological and other natural phenomena:

1. Anaximenes . . . like Anaximander, declares that the underlying nature is one and unlimited [Apeiron] but not indeterminate, as Anaximander held, but definite, saying that it is Air.

It differs in rarity and density according to the substances <it becomes>.

Becoming finer, it comes to be fire; being condensed, it comes to be wind, then cloud; and when still further condensed, it becomes water, then earth, then stones, and the rest come to be from these.

He too makes motion eternal and says that change also comes to be through it.

(Theophrastus, quoted by Simplicius, Commentary on Aristotle’s Physics)

2. Just as our Soul, being Air, holds us together and controls us,
so do Breath and Air surround the whole cosmos.

(Pseudo-Plutarch, Opinions)

3. Anaximenes determined that Air is a god
and that it comes to be and is without measure, infinite, and always in motion.

(Cicero, On the Nature of the Gods)

4. Anaximenes . . . declared that the principle is unlimited [Apeiron] Air,

from which come to be things that are coming to be, things that have come to be, and things that will be, and gods and divine things. The rest come to be out of the products of this.

The form of Air is the following:

when it is most even, it is invisible,
but it is revealed by the cold and the hot and the wet, and by its motion.

It is always moving,
for all the things that undergo change would not change if it were not moving.

For when it becomes condensed or finer, it appears different.
For when it is dissolved into a finer condition it becomes fire,
and on the other hand air being condensed becomes winds.

Cloud comes from Air through felting,
and water comes to be when this happens to a greater degree.

When condensed still more it becomes Earth,
and when it reaches the absolutely densest stage it becomes stones.

(Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies)

5. Or as Anaximenes of old believed,

let us leave neither the cold nor the hot in the category of substance, but <hold them to be> common attributes of matter, which come as the results of its changes.

For he declares that the contracted state of matter and the condensed state is cold,
whereas what is fine and “loose” (calling it this way with this very word) is hot.

As a result he claimed that it is not said unreasonably
that a person releases both hot and cold from his mouth:

For the Breath becomes cold when compressed and condensed by the lips, and when the mouth is relaxed, the escaping breath becomes warm because of rareness.

(Plutarch, The Principle of Cold)

6. When the Air was being felted the Earth was the first thing to come into being, and it is very flat. This is why it rides upon the Air, as is reasonable.

(Pseudo-Plutarch, Miscellanies)

7.  Anaximenes, Anaxagoras, and Democritus say that its flatness is the cause of its staying at rest.

For it does not cut the air below but covers it like a lid,
as bodies with flatness apparently do;
they are difficult for winds to move because of their resistance.

They say that the Earth does this same thing with respect to the Air beneath because of its flatness. And the Air, lacking sufficient room to move aside, stays at rest in a mass because of the Air beneath.

(Aristotle, On the Heavens)

8. Likewise the Sun and Moon and all the other heavenly bodies, which are fiery, ride upon the air on account of their flatness.

The Stars came into being from the Earth because moisture rises up out of it. When the moisture becomes fine, fire comes to be and the stars are formed of fire rising aloft.

There are also earthen bodies in the region of the stars carried around together with them.

He says that the Stars do not move under the earth as others have supposed, but around it, as a felt cap turns around our head.

The Sun is hidden not because it is under the earth but because it is covered by the higher parts of the earth and on account of the greater distance it comes to be from us.

Because of their distance the Stars do not give heat.

(Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies)

9. Anaximenes stated that Clouds occur when the Air is further thickened.
When it is condensed still more, rain is squeezed out.

Hail occurs when the falling water freezes,
and snow when some wind is caught up in the moisture.


10. Anaximenes declares that when the earth is being drenched and dried out it bursts, and earthquakes result from these hills breaking off and collapsing.

This is why earthquakes occur in droughts and also in heavy rains.

For in the droughts, as was said, the earth is broken while being dried out,
and when it becomes excessively wet from the waters, it falls apart.

(Aristotle, Meteorology)