0005 Readings in the History of Philosophy – Anaximander

For an explanation of this series, see 0001 – Readings in the History of Philosophy – Introduction


Anaximander (c. 610 – c. 546 BC) may have been a pupil of the great Thales of Miletus.  He lived in Miletus in Ionia which lies in modern day Turkey.  He has been said to be the first person to make a map of the world and to have predicted an earthquake.  Anaximander posited a first principle, an arkhe (αρχή), called apeiron (ἄπειρον) which means “boundless” or “unlimited.”



Simplicius records Anaximander as having written:


Whence things have their origin,

Thence also their destruction happens,

According to necessity;

For they give to each other justice and recompense

For their injustice

In conformity with the ordinance of Time. (Simplicius, Comments on Aristotle’s Physics (24, 13))

Simplicius also says of Anaximander:

“Of those who declared that the first principle is one, moving and indefinite, Anaximander… said that the indefinite was the first principle and element of things that are, and he was the first to call the first principle indefinite [apeiron]. He says that the first principle is neither water nor any other of the things called elements, but some other nature which is indefinite, out of which come to be all the heavens and the worlds in them. The things that are perish into the things out of which they come to be, “according to necessity, for they pay the penalty and retribution to each other for their injustice in accordance with the ordering of time”, as he says in rather poetical language.” (Simplicius, Commentary on Aristotle’s Physics (24.13-21))

Thales is thought to have said that all is made of water, but Anaximander disagreed with this notion.  It seems that he did not think that all could be made of water, fire, earth, air, or any definite substance because of the existence of opposites.  Since water is wet, it would seem that dry things must not be water.  Since fire is hot, cold things could not be fire.  It seemed to Anaximander that the one stuff that everything must be made of must not be bounded so that it can be both wet and dry, hot and cold.  This, he called the apeiron (ἄπειρον).

Perhaps such a boundless apeiron seems implausible, but there were later philosophers who also posited original beings that seemed comparably strange.  The Plotinian One has no properties and predicates, Spinoza’s being was both mental and material and had an infinite number of other unknowable qualities.

Primary Sources


Other Reading:

Wiki – Anaximander

Clark, Gordon H. Thales to Dewey. P. 22-25

Curd, Patricia.  A Presocratics Reader P. 16-19

Simplicius, Comments on Aristotle’s Physics (24, 13):


Anaximander and Anaximenes – Dr. Peter Adamson

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