John Burnet (essay date 1920)
SOURCE: John Burnet, "The Ionians," in Greek Philosophy: Thales to Plato, Part I, Macmillan and Co., Limited, 1920, pp. 17-36
[In the following excerpt, Burnet examines Anaximander's scientific system in relation to later ancient and early modern cosmological models.]
[The] generation of the Milesian school [after Thales] is represented by Anaximander. We are on surer ground with regard to his doctrines; for he wrote a book which was extant in the time of Theophrastos and later. It is probable that it was the first Greek book written in prose, and it may be noted here that Ionic prose was the regular medium of philosophical and scientific writing. Two Greek philosophers, Parmenides and Empedokles, wrote in verse at a later date, but that was quite exceptional, and due to causes we can still to some extent trace. Anaximander was also the first cartographer, and this connects him with his younger fellow-citizen Hekataios, whose work formed, as has been said, the text of Anaximander's map.
Anaximander seems to have thought it unnecessary to fix upon "air," water, or fire as the original and primary form of body. He preferred to represent that sim ply as a boundless something … from which all things arise and to which they all return again. His reason for looking at it in this way is still in part ascertainable. It is certain that he had been struck by a fact which dominated all subsequent physical theory among the Greeks, namely, that the world presents us with a series of opposites, of which the most primary are hot and cold, wet and dry. If we look at things from this point of view, it is more natural to speak of the opposites as being "separating out" from a mass which is as yet undifferentiated than to make any one of the opposites the primary substance. Thales, Anaximander seems to have argued, made the wet too important at the expense of the dry. Some such thought, at any rate, appears to underlie the few words of the solitary fragment of his writing that has been preserved. He said that things "give satisfaction and reparation to one another for their injustice, as is appointed according to the ordering of time." This conception of justice and injustice recurs more than once in Ionic natural philosophy, and always in the same connexion. It refers to the encroachment of one opposite or "element" upon another. It is in consequence of this that they are both absorbed once more in their common ground. As that is spatially boundless, it is natural to assume that worlds1 arise in it elsewhere than with us. Each world is a sort of bubble in the boundless mass. Our authorities attribute this view to Anaximander, and no good...
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