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The philosophy of Western civilization is said to originate in ancient Greece. Here it revolved around three of the world’s most well-known thinkers; Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Unfortunately, this is not where we will begin our study. While Socrates might have been one of the worlds’ greatest thinkers, his philosophy was based on the men that came before him. The philosophical fertility present in ancient Greece was more than abundant by the time the big three came around. This early era is often referred to as the Pre-Socratic philosophy, quite literally meaning, philosophy before Socrates. It was here that more than a hundred plus philosophers attempted to make a name for themselves. In this paper, we will review two; Anaximander and Pythagoras.
To further immerse ourselves in the culture of the time it would behoove me to explain that pre-Socratic philosophers tended to focus on three main issues. The first of the three is the mentality of “the one and the many,” meaning that one simple thing can be the explanation of multiple phenomena. In class, we established that this type of thinking could come down to deductive or inductive reasoning. Or in laymen’s terms, bringing the general to specific, or building upon the specific to create a general overview of what is happening around us.
The second issue is that of “change and consistency. ” There is a wide variety of ever changing items around us. This can include water, trees, rocks, your dog, and even yourself. But the problem is wondering where and why we continue to change. What power is causing this and what is its ultimate purpose in doing so. Also, how can things change but even still retain their original identity. A withered tree is still a tree and a rock eroded by rain is still a rock. The second half of this problem being, consistency. If most things around us, even ourselves, continue to change what keeps other things from changing at all. How do plants continue to grow every year in the same soil they were grown in the year before? How could the sky be ever changing but the stars in the heavens always return at some point in the year. In this case our class discussed that everything you perceive could be a coherent or correspondent. Coherence being that everything is relative to a set of beliefs that could hold truth. Correspondent being that the things you perceive are here because they lie within the parameters of what you personally believe to be true.
Lastly, we are brought to the issue of relativism and reality. Philosophers of this time and age had a very limited science, although it was ever growing. There was not much scientific fact being spread around but rather theological truth. Thus, many had a hard time determining whether or not the principals they came to believe were absolute or man-made. When concerning relativism, many believed that the opinion being presented to them did not have to be based on worldly truth but rather be useful as a stepping stone for growth. As long as a theory could be altered, philosophers considered it to be an accurate enough stand point. While reality based science was literally what people could see happening right in front of them. If the same result could not be reproduced then it was no longer reality, but a falsified theory. These two conflicting factors built up many different views of the world and lead many of these pre-Socratic philosophers to sound like mad men. But, without them there would not be the great three to begin with.
Now that a background has been laid down we will jump right into the belief of Anaximander the Milesian. This man was one of the first know philosophers of ancient Greece whom was stationed in a city-state called Miletus (which is now turkey). He was born in 610 BCE and died in 546 BCE. Anaximander was the Greek philosopher that first developed a systemic philosophical view of the world. While only a very small fragment of his work survives, Anaximander was known to have been quoted by later philosophers in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd centuries. It is said that he went to Sparta and set up a shadow casting rod in order to predict equinoxes, solstices, and various hours of the day. At a later date in his life he was also suspected of drawing a world map as well as building a celestial globe.
When considering his philosophical views, Anaximander was quite the experimentalist. He proposed that everything originated from the “apeiron”, or the infinite, rather than a particular element. He rejected the learnings of his teacher Thales, whom believed that water was the tie down of all life on earth. He thought rather that the first beings came about by moist elements of evaporation, and that man had come from some other kind of animal like a fish or a bird. He though this because the amount of time needed to nurture a child was very extended, and if they were just to form from water then they would not have enough survived as long as they did now.
Anaximander was also one to question the motion of the stars above him. He believed the inhabited part of earth to be flat while the rest of the world was shaped as a cylinder. He believed this because the sun and moon were constantly the same length away no matter how many times they appeared. Earth was poised in such a way that everything would revolve around it because it did not have any reason to move. Yet, he did not forget his aperion. He claimed the world to not be eternal as everything would one day be destroyed and returned to the infinity, in which a new world would later be born. Thus, all existing things must “pay penalty and retribution to one another for their injustice, according to the disposition of time,” as he was said to have quoted. Anaximander was said to have also investigated much further into primitive astrology but his efforts were very easily overlooked. Regardless, his rational and attempts at explaining the world had a lasting influence and were built upon by many philosophers after him.
Second, we will talk about the famed mathematician and philosopher, Pythagoras. He was born 570 BCE and died between 500/490 BCE. Pythagoras was based in Metapontum, Lucanium (Italy) and here formed the Pythagorean brotherhood. He along with his men formulated many principals that would later influence the thought of Plato, Aristotle, and contribute to the future development of mathematics. It is unsure how many of his works survived, but it is known that many of his followers quoted his name in their own personal findings. He is however generally accredited with the theory of functional significance of numbers and in music speculation. It is also said that within his own school he brought about the idea of the transmigration of souls. Although his main doctrine was that “all things are numbers” which means the essence of all things could be determined by relating them numerically.
In the beginning this practice was too, a very broad generalization of things that he could not properly understand but would later turn into a fine-tuned science. A few observations consisted of disks, pipes, strings and the like to show that they were somehow connected. The thought of ratio, was then brought on to the scene when he tried to compare them to each other. In one dimensional extensions Pythagoras was able to observe that regularities within previously unrelated objects did in fact exist. He would then go on and apply this observation to the celestial bodies above him.
According to Pythagoras and his men everything could be calculated based upon its location with another item, ultimately forming a triangle. When applied with the proper accuracy this principal would render you the accurate location of anything you wished to find, even your own spirituality. In contrast with the current naturalism that was taking place in his society this man was akin to the trends seen in religious movements. Drawing back on his transmigration of soul’s theory it is not so far-fetched that he believed that numbers could rule everything. He believed in a certain type of perfection that only someone of old age and wisdom could properly function with. Any younger soul could not possibly be aware of the numeric value of everything surrounding them every day.
In the end both men had drastically different values and core beliefs that spurred their philosophies. Their natural world was based upon their social, economic, and political status of the current times. While one man was based off the mythological one was building upon a numeric foundation. The people they interacted with and the amount of merit they received was also very different. While Pythagoras founded his own church, Anaximander was a man that was constantly questioned for his ability to defy his very own teacher. The amount of “science” done in Anaximander’s day was also very low in number. He lived in an era where ideologies and gods ruled the natural mind, whilst Pythagoras was on the spear head of scientific discovery. Everything about these two men were very different but without the building blocks provided by Anaximander and his fellow philosophers, Pythagoras would have had no information to build off of. One man’s research without the other would have been unfathomable, and Current progress would not have been made.
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