The Ionian School refers to a group of Greek philosophers who were active in Miletus, an Ionian colony in Asia Minor, during the sixth century B.C.E., and some of their successors who lived about one hundred years later. They are considered to be the earliest of the Greek philosophers, and therefore of the Western tradition of philosophy. The philosophers of the Ionian school include Anaximander, Anaximenes, Heraclitus, Anaxagoras, Diogenes Apolloniates, Archelaus, Hippon and Thales, and had such diverse viewpoints that they cannot be considered to have followed one specific tradition. Aristotle called them physiologoi meaning 'those who discoursed on nature,' but the classification "Ionian school" can be traced to the second century historian of philosophy Sotion.
The philosophers of the Ionian school sought a rational explanation for the origins of the world and physical phenomena, rather than resorting to supernatural explanations and mythology. They are sometimes referred to as cosmologists, since they were largely physicalists who tried to explain the nature of matter. The Ionian school is usually divided into the Earlier Ionians, including Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes; and the Later Ionians including Heraclitus and those who followed him.
The Ionian School refers to a group of Greek philosophers who were active in Miletus, an Ionian colony in Asia Minor, during the sixth century B.C.E., and some of their successors who lived about one hundred years later and modified their doctrines in several respects. They are considered to be the earliest of the Greek philosophers, and therefore of the Western tradition of philosophy. It is notable that the birth of Greek thought took place, not in Greece, but in the colonies on the Eastern shores of the Aegean Sea.
The philosophers of the Ionian school include Anaximander, Anaximenes, Heraclitus, Anaxagoras, Diogenes Apolloniates, Archelaus, Hippon and Thales, and had such diverse viewpoints that they cannot be considered to have followed one specific tradition. While some of these scholars are included in the Milesian school of philosophy, others are more difficult to categorize. Aristotle called them physiologoi meaning 'those who discoursed on nature', but he did not group them together as an "Ionian school." The classification “Ionian” can be traced to the second century historian of philosophy Sotion. The Ionian philosophers are sometimes referred to as cosmologists, since they were largely physicalists who tried to explain the nature of matter.
The Ionian philosophers sought a rational explanation for the origins of the world and physical phenomena, rather than resorting to supernatural explanations and mythology. They all sought to explain the material universe as it could be perceived by the physical senses, in terms of matter, movement, and energy. They differed from the Eleatics and the Pythagoreans, who explained knowledge and existence in metaphysical terminology.
It is customary to divide the Ionian school into the Earlier Ionians, including Thales Anaximander, and Anaximenes; and the Later Ionians including Heraclitus and those who followed him. The earliest thinkers sought to describe the material substance from which all things are constituted. Heraclitus, and those who came after him, sought to describe the motive force by which everything came into being and continued in existence.
Thales (Greek: Θαλης) of Miletus (ca. 624 B.C.E. - 545 B.C.E.) is considered by most historian of philosophy to be the earliest western philosopher. Before Thales, the Greeks explained the origin and nature of the world through myths about anthropomorphic gods and heroes. Phenomena like lightning or earthquakes were attributed to actions of the gods. Thales attempted to find naturalistic explanations of the world, without reference to the supernatural. He explained earthquakes by imagining that the Earth floats on water, and that earthquakes occur when the Earth is rocked by waves. Thales' most famous belief was his cosmological doctrine, which held that the world originated from water.
In the De anima (i. 5) Aristotle quotes the statement, preserved by Stobaeus, that Thales attributed to water a divine intelligence, and criticizes it as an inference from later speculations.
Anaximander (Greek: Άναξίμανδρος) (611 B.C.E. – ca. 546 B.C.E.) has a reputation which is due mainly to a cosmological work, little of which remains. From the few extant fragments, we learn that he believed the beginning or first principle (arche, a word first found in Anaximander's writings, and which he probably invented) was an endless, unlimited mass (apeiron), subject to neither old age nor decay, which perpetually yielded fresh materials from which everything we can perceive was derived. This primary substance, which he called “The Infinite" (TO a rEipov) had no form, shape, or definite character of any kind. Its chief characteristic was that it was always in motion. At some time in the past, while basic matter, which was between air and fire on the one hand, and between earth and water on the other hand, was whirling through space, four basic opposites, hot and cold, and wet and dry separated. The cold and wet went into the center of the whirling mass of matter to become the earth, and the hot and dry moved to the edge and formed a ring of fire which was hidden from the earth by mist and was only visible in the forms of the sun, the moon, and the stars. The heat dried up the wet to form land, and life, which resulted from the action of heat on moisture, began in the oceans and moved to the land.
Anaximander postulated that all differences are finite, emerging from primal unity into which they must ultimately return. “The Infinite” was eternal, indeterminate and immutable. He explained change, growth and decay with a principle of opposites which were in constant conflict with each other
Anaximenes of Miletus (Greek: Άναξιμένης) of Miletus (585 B.C.E. - 525 B.C.E.) held that the air, with its variety of contents, its universal presence, its vague associations in popular fancy with the phenomena of life and growth, was the source of all that exists. Everything was air at different degrees of density; and under the influence of heat, which expands, and of cold, which contracts its volume, it gave rise to the several phases of existence. The process was gradual, and took place in two directions, as heat or cold predominated. Condensation (lruevwvcs) resulted in cloud, water and stone, and rarefaction (apaicovcs) resulted in fire and ether. In this manner earth was formed as a broad disk, floating on the circumambient air. Similar condensations produced the sun and stars; and the flaming state of these bodies was due to the velocity of their motions.
Anaximenes believed that the universe was alive, in the same way that man is alive. The soul of man was formed from the very pure air which had remained at the farthest edge of the universe.
Anaxagoras (400 - 528 B.C.E.) was the first Greek philosopher to assert definitely that the operation of a force called Intellect formed the world from a primitive substance. Aristotle said that he was "distinguished from the crowd of random talkers who preceded him" as the "first sober man" among the Greeks.
According to Anaxagoras, all things had existed from the beginning in an infinite number of infinitesimal fragments, devoid of any kind of arrangement, which included the seeds of all things. Homogeneous fragments came together through processes of aggregation and segregation to form all existing things. These processes were the work of Nous (vas), the thinnest of all things, which governed and arranged through a rotatory movement, that arose in one point and gradually extended until all of it was in continuous, perpetual motion. This rotary motion constructed things gradually, mostly but not entirely of homogeneous particles, and it was this aggregation which the human senses grasped only imperfectly and which were described as birth, death, maturity, and decay. The criticisms of Plato and Aristotle showed how highly Anaxagoras' thought was esteemed.
Heraclitus (Greek: Ἡράκλειτος) of Ephesus (ca. 535 - 475 B.C.E.) disagreed with Thales, Anaximander, and Pythagoras about the nature of the ultimate substance, and claimed that everything is derived from the Greek classical element fire, rather than from air, water, or earth. Impressed by the instability and changing character of the physical world, he maintained that change is the essential fact of experience and that stability is only illusory. Being was intelligible only in terms of becoming, and everything existed only in terms of its constantly changing relationships with everything else.
Heraclitus was famous for the saying, "Everything flows, nothing stands still." He also said, "No man can cross the same river twice, because neither the man nor the river are the same," and, "Strife is the justice of the world."
The elemental fire, out of which all things have emerged and into which all must return, was in itself a divine rational process, the harmony of which constituted the law of the universe. Human knowledge comprehended this harmony as it was experienced through the perception of the senses. The senses, however, incorrectly reported the multiplicity of the universe as fixed and existent, rather than as part of the all-pervading One. This theory had the ethical implication that the individual should be subordinate to universal harmony, and recognize his personal intransience in relation to the eternal Unity. It also implied a doctrine of immortality, since the individual emerged from the infinite and merged with it again.
The concept of unity in diversity, and the One as Many, was Heraclitus' most significant contribution to philosophy. A second aspect of Heraclitus' philosophy is the concept of the One as a universal law present in all things, an all-ordering Reason. Heraclitus considered reason to be the fiery element in man, a moment of Universal Reason. He was one of the first to suggest that the senses were unreliable and that in seeking truth, man cannot rely entirely on his powers of observation.
Empedocles (ca. 490 B.C.E. – ca. 430 B.C.E.) was a citizen of Agrigentum, a Greek colony in Sicily. Empedocles' philosophy is best known for being the origin of the cosmogenic theory of the four classical elements. He maintained that all matter is made up of four elements: water, earth, air and fire. Empedocles postulated something called Love (philia) to explain the attraction of different forms of matter, and of something called Strife (neikos) to account for their separation. He was also one of the first people to state the theory that light travels at a finite (although very high) speed, a theory that gained acceptance only much later.
Diogenes Apolloniates (ca. 460 B.C.E.) was a native of Apollonia in Crete. Like Anaximenes, he believed air to be the one source of all being, and all other substances to be derived from it by condensation and rarefaction. His chief advance upon the doctrines of Anaximenes is that he asserted that air, the primal force, possessed intelligence: “the air which stirred within him not only prompted, but instructed. The air as the origin of all things is necessarily an eternal, imperishable substance, but as soul it is also necessarily endowed with consciousness."
Archelaus was a Greek philosopher of the fifth century B.C.E., born probably in Athens, though Diogenes Laërtius (ii. 16) says he was born in Miletus. He was a pupil of Anaxagoras, and is said by Ion of Chios (Diogenes Laërtius, ii. 23) to have been the teacher of Socrates. Some argue that this is probably only an attempt to connect Socrates with the Ionian School; others (e.g., Gomperz, Greek Thinkers) uphold the story. There is similar difference of opinion as regards the statement that Archelaus formulated certain ethical doctrines. In general, he followed Anaxagoras, but in his cosmology he went back to the earlier Ionians.
Little is known of Hippon of Samos except that he was a contemporary of Perikles. Aristotle includes him in his review of early philosophers in the First Book of the Metaphysics, though only to remark on the inferiority of his intellect. Hippon apparently held the primary substance to be moisture, without deciding whether it was water or air. His arguments in support of this theory resemble those of Thales. His other views belong to the history of Medicine.
A single fragment of Hippon has now been recovered from the Geneva Scholia on Homer. (J. Burnet, Early Greek philosophy) The extract comes from the Ὁμηρικά of Krates of Mallos. It is directed against the old assumption that the "waters under the earth" are an independent source of moisture, and runs thus:
The waters we drink are all from the sea; for if wells were deeper than the sea, then it would not, doubtless, be from the sea that we drink, for then the water would not be from the sea, but from some other source. But as it is, the sea is deeper than the waters, so all the waters that are above the sea come from it.
- Quoted in John Burnet. CHAPTER X., ECLECTICISM AND REACTION, Early Greek Philosophy, 3rd edition (1920). (London: A & C Black Ltd. R. P. 219 b.) Retrieved June 19, 2007.
- Burnet, J. 1930.Early Greek philosophy. London: A. & C. Black.
- Gomperz, Theodor, Laurie Magnus, and George Godfrey Berry. 1901. Greek thinkers: a history of ancient philosophy. London: J. Murray.
- Guthrie, W. K. C. 1962. A history of Greek philosophy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
- Long, A. A. 1999. The Cambridge companion to early Greek philosophy. (Cambridge companions to philosophy.) Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521441226
- Reale, Giovanni, and John R. Catan. 1985. A history of ancient philosophy. Albany: State University of New York Press. ISBN 088706292X
- Robinson, John Mansley. 1968. An introduction to early Greek philosophy; the chief fragments and ancient testimony, with connecting commentary. Boston: Houghton Mifflin
- Zeller, Eduard. 1955. Outlines of the history of Greek philosophy. New York: Meridian Books.
- This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
All links retrieved March 5, 2018.
- Ionian School of Philosophy, Catholic Encyclopedia.
- Presocratic Philosophy, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
General Philosophy Sources
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
- The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
- Paideia Project Online.
- Project Gutenberg.
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