The Origins of Western Thought
An excellent and concise introduction to Presocratic philosophy. Use the links to explore concepts and individuals. When reading, work to form and idea of how Thales fits into the history and how his ideas compare to other Presocratics.

Thales of Miletus
An outstanding article by Patricia O'Grady. This is well worth reading thoughtfully.

Wikipedia article with several useful links to important terms.




During the sixth century B.C.E. in the costal city of Miletus (see F8 on the map) there lived a man whose powerful intellect exemplifies a critical change in human consciousness. Miletus was across the Aegean sea from Athens (see E5 on the map), a city that was destined to become a most fertile ground for Western culture. Thales (pronounced; tay-lees) was the man of Miletus. He was an astronomer, a mathematician, and engineer, and a philosopher. While it is very possible that some individuals far in the past have pondered the structure and meaning of reality, Thales is the first person in recorded history of the West to do so, especially in an analytic and abstract way. Diogenis Laertius, who lived between 200 and 500 AD, wrote about Thales, saying;

“some, including Choerilus the poet, declare that he was the first to maintain the immortality of the soul. He was the first to determine the sun's course from solstice to solstice, and according to some the first to declare the size of the sun to be one seven hundred and twentieth part of the solar circle, and the size of the moon to be the same fraction of the lunar circle... He is said to have discovered the seasons of the year and divided it into 365 days".

From other sources, we know that Thales did even more. He is said to have discovered the use of the constellation Ursa Minor in navigation. He developed five of the first theorems and proofs of geometry. He formulated a naturalistic theory of what causes earthquakes. He is credited with some remarkable engineering feats, such as moving an army across a previously impassible river. Reportedly he used his knowledge of astronomy to predict a bumper crop of olives and, understanding that this would create a demand for olive processing, he borrowed money enough to purchase the olive presses in his region. Consequently, when his olive harvest prediction came true, he owned the means of olive oil production which resulted in a huge profit. Thales produced a theory that the earth is round, not flat. Notably, he correctly predicted the total solar eclipse of 585 B.C.E., which had decisive impact on the battle of the Medean and the Lydian armies. He held a number of original philosophical ideas, including the seeming strange notion that “everything is water.”

Thales must have been an extraordinary intellect for any period of human history. It is not just his intelligence that matters to us now, but his way of thinking. Thales is one of many people whose way of thinking transformed in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C.E. Yet, Thales is perhaps the earliest recorded instance of these changes in an individual. He is one exemplary instance of a new form of human mind. What matters is understanding what that change of human mind involves, for in it we find the beginning of the form of consciousness that we call philosophy. His interest in the workings of the world and his way of thinking about the world indicates a change from mythic to analytic thought and from concrete to abstract thought.


Next - learn more about mythic thought and analytic thought link to Augustine on faith



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