Origins of Philosophy trace back to different dates, but the most widely accepted notion is that the birth of philosophical thought began in 1st Millennium B.C.E. The dates about first philosophy is questionable. But as per available and verified records, Thales of Miletus, is considered as founder of Philosophy. Because he marks the first one to break free from myth and explain natural phenomena in a materialistic way.

The Aegean sea saw the most flourished civilisations and trades as it was around those islands and the shores that most trading happened. These islands were agriculturally rich and have set some trade among the crops and other materials they had. Among those flourishing lands, came myths and tales of god, beautifully written and extraordinary believed. But right in the heart of this civilisation, right in the eastern part of Ionian city, Miletus, there came a man named Thales, who fathered philosophy and its offspring, Science. 

Thales of Miletus is accredited for many things. None is actually recorded directly and no direct sources of his writings or any mentions of his time survive. The primary source is Aristotle, who is well known for his philosophical and scientific works. According to the firm assertion in Aristotle’s mention of Thales in his work, it can be said that he might be having direct works of Thales with him. Although Aristotle does write some things about Thales with a hypothetical tone, which even he wasn’t sure of as they belonged to Thales’s personal life. But as far as what Thales had contributed to philosophy, cosmology and science, Aristotle asserted them with certainty.

Thales’s life

Many things told about Thale’s life are purely debatable as there are no direct accounts or written proofs. But the most obvious or accepted, historically verified things about his life still account him for being a myth-breaker, and founder of a new way of creating hypotheses. Thales is accounted for founding philosophy because even though he had all the mythology available and all the gods of Olympus myths circling around at that age, never did he mention any Homerian god. 

Nowhere in Thales’s contributions did he use poetries and ambiguous sentences to define natural phenomena. He didn’t even use any supernatural explanations. He tried to explain the phenomenon as it appeared to human perception. And he observed natural objects, tried to understand without any supernatural implications and proposed naturalistic hypotheses. He is referred to as the first naturalist and materialist. It is because it was very modern and forward and too rebellious for someone of that period to be thinking of the material world and propose natural explanations.

Many who wrote about him believe that he travelled a lot and that too to Egypt and Babylonia. It is said that he tried to explain the flooding of the Nile. He is also said to have learnt a great deal of cosmology and mathematics from Egyptians and the Chaldean religion. And he spent his life philosophising and trying to put his hypothesis to use. He also contributed to astronomy, mathematics, trade, navigation and created a new method to discuss them.

Ionian enlightenment and the origins of philosophy

All the greece authors, like Homer who wrote Iliad (Trojan War), and many that followed used gods to explain natural phenomena. They considered Poseidon (ocean god) getting angry and shaking earth causing earthquakes and harsh tidal waves. Many other natural objects were explained using different gods. It is understandable for many to turn towards monotheism from a polythesitic origin. But Thales, never in his theories mentions any god at all.

Thales’s theories used a new method which later developed into a philosophical method. It is the method of logic. He used his observations to form some information and conclude hypotheses from all the information or premises. It is pure inference that Thales did. But it was the first time a new method took place mythos (mythology). Since then, it has been mythos vs logos (logic) in Greek philosophy. This enlightenment marks first ever use of logic. It marks as an important and relevant discussion for the origins of philosophy.

Anaximander and Anaximenes successful disciples and successors of Thales continued this approach of observations, hypotheses and testing them. They carried forward Thales’s philosophy and at times used it to criticise Thales’s own theories. This is the first ever philosopher group debating in the cities of Ionia. Thus marking the beginning; the origins of philosophy.

This change of thought from mythos to logos in Ionia, is marked as one of the greatest turns in the history of science and philosophy. And this sudden shift of paradigm is called Ionian enlightenment. And even though there is no such school of thought formed and taught, these three philosophers and their thoughts together revolve around similar terms. They discussed similar things in a similar way. And it only necessitates to call those three a school of thought. And thus, regardless of having no school literally, this group of first philosophers is addressed as the milesian school of philosophy.

Origins of Philosophy: Founder of Western Philosophy, Thales of Miletus
The ancient map of Miletus sitting at Asia Minor

The Arché: Primary principle, origin of everything

Well, heard about the grand unification theory? Not to exaggerate, but the intent to unify everything of cosmos to one single origin began with Thales. Thales was keen and quite absorbed in finding the origin, i.e, first principle (primary principle) of earth and it is referred to as arché. Aristotle strongly asserts in his writing that “Thales says water is nature of all matter”. The way he asserts with conviction only affirms that he had direct records or even Thales’s writings at his disposal. 

Aristotle proposes a few possibilities of how Thales might have arrived at that conclusion. Most obvious thing is that Miletus was a port city and Thales was known for travelling, helping the travelers navigate along the Ursa Minor (constellation). He also used to calculate and suggest modifications for ships. He was very familiar and around water bodies. And he saw floating islands and metals turning into liquid after heating. Aristotle suggests that Thales must have observed that everything can be turned into ‘moist’ and records that everything did originate from moist.

Thales might have thought that if everything can be turned into moist, then everything must definitely be having qualities of moist, i.e, water. But again, these are just some possibilities Aristotle suggests and he doesn’t use assertions now. He only uses conditional assertions as he himself is just brainstorming different possibilities of Thales coming up with arché by understanding Thales’s life and biography.

Thales’s god

There are notions that say Thales values water because of early religious tradition of Poseidon, but there is no such mention of theology in any of Thales theories and it is erroneous to suggest that Thales would be suddenly mentioning gods. Thales did say or at least many say Thales said “All things are full of gods”. From this we can say that Thales was a Hylozoist (one who thinks all matter is alive). But again, if Thales was suggesting divinity, it would have been some early conceptions of soul or force, but definitely not of god.

We can say that with confidence because not only Aristotle but any other accounts of Thales agree with the fact that he ignored the greek traditions. During Thales’s period, if he had been a traveller and an avid learner, it is obvious that he is familiar with Homer and the Trojan war. It was a period where no-one had the capability to think beyond the supernatural explanations. There was no necessity to explain in a materialistic way. 

He not only never mentioned gods, but he replaced all the godly theories with his hypothesis. This is where natural philosophy stood out from traditional theology. Aristotle attributes soul to Thales. Thales must have seen some attribution, some live in all beings by observing magnets moving towards metals. He must have thus thought as objects are related to each other in somehow, even inmate objects should have soul (or) can say life.

More Thales’s contributions

Astronomical contributions:

It is a recorded and verified claim that Thales predicted a total eclipse with accuracy. It is said that Thales learned this stuff from the Babylonians and Egyptians but they didn’t predict solar eclipses perfectly. Their solar and lunar cycles had some missing days and hours and were always a bit inaccurate. There is an astronomical and scientific finding that there indeed was a total lunar eclipse on 4th of May, 585 B.C.E.

As Thales lived near Mount Mycale, he had the privilege and interest to observe the sun throughout the day and for many days and weeks. It is said that Thales is so invested in looking at the sky and the stars that he once fell into a well looking at the sky while walking. So, it is understandable that Thales observed and recorded the duration of sun, movement and orbit throughout the year. He was the first one to observe and record solstices (tilt in earth’s axis of rotation while revolving around the sun).

As someone who is aware of solstices, it is obvious that Thales might have recorded seasons as he already was aware of earth’s rotation and revolution. It is most probable that he dived the seasons into 365 days as he was known to use mathematics and calculations. He is also said to measure the diameter of the sun and use the same formula to measure the diameter of the moon just by observing them. This measurement began with him measuring pyramids by the shadow cast on the land. He discovered the constellation of Ursa Minor and observed that it is best to navigate through the Ursa Minor to have safe and fast navigations. 

Mathematical contributions:

Thales measured circles and is accredited with two theorems of circles that are still relevant. Thales was recorded using this theorem to measure any circle, and this presents an understanding that Thales considered the sun to be a perfect circle; the moon and even the earth too. Thales notes that points A,B,C lie on a circle and if the AC are the diameter of a circle, then the angle of ABC must be a right angle and the ABC be a right angled triangle. 

The terminology is modern but the method and theorem that Thales used can be summed up as this in the modern mathematical terms. Thales is not only called the father of philosophy and science, but also the father of mathematics. His mathematical conjecture was later followed by Pythogoras (this is debatable but as per the evidence now, it can be most probable).  As said earlier, Thales also used his mathematical ideas and theories to suggest modifications to ships and make them flow.

Other contributions:

Observing floating islands, Thales proposed that Earth is actually floating on water. It is just an assumption that he must have observed the floating islands, because historically, it was most possible that he might have encountered them on his travels for trades. As discussed earlier, he broke the homerian belief that gods cause earthquakes. Perhaps no one else has ever tried to think of a logical explanation for earthquakes. His theory comes from floating earth theory. As the earth is floating on water, the tensions in water and heavy turbulence created earthquakes, he proposed.

It is said that Thales helped the army of Croseus to cross the river Halys. The river was strong and harsh and Thales suggested the army dig a canal behind the river, joining it  so that half of the stream gets diverted and the water gets less forceful. Well, this is still an unproved claim, but as the origin of bridges is still debatable for Thales’s time period, it is most likely that it is true as it was called battle of the eclipse and it was the eclipse that he predicted.

It is also said that Thales is good at trading and it is the earliest account of Monopoly that Thales has shown in his trading skills. Knowing about the upcoming olive oil need, Thales was said to take loans and buy all the olive presses available. When the time finally came, people had but nowhere to go for the olive oil. They had to rent and use Thales’s olive press. Aristotle notes that this is one of the earliest accounts of monopoly in business.

Wrapping up

Thales of Miletus, the myth-breaker, Ionian sage, has envisaged logical thinking and fathered many of the studies which now modern education took quite forward. All the scientific advancement began by this Ionian, who just looked at water, and kept on thinking in a natural and most material way. Most of the stories are put aside, as idolisation and fanaticism creates misleading accounts. Discussing origins of philosophy doesn’t go without the mention of calling Thales as one of the seven great sages, but that title is nowhere relevant to philosophy.

Many fans and idolisers of Thales have made him god-like, by saying he got the ideas by seeing though heavenly bodies, having powers, being a sage and many other supernatural things. But regardless of elevating Thales to god, Aristotle, Eudemus, Diogenes Laërtius, Ptolemy and several modern historians, mathematicians and philosophers have constantly been revising and keeping his successful achievements and life intact for the future generations to understand, get inspired and philosophise rationally, naturally and most materialistically.

Writer’s Note

‘Origins of Philosophy’ is a new philosophical treatise that I began as a personal quest of my own. If I could dig up the stuff from various sources, videos, blogs and encyclopedias, research articles and make note of them, write them in an understandable way, I achieve what i seek and at the same time, provide with the same. My personal quest has also been normalizing philosophy, which is either seen as non-understandable nonsense or a privileged person’s mental gratification. I see that learning the origins of philosophy can give us beautiful insights on how, what, why and when of Philosophy. Do not hesitate to comment if you have a feedback in your mind. Do follow the page if interested in keeping track with my personal quest of Origins of Philosophy.

*The series, Origins of philosophy will continue till the end of ancient philosophy, i.e, 700 B.C.E – 1000 C.E*

References:

“Existential dread is a state in which in individual questions existence, meaning, purpose and almost everything about life in a cynical way.” This is a random post I read scrolling through Facebook.

I was confused on why would this happen. Why would people get crisis on existing? Soon the confusion turned into curiosity and I want to know about this. I googled it but the results are a bit confusing.

So I messaged my friend, of course, you guessed it, John. So here is how the conversation goes.

Me: Hey John! My man! How are you?

John: Hey, I’m good, how about you?

Me: I’m good, so I saw this term called “existential dread”. What does it mean?

If you remember, John has a habit of texting back late when asked something important. After a couple of hours, I got a text back from him.

John: Why do you want to know that? 

Me: I just read it on Facebook and want to know more about the same.

John: Okay, before we dig deep, you need to know a term called “existentialism” and “existential crisis.”

Existentialism:

In simple words, it is is a philosophy that stresses the importance of human experience, and says that everyone is responsible for the results of their actions.

Existential Crisis:

In simple words, an existential crisis leads to a time of deep questioning within oneself. This normally associates with how someone sees themselves and their meaning within the world.

John: Existential dread and existential crises are technically the same. If we push, we can say that the dread is the next stage of the crisis.

Me: I get that, but why does anyone question their existence and feel bad about it? 

John: If we talk scientifically, it may trigger when there is a trauma, death of loved ones, major loss, substance abuse etc., But on a philosophical level it is on a different note.

Me: Okay, can you elaborate on that?

John: Sure, from the philosophical standpoint, the burden of existence is the cause of the crisis.

Me: What? It doesn’t make sense. I mean how is existence a burden? We all exist and that is a fact. I don’t get it.

John: It is very simple, the existence of an individual is not a choice. All life and existence are random. So you really don’t have a choice of existing.

Me: I get that, but life is what it is. Adding to what you said, you cannot really choose to exist or not. So why feel sad about it?

John: That is exactly the issue. Life is what it is which is an unavoidable thing.,. Some people choose not to exist yet they do. As there is a famous saying “Life is not a bed of roses.”

Me: Okay, I get the premise of the existential dread. How bad can it be? You might feel bad for some time and move on right?

John: It is one of the worst things to hit you. It is almost a mental suicide. If a person is hit by it, they lose interest in almost anything and just become a deactivated robot.

Me: I don’t believe it. How extreme will it be?

John: Any individual suffering from the dread will be in a very bizarre position. As I said, they have zero interest in doing almost everything, the consequences are overthinking, less expressive, not able to focus etc.,

According to some studies, these can lead to some mental illnesses like depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety etc., It not only affects you mentally but also physically as you are not able to focus.

Me: Oh man! That is very bad than it sounds. What would a day look like for the person who is hit by existential dread?

John: I can talk from a personal point of view. For instance, If I have a knife in my hand, I want to just want to cut my hand and see how the blood would ooze out. Even by thinking about this, I wouldn’t flinch.

If I’m on the roof of a building, I would imagine if I would jump, how would my head burst when it’s hit the ground, how would the blood splatter all over and things like this.

These are not suicidal tendencies but complications of overthinking on the burden of existence. I would just sit in a dark room staring and thinking or would be in the shower for hours doing nothing. 

It is like a man who is emotionally dead, with an expressionless face just walking around. Everything around me eventually stops making sense doesn’t make any sense no matter what. It feels very weird.

Me: Man this sound awful! Is there no other way to divert from this existential dread?

John: There is one amazing quote I read somewhere it says “The universe is a cruel, uncaring void. The key to being happy isn’t a search for meaning. It’s to just keep yourself busy with unimportant nonsense, and eventually, you’ll be dead.”

If we just keep ourselves busy with any unimportant shit, we can eventually come out or avoid the existential dread.

” I did it! I finally did it! Everyone thought this is some fairy tale story! But I did it! I cannot believe I did this!

I’m going to call my friend and tell him this. He might not believe me, but this is crazy! I just can’t believe it!

Hey Harris! Mark here, I finally did it! I’m successful in creating the machine! My dream has come true! I’m very excited about this!”

“Congratulations Mark! Your struggle has finally paid off! I’m very happy for you! What are the next steps that you have to do to move forward?”

“Testing man, getting more people to volunteer for this. Conducting trials and collecting the data and if everything checks out, expecting a nobel lol.”

“That is awesome my man! I cannot say how happy I’m for you! World betterment is the next stop! I’m here for you if you need anything.”

“I know Harris! I know it! Thanks for always being there bud! I will meet and talk to you soon. Take care my man.”

“Yo Mark, I will see you soon. Let’s drink a beer together next time we meet! Once again congrats and all the best, talk later bud!”

Call ends

“It is always awesome to talk to my brother man! I think even I don’t believe in me that much than him. Should find volunteers and get going.

“I will give an advertisement tomorrow in media for volunteers and hope I get a few people or at least one. Should give an attractive advertisement.

“Here is the advertisement: Wanna know if people really trust you? And everything you say? If you are curious get in touch with me!

“Looks nice! I’m gonna post it and see what happens. Well its been a long day, I will sleep for some time and hope to see everything works.

Next Day

“That was a good sleep! Let’s see if I got any volunteers. I hope at least I got one. Let us see………… here we goo…..

“Well, this sucks! I got zero replies from the people. People rush you all the useless and imaginary things but for science and development.

“What can I do other than wait. I will continue with the day and hope someone replies to me. Man understanding people is tough!

In the evening

“Let’s see if I got any replies about the advertisement. I hope there is someone out there who trusts in science. Here we go……

“Wow! I got a reply! Yes to the sciences. Let’s see who is this wonderful human being. Ah! looks like a man, anyone’s fine. Let us see what he says.

“What the…..! His message says wanna invest in bitcoin and want to turn $500 investment into $5000? Message to find out more.

“These scammers! I wonder how many people fall into this. I sometimes feel bad for people who fall into these scams. Well, I will check tomorrow.

Next Day

“Let’s see….. yay I got a genuine reply! This guys name is Morris. He wants to participate in this and he is from this city, Niicee…

“I will message him and get in touch with him and I hope I don’t blow this up and I really hope he accepts to volunteer for my study.

” I just sent him a message and I hope he accepts and meets me. Everything starts with a single step and I hope this step is a success.

“Wow, he accepted my request for the study and gave me his contact number. This is an awesome start for this wonderful story so far.

“Hey, Morris! This is Mark, the one who asked you about the study. Thanks for accepting. Are you free tomorrow to meet?”

“Hey, Mark! No problem, I’m always in to promote science. Yes, I’m free tomorrow to meet you. Shall we meet for lunch?

“Sure Morris, I will text you the location to meet. We shall meet for lunch and I will explain the procedure. See you soon. Take care!

Call ends

“Well, the story just got very interesting. I’m beyond pumped! I can’t wait to meet this gentleman and start my experiment.

Next Day

“Hey Morris, thanks for meeting with me. So will keep it simple. I suppose you have read the description of the advertisement right?”

“Hi Mark, Yes I have read it. It is very interesting. I just want to see science has come to a stage to see if people believed what I say.”

“I’m beyond happy that a young man like you is interested in science and I’m pretty sure if I tell you the procedure you will more thrilled.”

“I’m excited and all ears Mark! Hit me with it.

“At first I have two pills. Both with different functionalities. One of the pills is I need you to take before telling the news to the person.

“This enables you to tell the truth. I want the news you tell to be honest and not to fake or play with peoples feelings.

“The second pill is for them. After they take the pill it takes 24 hours to activate. After that, you can tell them the news and it captures actual reaction.

“So you need to take the pill after the next day after they take it and just before you tell the news. I hope you are following my story.”

“Yes, Mark I followed that train of thought and I completely get it. Just one question, where are the results captured for this?”

” I have a Virtual Reality kind of headset that gives the data right to you so that there will be privacy. I just formulate it and give the details.”

“Interesting Mark very interesting. I’m in on this. I will give the pills today and call them by taking my pill right in front of you tomorrow. “

“Wonderful! Here are three pills to give to others and I have your pill. I can give you your pill when we meet tomorrow at my office. Take care man!”

Next Day

“Hey Morris, so you are here. Did you give your friends that pill? And most importantly did it pass 24 hours after they have taken it?”

“Hey Mark, Yes I did and yes it is past 24 hours. I have one question though. If they already knew about pill how would we get genuine reaction?”

“To answer this simple for you, it is science, Morris. Their lips might be lying, but with their moments and inner body functions we can be accurate up to 90%”

“Cool! One more question too, why this 24-hour clock though? Can’t we take the pill at the same time and get honest reactions?”

“Very good question Morris, the pill you give them captures the data on how they speak the truth and lies in these 24 hours. After that their reaction to your problem will be honest”

“Interesting! I can’t tell you how excited I’m Mark! I’m ready, lets do this!”

“You bet! Let us unfold the other part of the Story! Take the pill and call one of the people you gave the pill.”

“Sure, Hey Claire, so I had a very bad incident Yesterday. As you know I took the pill just now and I will only be speaking the truth. Yesterday there was a big fight with my parents and I’m feeling very bad.

“I have these fights regularly but this is kind of a big one and I’m feeling very bad about it. Just wanted to share with you.”

“Aww! I’m sorry to hear that Morris. I wish I was there to help you with this. Just don’t take too much in and keep focusing on things that matter. You will surely have very good days ahead.”

“Thanks for listening Claire! You are the best as always. Talk to you soon!”

“Any time Mark! Have a good day and remember to not to take too much in.”

“So Morris, she seems like a very good friend. I’m sending the results to your VR. Take a look and testify for yourself.”

“She is very awesome Mark. I’ve known her for a very short period, but she like one of my best friends. A mentor and a mountain like support.”

“Glad to hear that! Shall we call the second one Morris?”

“Sure Mark, here we go! Hey Tommy, what’s up my man! So listen I had this big fight with my parents regarding job and stuff and its very bad man!”

“Hey, Morris, my man! Bro, I have told you many times, quit those bloodsuckers and do something you love. I’m sure even your parents will appreciate this,

“Sure at first they might taunt you and stuff, but you willsuffer for the rest of your life if you don’t. Do you want me to talk to your parents on this?”

“No Tommy, it’s fine! If things go out of my hand I will surely ask you to talk to them. Thanks for listening bud! Hope to see you soon!”

“Even he seems like a good guy Morris!”

“Yes Mark, I know him for 10 years, We have been friends since my school. He is one of my best friends.”

“Good to hear that! I have sent the results of these as well.” Ready for the third?”

“Absolutely Mark! Here we go Hey Roger! What’s up brother? So listen I had this big fight with my parents and it was very bad brother!”

“Hey, Morris, I’m sorry to hear that brother. I just can’t imagine myself in your situation. You have a lot on your plate, I’m surprised to see that you are managing them without losing mental balance.

“These are testings times my man! Just stay strong and I’m pretty sure you will overcome these too.”

“Thanks for listening bud! Talk to you soon!”

“Morris looks like you got some awesome friends. I have sent the data of the third too.”

“Honestly Mark, I just came to see how science works on this. I need not see the results. I’m pretty sure they trust me and I trust them too. Thanks for the expereince.”

“You are welcome Morris, but I suggest you look at the data. So the experiment can be marked as successful and complete.”

“Sure Mark, I will definitely look. Here we go. Mark I think there is a mistake. It shows Roger didn’t believe it. I don’t believe this.”

“Calm down Morris, I have been formulating this for the past 7 years. I’m pretty sure it’s good.”

“I’m calling Roger Mark. I can’t stand this anymore. Hey Roger, be honest with me the result shows you didn’t trust me. The system might be broken, but the scientist here says it is efficient. Please be honest.”

“Uhmm well, I honestly think you want sympathy or some kind of attention. So I think you might have lied about things and your story.

It doesn’t make sense that a person can have all these sufferings. Now you be honest and tell the truth. Do you want sympathy?”

“What the fuck are you talking about bud? Why would I want sympathy?
Are you listening to yourself? What happened to you?”

“Stop lying and wasting my time man! I have other works to do. Leave me alone!”

Call ends

“Mark! What the hell is this? I know Roger since 6 years, this cannot be true, I mean I could have proved my story. This is not fair!”

“Okay Morris, I will tell you something very important. you gotta listen very carefully. You said you would prove your story. How many times will you do that?

“If you prove that you are emotional to someone to get their trust, you are becoming an emotional slave to yourself.

“How many times will you prove your story and the situation? What is more bizarre than proving to someone that you are crying?

“One of the famous Philosophers Albert Camus once said Man is the only creature that refuses to be what he is, you are said in this situation and that is a fact.

“If someone doesn’t believe that, that doesn’t mean that you are not sad. That means they are not trusting you.

“How would someone believing or not believing you change your emotional state, Morris? It is not reality or logical right?”

“On the other hand, you have told your part of the emotion and the story. You are relieved that a person is listening to you. The other person believing or not believing is not your business, right?”

“You are absolutely right Mark! Thanks for listening, I will take leave and once again thanks for the experiment.”

End of story

In conclusion, I just want to say Human emotions are not concrete and we cannot express a single emotion at the same time.

It is always a combination of emotions. That is how our limbic system of the brain is built.

But some of us might be getting sucked into a single emotion at times. This can be due to the environment we live in, a situation we might not be able to handle etc.,

If we take this deeply in psychological terms, it is not a single expression it is a sadness that moves to grief, pain and disturbs the capabilities to think.

Why would someone wants sympathy when they are sad? If you don’t want to help or listen, no problem say that straight.

But if you are claiming that a person is sad always just because to get sympathy, that is the most disgusting thing ever and its inhumane.

According to many research articles, this is one of the leading causes of high-level depression. Not listening to one’s story and blaming them for being sad is bizarre.

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