Anaximines (C. 585 – C. 525 BCE) is, after Thales and Anaximander, the third most ancient of the Greek philosophers. He belongs to the Presocratic philosophers, a range of thinkers who had little in common except their having lived before Socrates. These three philosophers hailed from Miletus, in Ionia, and are known as the Milesian school of Presocratics. Even less is known about the life of Anaximines than of his two predecessors. He was the son of Eurystrathus and is thought to have been about 25 years younger than Anaximander and to have been active around 546-545 BCE, the time Sardis was captured by Cyrus, king of Persia. He is described variously as the companion and the teacher of Anaximander. Only a few fragments of his writing have survived; his thoughts are known only from later writers who paraphrased them. He died probably between 528 and 525 BCE.
The contribution of Milesian philosophers like Anaximines was their seeing the need for finding a single source that could serve as a general explanation for the natural world. Their world abounded with supernaturalist and mythological explanations and explanations, but the Milesians had a naturalistic turn of mind. Homer attributed the origin of all things to the god Oceanus, whereas Thales taught that water was the prime element in all things. Anaximander posited instead the concept Apeiron, a composite of the four elements of earth, air, fire, and water. Anaximines shared with Thales in preferring a naturalistic explanation, but thought air (sometimes translated as mist) rather than water was the primal element.
Anaximines probably believed air had a better claim as the primal element than water because it had a better claim to be genuinely unlimited. And there was possibly more than a symbolic likeness to the notion of “breath,” which was traditionally thought by the Greeks to be a source of life. An important fragment of Anaximines says: “As our soul, being air, holds us together, so do breath and air surround the whole universe.” Even the gods sprang from the air, Anaximines was said to have believed.
The most valuable insight by Anaximines is his understanding that air can take different forms, according to the degree to which it is rarefied or condensed. When rarefied it can become fire; when condensed it becomes wind. Condensed even more, air turns into water, then earth, then stones. Before Anaximines, differences between primal elements could only be quantitative, but now they could be qualitative along a scale. This ranging of properties along a scale and attributing various qualities to them is probably the principal debt we owe to Anaximines, for that is a method of crucial importance to science.
See also Anaximander; Empedocles; Heraclitus;
Presocratic Age; Thales; Xenophanes
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