Critical Evaluation of Thales and His Unique Contribution to the Development of Philosophy

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The ancient Greek philosopher Thales was born in Miletus, in Greek Ionia. Aristotle the major source of Thales’ philosophy and science identified Thales as the first person to investigate the basic principles, for in the sixth century he broke away from explaining the natural phenomena through myths and adopted rational means of explaining it. In explaining the totality of all things, Thales described one primary material substance as the elemental foundation of all things, for he believed that there must be some natural substance either one or more than one from which other things come into being while it is preserved, and he postulated that this primary principle is water. Being an astronomer on the other hand he was believed to have predicted an eclipse in 585BC. It is therefore the purpose of this essay to critically evaluate Thales’ metaphysics in the context of aim, content and method of philosophy then proceed to clearly underscore his unique contribution to the development of philosophy. To begin with, as pointed out earlier on, Thales was the first philosopher to ask questions about the structure and nature of the cosmos as a whole and is known to be the founder of philosophy of physis which is the study of the totality of reality. Being the first philosopher, he affirmed the existence of a unique principle and cause of all things that exist. He said this principle is water because it is wholly from water that life itself comes from and into which it dissolves, he also declared that the earth rest on water getting the notion perhaps from seeing that the nutriment of all things is moist and that heat itself is generated from moisture and kept alive by it, and that from which they come to be is a principle of all things. He got his notion from this fact and from the fact that seeds of all things have a moist nature and that water is the origin of the nature of moist things (Guthrie, 1978: 55). By saying principle Thales meant the reality that remains identically the same throughput the changes in its characteristics and it continues to exist unchanged throughout the process of the generation of everything (Presocratics, 1995: 42). However, despite postulating that water is a principle, he also had two other propositions which came down from his verbatim and these were “magnet possesses the soul” because it is capable of moving things like iron, and that “all things are full of goods”. In saying this Thales implicitly implied that his water principle is the source, sustainer and font of all things and that he used the gods in his assertion for the people’s easy understanding of it (Radhakrishnan, 1953: 28). Having looked at a number of Thales’ assertions and their meanings, it is necessary that we clarify the aim of Thales as regards to philosophy. On this point Aristotle states that philosophy has a purely theoretical character, that is, it is contemplation, and that it simply seeks truth for its own sake. Philosophy is not sought because of any advantage that is extrinsic to it, but it is sought just for itself (Reale, 1978: 17). Therefore in this sense, as Thales was explaining the principle of all things he did not benefit any wealth from it and this is why he was mocked for his poverty, insinuating that his philosophy was of no practical use to him (Presocratics, 1995: 45). Since philosophy does not bake bread nor fix gadgets but rather aims primarily at knowledge, we then see that Thales without any practical benefits tries to find the origin of all things just for philosophy’s own sake. With respect to content, philosophy wanted to explain the totality of all things, that is, the whole of reality without the exclusion of any part or aspect of it, thus distinguishing itself structurally from the special sciences that instead are limited to explaining particular sections of reality, groups of particular things or particular phenomena. In trying to explain the whole of reality the first philosophers were asking...
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