The Birth of Philosophy

In 585 BC, a Greek from the region of Ionia named Thales accurately predicted an eclipse of the sun. This would strike a blow to the world of myth-telling, the world of Homer and Hesiod, where such events would normally be seen as effects of the agency of the unpredictable gods. Thales wanted something that would provide a rational basis, a foundation, for further investigation. Thus philosophy (and science for that matter) had been born, and the quest for the ἀρχή (arche)—a Greek word meaning “the beginning, the origin, the first principle, or the foundational basis of existing things”—had begun. Thales decided that the ἀρχή was to be found in water. Of the four Greek elements (fire, water, earth, and air), water was the most widespread and was associated with life and the generation of life. Thales was wrong, but the most important aspect of the movement he started was that people could now have arguments about such things.

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