Anaximander was one of the leading pre-Socratic philosophers. Born in Miletus at the end of the 7th century B.C. (610 – 547 B.C.), he was a disciple of Thales of Miletus and followed the same philosophical path as his master in the search for the arche, that is, the principle by which everything originates.

According to ancient sources, Anaximander was the first philosopher to properly use the term arché to represent the originator principle of everything, the primary substance.

According to ancient Greek sources, Anaximander made a map of the world and a celestial map, and introduced the gnomon (sundial) for the first time in Greece.

The importance of Anaximander was that he carried forward the philosophical spirit of his master by proposing new theories to explain the world.


Anaximander’s main work is called On Nature, which is considered the first philosophical treatise written in prose, unlike the work of his master Thales, which was written in aphorisms. However, we only have a few fragments left of this work.

Much of Anaximander’s philosophy is known thanks to the doxographs Simplicius, Hippolytus of Rome, Pseudo-Plutarch and Aetius.

The arche according to Anaximander of Miletus

For Anaximander, the arche, that is, the true principle of all things is the apeiron: the infinite, unlimited, indeterminate, infinite and indefinite nature, the cause of the origin of all things.

Anaximander disagrees with Thales about arche, proposing this new philosophical conception of principle.

For Anaximander, water could not be considered as the originary principle (arche), since it itself is already something derived and limited.

In spite of this, water will have its importance in Anaximander’s thought, especially in his explanation about the origin of life.

The Apeiron

Anaximander calls this infinite principle ápeiron (ἄπειρον), which in Greek means unlimited, indefinite, infinite, boundless.

By reason of its being unlimited, the apeiron is the foundation of the origin of all things and to which all things return.

The apeiron is in all reality, governing and sustaining everything in existence.

Hippolytus on Anaximander’s doctrine:

The unlimited is eternal and ageless. And it embraces all the cosmos.

The concept of God

Anaximander’s conception of God is in harmony with his conception of the apeiron, that is, God for him is the Infinite Principle, unlimited, while the other gods are considered worlds. God, as an indeterminate principle, is neither born nor perishes, but the gods (worlds) are born and die cyclically.

The origin and organization of the cosmos

Anaximander maintained that, because of the origin of the cosmos, the creative force of the principle [apeiron] separated from cold and heat, originating a sphere of this fire around the air that covers the Earth. When it broke up, the sun, moon and stars were formed.


Thales conceived of the changes occurring in the world as a harmonious war between opposites.

Anaximander, however, conceives of the origin of things as an injustice, and death and corruption, as the atonement of that injustice.

He says in one of his fragments:

All things dissipate where they originated, according to necessity; for they pay the punishment and atonement for injustice, according to the determinations of time.

In the world, he said, there is a relationship between opposites in which one predominates over the other. For example, heat over cold, humidity over dryness), in these predominances consists injustice.

That which has separated reintegrates cyclically to the primordial principle, thus reestablishing justice. Genesis and corruption, therefore, is a kind of atonement for injustice.

Our world, according to this thought, is not eternal. There will be a time when it will be destroyed and reintegrated back into the apeiron, and thus new worlds will be born.

The Origin of Life

Anaximander claimed that the first living things were born out of the wet, surrounded by a thorny shell; as time passed, they moved up to dry land, and by breaking through the shell, they changed their life form.


For Anaximander, in the beginning of everything the Earth was covered by water, and all living beings originated from the sea, including man, who derived from fish.

A curious fact is that his thesis on the origin of man finds some similarity with Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Cite This Work

Vieira, S. (2021, August 31). Anaximander. Filosofia do Início. Retrieved from

Vieira, Sadoque. “Anaximander.” Filosofia do Início, August 31, 2021.

Vieira, Sadoque. “Anaximander.” Filosofia do Início, 31 Aug. 2021,

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