Anaximenes (585 – 528 BC) was a philosopher of the pre-Socratic period, and the third thinker of the Ionian school in Miletus. It is known that he was a disciple of Anaximander of Miletus, but there are not many historical records about his life or his practical activities.
His philosophy was centered on the search for the arche, that is, for the principle and cause of all things.
The inaugurator of this philosophical line was Thales of Miletus, who held that the arche was water. Later, his disciple Anaximander proposed the apeiron as the primordial principle.
Anaximenes wrote a prose work called On Nature, but few fragments of this work are known.
Like Anaximander, Anaximenes’ philosophy has been preserved thanks to the doxographers, the Greek writers responsible for compiling the sayings, aphorisms, poetry, and thought of the ancient philosophers.
The arche of Anaximenes of Miletus
For Anaximenes, the principle of everything, that is, the arche is air.
He agreed with Anaximander on the thesis that arche should be something unlimited and infinite, but it should be thought of as Infinite Air, vast in extent, present in all things in the world.
In one of his fragments, he says:
As our soul, which is air, governs and sustains us, so the breath and the air embrace the entire cosmos.
Condensation and rarefaction
Air, according to Anaximenes, gives rise to all things through rarefaction and condensation.
According to Anaximenes, the rarefaction of air gives rise to fire, and when condensed, air gives rise to wind, cloud, water, and the Earth, which floats on air.
When it reaches maximum condensation, air becomes stone.
Air, therefore, changes into countless things and forms without losing its own nature.
Air is in perpetual motion. And this movement suggests that air also has life, and because it is eternal, it has qualities that are properly divine. In this sense, according to Kirk, Anaximenes seems to share the same thesis as Thales that matter has life.
Therefore, from the modifications of the air, all existing beings arise, as well as the divine beings.
When the air is well distributed it becomes invisible. Its existence is manifested through cold and heat, movement and humidity.
For Anaximenes, both man and his soul are also totally air.
Anaximenes on God
Just as Thales and Anaximander developed the idea of God in harmony with his arche (water and apeiron), Anaximenes also followed this path, and proposed that the gods arose from the air.
It is worth noting that although the three philosophers of the Ionian school talked about the gods, they tried to present arguments that could support their theses. It is certain that here, philosophy is still taking its first steps, breaking with the mythical tradition in which everything was explained by the actions of the gods. With the philosophers of Miletus, everything is explained by reason, including the gods themselves. And this characterizes well the break of philosophy with myth.
With this brief summary of the philosophy of Anaximenes, the exposition of the philosophy of the Ionian School closes here.
We have seen that the three philosophers of this school share the same philosophical spirit. They all search for the original principle (arche) of the world. And although this kind of philosophy seems outdated, we cannot forget their historical importance. These philosophers were the first, on record, to investigate the world rationally.
Cite This Work
Vieira, S. (2021, September 01). Anaximenes of Miletus. Filosofia do Início. Retrieved from https://filosofiadoinicio.com/en/anaximenes-of-miletus/.
Vieira, Sadoque. “Anaximenes of Miletus.” Filosofia do Início, September 1, 2021. https://filosofiadoinicio.com/en/anaximenes-of-miletus/.
Vieira, Sadoque. “Anaximenes of Miletus.” Filosofia do Início, 1 Sep. 2021, https://filosofiadoinicio.com/en/anaximenes-of-miletus/.