Universe Composition Theories
A question, common to almost all human beings throughout time, is the attempt to understand the vast mystery that is the universe, and all that we know to be. To study and grasp an understanding of existence and the nature of existence was a major intrigue of ancient Greek philosophers. Three of particular interest, Milesians in heritage, are Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes. These three early cosmologists shared a particular view or answer to the riddle of existence, only with slight variations in their explanations. They all believed in a definite entity or "subject" as they referred to it, which was the guiding force or nature or the universe.
Aristotle, a student of Plato, writes this passage in respect to these three men, "Most of the first philosophers, then, thought that the only principles of all things were material. For, they say, there is some that all beings come from, the first thing they come to be from and the last thing they perish into, the substance remaining throughout but changing in respect of its attributes. This, they say, is the element and the principle of beings. And for this reason they think that nothing either comes to be or is destroyed, on the assumption that this nature persists in every change, ." (Cohen et al., 695) All three Milesian philosophers held the theory that a single, unbroken, and eternal "subject" was the basis of the entire universe. When one refers to the concept of the "subject" they mean an entity that is forever lasting and without birth, that stays transfixed while change occurs with respect to its attributes. The above mentioned philosophers, not counting Aristotle, share this belief and only vary in regards to what exactly the subject is.
Thales believes that the principle and guiding force behind all things is water. He states that food, blood, and semen all contain water. Based on this fact he states that all living things depend on water. The conclusion to his argument is that water must be the principle of all living things. (Class 3. Notes) Anaximander, who agrees with Thales on the basic idea of a substance, disagrees with Thales that this substance is water. He believes this substance to be something indefinite, which he calls, apeiron. He claims that this unidentifiable subject cannot be seen, is indefinite, bearing no qualities, and is eternal. (Anaximander notes) Anaximenes, who also believes in the concept of a subject on which reality is formed around, also differs from his contemporaries, in regards to the form of the subject. He believes the subject to be air. He depicts air to have a boundless quality perfect for an explanation of what the universe truly is. (Anaximenes notes)
When looking at Thales' reasoning for water being the substance behind the universe, Anaximander argues that one cannot explain the creation of all things on the basis of water. Anaximander's principle on the other hand depicts the subject that is reality to be something vague and indefinite. He calls this subject "apeiron". Man cannot see the apeiron, it has no qualities, and it is eternal, which allows for an explanation of the universe. According to Anaximander a seed dislocated itself from the apeiron and from this seed grew hot and cold. The seed grew cold and was encompassed by a ring of fire creating a mist between the hot and cold. Finally the cold mass formed into the Earth and the hot mass formed into the stars. (Anaximander notes) It is because of the extreme ambiguousness of the subject that Anaximander believes to exist that it is possible to spawn the story of creation. Anything too specific could have faults to it. Anaximander is basically giving people an explanation for all that is unknown and unseen.
A problem or question that may arise after close examination of Anaximander's view is the idea of having something with no qualities. First off it seems to be quite difficult to picture or imagine something that is in fact unimaginable. The human mind is not trained to formulate thoughts or images of things they cannot comprehend. For example, believing or envisioning something arising from nothing. So how then is it possible to imagine something without qualities? Something without qualities can otherwise be stated as being nothing. This leads back to the idea of the creation of the universe. How can something arise from nothing? One cannot be expected to simply accept this theory on blind fate or to accept it because nothing else seems more fitting. There is no reasonable explanation provided by Anaximander. People are just supposed to accept his basic premise. This type of argument can lead to faults in the conclusion. One needs more evidence or rational to accept Anaximander's philosophy. In response to my argument one might say that simply because you cannot fathom the concept of an everlasting, unchanging subject does not mean that it does not exist. After hearing such an argument I would retort by saying that there is still no proof to such a subject. In addition the preceding argument would allow for anyone to come up with wild theories on anything and everything and in defense say that, "just because you cannot imagine it, does not mean that it cannot be so." That is the fault that one can find in Anaximander's theory. (3)
1) Cohen, S. Marc., Curd, Patricia and Reeve, C.D.C., (eds). (2000). Readings in Ancient Greek Philosophy. From Thales to Aristotle. Hackett Publishing Company.
2) Dr. De Rosa's notes.