Ionian School of Philosophy
The Ionian School includes the earliest Greek philosophers, who
lived at Miletus, an Ionian colony in Asia Minor, during the sixth
century B.C., and a group of philosophers who lived about one
hundred years later and modified the doctrines of their
predecessors in several respects. It is usual to distinguish,
therefore, the Earlier Ionians and the Later Ionians.
This group includes Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes, with whom
the history of philosophy in Greece begins. They are called by
Aristotle the first "physiologists", that is "students of nature".
So far as we know they confined their philosophical enquiry to the
problem of the origin and laws of the physical universe. They
taught that the world originated from a primitive substance, which
was at once the matter out of which the world was made and the
force by which the world was formed. Thales said that this
primitive substance was water; Anaximander said that it was "the
boundless" (to apeiron); Anaximenes said that it was air, or
atmospheric vapour (aer). They agreed in teaching that in this
primitive substance there is an inherent force, or vital power.
Hence they are said to be Hylozoists and Dynamists. Hylozoism
(q.v.) is the doctrine of animated matter, and Dynamism (q.v.) the
doctrine that the original cosmothetic force was not distinct
from, but identical with, the matter out of which the universe was
made. From the scanty materials that have come down to us -- a few
fragments of the writings of the early Ionians, and allusions in
Aristotle's writings -- it is impossible to determine whether
these first philosophers were Theists or Pantheists, although one
may perhaps infer from their hylozoistic cosmology that they
believed God to be at once the substance and the formative force
in the universe.
This group includes Heraclitus Empedocles, and Anaxagoras, who
lived in the fifth century B.C. These philosophers, like the early
Ionians, were deeply interested in the problem of the origin and
nature of the universe. But, unlike their predecessors, they
distinguished the primitive world forming force from the primitive
matter of which the world was made. In Heraclitus, however, and,
to a certain degree, in Empedocles, this mechanism -- the doctrine
that force is distinct from matter -- is expressed hesitatingly
and in figurative language. Anaxagoras is the first Greek
philosopher to assert definitely and unhesitatingly that the world
was formed from a primitive substance by the operation of a force
called Intellect. For this reason he is said by Aristotle to be
"distinguished from the crowd of random talkers who preceded him"
as the "first sober man" among the Greeks. Heraclitus was so
impressed with the prevalence of change among physical things that
he laid down the principle of panmetabolism: panta rei, "all
things are in a constant flux". Empedocles has the distinction of
having introduced into philosophy the doctrine of four elements,
or four "roots", as he calls them, namely, fire, air, earth, and
water, out of which the centripetal force of love and the
centrifugal force of hatred made all things, and are even now
making and unmaking all things. Anaxagoras, as has been said,
introduced the doctrine of nous, or Intellect. He is blamed
however, by Socrates and Plato for having neglected to make the
most obvious application of that doctrine to the interpretation of
nature as it now is. Having postulated a world-forming Mind, he
should they pointed out, have proceeded to the principle of
teleology, that the Mind presiding over natural processes does all
things for the best. None of these early philosophers devoted
attention to the problems of epistemology and ethics. Socrates was
the first to conduct a systematic inquiry into the conditions of
human knowledge and the principles of human conduct.
Transcribed by Tomas Hancil
From the Catholic Encyclopedia, copyright © 1913 by the
Encyclopedia Press, Inc. Electronic version copyright © 1996 by
New Advent, Inc.
Taken from the New Advent Web Page (www.knight.org/advent).
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