ANAXAGORAS (c.500 – c.428 BCE)

‘The notion of the indivisible particle’

Anaxagoras came from Ionia but settled in Athens, where he remained for thirty years and taught both Pericles and Euripides. Charged with impiety because of his theory that the Sun is a red-hot stone (such an explanation, denying the role of Helios the sun-god, was enough to warrant prosecution) he fled Athens before the trial and settled in Asia Minor.
What we know about Anaxagoras is based on references to him by later writers.

In the cosmology of Anaxagoras, the Universe began as a homogenous sea of identical basic particles. Nous gave this sea a stir, in the knowledge that in time the particles would so combine to arrange themselves such that everything would be as it is today.

Bust said to be of ANAXAGORAS ©


Picture of a document showing a seal with a likeness of Anaxagoras ©

Nous was a vital principle akin to the life force of vitalism – the nearest English words being ‘mind’ or ‘intellect’.
The range of the word ‘nous’ is vastly greater, however, as it refers to the combination of insight and intuition which permits the apprehension of the fundamental principles of the cosmos – the concept is closer to the oriental idea of ‘seeing’ than the occidental notion of intelligence founded upon EUCLIDEAN LOGIC.

At the same time, Nous could be the creative, motive intelligence behind the cosmos, almost indistinguishable from the Christian concept of the will of God.

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ANAXIMANDER of MILETUS (c.611 – c.547 BCE)

‘Apeiron is the basis of all matter’

mosaic of Anaximander


A pupil of THALES of MILETUS. As with Thales, little is known about Anaximander’s life and most of what we know comes from later Greeks, notably Aristotle and Theophrastus.
Anaximander conceptualised the Earth as suspended completely unsupported at the centre of the universe. It had been assumed by other thinkers that the Earth was a flat disc held in place by water, pillars or some other physical structure. Although without a notion of gravity, Anaximander supported his argument by supposing that the Earth, being at the centre of the universe, at equal distances from the extremes,

‘has no inclination to move up rather than down or sideways; and since it is impossible to move in opposite directions at the same time, it necessarily stays where it is’ – ( ARISTOTLE explaining Anaximander’s theory).

Moreover, because the Earth was suspended freely, it allowed Anaximander to propose the idea that the sun, moon and stars orbited in full circles around the Earth.

Anaximander proposed the idea of space or a universe with depth. Rather than the view of the Earth caged in a planetarium style ‘celestial vault’, he argued the celestial bodies (the sun, moon and stars) were different distances away from the Earth, with space or air between them.

Picture of head of statue said to depict ANAXIMENES ©


ANAXIMENES of MILETUS (c.585 – c.528 BCE)

‘AIR is the basis of all matter’



HERACLEITUS of EPHESUS (c.535 – c.475 BCE)

‘FIRE is the basis of all matter’

Thales’ pupil Anaximander avoided the issue of ‘prote hyle‘, or first matter by contending that all materials were composed of apeiron, the indefinite and unknowable first substance. Wanting to understand the transformations observed daily in the world, Anaximander believed that change came about through the agency of contending opposite qualities; hot and cold, and dry and moist.