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Compiled by Anthony Harrison-Barbet


( c. 610 — 547 B.C.)



Anaximander was born in Miletus. Like Thales he was interested in scientific observation and tried to explain the weather and the movements of the stars.He is also thought to have been a map maker and to have put forward a simple kind of evolution theory.He would seem to have been the first Greek to write a book — only a fragment of which remains however.



[1] Anaximander accepted that there must be some basic principle underlying change and difference, but he did not believe it was a definite 'element' [a] such as water. This was because he thought change resulted from a process which he saw as a conflict between opposites [b] such as hot and cold, dry and wet.So he said the primary stuff is the 'unlimited' [c], 'that which is the boundless [to apeiron]'. He argued that if it were not unlimited and indeterminate and were instead a particular element, then all the other elements would have been absorbed into it long ago.Anaximander also tried to explain the originand processes of the cosmos in terms of 'injustice' [d]. By this he means an imbalance or disorder, not an injustice in the moral sense.He said a vortex (or whirlpool) arises in the indeterminate and the opposites begin to separate out and to 'trespass' on each other. The heavier opposites, such as earth, move towards the centre; the lighter, such as air, go to the edge.So, for example, in summer the hot encroaches on the cold and commits the injustice.He goes on to argue that compensation is therefore required:cold must encroach on the hot and eventually commits an injustice in return.

The destruction of things takes place into the same things from which they had their origin, in accordance with necessity; for they make recompense and requital to each other for the injustice they commit, in accordance with the ordering/ assessment of time. [Fr. 1]

Anaximander's reference to 'time' may be a personification of the apeiron (Chronos — as in Plato's Timaeus — being suggested perhaps by Kronos, a creation God in early Greek and near-Eastern mythology), in which case Time is seen as the controlling or ordering principle. But if Anaximander thinks of the apeiron as divine and all-powerful, it is in no sense a personal god.It is, he says, "eternal ageless, encompassing all the worlds" [quoted by Hippolytus, Refutations of all Heresies, I, 6, 2].Alternatively, in Fragment 1 he may simply have meant that the oscillating process occurs in or over a period of time.Anaximander also tried to answer the question why the Earth stays where it is, at the centre of the vortex; he thought that Thales' idea that it is suspended on water did not explain anything.He is said by Aristotle [On the Heavens, B13, 294-6] to have argued that because the material surrounding the Earth, and indeed the unlimited surrounding the universe as a whole, is the same in all directions there can be no reason for movement in one particular direction rather than another [e]; so it does not move at all.



Although most scholars accept that Anaximander believed there to be an infinite number of universes, there is some disagreement over what he had to say about the relationship of the opposites to the apeiron.Their reabsorption into the unlimited may well have been a reparation for having brought about injustice: but was this because they had trespassed against each other or against the unlimited? The second view seems more likely if the unlimited is to be thought of as a kind of cosmic judge. As for his argument about the supposed non-movement of the Earth, this was certainly original but it may not be valid; there need be no contradiction in thinking of movement as random and uncaused.Nevertheless this early thinker continues to be of interest for the rationality of his geometrical model of the universe and his tacit appeal to what later came to be called 'The Principle of Sufficient Reason'




G. S. Kirk, J. E. Raven, & M. Schofield, The Presocratic Philosophers, ch. III.

R. D. McKirahan, Philosophy Before Socrates, ch. 5.

C. Joachim Classen, 'Anaximander and Anaximenes: the earliest Greek theories of change?' .

C. H. Kahn, Anaximander and the Origins of Greek Cosmology.

C. H. Kahn, 'Anaximander's Fragment:The universe governed by law' (in Mourelatos)







[1a] Common principle underlying change and multiplicity — not an 'element'







[1a 1c 1g]



[1b] Opposites, conflict and change Heraclitus









[1c] Limited and unlimited Anaximenes







[1d] Cosmic justice/ injustice





Principle of sufficient reason






[CS a]