Ancient Philosophers: The Ionians, General Notions

Classic Philosophers: The Great Thinkers of Western Philosophy

Ancient Philosophers: The Philosophy of the Early Greek Naturalists, by Jonathan Dolhenty

I. The Ionians: General Notions

General Notions

As Greece is a mountainous and rather barren country, its inhabitants have been obliged from remote times to seek new lands that would offer them work and prosperity. At the beginning of the sixth century before Christ, we find one winding series of coastal colonies, extending from the coast of Asia Minor to Africa, to Spain and to southern Italy. Here the Greeks were so numerous that they outnumbered the inhabitants of Greece properly so called, and hence the name Magna Graecia was given to this far-flung territory. The colonies, favored by democratic liberties and economic well-being, and moreover having contact with a greatly advanced civilization, had an opportunity to develop their natural sense of culture.

Among the Grecian stocks which have contributed greatly to the formation of philosophy is the Ionian strain, which was spread through Asia Minor, the islands of the Aegean Sea (Ionia), and southern Italy and Sicily. It is among the Ionian colonies of Asia Minor that the story of philosophy takes its beginning, because it was in the flourishing city of Miletus that the first three Western philosophers were born and lived: Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes.

The problem which claims the attention of the thinkers of Miletus is for the most part cosmological. Nature, as presented to our senses, is a continuous “becoming” — a passage from one state to another, from birth to death. However, this transition is not arbitrary; it happens according to a fixed law: everything repeats itself or flows in cycles — day, night, the seasons, etc.

What is that first principle whence things draw their origin at birth, and whereto are all things resolved in death? This is the problem of the Ionians: the search for this principle which is the first reason for all succession in the world of nature. It is the principle which the Ionians believed they could discover in a natural element; by means of this element they attempted to explain nature through nature. The principle which they assign becomes conceived of as divine. Thus the Ionian thinkers are pantheists in so far as they do not distinguish God from nature.

The late Dr. Jonathan Dolhenty was the Founder and President of The Center for Applied Philosophy and the Radical Academy, and is Honorary Philosophy Editor at Self-Educated American. Self-Educated American has adopted these projects beginning with a republishing and preserving of all of Dr. Dolhenty’s work.