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Alexander H.

York

Assignment 1

Phil 410

Thales of Miletus considered water as the primary element. Much of his life was centered
on water. He is credited with redirecting a raging river so that King Croessuss Army could
cross. He also devised a means of measuring the distance of ships at sea using triangulation.
Thales thought that the world derives from water and the world rests on water. These last two
thoughts come from the four basic tenets of Thales world view.
Many perceived other things as the primary elements of reality. Anaximander of Miletus
thought that the unlimited, or apeiron, was both the principle and element, or arche and
stoicheion, from which all things are derived from. He stated that there isnt really a primary
element since all things that come to be will also become that in which they perish. This means
that everything has a cycle and therefore everything is everything, or unlimited. The Classical
elements of reality in philosophy are air, fire, water, and earth. Other basic elements of reality
include being, love, strife, and even modern subatomic particles. Aether is also considered a
classical element as well.
Air can be seen as a universal power or pure substance. It is intermediate in its mobility,
sharpness, and ability to penetrate. Its supposed fundamental importance to life can be seen in
certain words such as aspire, inspire, perspire and spirit. These all derive from the Latin spirare.
According to Plato, air is associated with an octahedron, which is a polyhedron. Air is
considered to be both hot and wet. The ancient Greeks used two words for air: aer meant the dim
lower atmosphere, and aether meant the bright upper atmosphere above the clouds. Plato wrote
that "So it is with air: there is the brightest variety which we call aether, the muddiest which we
call mist and darkness, and other kinds for which we have no name.Among the early Greek PreSocratic philosophers, Anaximenes named air as the arche. A similar belief was attributed by

Alexander H. York

Assignment 1

Phil 410

some ancient sources to Diogenes Apolloniates, who also linked air with intelligence and soul or
psyche, but other sources claim that his arche was a substance between air and fire. Aristophanes
parodied such teachings in his play The Clouds by putting a prayer to air in the mouth of
Socrates.
Fire has been an important part of all cultures and religions from pre-history to modern
day and was vital to the development of civilization. It has been regarded in many different
contexts throughout history, but especially as a metaphysical constant of the world. It was
commonly associated with the qualities of energy, assertiveness, and passion. In one Greek
myth, Prometheus stole fire from the gods to protect the otherwise helpless humans, but was
punished for this charity. Fire was one of many archai proposed by the Pre-socratics, most of
whom sought to reduce the cosmos, or its creation, by a single substance. Heraclitus considered
fire to be the most fundamental of all elements. He believed fire gave rise to the other three
elements: "All things are an interchange for fire, and fire for all things, just like goods for gold
and gold for goods." He had a reputation for obscure philosophical principles and for speaking in
riddles. He described how fire gave rise to the other elements as the: "upward-downward path", a
"hidden harmony" or series of transformations he called the "turnings of fire", first into sea, and
half that sea into earth, and half that earth into rarefied air. This is a concept that anticipates both
the four classical elements of Empedocles and Aristotle's transmutation of the four elements into
one another.
Earth was commonly associated with qualities of heaviness, matter and the terrestrial
world. Due to the hero cults the element of earth is also associated with the sensual aspects of
both life and death in later occultism. Plato believed the classical elements were geometric forms

Alexander H. York

Assignment 1

Phil 410

and he assigned the cube to the element of earth in his dialogue Timaeus. Aristotle believed earth
was the heaviest element, and his theory of natural place suggested that any earthladen
substances would fall quickly, straight down, toward the center of the cosmos. Various
goddesses in Classical Greek and Roman myth represented the Earth, seasons, crops and fertility.
These included Demeter and Persephone, Ceres, the Horae, Proserpina, and Hades who ruled the
souls of dead in the Underworld.
Being is that which has existence or actuality or by synecdoche a living creature or the
essence or personality of a human. It is the ultimate category including all that is, in eternity. In
philosophy there are several sub-types of being. Category of being, in ontology, is the
metaphysical classification of all beings. A term from 20th century philosophy is being-in-itself.
Ego can be considered spiritual or religious beingness. There is the human being which
describes us as animals. There are also human beings in Buddhism which is described as subjects
of an extensive commentarial literature that examines the nature and qualities of a human life
from the point of view of humans' ability to achieve enlightenment. Lastly in philosophy we
examine the supreme being which can be thought of as the highest in the hierarchy of beings
for philosophical conceptions of a God.
Love may be considered an alternative to Thales primary element as well. Many think of
love as an emotion of strong affection and personal attachment. It can also be viewed in other
ways such as being one of what is called the three theological virtues. It can also be called in this
context, charity. In Christian theology, charity can be understood as the friendship of man for
God, which unites us to God. Thomas Aquinas, a Dominican friar and priest, describes
charity as the most excellent of virtues. According to Aquinas, charity is an absolute

Alexander H. York

Assignment 1

Phil 410

requirement for happiness, which he holds as man's last goal. Charity is believed to have two
parts: love of God and love of man, which includes both love of one's neighbor and one's self.
Love also has use in science. The theory of a biological basis of love has been explored by such
biological sciences as evolutionary psychology, evolutionary biology, anthropology and
neuroscience. Specific chemical substances such as oxytocin are studied in the context of their
roles in producing human experiences and behaviors that are associated with love.
Strife can be associated with conflict. In Greek mythology, strife is related to the goddess
of discord, Eris. She is the Greek goddess of chaos, strife, and discord. In the Greek poet
Hesiod's Works and Days, two different goddesses named Eris are distinguished: So, after all,
there was not one kind of Strife alone, but all over the earth there are two. As for the one, a man
would praise her when he came to understand her; but the other is blameworthy: and they are
wholly different in nature. For one fosters evil war and battle, being cruel: her no man loves; but
perforce, through the will of the deathless gods, men pay harsh Strife her honor due. In
astrology, there is a dwarf planet names Eris. There is even a religion called Discordianism
named after her.
Subatomic particles have a place in philosophy as well. The idea that all matter is
composed of elementary particles dates to at least the 6th century BC. The philosophical doctrine
of atomism and the nature of elementary particles have been studied by ancient Greek
philosophers, ancient Indian philosophers, Muslim scientists, and physicists in early modern
Europe. These early ideas were founded through abstract, philosophical reasoning rather than
experimentation and empirical observation and represented only one line of thought among
many. In contrast, certain ideas of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz contradict to almost everything

Alexander H. York

Assignment 1

Phil 410

known in modern physics. In the 19th century, John Dalton, through his work on stoichiometry,
concluded that each element of nature was composed of a single, unique type of particle. Dalton
and his contemporaries believed those were the fundamental particles of nature and thus named
them atoms, after the Greek word atomos, meaning "indivisible" or "uncut".
Finally we look at a term called aether. According to ancient and medieval science,
aether, also called quintessence, is the material that fills the region of the universe above the
terrestrial sphere. The concept of aether was used in several theories to explain several natural
phenomena, such as the traveling of light and gravity. In the late 19th century, physicists
postulated that aether permeated all throughout space, providing a medium through which light
could travel in a vacuum, but evidence for the presence of such a medium was not found in the
MichelsonMorley experiment. In Greek mythology, aether was thought to be the pure essence
that the gods breathed, filling the space where they lived, analogous to the air breathed by
mortals. It is also personified as a deity, Aether, the son of Erebus and Nyx in traditional Greek
mythology.
There are certain advantages and disadvantages of Thales philosophy when compared
with these alternatives Ive listed. As an advantage, Thales philosophy is simplistic. Water was
easier for people of the time period to understand and agree with. Reduced to a single element,
water can be used to describe most things and most things on earth contain water as well as in
the known universe. As a disadvantage of Thales philosophy of water as the primary element:
water might not explain everything, it wont account for every condition of human, plant, or
other forms of life. If everything is contained in water we cannot say water is, since water does
not describe one thing in particular in this context but the collection of things.

Alexander H. York

Assignment 1

Phil 410

Water can be thought of as the primary element in many ways. Water is thought of as a
critical element in sustaining life. In many traditional cultures water is linked to people's identity;
if you destroy their water resource, you deprive them of their cultural identity. Water also has an
important social function in many cultures, especially for women.
I think water as the primary element in the world is valid. Without water the Earth could
not survive. In fact, Earth and life would not exist without water. Water can be thought of as life
since humans and animals are composed of 90% water. Also, finding the presence of water on
another planet is the first thing we look for in trying to find alien life in our known Universe.

Alexander H. York

Assignment 1

Phil 410

Footnote Sources

Diels-Kranz B90 (Freeman [1948] 1970


W. K. C. Guthrie, A History of Greek Philosophy, vol. 1
Russell, Bertrand, History of Western Philosophy
Plato, Timaeus
Gregory Vlastos, Platos Universe
Meteorology, by Aristotle Book I, Section 3
Guthrie, History of Greek Philosophy, vol. 1
Jonathan Barnes, Early Greek Philosophy
G. E. R. Lloyd, Aristotle, chapters
Israel Regardie, The Golden Dawn
Hutton, Triumph of the Moon
Valiente, Witchcraft for Tomorrow
Londa Schiebinger
Donald Michael Kraig, Modern Magick
Doreen Valiente, The Rebirth of Witchcraft
Bob Brier, Ancient Egyptian Magic
James, William (1916). Some problems of philosophy: a beginning of an introduction to
philosophy. New York: Longmans, Green and Co.
Fromm, Erich; The Art of Loving, Harper Perennial (1956), Original English Version
C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves, 1960.
The Alchemists, by F. Sherwood Taylor
Margaret Osler, Reconfiguring the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press 2010
Fritzsch, Harald (2005). Elementary Particles. World Scientific
Einstein, Albert: "Ether and the Theory of Relativity" (1920), republished in Sidelights
on Relativity (Methuen, London, 1922)