Athens Philosophy Café in English
Our Philosophy Café is a monthly meeting to discuss some of the most challenging questions of philosophy at Lexi-Logos, a charming Language & Culture Center in Plaka, downtown Athens.
Wednesday March 12, 2014 (8-9 pm):
Thales of Miletus and the origin of philosophy
We owe to the Ancient Greeks many things – so many things indeed that we are barely aware of the immense Greek legacy in our culture. Think about our conception of literature, theater and lyrics, our stance on sport competitions, our idea of democracy and of a public sphere, our understanding of history… and last but not least, our philosophy: all these creations have their roots in the Greek culture.
Thales of Miletus is considered to be the first Greek philosopher, which is to say that he was the first philosopher altogether. Of course, this statement raises an important question: which was the specific difference between Greek philosophy and other non-Greek or non-Western philosophies, for example, Indian philosophy? But let us leave this issue aside – at least for a while – and assume that Greek philosophy represented a real ‘turning point’ in the history of human thought. What did this turn consist of? What was radically new in it?
According to a rather superficial view, Thales claimed that all things in nature are just made out of one element: water. Everything is water. It is indeed true that Thales saw in water the basic element or principle of nature. Water (or ‘the humid’) was for him the origin both of life and of the universe as a whole. But the key point is not his focus on water. Other pre-Socratic philosophers pointed out other elements as the ‘principle,’ like the fire in the case of Heraclitus. The main cultural transformation that Thales sought to accomplish was another one. He assumed that there is a hidden unity beyond the multiplicity of phenomena we experience and that there is a deep reality beyond the chaos of appearance and change. That is why Thales is both the father of physics and of metaphysics – as we understand these concepts today. He was not just trying to explain the physical world (or ‘physis’) in terms of the ‘action’ of one element on the rest, but he was at the same time seeking to find a stable and basic principle under the changing world of phenomena and appearances. Likewise, Thales assumed that it was not through religious faith, but through the use of our intellect that we could reach that deeper and unchangeable level of reality.
But was he right? Are there two worlds or, at least, two levels of our world, the one of misleading multiplicity and the other of true unity? And if this is so, can we gain an insight into that deeper and true dimension through rationality? Or is it something that lies beyond our reason – and we need other faculties to have access to it? In any case: how could this way of thinking emerge in Ancient Greece? Which were the social conditions that made possible the emergence of philosophy?
What do you think? In our next meeting at Lexi-Logos on Wednesday, March 12, we are going to discuss those topics and analyze together key fragments of Thales’ teachings. I am looking forward to welcoming you there!
Our philosophy café is open to everyone interested in philosophy.
Marcos Breuer is a Doctor of Philosophy. He studied Philosophy at the University of Cordoba, Argentina, and obtained his master's degree with a work on Norbert Elias’ philosophy of culture. He did his PhD at the University of Dusseldorf, Germany; in his dissertation he discussed the sociological assumptions underlying the current debate between utilitarianism and contractualism. After a three-year stay in Rome, he moved to Athens in 2009 where he works as a freelance author. He has published two books and many articles in different languages on ethics, philosophy, and literary criticism. He is currently working on a book about the ethical debate on euthanasia. Marcos Breuer regularly organizes private workshops on philosophy and Spanish language & culture, and works as a consultant in the field of cultural event management.