Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
8. Uncertain Character of the Tradition 10. Water

From Chapter I., The Milesian School

9. The Cosmology of Thales
The statements of Aristotle may be reduced to three:

(1) The earth floats on the water.34
(2) Water is the material cause35 of all things.
(3) All things are full of gods. The magnet is alive; for it has the power of moving iron.36

The first of these statements must be understood in the light of the second, which is expressed in Aristotelian terminology, but would undoubtedly mean that Thales had said water was the stuff of which all other things were transient forms. We have seen that this was the great question of the day.

Burnet's Notes


34. Ar. Met. A, 3. 983 b 21 (R. P. 10); De caelo, B, 13. 294 a 28 (R. P. 11).

35. Met. A, 3. 983 b 21 (R. P. 10). We must translate ἀρχή here by "material cause," for τῆς τοιαύτης ἀρχῆς means τῆς ἐν ὕλης εἴδει ἀρχῆς (b 7). The word, then, is used here in a strictly Aristotelian sense. Cf. Introd. p. ii, n. 3.

36. Arist. De an. A, 5. 411 a 7 (R. P. 13); ib. 2. 405 a 19 (R. P. 13 a). Diog. i. 24 (R. P. ib.) adds amber.

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