- Published: Thursday, 17 September 2015 16:41
The beginning of Western philosophy is ascribed to Thales of Miletus (6th century BCE), who claimed that the basic element of the universe, from which all other elements were derived, was water. Exactly what he meant by this is unknown, since only fragments of his writings remain and we are not always sure that later philosophers, such as Aristotle who cited his ideas centuries later, interpreted them correctly. Contemporary historians hypothesize that Thales, observing that water was capable of various conditions: solidification (as ice) and evaporation (as steam or vapor) as well as noting the silting process of rivers, came to his conclusion by induction. But that is not at all certain. Mythology often identifies water (understood metaphorically) as the primary element of creation (cf. Genesis 1.2, Rg Veda x.129, verse 1, etc.) as Helena P. Blavatsky points out when mentioning Thales in The Secret Doctrine (SD 1:345 fn and 2:591 fn). Furthermore, she notes that he (and other early Greek philosophers) were initiates in the Mystery Schools (SD 1:117). If that is so, Thales had not abandoned a mythological account of the universe, as is sometimes believed. But certainly the fragments of his writings that we have do not cite myths as a justification for his belief, so this suggests at least a reasoned, rather than a dogmatic, approach to the creation stories of his day. In any event, cosmological speculation was the initial impetus for Western philosophy.