A New Look at Anaximenes


Heracletian philosophy, Wind, Monism, Clouds, Earth, Cosmogony, Aristotelianism, Physics


Between the beginning of the twentieth century and the be ginning of the twenty-first century our understanding of Anaximenes has changed hardly at all. The third philosopher from Miletus, he is reputed to have advocated a theory of mat ter according to which everything is really air, and to have developed a theory of change according to which air turns into other kinds of matter by being rarefied or condensed. Since he allegedly inherited at least the style of his theory of matter from his predecessors, his real claim to fame is the theory of change, which has been acknowledged as a significant contri bution.1 Now the modest reputation Anaximenes enjoys has been called into question. In a recent edition of Anaximenes, Georg W?hrle (1993) argues that Anaximenes' alleged theory of change was really invented by Theophrastus and foisted on Anaxime nes in an attempt to make sense of his cosmogony. Is it true that Anaximenes is even more mediocre than we have reckoned? I think not. Indeed, I believe that to a large degree Anaxime nes' theory determined the shape of pre-Socratic philosophy forever after him. The issues raised by Wohrle's interpretation will, I shall argue, serve to vindicate Anaximenes as a seminal thinker. In this paper I shall (I) rehearse the traditional inter pretation of Anaximenes and W?hrle's criticism of it; (II) examine ancient testimonies concerning Anaximenes' theory of change; and (III) advance evidence to show that Anaximenes had a ro bust theory of change different in key respects from that attributed to him. These considerations tend to suggest for Anax imenes a different?and more important?place in the history of philosophy.

Original Publication Citation

“A New Look at Anaximenes,”History of Philosophy Quarterly 20 (2003): 1-20.

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Peer-Reviewed Article

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History of Philosophy Quarterly







University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor