A Journey to the Heart of Philosophy
Thales of Miletus is considered by many to be the father of philosophy. In his famous words, “water is the principle, or element, of things,” we discover that this liquid element played a central role in his thoughts. But did he also think about his role at the heart of philosophy? Was he really born with it?
In this journey to the heart of philosophy, I am offering to introduce you to the dark and dizzying caverns of a way of thinking that finds its origin in an infinite number of ideas. Happiness, sadness, hate, rage, compassion… all of this is related to our mind and the philosophical exercise of the human mind that tries to respond to the meaning of our existence.
“Philosophy is the silent dialogue of the soul with itself on the subject of being”
Controversies concerning the heart of philosophy
Seeking the origin of philosophical thought is in no way a simple task. In fact, it is a question that has led to a multitude of controversies throughout history. What’s more, the Greeks considered Thales of Miletus to be the first philosopher in the 7th century BC, but the issue is not so clear.
In the beginning, the Greeks considered philosophy to be a rational way of thinking. In this way, there is no need to turn to supernatural elements that can explain reality. They also valued the simple rejection of contradictions, always proposing logic as a principal element.
Looking at this Greek definition of philosophy, can we say that Thales of Miletus was the first thinker in history? Is it possible that there was another person or maybe many people before him, or do we simply discuss this figure because the lessons of other great thinkers did not arrive until his days?
Hypothesis about the origins of philosophy
Today, there are two schools of thought when it comes to the matter of the true heart of philosophy. One believes that the origins may be found in their turning point in the Orient, although others see it as being located in Ancient Greece.
The oriental origin of philosophy
For the orientalist school of thought, hypotheses establish that the Greeks were merely the transmitters of philosophy. According to this group of thinkers, the first Hellenic philosophers traveled to Babylonia and Egypt. It was there that they learned mathematics and astronomy, which they later spread throughout their culture.
Nevertheless, this school of thought was sustained by Alexandrian philosophers in the times of said emperor. This school of thought was openly opposed to the Greek school, which is why it seems like a way of discrediting them.
Christian apologists also tried to sustain this theory, but in the end, the occidental school discarded hypotheses that really were just created for the purpose of confrontation.
However, the greater majority of historic studies show that Babylonian astronomy could generally be broken down into astrology and divination. At the same time, Egyptian mathematics lacked the necessary level of abstraction, which is why never went beyond the practical purpose of measuring land.
The Greek origin of philosophy
All the while, modern schools of thought, almost all born in the 20th century, establish that the heart of philosophy lies in the Hellenic world. In fact, there are various renowned figures who bear witness to this:
The origin of philosophy according to J. Burnet
Burnet believes that philosophy appears in a radical way as the fruit of the Hellenic people’s genius. He calls this “the Greek miracle.” For him, the antecedents and conjectural elements are all erased; it was simply a highly talented civilization.
The origin of philosophy according to F.M. Cornford
Cornford places the birth of philosophy in religious thought. Everything mythical about those beliefs actually represents a world adapted to rational speculation, which is why it is a consequence of it.
The origin of philosophy according to J.P. Vernant
As for Vernant, he establishes conjectural elements as basic elements for the birth of rationality. The lack of priestly castes, the presence of wisdom, the search for freedom, writing, and the predominance of a constant need for knowledge led to the birth of philosophy.
“Hope is the only good that is common to all men; those who have nothing else possess hope still.”
-Thales of Miletus-
It is complex to establish the true heart of philosophy, because human civilization dates back thousands of years. The lack of written evidence makes this exercise truly difficult, but also wonderful and exciting. Whatever the case may be, reason and thought are basic in the search for our origins, our world, and our truth.