Thales of Miletus

By Ernst Wallis et al – own scan, Public Domain

Thales is known to be the first philosopher (by the majority of people, anyway). He came from Miletus in Ancient Greece, and is also known for being a mathematician and astronomer.

He existed in a time where most of the beliefs generally involved everything being attributed to a divine force. Thales questioned these beliefs, and came up with rational explanations for various phenomena.

There is an anecdote about Thales involving olive presses. At the time, most of the people associated good harvests with a god being happy or sad with them. Thales linked it instead to the weather, and predicted a good harvest ahead. He then went out and bought all the olive presses, and when the harvest turned out to be great, reaped in the profits. Apparently, he didn’t do it for the money, but to prove that philosophy could be useful!

There arem’t any writings by Thales that survived, however another philosopher (Aristotle) described one of Thales’ theories; the theory that everything is made up from particles of water.

‘Thales says that it [the nature of things] is water” (Metaphysics 983 b20)

His idea was probably based around the fact that water can change into different states (i.e. water exists as a liquid, as a solid in the form of ice, and as a gas in the form of steam). He also believed that the earth was floating on water.

‘Thales . . . declared that the earth rests on water” Metaphysics (983 b21)

Although he was wrong about water being the fundamental thing that everything else is made from, it’s fascinating he thought about this considering the knowledge and thoughts at the time.

Well, that’s my brief summary of what I learnt about Thales. I’ll leave you to go and find out about his mathematical theorems, and maybe even the statements about magnets being alive!

Sources: Philosophize This! ( | Wikipedia ( | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (

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