Presocratic Monists & Pluralists


Teachings & Discoveries



585 B.C.

§         Everything is made out of one thing: water.

§         "Water is the cause of all things."

§         "All things are filled with gods."


575 B.C.

§         The material basis of everything is aperion, unbounded stuff with no distinguishing characteristics of its own. Aperion becomes other things -- earth, air, fire, & water -- when imbued with qualities.  The pairs of contraries, hotness v. coldness and wetness v. dryness are the primary qualities.

§         The round up hypothesis: up is all around & the center is down.

§         "[The material cause of everything] is neither water nor any other of the so-called elements, but a nature different from them and infinite, from which arise all the heavens and the world within them."

§         “In addition there was an eternal motion in which the heavens came to be.”

§         “In the beginning man was born from animals of another species.”


550 B.C.

§         Everything is made of air.

§         Qualitative changes in wetness, warmth, etc. result from quantitative changes in the density of air (the basic stuff).

§         "Just as our soul, being air, holds us together, so do breath and air encompass the whole world."


500 B.C.

§         Everything is always changing.  Permanence is illusory.

§         The basis of everything is fire.

§         To a God's eye view -- sub specie aeternitatus -- there is no evil

§         Logos, a universal law or order or rational pattern is immanent in all things.

§         "The world . . . was ever, is now, and always will be an everlasting Fire." 

§         "You cannot step in the same river twice, for fresh waters are always flowing in upon you."

§         "All things are in motion, nothing steadfastly is."

§         "To God all things are good and right, but men hold some things wrong and some right."


530 B.C.

§         Reality is mathematical, as evidenced by the harmonic ratios (octave [2:1] fifth [3:2] and fourth [4:3].

§         Transmigration of souls: each a breath of the world soul locked up in a body.  Abstract inquiry frees us.

§         Earth's a sphere & not at the center.

§         "Fire is composed of twenty four right angled triangles surrounded by four equilaterals."

§         "The square on the hypoteneuse of a right triangle is equal to the sum of the squares on the two adjacent sides."


465 B.C

§         What is -- the One  -- is uncreated, indestructible, eternal & unchanging (and intelligible).

§         Sensed change is illusory.

§         There is no becoming since the coming to be must be either (1) from being or (2) from not being:

§         If (1) there is no becoming (since it already is)

§         If (2) there is no becoming (ex nihilo nihil fit)

§         "What is is." "What is not, is not." 

§         "What need could have made it arise later rather than sooner?  Therefore must it either be all together or not at all."

§         “On path only is left for us to speak of, namely that It is.  In this path … what is, is uncreated and indescructible, for it is complete, immovable, and without end.


450 B.C.


§         Paradoxes about motion & plurality: their supposition would be self-contradictory.

§         The appearance of motion & change is illusion.

§         The appearance of plurality is illusion.

§         "Before any distance can be traversed, half the distance must be traversed.  These half-distances are infinite in number.  It is impossible to traverse distances infinite in number." (Aristotle)


445 B.C.

§         The world is a plenum (there is no empty space)

§         wherein four equally basic elements (Earth, Air, Fire, & Water) coalesce and separate

§         under the influence of two basic forces, Love (attractive power) and Hate (repulsive power). 

§         "[H]eads spring up without necks and arms wander bare, bereft of shoulders.  [T]hese things joined together as each might chance, and many othere things continuously besides arose."

§         "[Change] is only a mngling and interchange of what has been mingled.  Substance is but a name given to these things my men."


450 B.C.


§         There is an (infinite?) diversity of elements or "seeds".  Different things are the sorts of things they are due to the predominance of seeds of that sort in them.

§         One basic power moves all.  This is Mind, which imparts  a first circular motion to the cosmos and

§         “set in order all things that were to be, and all things that were, and are now, and will be”

§         by being “the thinnest of all things” being “there where everything else is, in the surrounding mass”

§         having “knowledge about everything and the greatest power”

§         "How can hair come from what is not hair, or flesh from what is not flesh?"

§         "In everything there is a portion of everything."

§         "Mind began to revolve first from a small beginning . . .  In this revolution now revolve the stars and the sun and the moon and the air and the aether that are separated off.  And this revolution caused the separating off, and the rare is separated from the dense, the warm from the cold, and the light from the dark."

§         "Nor is there a least of what is small, but there is always a smaller; for it cannot be that what is should cease to be by being cut."


Ancient Greek World




  • Ionia
    • Thales 585 B.C.
    • Anaximander 575 B.C.
    • Anaximenes 550 B.C.
    • Pythagoras 530 B.C.
    • Heraclitus 500 B.C.
    • Anaxagoras 450 B.C.
  • Elea & Sicily
    • Pythagorean Society 500 B.C.
    • Paramenides 465 B.C.
    • Zeno 450 B.C.
    • Empedocles 445 B.C.


Miletus 550 B.C.








Zeno of Elea