Early Greek Philosophy Anaximenes for Maharashtra PSC Exam

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Early Greek Philosophy Anaximenes

Complete Video at - Early Greek Philosophy: Introduction Anaximenes and His Arche (Philosophy)


  • Anaximenes was an important inhabitant of Ionia.
  • He is one of the three chief members of the Ionia or the Milesian school.
  • He belonged to the era of Pre-Socratic philosophy.
  • Very little is known regarding the philosophy of Anaximenes because of his obscure and undocumented work.
  • A lot about him and his philosophy is known via the works of other writers on Greek philosophy, especially via the works of Plato and Aristotle.

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Anaximenes and His Arche

  • For Anaximenes, the air is the fundamental stuff of the universe of which the world is composed of.
  • According to him aer (mist, air or vapour) was the primary substance or the arche.
  • Arche is a Greek word which means, “Beginning, first cause, or origin.”
  • He chose air to be the fundamental stuff of the universe primarily because of its mobility, changeability, and inner vitality.
  • He believed that air is in constant motion due to which it brings development in the course of work of the universe.
  • According to Anaximenes, the primarily stuff, air is regulated by the two opposed principles, namely,
    • Condensation
    • Rarefaction
  • Condensation simply means growing cold. It means compression of the air in a narrow space.
  • Rarefaction simply means growing hot. In other words, it means the expansion of the air in the greater space.
  • It is by rarefaction, air assumes the form of fire and by successive condensation, it gives rise to water, earth and stones.
  • According to Anaximenes, air is the fundamental stuff of the universe because it is via the air, he accounts for all the other important elements and states of material things.
  • For example, air assumes the form of water, earth and stones (via condensation) and air assumes the form of fire (via rarefaction) .
  • In other words, he tells us how for the formation of earth, water, fire and rocks- air is the primary most element.
  • This constitutes to a scientific explanation regarding the nature of the arche - air.
  • Therefore, the two opposed principles condensation and rarefaction are important steps in developing the scientific thinking about the formation of the universe.
  • Hence, it is because of how he believes air to be the fundamental stuff of the universe, he can be regarded as a scientist.
  • According to Anaximenes, the world is not just vapours, liquid and solid.
  • Rather, it is also colour, sound, coarse-smooth, etc.
  • He means that the two opposed principles of air- condensation and rarefaction admit of the quantitative differences in the world.
  • So, he avers that quantity can explain the quality.
  • In the modern times or in the times of scientific thinking, no scientific explanation is considered reliable unless it is put into quantitative formula. Therefore, in this way, out of all the Milesians, Anaximenes is considered to be the most logical and scientific philosopher.
  • According to Anaximenes, air is regarded as the arche because it is the only element which results in the formation of all the other elements and material things.
  • In other words, it is the air which results in the formation of the universe.
  • He believed air to be the ″ fundamental breath of the universe ″ (pneuma) .
  • It is also infinite and divine in nature.
  • So, this breathing universe according to him is nothing but a living organism.
  • Hence, for this reason Anaximenes is considered to be a hylozoist.
  • He quotes, “Just as our soul … being air holds us together, so pneuma and air encompass and guards the whole world.”


  • According to Anaximenes, everything is made up of air.
  • According to him, it is due to air or air՚s pressure, the flat disk of earth is created which he says was table-like.
  • He said that earth is like a leaf floating on air.
  • Anaximenes believed that earth let out an exhalation of air that rarefied (or became hot) and resulted in the formation of the stars.
  • Similarly, he considered the moon and sun to be flat and floating on streams of air.
  • It is important to note that the works of later philosophers suggest that Anaximenes may have been the first person to distinguish between planets and fixed stars
  • Earthquakes according to him resulted due to the lack of moisture which leads to breaking of Earth because it gets weak and ultimately it dries up or becomes parched.
  • He also suggested that earthquakes could result due to overabundance of water present on the earth which leads to causing cracks in it.
  • Similarly, lightning is caused by the violent separation of clouds by the wind, creating a bright, fire-like flash.
  • Lastly, rainbows are formed when densely compressed air is touched by the rays of the sun.
  • Therefore, it can be said that Anaximenes used air or one cause to explain the diversifying events in the world, rather than attributing them to a god or gods.
  • Hence, he was also a naturalist philosopher and not a theocentric philosopher.





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