Thales of Miletus was a prominent and popular Greek philosopher of pre- Socratic times. He belonged to Miletus in Asia Minor and was among the Seven Sages of Greece. Furthermore, Aristotle considered him as the very first philosopher in the tradition of Greek. With his works, Thales tried to describe and explain the natural phenomena, without taking help of mythology and was extremely influential in this regard. Most of the other pre-Socratic philosophers also followed the foot-steps of Thales and got engaged in explaining an ultimate substance, change, and the existence of the world without referring to mythology. Subsequently, the denial of mythological explanation by Thales brought a necessary idea for the revolution of science. Thales also became the first person to describe general principles and put forward hypotheses. For the same he had been considered as the “Father of Science”. In order to solve mathematics problems, Thales took the help of geometry like calculating the pyramid’s height and distance between shore and ship. Thales is also recognized with the first usage of deductive reasoning application to geometry. For the same, he derived four corollaries to Thales' Theorem. He is greatly addressed as the first true mathematician. Thales was also the first person to study electricity.
Thales Childhood and Early Life
Thales was born in around the mid c. 624 BC in the city of Miletus.The place was an ancient Greek Ionian city, located on the western coast of Asia Minor. The exact dates of his birth and death are unknown. The time of his lifespan is guessed by some events given in the sources. Believing Herodotus, Thales once forecasted a solar eclipse which according to modern methods most probably have had happened on May 28, 585 BC. Diogenes Laertius suggests that his parents were Examyes and Cleobuline. His family belonged to the royal Phoenicia family. Diogenes also said that the Thales’ family had links with the Phoenician prince Cadmus. Diogenes also came out with two contrasting stories. First that Thales got married and had a son named Cybisthus or Cybisthon or else adopted his nephew holding the same name. Second story says that Thales never married; telling his mother that it was too early to marry in his young age and later that it was too late when he grew old. Another early source, Plutarch, recites another story that when Solon met Thales he asked him the reason behind not marrying anyone. On this, Thales said that he disliked the idea of having to worry about children but after many years, he was quite eager to have a family and thus, adopted his nephew. Thales engaged himself in several activities, enrolling an innovator’s role. Some suggests that no writings of his have survived. Also, some say that he composed “On the Solstice” and “On the Equinox”, but both of them have vanished. Diogenes further quoted Thales’ letters to Pherecydes and Solon, proposing to review the book of the former based on religion and also proposing to stay with the latter on his travel from Athens.
According to numerous stories, Thales was not just a mere thinker, but was also engaged in business and politics. A story suggests that he purchased all the olive presses in Miletus, when he forecasted the weather and an excellent harvest for that specific year. Another story recites that he purchased options to use the presses not to gain money but to solely show his peer Milesians that he could very easily elevate his status using his intelligence. This particular incident is also cited as the first ever example of options trading.
The political life of Thales was chiefly connected with the involvement of the Ionians in the defense of Anatolia, opposing the increasing power of the Persians. At that time Persians were new in the town. A king of the neighboring Lydia, Croesus had obtained many states of coastal Anatolia, which included the cities of Ionians too. This marked the beginning of the war between Lydians and Medes which continued for five years but when the war was in its sixth year, a sun eclipse immediately interrupted the battle going on. Most likely Thales had forecasted this solar eclipse. It seems that the Seven Sages existed then, as Croesus was immensely impressed by Solon of Athens who was another sage. The actual presence of Thales in the war is uncertain but on the basis of the same, both Lydians and Medes instantly declared peace, taking a blood oath.
Croesus was now on the side of the Medes and marched towards Iran when he was halted by the river Halys. Thales was also with him. Whatever being his status, the King presented the problem to him, and he took the army across by boring a diversion upstream in order to lower down the flow. With this it became easier to cross the river. The camp channels were running from both the sides. Two armies were involved at Pteria in Cappadocia. But as the battle was irresolute and lame from both the sides, Croesus chose to march back home. Diogenes Laertius argued that Thales acquired popularity as a counselor when he suggested the Milesians not to involve in a symmachia, a “fighting together”, against the Lydians. Eventually, the Ionians became independent. Herodotus stated that Thales gave suggestion to build an Ionian state, which would be located at Teos in the center of lonia.
Diogenes declared that the Seven Sages were established in the archonship of Damasius at Athens in around 582 BC. Thales became the first sage. However, the same story also declares that Thales immigrated to Miletus. Also according to some sources, Thales had instructions from Egyptian priests. Furthermore, he participated is numerous games and most probably Panhellenic, at which he even won a bowl two times. Thales dedicated the same to Apollo at Delphi.
Thales attempted to describe natural phenomenon through a rational explanation. He tried to explain earthquakes with the help of hypothesizing that our home planet floats on water, and that earthquakes take birth when the earth is agitated by waves. Aristotle stated that Thales asked that what the nature of a particular object was so that it would start showcasing specific characteristics.To this, Aristotle stated that the “principles in the form of matter were the only principles of all things”, where “principle” is arche, “matter” is hyle (wood or matter, material) and “form” eidos. He actually meant to say is that the first philosophers were trying to define the substances of which all material objects are composed of. Even today, this is what modern scientists are attempting to accomplish in nuclear physics, which again is a reason why Thales was described as the first western scientist. Thales believed that water was the first principle and that the world started from water.
Thales is believed to have died inaroundc. 546 BC. The cause of death is unknown.