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com 307-332-2130 307-462-4320 (home) 307-212-2290 (cell) Assigned: 500 words Actual: words @BY=Thaddeus J. Kozinski APEIRON (ἄπειρον) Apeiron (ἄπειρον) is a Greek word meaning unlimited, infinite, or indefinite. Etymologically, it is derived from ἀ- a-, "without" and πεῖραρ peirar, "end, limit." It is the Ionic Greek form of πέρας peras, "end, limit, boundary." This term was used poetically by Homer (ca. eight century BC) and Xenophanes (sixth-century BC), but its significance in the history of philosophy is its use as a main explanatory principle in the first prose treatise ever written by a Greek. Anaximander (c.610—546 BC), a “pre-Socratic” philosopher from Ionia (modern Turkey) and student of Thales, denoted the apeiron as the primordial element and principle of the cosmos. Most significant is that with the thought of Anaximander we have the first unified and comprehensive picture of the cosmos based, not on mytho-poetic religious tradition, but on a rational analysis of phenomena perceived by the senses. While we know that Anaximander did write a complete work called On Nature (Περὶ φύσεως / Perì phúseôs), and perhaps several other works, but we have only one extant fragment of his, a fragment that does not even mention the word apeiron. However, there are several commentaries on his work that shed much light on how Anaximander used the word in his philosophical thought. Thales: "What is divine? What has no origin, nor end." 1. 'Immortal and indestructible,' 'surrounds all and directs all.' 2. '(To that they return when they are destroyed) of necessity; for he says that they suffer punishment and give satisfaction to one another for injustice.' Simplicius, drawing upon Theophrastus' work, gives the following account of Anaximander's view: Anaximander named the archê and element of existing things the apeiron, being the first to introduce this name for the archê. He says that it is neither water nor any other of the so-called elements, but a different substance that is limitless or indeterminate, from which there come into being all the heavens and the worlds within them. Things perish into those things out of which they have their being, according to necessity. (Phys. 24. 13) 1
and not air or water. and to encompass all and to steer all. the rest would be at once blotted out . As it is. or that it is absolutely one. 204 b 22. 2 .. Aristotle explains. the others by now would have ceased to be. water is moist. and that this principle is eternal and undecaying. (Physics 3. as we say. for that would be a limit of it. but it is this which is held to be the principle of other things. For there are some who make the infinite of this character. other causes. inasmuch as air is cold. and the only effectiveness which we can ascribe to it is that of a principle. in order that the other elements may not be annihilated by the element which is infinite. as it is a beginning.4. as those assert who do not recognize. and fire hot. and the worlds therein. there is no principle of this. 1. with the majority of the physicists. 203b) Phys. if one of these were infinite. For there must be a point at which what has come to be reaches completion. either. if one were infinite. 5 . for it is 'deathless and imperishable' as Anaximander says. Further they identify it with the Divine. Further. Aristotle explains: We cannot say that the apeiron has no effect.This person declared the Infinite (apeiron) to be an originating principle and element of existing things" (Refut. fire hot. water moist. from which they are generated. the infinite is different from them and is their source" (Physics. out of which the heavens are generated. and also a termination of all passing away. They have contrariety with each other—air is cold. and comprising all the worlds. but they do not consider it to be air or water. Everything is either a source or derived from a source. as some say. "There are some people who make this [a body distinct from the four elements] the infinite. in order that other things may not be blotted out by the infinite. such as Mind or Friendship. That is why. that it is something different from the elements. 204b). But it is not possible that infinite matter is one and simple .The Christian apologist Hippolytus similarly explains Anaximander's position as follows: "This man said that the originating principle of existing things is a certain constitution of the Infinite (apeiron). namely. for these are mutually antagonistic to one another.5). but now they say that the infinite is something different from these things. alongside the infinite... it is both uncreatable and indestructible. they say. that from which they come. iii. But there cannot be a source of the apeiron.
26. This is a further transition from the previous existing mythical way of thought to the new rational way of thought which is the main characteristic of the archaic period(8th-6th century BC). Commentary on Aristotle's Physics 24. but by the separation of the opposites which the eternal motion causes. and he says that it is neither water nor any other one of the things called elements. is Anaximandros of Miletos. apart from these. He says that it is neither water nor any other of the so-called elements. but something else. 24. (Simplicius. a 6th c. son of Praxiades. lines 13ff. For they give penalty (dikê) and recompense to one another for their injustice (adikia) in accordance with the ordering of time—speaking of them in rather poetical terms. in accordance with what must be. Phys. Anaximander. Simplicius. but something else besides them. pupil and successor of Thales. And he does not think that things come into being by change in the nature of the element. and he was the first to apply this word to [Page 12] the first principle. to that they return of necessity when they are destroyed . Evidently when he sees the four elements changing into one another. and those things. 477) Simpl. but some other indefinite (apeiron) nature. are also those into which is their passing-away. said that the indefinite (to apeiron) is both principle (archē) and element (stoicheion) of the things that are. 6 r . writes: Of those who say that [the first principle] is one and moving and indefinite. he did not think it fit to make some one of these underlying subject.(Theophrastos. but the infinite is something of a different nature. because it is completely indefinite. son of Praxiades. a Milesian who became successor and pupil to Thales. and he was the first to introduce this name of the principle. he does not deem it right to make any one of these the underlying substance. Dox. from which come to be all the heavens and the worlds in them. and from what source things arise. = 12A9 and B1) 3 . from which there is coming-to-be for the things that are. Among those who say that the first principle is one and movable and infinite. adopting apeiron as the origin of all things. It is clear that having seen the change of the four elements into each other. He said that the first principle and element of all things is infinite. for he says that they suffer punishment and give satisfaction5 to one another for injustice according to the order of time. putting it in rather poetical language. CE commentator on Aristotle's Physics. from which came all the heavens and the worlds in them . This way of thought is correlated with the new political conditions in the Greekcity states during the 6th century BC. Greek philosophy entered a high level of abstraction.
fire. When they came to earth they were transmuted by the effect of the sun. The collision of these forces produced the cosmic harmony according to the Greek cosmogony (Hesiod). earth. which to the ancient thinker is the central figure. Greek philosophy entered a high level of abstraction making apeiron the principle of all things and some scholars saw a gap between the existingmythical and the new rational way of thought (rationalism). represent in fact the mythical primordial forces. Roots A fragment from Xenophanes (6th century BC) shows the transition from chaos to apeiron: "The upper limit of earth borders on air. Out of the vague and limitless body there sprang a central mass — this earth of ours — cylindrical in shape. the Apeiron)". when that from which is taken what is generated is apeiron. This way of thought is correlated with the new political conditions in the Greekcity states during the 6th century BC. The apeiron has generally been understood as a sort of primal chaos. The first animals were generated in the water. which have drawn off from the cold earth and water. wet and dry. But if we follow the course. by which there grew up all of the host of shapes and differences which are found in the world. it created the sun. therefore he chose something else (indefinite in kind) which could generate the others without experiencing any decay. The human being sprung from some other animal. the moon and the stars. The basic elements of nature. A sphere of fire surrounded the air around the earth and had originally clung to it like the bark round a tree. When it broke. 4 . which the first Greek philosophers believed that composed the world.The blazing orbs.e. The lower limit reaches down to the unlimited. we will see that there is not such an abrupt break with the previous thought. are the temporary gods of the world clustering around the earth. and directed the movement of things. (i.This is a further transition from the previous existing mythical way of thought to the new rational way of thought which is the main characteristic of the archaic period(8th-6th century BC). air. Therefore it seems that Anaximander argued about apeiron and this is also noticed by Aristotle: The belief that there is something apeiron stems from the idea that only then genesis and decay will never stop. It acts as the substratum supporting opposites such as hot and cold. Anaximander noticed the mutual changes between these elements. water. which originally was similar to a fish.
Thaddeus J. Kozinski Professor. Philosophy and Humanities Wyoming Catholic College Bibliography and Further Reading See Also: 5 .
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