You are on page 1of 11

Greek: Θαλῆς (ὁ Μιλήσιος). As a result. near the mouth of the Maeander River. According to Bertrand Russell." though it is argued that Democritus is actually more deserving of this title. "Western philosophy begins with Thales. change."[2] Thales attempted to explain natural phenomena without reference to mythology and was tremendously influential in this respect. Almost all of the other Pre-Socratic philosophers follow him in attempting to provide an explanation of ultimate substance. He was also the first to define general principles and set forth hypotheses. He is credited with the first use of deductive reasoning applied to geometry. by deriving four corollaries to Thales' Theorem. regard him as the first philosopher in theGreek tradition. [5] Life The current historical consensus is that Thales was born in the city of Miletus around the mid 620s BC. 546 BC) was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher fromMiletus in Asia Minor. 624 – c. but are roughly established by a few dateable events mentioned in the sources. c. he has been hailed as the first true mathematician and is the first known individual to whom a mathematical discovery has been attributed.[3][4] In mathematics. Miletus was an ancient Greek Ionian city on the western coast of Asia Minor(in what is today Aydin Province of Turkey).[6] Diogenes .[1] Aristotle reported Thales' hypothesis about the nature of matter – that the originating principle of nature was a single material substance: water.Thales Thales of Miletus (/ˈθeɪliːz/. Background[edit] The dates of Thales' life are not exactly known. Many. and as a result has been dubbed the "Father of Science. Thalēs. and one of the Seven Sages of Greece. Thales used geometry to solve problems such as calculating the height of pyramids and the distance of ships from the shore. most notably Aristotle. and the existence of the world without reference to mythology. Those philosophers were also influential and eventually Thales' rejection of mythological explanations became an essential idea for the scientific revolution. According to Herodotus (and determination by modern methods) Thales predicted the solar eclipse of May 28. 585 BC.

) Diogenes Laërtius quotes two letters from Thales: one to Pherecydes of Syros offering to review his book on religion. things have a position. Nevertheless.[8] Practice and theory[edit] Thales was known for his innovative use of geometry. he adopted his nephew Cybisthus. lines. (No writing attributed to him has survived. . telling his mother as a young man that it was too early to marry. which is extension. planes and solids related by distances and angles follow from this presumption. and as an older man that it was too late. His understanding was theoretical as well as practical. and one to Solon. has the connotation of yielding before things. others say that he wrote On the Solstice and On the Equinox. he said: Megiston topos: hapanta gar chorei (Μέγιστον τόπος· άπαντα γαρ χωρεί) ”Space is the greatest thing. then traces the family line back to Cadmus. For example.Laërtius quotes the chronicle of Apollodorus of Athens as saying that Thales died at the age of 78 in the 58th Olympiad (548–545 BC). Within this extension. Thales answered that he did not like the idea of having to worry about children. anxious for family. Some say that he left no writings. since the verb. several years later. the second that he never married. offering to keep him company on his sojourn from Athens. Plutarchhad earlier told this version: Solon visited Thales and asked him why he remained single. a mythological Phoenician prince of Tyre.[7] Thales involved himself in many activities. as it contains all things” Topos is in Newtonian-style space. Diogenes then delivers conflicting reports: one that Thales married and either fathered a son (Cybisthus or Cybisthon) or adopted his nephew of the same name. Thales identifies the Milesians as Athenian colonists. Diogenes Laërtius states that ("according to Herodotus and Douris and Democritus") Thales' parents were Examyes and Cleobuline. Points. chorei. taking the role of an innovator. or spreading out to make room for them.

or seqed . A right triangle with two equal legs is a 45degree right triangle. the seked was 7 times the cotangent. . 59 and 60 of the Rhind papyrus . This story indicates that he was familiar with the Egyptian seked. 490 palms. What is the rise in cubits? The run is 70 cubits. but the decimals are sufficient for the example. 58. The seked is at the base of problems 56.) that he measured the height of thepyramids by their shadows at the moment when his own shadow was equal to his height. but the papyrus uses cubits for rise and palms for run. X. 57. used that knowledge in practical ways. In present day trigonometry.an ancient Egyptian mathematics document. cit. all of which are similar. Thales' Theorem: To use an example often quoted in modern reference works. The Egyptians expressed their fractions as the sum of fractions. suppose the base of a pyramid is 140 cubits and the angle of rise 5. resulting in different (but still characteristic) numbers.the ratio of the run to the rise of a slope (cotangent). and what is more. cotangents require the same units for run and rise (base and perpendicular). Since there were 7 palms in a cubit.Thales understood similar triangles and right triangles. The story is told in DL (loc. The length of the pyramid’s shadow measured from the center of the pyramid at that moment must have been equal to its height.25 seked.

one having to do with a triangle inscribed in a circle and having the circle's diameter as one leg. all you need for this feat is three straight sticks pinned at one end and knowledge of your altitude. A second is made level. they would measure the vertical angles to make sure that they were equal. Whether the ability to use the seked. . (Actually there are two theorems called Theorem of Thales. he observed that whenever the Egyptians drew two intersecting lines. there is a scholarly debate over possible influences on Thales and the Greek mathematicians that came after him. which preceded Thales by about 1000 years. With the third you sight the ship and calculate the seked from the height of the stick and its distance from the point of insertion to the line of sight. These figures sufficed for the Egyptians and Thales. means that he was the first to define trigonometry is a matter of opinion.75 and looking that up in a table of cotangents find that the angle of rise is a few minutes over 53 degrees.[26] when Thales visited Egypt. and equals subtracted from equals are equal. but that is only a guess. is 490 divided by 5. Thales’ Theorem is stated in another article.the rise.) In addition Eudemus attributed to him the discovery that a circle is bisected by its diameter. It would be hard to imagine civilization without these theorems.25 or 931⁄3 cubits. More practically Thales used the same method to measure the distances of ships at sea. equals added to equals are equal. The seked is a measure of the angle. According to Kirk & Raven (reference cited below). which is the distance. Thales concluded that one could prove that all vertical angles are equal if one accepted some general notions such as: all straight angles are equal. that the base angles of an isosceles triangle are equal and that vertical angles are equal. Knowledge of two angles (the seked and a right angle) and an enclosed leg (the altitude) allows you to determine by similar triangles the second leg. According to a historical Note. the other theorem being also called the intercept theorem. Influences[edit] Due to the scarcity of sources concerning Thales and the diversity among the ones we possess. Thales probably had his own equipment rigged and recorded his own sekeds. One stick goes vertically into the ground. We would go on to calculate the cotangent as 70 divided by 931⁄3 to get 3/4 or . said Eudemus as reported by Proclus (“in Euclidem”).

" [27] Cooke notes that it may possibly also appear in the second book of Euclid's Elements.. Dreyer.which Thales is held to have used and which is believed to stem from the Babylonians. This in no way diminishes the stature of Thales. did not use cycles to predict solar eclipses.[12] Dicks notes Herodotus does relate that Thales made use of a cycle to predict the eclipse. but computed them from observations of the latitude of the moon made shortly before the expected syzygy. the fulfillment of the 'prediction' was a stroke of pure luck not science". E. Dicks takes issue with the idea that we can determine from the questionable sources we have.L. Martini. his genius receives only now the honour that is due to it. He points out that Ptolemy makes use of this and another cycle in his book Mathematical Syntaxis but attributes it to Greek astronomers earlier than Hipparchus and not to Babylonians. just how influenced Thales was by Babylonian sources. such as D." [12]Dicks cites historian O. He points out that while Thales is held to have been able to calculate an eclipse using a cycle called the "Saros" held to have been "borrowed from the Babylonians".[12] He goes further joining with other historians (F.L. on the contrary."[27] Historian B. however. Cooke points out that Proclus does not make any mention of Mesopotamian influence on Thales or Greek geometry. Van der Waerden is among those advocating the idea of Mesopotamian influence. Neugebauer) in rejecting the historicity of the eclipse story altogether. as one can see from the very unsatisfactory situation 400 year later. "which contains geometric constructions equivalent to certain algebraic relations that are frequently encountered in the cuneiform tablets. "The Babylonians. writing "It follows that we have to abandon the traditional belief that the oldest Greek mathematicians discovered geometry entirely by themselves…a belief that was tenable only as long as nothing was known about Babylonian mathematics. R. the honour of having developed a logical structure for geometry.C." Cooke notes "This relation however. but maintains that "if so. in the use of sexagesimal system of measuring angles and in Ptolemy's explicit use of Mesopotamian astronomical observations." Dicks examines the cycle referred to as 'Saros' . of having introduced proof into geometry. but "is shown clearly in Greek astronomy. O.Historian Roger L. is controversial." [25] Some historians. J. nor did the Babylonians ever develop any theory which took the influence of geographical latitude into account. Neugebauer who relates that "No Babylonian theory for predicting solar eclipse existed at 600 B. .

the Egyptians could also calculate correctly the volume of the frustum of a pyramid with a square base (the Babylonians used an incorrect formula for this). etc."both cultures knew the correct formulae for determining the areas and volumes of simple geometrical figures such as triangles.[28] Less controversial than the position that Thales learnt Babylonian mathematics is the claim he was influenced by Egyptians.[12] Dicks links the story of Thales discovering the cause for a solar eclipse with Herodotus' claim that Thales discovered the cycle of the sun with relation to the solstices. Zhmud. Dicks agrees that compared to the Greeks in the era of Thales. . and the gnomon from the Babylonians. "the tip of the axis of the celestial sphere". and concludes "he could not possibly have possessed this knowledge which neither the Egyptians nor the Babylonians nor his immediate successors possessed. [27] Historian D.which gives a value for π of 3.1605--a good approximation.R."[12] Dicks also agrees that this would have had an effect on Thales (whom the most ancient sources agree was interested in math and astronomy) but he holds that tales of Thales' travels in these lands are pure myth.) Yet even Herodotus' claims on Babylonian influence are contested by some modern historians. rectangles. about the polos. and the idea of the "heavenly sphere" was not used outside of Greece at this time. current theories include: "the heavenly dome". This is because. N.. and used a formula for the area of a circle. Bychkov holds that the idea that the base angles of an isosceles triangle are equal likely came from Egypt. in contrast a symmetric square pyramid cannot have errors in the base angles of the faces or they will not fit together tightly. trapezoids. when building a roof for a home . such as L. (The exact meaning of his use of the word polos is unknown."[12] Josephus is the only ancient historian that claims Thales visited Babylonia. who points out that the division of the day into twelve parts (and by analogy the year) was known to the Egyptians already in the second millennium. Herodotus wrote that the Greeks learnt the practice of dividing the day into 12 parts.. the gnomon was known to both Egyptians and Babylonians. Pointedly historian S.. or a spherical concave sundial.having a cross section be exactly an isosceles triangle isn't crucial (as it's the ridge of the roof that must fit precisely). there was a more advanced state of mathematics among the Babylonians and especially the Egyptians .

hold that the Greeks only learned more about Babylonian culture from Berossus. [12] A tradition developed that as "Milesians were in a position to be able to travel widely" Thales must have gone to Egypt." [12] So even had Thales traveled there he could not have learnt anything about the theorems he is held to have picked up there (especially because there is no evidence that any Greeks of this age could use Egyptian hieroglyphics). they used actual numbers and "the procedure is then described with explicit instructions as to what to do with these numbers" there was no mention of how the rules of procedure were made. Some historians. and very little about their history. They attributed to Egyptians "an immemorial knowledge of certain subjects" (including geometry) and would claim Egyptian origin for some of their own ideas to try and lend them "a respectable antiquity" (such as the "Hermetic" literatureof the Alexandrian period). 194120 BC) the Babylonian general division of the circle into 360 degrees and their sexagesimal system was unknown. a Babylonian priest who is said to have set up a school in Cos around 270 BC (but to what extent this had in the field of geometry is contested). and nothing toward a logically arranged corpus of generalized geometrical knowledge with analytical 'proofs' such as we find in the words of Euclid. Since he had to have been there. [12] Likewise until around the second century BC and the time of Hipparchus (c. like P.[12] Herodotus says almost nothing about Babylonian literature and science.thus the tale of measuring them. Archimedes.The ancient civilization and massive monuments of Egypt had "a profound and ineradicable impression on the Greeks". Likewise as he must have been in Egypt he had to have done something with the Pyramids . surely one of the theories on Nile Flooding laid out by Herodotus must have come from Thales. As the Egyptian and Babylonian geometry at the time was "essentially arithmetical". [12] As Herodotus says Egypt was the birthplace of geometry he must have learnt that while there. Schnabel.[12] Dicks holds that since Thales was a prominent figure in Greek history by the time of Eudemus but "nothing certain was known except that he lived in Miletus". Similar apocryphal stories exist of Pythagoras and Plato traveling to Egypt with no corroborating evidence. Dicks points out that the primitive state of Greek mathematics and astronomical ideas exhibited by the peculiar notions of Thales' successors (such as . and Apollonius.

Once an answer has been arrived at." [30] On the other hand. which leads to his classification (rightly or wrongly). which historian J. which are based on ousia and physis. astronomy and medicine already existed. for example: Nietzsche... The Catholic Encyclopedia notes that Aristotle called him a physiologist.But it is still a handsome feat to have discovered that a substance remains the same in different states of aggregation. and Heraclitus). Xenophanes." Russell was only reflecting an established tradition. Theory[edit] The most natural epithets of Thales are "materialist" and "naturalist". the medieval descendants of substances. wrote:[32] . Mathematics." ". the next logical step is to ask how Thales compares to other philosophers. Anaximenes. in his Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks. "bodies".Anaximander. he would have qualified as an early physicist. They studied corpora. interested persons have been asking what that new something is. He is generally recognized as having brought something new to human thought. [29] argues against the assertions from writers in late antiquity that Thales discovered and taught advanced concepts in these fields. hence Bertrand Russell:[31] "The view that all matter is one is quite a reputable scientific hypothesis. but resulted in a new field. the theory and the method. Most agree that Thales' stamp on thought is the unity of substance. Ever since. as did Aristotle. Interpretations[edit] In the long sojourn of philosophy there has existed hardly a philosopher or historian of philosophy who did not mention Thales and try to characterize him in some way. Thales added something to these different collections of knowledge to produce a universality. with the meaning "student of nature. which. L. as far as writing tells us. was not in tradition before. Heiberg calls "a mixture of brilliant intuition and childlike analogies". Answers fall into (at least) two categories.

'all things are one. It begins with isolated individuals such as Thales.. Finally the ideal transforms the norms of society.'" This sort of materialism. an ideal of truth. John Elof Boodin writes ("God and Creation"): "We cannot read the universe from the past. Edmund Husserl[33] attempts to capture the new movement as follows. Thales is the innovator of this sort of materialism. because it tells us something about the primal origin of all things."Greek philosophy seems to begin with an absurd notion. Philosophers were either Ionian or Italian. in which the objects of sense emerge uncertainly from the substrate. Classification[edit] The term "Pre-Socratic" derives ultimately from the philosopher Aristotle. should not be confused with deterministic materialism. Is it really necessary for us to take serious notice of this proposition? It is. Diogenes Laertius on the other hand took a strictly geographic and ethnic approach. is the thought. with the proposition that water is the primal origin and the womb of all things. Rise of theoretical inquiry[edit] In the West. but they are supported and cooperated with as time goes on. and finally." that is. He used "Ionian" in a broader sense. for example. if only embryonically. because contained in it.. because it does so in language devoid of image or fable. however. leaping across national borders. and for three reasons. Thales represents a new kind of inquiring community as well. First. second. Thales was only trying to explain the unity observed in the free play of the qualities. including also the Athenian . Philosophical man is a "new cultural configuration" based in stepping back from "pregiven tradition" and taking up a rational "inquiry into what is true in itself. The arrival of uncertainty in the modern world made possible a return to Thales." Boodin defines an "emergent" materialism. who distinguished the early philosophers as concerning themselves with substance.

There was no such school in any sense. Some scholars. There is no basis for an Ionian or Italian unity. From a philosophic point of view." . any grouping at all would have been just as effective.academics. The most popular approach refers to a Milesian school. who were not Pre-Socratics. however. which is more justifiable socially and philosophically. "of Miletus. They sought for the substance of phenomena and may have studied with each other. concede to Diogenes' scheme as far as referring to an "Ionian" school. Some ancient writers qualify them as Milesioi.