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Thales
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Thales

For the French electronics and defence contractor, see Thales Group

Thales (in Greek: Θαλης) of Miletus (circa 635 BC - 543 BC) was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher and one of the Seven Sages of Greece. General tradition regards him as the first philosopher in the Greek tradition as well as the father of science.

Before Thales, the Greeks explained the origin and nature of the cosmos through myths of anthropomorphic gods and heroes. By contrast, using perhaps the first significant explanation of the physical world without reference to the supernatural, Thales argued the case for water as the origin and essence of all things. He also prefigured later generations in that he believed in a spherical Earth and that the moon reflected light from the sun. Herodotus cites him as having predicted the solar eclipse in 585 BC which put an end to fighting between the Lydians and the Medes.

Thales lived in the city of Miletus, in Ionia. The well-traveled Ionians had many dealings with Egypt and Babylon, and Thales may have studied in Egypt as a young man. In any event, Thales almost certainly had exposure to Egyptian mythology, astronomy, and mathematics, as well as to other traditions alien to the Homeric traditions of Greece. Perhaps because of this his inquiries into the nature of things took him beyond traditional mythology.

Thales had a profound influence on other Greek thinkers and therefore on Western history. Some view Anaximander as a pupil of Thales. Early sources report that one of Anaximander's more famous pupils, Pythagoras, visited Thales as a young man, and that the sage advised him to travel to Egypt to further his philosophical and mathematical studies.

Many philosophers followed Thales' lead in searching for explanations in nature rather than in the supernatural; others returned to supernatural explanations, but couched in the language of philosophy, rather than myth or religion.

Anecdotes of Thales's life recount that he bought all the olive presses in Miletus after predicting the weather and a good harvest for a particular year. Another version states that he bought the presses to demonstrate to his fellow Milesians that he could use his intelligence to enrich himself.

See also


This article is part of The Presocratic Philosophers series
Thales | Anaximander | Anaximenes of Miletus | Pythagoras | Empedocles | Heraclitus | Parmenides | Xenophanes | Leucippus | Democritus | Protagoras | Gorgias | Prodicus