The Concept of Reality Before Socrates

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  • 0:01 Presocratics
  • 0:40 Thales
  • 1:26 Anaximander & Anaximenes
  • 2:05 Pythagoras
  • 2:34 Heraclitus & Parmenides
  • 3:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will focus on the Presocratic philosophers who sought rational answers to the natural world. It will highlight Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes, Pythagoras, Heraclitus and Parmenides.


When most of us hear the name Socrates, we think philosopher. For several reasons, he's rather famous. Despite his fame, he's not the first guy who delved into philosophical thought. For this reason, today's lesson will dig into some of the guys known as the Presocratics.

Unlike Socrates, who delved into ethics, our Presocratics' main claim to fame is that they were some of the first Westerners to ask rational questions about the natural world. If we can keep this in mind, we'll be in good shape!


Our first Presocratics are the Milesians. The most famous are Thales, Anaximander and Anaximenes. Interestingly, they get their name from where they lived, Miletus.

To begin, Thales' main claim to fame is that he rejected mythology as the absolute reason for things. For instance, when the seas raged, he thought it a bit naïve to just blame Poseidon, or when lovers quarreled, he didn't simply look to Aphrodite.

In short, rather than looking to just the gods of Olympus, he sought rational answers to the phenomena surrounding him. This, along with his love for mathematics, exploration, and reasoning has led many to call him the first Western philosopher.

Anaximander & Anaximenes

Our next Milesian is Anaximander. Like Thales, Anaximander also thought reality to be more than gods playing with humans. He asserted there is one universal principle that governs all of reality. However, he left this one thing undefined. Yes, it existed without any bounds but he didn't go as far as to give it a name.

Our last Milesian is Anaximenes. Usually linked with Anaximander, Anaximenes also believed in one principle, but he equated this principle with air. To sum up the Milesians, they looked for rational answers to natural phenomena.


Next, we move to the Pythagoras. Known to anyone who ever sat in a geometry class, Pythagoras believed the natural world can be explained through mathematics. Beyond this, much of what is known about this famous mathematician is rather sketchy. In fact, some believe the works credited to him were actually the works of his students. Despite this, most feel confident saying, Pythagoras believed numbers were the way to truth and reality.

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