The Natural Philosophers

The earliest Greek philosophers are called the Natural Philosophers because they were concerned with the natural world and its processes.

The Natural Philosophers observed with their own eyes that nature was in a constant state of transformation. Simply put they asked three basic questions:

  • But how could such transformations occur?
  • How could something change from being substance to being a living thing, for example?
  • Why is there such variety?

The Root of All Change

All the earliest philosophers shared the belief that there had to be a certain basic substance of what can be called the Root of All Change.

How they arrived at this is uncertain.

Generally speaking, all that remains of their works are a few textual fragments and the quotations of later philosophers and historians. A large part of what we know about the Natural Philosophers is from Aristole who lived two centuries later and whose writings survive.

We only know that the belief gradually evolved that there must be a basic substance that was the hidden cause of all changes in nature. For the┬áNatural Philosophers, there had to be ‘something’ that all things came from and returned to.

The most interesting part is actually not what solutions these earliest philosophers arrived at, but which questions they asked and what type of answer they were looking for.

In short, what’s important is not so much what the Natural Philosophers thought, but how they were thinking.

The Natural Philosophers posed questions relating to the transformations they could observe in the physical world. They were looking for the underlying laws of nature. They wanted to understand what was happening around them without having to turn to the ancient myths and most importantly, they wanted to understand the actual processes by studying nature itself.

This was quite different from explaining thunder and lightning or winter and spring by telling stories about gods. So philosophy gradually liberated itself from mythology. The Natural Philosophers took the first step in the direction of scientific reasoning, thereby becoming the forerunners of what was to become science.

The search in nature had started for a basic substance that was the Root of All Change.

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