February 28, 2004

On the Origins of Materialist Philosophy

By Lil Joe


Travelers, merchants, artisans and scientists from throughout the Afro-Asian Mediterranean world passed through the busy seaport towns of Miletus, Colophon, Ephesus, and Abdera buying and selling commodities and exchanging ideas. These cosmopolitan settings fermented debate and commerce. As the Greco-Ionian city-states on the coasts of Asia Minor were at the crossroads of international commerce the citizens were cosmopolitan.

The natural stability of economies based in agriculture, based on farm labor of free farmers, serfs and slave labor, erected stable dynasties. Consequently the authority of stable priesthoods articulated cosmologies of these economies. In the polis based in commerce there were no ancient dynasties in power or conservative priesthood castes in authority.

In contrast to agrarian, sedentary, sacerdotal populations of Egypt, Persia and Israel with their caste hierarchies, the Greco-Ionian City-state populations were mobile and relatively irreligious. There were no embedded religious ideas resulting from tens of centuries of religious culture. Priests and prophets had no absolutist authority or backing by state power. Intellectual authority, did not have the backing of a monarchy.

Ancient agriculture was natural and dependency on Nature absolute. The greatest fear of farmers was of natural calamities. This enabled the priests and prophets to exploit this universal fear. Because of farmer's ignorance of natural causes, of rain or drought for instance, the prophets and priests were able to explain such occurrences by supernatural explanations. The gods were happy and the people "rewarded" by adequate rainfall and bountiful harvests, or if there were droughts and famine it was attributed to the anger of the gods, as "punishment." The priests and diviners were paid tithes and offerings to bribe the gods of nature with "burnt offerings" to grant favorable conditions for production, floods for irrigation or rain as the case might be.

A drought in Israel for instance is "recorded" in the Biblical Book of Kings to have been caused by the prophet Elijah because of the wrath of the jealous god Jehovah, because king Ahab allowed his wife, Jezebel, to practice her ethnic religion.

When the rains did come it was claimed by the priests to have come only by Elijah's word. The Bible story does not say whether or not the 3-year drought was in the political geography of Israel only. Nor does the story say why the Israelites didn't just naturally leave that barren land and settle elsewhere, as Jacob had done settling in Egypt.

The point being made was that if the political powers go against the religious caste the gods will be angry. The god's anger would exact natural calamities until they're satisfied that the wages of the sin had been paid. This because in agriculture nature is the premise, and man is part of nature as far as labor is regarded.

Where the ancient Jehovah of the Hebrews partook in the eating of animal flesh (Genesis 8:1-8) and the smell of burning flesh -- so-called 'burnt offerings' (Genesis 4:3-4; and Genesis 8:20-1) the Greek god Zeus preferred sex and fun. The god of merchants, Mercury, was also the god of thieves and travelers.

Commerce is competitive and constantly revolutionizing productive technologies. Seeking the new in the economy: new labor saving technology that enable artisans to compete by lowering the costs of production, and travels in search of new markets, continually engendered new sciences and corresponding competitive cosmologies that articulated this world of material changes.

Based on the authority of Reason rather than the political power of conservative priests, freethinking cultures allow both critique of old religious ideas and encouragement of new ideas. These conditions, along with a cosmopolitan population, were the incubators that enabled freethinking to evolve critiques of religious cosmologies, free from censorship by priests.

The commercial form or mode of appropriation is competitive and therefore facilitates change. Commerce is competitive: producers in the same line of commodity production produce and compete with one another in open markets. It is a war of all against all. Handicraft-craft industries worked by free artisans engaging in commodity production find it in their interests to employ the most advanced technology, shortening labor time needed for production, enabling them to produce and sell cheaper than their competitors.

Free thinking is a precondition for invention and therefore commercial economies encourage free thinking.

The old mode of production, and consequently the old ideas which sanctified it, are challenged and subjected to criticisms. It is no historical accident that philosophy and the theoretical sciences first arose in the Greco-Ionian commercial polis. It is also significant that the merchants, both local and those from distant lands who settled in the commercial polis, did business in this polis and engaged in distant trade.

Artisans-merchants engaged in the production and selling of commodities do not pray to the gods for a favorable market. The religion, to the extent it can be called a religion in the Greco-Roman, was a joke. The gods of the market place, e.g. Mammon the Canaanite god of wealth, was taken more seriously than Hermes/Mercury, the Greek/Roman god of merchants, travelers and thieves. There were no strong and/or influential priesthoods.

In commodity production, the level of development of the productive forces -- technology, land and labor, determines the market-economy. Supply and Demand.

Human labor-power is equivalent and human labor commensurate. The commodities produced by kings or priests have no more market value than commodities produced by farmers, slaves, journeymen or proletarians. A commodity, for instance an iron plow or a sword, manufactured by an artisan, a slave, a prince, a priest, a highpriest or king has commensurate value, and sell at the same price.

The levelling effect of commodity production and exchange in the market- economy has no respect of person. The lack of 'status' or/and titles of the labor objectified in the commodity engenders the notion of human equality. It is therefore in the Greek cities, based as they were on commerce, that democracies and secular philosophies first evolved.

The fact of economic equality is therefore the basis of political equality and the determination of reason. As reason governed the market -- calculation, value, arguments that are part of exchange -- and an informed electorate is required to participate in the polis, it is naturally suggested that if reason governed the world of men, without intervention of gods or prophets, then most likely reason also governed material nature as well. As it is not the anger of the gods that cause floods or droughts, nor their pleasure that bring good prices in the market, so neither good nor bad harvests are determined by gods or prophets, but by natural laws discernable by ordinary men.

The precondition engendering philosophical speculation was that the authority of priests, therefore religious cosmologies accept by the population on the basis of that authority, is that in philosophical speculation not just the method of reason is used to explore objects, the wonders of the universe but rational presentation is the authority of reason itself.


Social relations are bound up with material productive forces in that economic systems are modes of production and appropriation and corresponding relations of production, property and class formations. The class formations exist in conflict and therefore politics is the struggle between the contending classes.

The class formations based on common interests arising from relations of production are political. The existence of revolutionary ideas presupposes the existence of a revolutionary class challenging the religious and educational ideas and institutions of dominance. Political partisans have class interests in common and from this they are ideological partisans with common world-views consistent with those material class interests. Every class struggle is a political struggle based on those material interests whether they know it or not.

"The social structure and the State are continually evolving out of the life-process of definite individuals, but of individuals, not as they may appear in their own or other people's imagination, but as they really are; i.e. as they operate, produce materially, and hence as they work under definite material limits, presuppositions and conditions independent of their will." http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/german...

An economic system is systemic in that it is a holistic mode of production comprised of the productive forces and corresponding divisions of labor with corresponding mode of appropriation of labor or/and the products of that labor with its corresponding relations of production.

"If you assume a given state of development of man's productive faculties, you will have a corresponding form of commerce and consumption. If you assume given stages of development in production, commerce or consumption, you will have a corresponding form of social constitution, a corresponding organization, whether of the family, of the estates or of the classes _ in a word, a corresponding civil society. If you assume this or that civil society, you will have this or that political system, which is but the official expression of civil society." http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1846/letters...

In modes of production based on class appropriations of labor and the products of labor, relations of production are political class relations in which the most powerful, economically dominate class is the most powerful political class that dominates religious and educational institutions.

Kingdoms and priesthoods were based on sedentary populations engaged in agriculture, appropriating labor of slaves directly, of serf labor in the form of rent and free farmers produce by tithes and taxes. These modes of appropriation were given sanctification by religion. Nature, and therefore economics, presumably operated by the power and grace of the gods who ostensibly were represented by priests. Supposedly ordained by the gods, ostensibly speaking on their behalf, priests and preachers teach and preach a dogma demanding obedience to the will of the gods, which will is invariably, that the subjects obey the powers that be.

Paul's Epistle to the Roman subjects (Romans Chapter 13:1-7):

"Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but has God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resists the power, resist the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he bears not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honor." http://wyllie.lib.virginia.edu:8086/perl/toccer-new?...

Similarly Paul writes exhorting humility and obedience of wives, children, slaves and servants: "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them. Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord. Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged. Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eye service, as men pleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God: And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men" http://wyllie.lib.virginia.edu:8086/perl/toccer-new?...

Paul was writing in the tradition of political religion in the sacerdotal kingdom of Israel.

In class society there is no neutral social ideology. Religion and philosophy, sociology and historiography are political social ideology. Whether articulated in the forms of religion or philosophy, these ideas represent material interests that evolved in society. Class ideologies articulate the material interests of conflicting classes regarding the production and appropriation of things and ideas. The material interests of the most powerful economically dominate class are ideas articulated in the cultural institutions of education, both Church and State. Ideologies are material social relations grasped as ideas.

The ancient religions of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Israel, and even Persia, were based on inherited authority of the priests. In these sacerdotal kingdoms those who engaged in freethinking were accused of blasphemy, tried, and put to death. The morality of religion is the morality of ignorance that was cajoled into remaining fearful and obedient.

Philosophy could arise only in a place where freethinking was tolerated, and even encouraged. The Ionian philosophers were associates of the democratic merchant classes. What was radical and revolutionary was that the Ionian materialists recognized human intelligence.

The Ionian materialists worked from the epistemological premise that it is natural logic, sensuous human reason rather than prophetic dreams, visions and/or 'visitation by angels' that is capable of rationally perceiving and understanding the material universe of which we are a part. The philosophical materialists thus, consciously or inadvertently, criticize the very premise from which religious authorities keep the world in fear of gods and ancestors.

The basic premise of philosophy is that the cosmos is intelligible, thus comprehensible by unaided human reason and understanding. Thus, the appearance in society of the materialist philosophers was nothing short of an ideological revolution overthrowing the idea of supernatural gods, and with them, thereby, the authority of priests. This could occur only where the cosmos can be explored and understood by the legitimacy of human reason.

Materialist philosophy advocating that matter is the substance of all forms, that is, that the material universe is one material substance that has always existed and will always exist in some form, includes humanity as material beings. From this ontological principle, human thinking is a natural human activity. Materialist cosmology and epistemology therefore conflicts with metaphysical belief-systems taught by priests.

Prophets, poets, and priests who are the ideological representatives of the powers that be are materially supported by the State. The State is an instrument of coercion. The State, the result of the mode of appropriation and consequent relations of production, represents the economic interests of the dominant classes organized as class power. The authority of the religious establishment ideologically supports the State power. In class society the political domination of the oppressed classes is sanctioned by religion as the will of the gods or ancestors.

"Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again. But, man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man _ state, society. This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d'honneur, it enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion."

The sacerdotal culture of ancient Egyptian kingdoms posited kings as gods. The Pharaohs were ostensibly Horus in the flesh. The Pharaohs were regarded by Egyptian religion as the human intermediary between heaven and earth, kingdoms of god manifested as kingdoms on earth. The priests declared those kings divine sons of Amun, the highest deity.

The ruling classes and priests know that the gods are social constructs, I might say concoctions. Priests claim to speak on behalf of the gods whereas in actuality they speak on behalf of the most powerful, economically dominant classes. The prophets and the high priests know this.

Women could not become pharaohs and were excluded from the priesthood. Those women who were powerful and cunning enough to become personifications of political power in Egypt did so by manipulating the contradictions in sexist politics and religion by associating themselves with Amun qua "God's wife of Amun".
This political religious manipulation culminates in the cases of Hatshepsut and Nefertari.

Since the priests and pharaohs lied about communing with gods and statues, they were incapable of denying that queens and high priestesses commune with those same gods and statues. The priests, and in particular the pharaohs who were the highest priests, excluded the masses from the Holy of Holies, allowing only themselves to enter those "sacred places".

There were priests that daily supposedly took material, edible food to the gods. They knew that these statues didn't eat the food. If they did not themselves eat the food the next day, when they brought fresh food the food taken the previous day was there in tact, just where the priests left it. The powerful women were able to trump the priests by claiming to be wives of the gods. If the priests could claim that they were feeding the gods then why not the priestesses claim that they were fucking those gods in the Holy of Holies as well? The priests and pharaohs could not denounce the women as liars for claiming to perform sexual services for Amun, without bringing suspicion on themselves lying about communicating with the same.

"Beginning from the 18th Dynasty and the start of Egypt's New Kingdom, one of the most consistently important positions held by Egyptian Women (outside of queen) was that of the God's Wife of Amun (Hemet Netjer nt Imen). She took on the function of playing consort to the "National God" in one of Egypt's most important cities, Thebes, yet it could be argued that it was as much an important political posting as it was a religious role (In many ways, it is difficult to separate the two in ancient Egypt). No other comparable role is known for any of the other cult of an Egyptian god; with the exception of the Middle Kingdom when there appears to have been God's Wives associated with Min and Ptah. This position remained important until the Persian invasion at the end of the 26th Dynasty of Egypt's Late Period, when it seems to have ceased to exist (or at least viably)."

The history of political culture has been a history of class struggles. The history of political religion in those class cultures has been a history of ideological struggles. Qualitative changes in production and distribution technologies result in the introduction of new modes of appropriating labor and labor's products. Changes in modes of appropriation, appropriate to the new technology, engender corresponding changes in relations of production. These result in the rise of revolutionary ideology in new class politics.

"The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or _ this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms _ with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution. The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense superstructure. In studying such transformations it is always necessary to distinguish between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, artistic or philosophic _ in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out." http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1859/critique…

The new technology in production and distribution engender corresponding distributions of labor and exchange between the producers, or owners of the productive forces of labor, and the products of that labor. The divisions of labor give rise to the appropriate modes of appropriation and the mode of appropriation of labor and products of labor are expressed in property-forms. The rise of new property formations, challenging the now economically outmoded property-forms that are nevertheless represented by the State, result in political challenges. These new forces and their political challenges are articulated in ideology. The existence of revolutionary politics presupposes the existence of a rising class and the existence of revolutionary ideology presupposes the practical-critical, revolutionizing activity of a revolutionary class.

The Ionian philosophers were associates of the democratic merchant classes. What was radical and revolutionary was that the Ionian materialists recognized human intelligence. The revolutionary concept of the Ionian's philosophical materialism is natural humanism: that ordinary intellect is the highest authority.

"In this respect it will be enough to cite, in place of all argument, a passage from David Hume:

'Tis certainly a kind of indignity to philosophy, whose sovereign authority ought everywhere to be acknowledged, to oblige her on every occasion to make apologies for her conclusions which may be offended at her. This puts one in mind of a king arraign'd for high treason against his subjects.'

[Marx quotes David Hume's A Treatise of Human Nature] http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1841/dr-theses

The religious politics in the culture of the United Hebrew Kingdom of Judea/Israel prevented kings from declaring themselves "sons of god", in a natural sense. They circumvented this ideological restriction by positing themselves the adopted sons of Jehovah.

According to the Book of Psalms attributed to king David, he states:

"I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee." http://wyllie.lib.virginia.edu:8086/perl/toccer-new?…

Judaism, Christianity and Islam accept the Bible Scripture as divine revelation and knowledge. Thus they never do an analysis of what political interests are served in the Books, e.g. of Judges, Psalms, Kings, Chronicles. These and other religious texts, e.g. the Ramayana and the Koran, were written by kings, priests, scribes and so-called prophets in the interests of ruling aristocrats represented by the political power of Kings.

The Protestant Christian political theologians subsequently went even further. They identified Satan, the Serpent, and the Devil and Lucifer in the Books of Isaiah, as "evil" on account of sin of pride, and rebellion against god.

In the Forward to his Doctoral Dissertation - The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature - Marx examines the Greek's myth of the rebellious god Prometheus, which like the serpent in the Garden of Eden benefits man at the expense of the gods. Philosophy is the serpent in the Garden of Eden and the rebellious spirit of Prometheus:

"Philosophy makes no secret of it. The confession of Prometheus: 'In simple words, I hate the pack of gods' is its own confession, its own aphorism against all heavenly and earthly gods who do not acknowledge human self-consciousness as the highest divinity. It will have none other beside." www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1841/dr...

"Philosophy, as long as a drop of blood shall pulse in its world-subduing and absolutely free heart, will never grow tired of answering its adversaries with the cry of Epicurus: 'Not the man who denies the gods worshipped by the multitude, but he who affirms of the gods what the multitude believes about them, is truly impious.'

[Marx quotes from a letter by Epicurus to Menoeceus]

In the religions of the ancient class politics, the gods that disobeyed the law or rebelled against the divine hierarchy and men and women that disobeyed commandments of god or rebelled against the political hierarchy, were castigated as evil personified: the Serpent and the Woman in the Garden of Eden and Nimrod after the Deluge in the Book of Genesis; Lucifer in the Book of Isaiah; Prometheus and Sisyphus in the Greek myths; Satan and the Anti-Christ in the Christian Apocalypse (Book of Revelation).

The power/subordinate relations in political institutions evolve through class struggles between minorities that own the basic productive forces and manage the economy and the working classes and toiling masses that own nothing but produce everything. These socio-political ideas evolved from the class struggle, politics and condemned those who rebeled against the political hierarchies as evil and threatened them with punishment, in this world and "in the world to come".

The power of the priests in cultural life (the ideas they propagated), derived from technological economic relations of production and forms of exchange and subsequently the political institutions embedded in the culture. The religious institutions were reinforced by the State. The whole edifice of class culture was institutionalized in the very structure of the patrileneal patriarchal families.

Yet the ancient Egyptian priests, the Babylonian Magi and Hindu Brahmin made significant advances in mathematics, geometry, astronomy and other sciences. However geometry, science and the architecture that went into building had absolutely nothing in common with the cosmological or theological mumbo jumbo. The Ionian materialist philosophers were in contact with, and learned from ancient scientists and mathematicians of Babylonia, Egypt and Ethiopia as well.

The marketplaces where wares exchanged for gold were also a market place of ideas. Economic competition, invention, and debates were equally commonplace as Persians, Indians, Jews, Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Ethiopians integrated with local merchants and artisans. Merchants, artisans, mathematicians, worldly philosophers, Persian Magi and Egyptian priests visiting or living in the Greco-Ionian polis daily assembled in public squares to debate their ideas as well as buying or selling wares.

Cosmopolitan travelers from throughout the Afro-Asian-Mediterranean world joined local communities of artisans, merchants, mathematicians, philosophers and returned travelers in the Greco-Ionian polis. It is therefore impossible to attribute the "origin of philosophy" to the "genius" of any one people. Philosophy, materialism, and science can no more be credited to the "Greek genius" than to the Egyptian mystery schools.

Rather, the philosophical discourse that arose in Ionia evolved part and parcel out of phenomenological realities in socioeconomic behavior and interaction between representatives of cultures who settled in local Greek communities. To an Egyptian or Greek merchant or traveler philosopher the Hebrew Scripture had no authority. A quote from the Torah by a Jewish trader, or immigrant had no more value to an Egyptian or Greek than a quote from the Book of the Dead had to a Greek or Jew. The correctness of an idea, or incorrectness of an idea, had to be demonstrated by rational arguments, and the debaters based their arguments on analysis of what was perceived by the senses.

In the 7th and 6th centuries B.C.E. the cosmopolitan Greco-Ionian city-state economies based on world commerce and political democracies allowed the necessary free exchange of ideas. Systemic human thinking that challenges the old-world views are "revolutionary," in that new ideas evolve in practical-critical, revolutionary activity in context of the existing sociopolitical order and against it. The material political interests of the rising class that is challenging the authority of the existing ruling class support it. Philosophy arose in public discourse in civil society.


The polemical evolution of materialist cosmology of the Greco-Ionian philosophers in the polis of Miletus in the 6th century, rejected the authority of prophets, priests and poets. The philosopher was compelled by debates to defend, or alter their ideas on the basis of rational arguments based on sensuous perception.

Thales, Anaximander, Anaximines and Heraclitus articulated the idea that the natural world was the diversification into many forms of One material Substance. The senses experience things in diversity, but the first philosophers posited that a pre-existing, single material is the Substance of all Forms. There was no separation of cosmology and epistemology. The minds of men and women were material and thinking a material process which itself can be self-understood by human reason through discourse. The philosophers were Pantheists. For them material phenomena are not just Substance but Subject as well. Humanity is the self-consciousness of Substance: human divinity is part and parcel of Divine Nature. Therefore there is no authority higher than the authority of natural human reason.

Substance manifests itself in diverse qualities. These qualities exist in quantities perceived by the senses. The experience of different, and often mutually exclusive qualities in variegated forms were nonetheless recognition of things of like and unlike qualities. These can be grouped together into an exclusive class or species. The species in turn belong to a class or genus: genus into orders: and order into phylum: phylum into kingdom: the biosphere. The biosphere is part of Earth. Earth is a living, breathing planet. The planets and the stars exist as parts of a single universe. Thus reason derives/arrives the concept of the One: Monism.

Engels pointed out that "The old Greek philosophers were all born natural dialecticians, and Aristotle, the most encyclopedic intellect of them, had already analyzed the most essential forms of dialectic thought." www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1877/anti-duhring…

It is logical that dialectical reasoning and monism first arose in the cosmopolitan market economies of the Greco-Ionian polis. The progress of ideas through democratic freethinking and open, public debate. Criticisms negate errors in one's ideas and in turn criticism of the errors in the ideas of others are negation. Mutual negation of erroneous ideas is itself progress by negation, and negation of negation through which ideas evolve.

The presupposition of the combatants is that there is an objective truth, and the willingness to discover this truth by negation of what is false. The first causality is the authority of priests and would-be sacred text. "The criticism of religion is the prerequisite of all criticism", wrote Marx.

"The profane existence of error is compromised as soon as its heavenly oratio pro aris et focis [ _ speech for the altars and hearths _ ] has been refuted. Man, who has found only the reflection of himself in the fantastic reality of heaven, where he sought a superman, will no longer feel disposed to find the mere appearance of himself, the non-man [ _ Unmensch _ ], where he seeks and must seek his true reality. The foundation of irreligious criticism is: Man makes religion, religion does not make man."

But the explication of the form of criticism, nor even its object, explain the determinate content of the form of criticism nor the content of the cosmology and epistemology that displaces the religious cosmology. I posit that it was the objective laws in the market economy of international commerce and the cosmopolitan character of participants in commerce and debates that determined the monistic materialism that was the content of Ionian philosophy. This of course excludes Pythagoras, and subsequently Pythagoreans including Plato who were more in the traditions of Egyptian and Indian religion.

In the case of Heraclitus of Ephesus it is clear that the market mechanisms directly influenced his cosmological and epistemological philosophy and economic and political theory. Though he stated it in the reverse -- the use of the market-universal equivalent of commodity values:

"All things are an equal exchange for Fire and Fire for all things, as goods are for gold and gold for goods" http://philoctetes.free.fr//heraclitefraneng.htm

The merchants in the Greco-Ionian polis were the most powerful and economically dominate class. They dominated the economy by mediating commerce between the agriculture-based kingdoms of Asia and Africa. The economic activity in the commercial polis was therefore distribution. But, distribution by market, this mode of appropriation, evolves money -- in this case gold -- as a universal equivalent and measure of value. This presupposes that commodities, different objects, are equated to one another because they have a common substance of that makes them commensurate.

Marx: "Each of them, so far as it is exchange-value, must therefore be reducible to this third. & Let us now consider the residue of each of these products; it consists of the same unsubstantial reality in each, a mere congelation of homogeneous human labor, of power-power expended without regard to the mode of its expenditure. All that these things now tell us is, that human power-power has been expended in their production, that human power is embodied in them. When looked at as crystals of this social substance, common to them all, they are _ Values." http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1…

This common substance of value is not seen, and yet it is not just present in all commodities but determinate of value relations. In a market economy this value is an objective quantification of socially necessary labor-time spent in the production and distribution of the different objects. The same is true of gold, the commodity that serves as a medium of exchange, money.

In The Wealth of Nations Adam Smith wrote:

"Different metals have been made use of by different nations for this purpose. Iron was the common instrument of commerce among the ancient Spartans; copper among the ancient Romans; and gold and silver among all rich and commercial nations."


"Metals can not only be kept with as little loss as any other commodity, scarce any thing being less perishable than they are, but they can likewise, without any loss, be divided into any number of parts, as by fusion those parts can easily be reunited again; a quality which no other equally durable commodities possess, and which more than any other quality renders them fit to be the instruments of commerce

(Adam Smith: Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of The Wealth of Nations Book I, Chapter IV Of the Origin and Use of Money)

In Capital Marx dealt dialectically with the material (use-value) and social (exchange-value) of commodities and money as exchange value, gold:

"Gold, as gold, is exchange-value itself. As to its use-value, the series of expressions of relative value in which it stands face to face with all other commodities, the sum of whose uses makes up the sum of the various uses of gold. These antagonistic forms of commodities are the real forms in which the process of their exchange moves and takes place." (Marx: Capital, A Critique of Political Economy).

The Milesians participated in commerce along the seacoast cities of the Eastern Mediterranean, Africa and Asia. The merchandising class was therefore comprised of cosmopolitan traders. Merchant seamen, and merchant caravans, traveled extensively, collected and exchanged ideas and merchandise. The cosmopolitan character of commodity production and exchange, and world travel engenders the cosmopolitan world-view.

By observing that in the market all goods, commodities, are exchanged for gold, money -- and as a result of philosophical, i.e., Public discourse (in Melitus, Colophon, and Ephesus) -- the idea was developed that there is a common substance of value that makes all phenomena commensurate in Nature.

This objective, empirical and mathematic economic phenomena, that there is an invisible empirical reality that is pre-existing and determinate, became the basis for the cosmological argument that there is a universal substance present in all material phenomena. As Aristotle stated it:

"Of the first philosophers, then, most thought the principles which were of the nature of matter were the only principles of all things. That of which all things that are consist, the first from which they come to be, the last into which they are resolved (the substance remaining, but changing in its modifications), this they say is the element and this the principle of things, and therefore they think nothing is either generated or destroyed, since this sort of entity is always conserved & "

Modified by the gains in empirical science -- physics and astrophysics -- this much is confirmed both by Super dense or "big bang" cosmology, according to which all matter evolves from a primary entity from which energy and matter is evolving

and the law of conservation of matter: "A fundamental principle of classical physics that matter cannot be created or destroyed in an isolated system".


Philosophical materialism or, rather, the origin of philosophical reasoning, generally evolved in public discourse separate and apart from the authority of ethnocentric priests and shrines.

Monistic materialism, or "physics," is derived from the Greek term "physis" meaning matter or [material] "stuff." In his "Metaphysics," Aristotle said the term physics originally referred to the material and the process of being born. Subsequently physics came to mean the principle of that process, and then extended to mean the principle of any naturally occurring change whatsoever.

The concept of the universe is not only from which "all things" evolve or are derived, in which all these things inhere as particulars. This idea is present in religion, for instance the Hindu religion. But it was first articulated on the basis of sensuous human reason by the Greco-Ionian philosophers; Thales, in the Hydraulic monism; by Anaximander in the Apeiron; and by Anaximenes in the "Air."

The developments in philosophical materialism in the Ionian city-states enabled the commercial class and their political and philosopher allies to both look at, and understand the world in new ways.

An outmoded mode of appropriation and its political property formations, corresponding to a technology and economy that have become economically outmoded and politically restrictive are challenged by the rising mode of production and appropriation represented by new forms of wealth. The old regime is militarily defended requiring revolution to free the new modes of appropriation and property formations. The revolutionary reconstitution of society frees the productive forces and emerging mode of appropriation and corresponding relations of production and those class forces that personify the new wealth become the new ruling classes.

The Greco-Ionian materialist philosophers, by offering a new world-view, at the same time undermined whatever authority the priests and oracles had. This was also in the interests of the new democratic order. In fact, this was exemplified in the relationship between Thales and Solon of Athens, and later in Athens between Anaxagoras and Pericles.

Miletus was a seaport polis located in Asia Minor at the cross road in connection with mainland Greece, Crete, Italy and Egypt and North Africa by sea, and Persia and India by land. Not only the philosophers Anaximander, Anaximenes, Thales, but the geographers Kadmos and Hecataeus all lived in Miletus at the same time.

The developments in philosophical materialism in the Ionian city-states enabled the newly empowered commercial class to not only look at and understand the world in new ways, but also to undermine whatever authority the priests and oracles had, and to justify the rising new democratic order. In fact, this was exemplified in the relationship between Thales and Solon, and between Anaxagoras and Pericles.

New methods of thinking are consistent with progress in science and industry. In societies undergoing technological and economic changes, new realities require new explanations. It is not revolutionary theory that gives rise to revolutionary class movements, but the praxis of the rising class activity that engenders revolutionary theory and ideologies. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social being that determines their consciousness.

Melitus, a cosmopolitan port city based on commerce in which participants in the marketplace of commodities, was also an arena of public debates among merchants, travelers, and intellectuals, which engendered philosophical discourse because people from throughout the Afro-Asian Mediterranean lands personified their respective cultures. The person from one culture did not submit to the authority of prophets, priest and texts. They held authority only in the socio-political cultures where those religions were dominant.

The political and religious representatives represented the landed or/and urban oligarchy that had come to dominate economics and politics in mainland Greece. Their authority, however, was limited. Solon, and Pericles respectively, attacked the old order and its political representatives.

In the Greco-Ionian city states of Asia Minor, the philosophical quest was consistent with these democratic reformers, who were in continuity with the interests of commercial classes. Artisans, merchants and seamen were cosmopolitan both in their world economic relationships with other cultures, and with progress in science and technology which was also was in their class interests.

Solon and Thales were associates of the merchants, and represented the democratic party which was supported by artisans and merchants. The idea of a universal primary entity, articulated by Thales in Miletus, was consistent with, if not derivative of, the cosmopolitan economy of that city-state or polis.Solon and Thales were associates of the merchants, and represented the democratic party which was supported by artisans and merchants. The idea of a universal primary entity, articulated by Thales in Miletus, was consistent with, if not derivative of, the cosmopolitan economy of that city-state or polis.

In this political culture, Thales and Solon were political comrades as well as co-thinkers and friends, as would be Pericles and Anaxagoras. This is why Thucydides, and other of Pericles' enemies in Athens, attacked Anaxagoras and forced him from Athens.

Although Anaxagoras and Socrates were both tried for impiety, they represented different classes at different times in Athens. The alliance of Anaxagoras and Pericles was what today would be called "progressive," whereas the ideas of Socrates and Plato -- depicted by Plato in the Dialogues -- were reactionary, and consistent with the fact that Socrates, with his wealthy patrons, supported the Spartan-imposed regime of the Thirty Tyrants on democratic Athens.


The Ionian materialist philosophers posed the central question of Being: What is It? Thus, secondarily, what am I? This issue was united in the third: How do I know what I know to be objective, valid? They rejected the religious mythical concepts of gods creating or interfering with Nature, and thus rejected the authority of priests and sacred text. These issues were human issues to be solved by sensuous human reason.

Aristotle wrote in Metaphysics:

"ALL men by nature desire to know. An indication of this is the delight we take in our senses; for even apart from their usefulness they are loved for themselves; and above all others the sense of sight. For not only with a view to action, but even when we are not going to do anything, we prefer seeing (one might say) to everything else. The reason is that this, most of all the senses, makes us know and brings to light many differences between things." http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/metaphysics.1.i.html

Aristotle's is the best possible statement of the concept of human sensuous reasoning. Knowledge consists of comparison and contrast, which at once is observation and reason. We know today by modern neurology and the study of the sensuous faculties in relation to the function of the brain that the sensuous apprehension of data is immediately processed by the brain which determines what we see, feel, hear, smell, taste. Yet it is socialization and culture that determine the "meaning" of those sensuous experiences.

The psychology of "meaning" is derived from the socialization of the individual into a community of language.

"By nature animals are born with the faculty of sensation, and from sensation memory is produced in some of them, though not in others." *** "The animals other than man live by appearances and memories, and have but little of connected experience; but the human race lives also by art and reasoning." (Aristotle: Metaphysics) http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/metaphysics.1.i.html

What is this Being I experience? What is the Stuff of which the Universe consists? The universe of which I exist, as an Individual, part and parcel of the species being called the Human Race? I am a physical social being, I am the universe trying to understand itself from a particular point of view. The individual experiences the universe from a particular point of view. Thus the identity of Substance in Subject: the unity of ontology, psychology and therefore epistemology. This is monism articulated in terms of pantheistic philosophical materialism.

Each materialist philosopher in the Ionian traditional monism tried to answer the central ontological question by use of human observation and rational public discourse: what is the underlying "stuff" of the material universe. They consciously and deliberately rejected the authority of priests, poets, and prophets.

Aristotle referred to Ionian scientists as "natural philosophers." These natural philosophers and scientists insisted on public discourse and rejected the authority of priests, prophets, oracles, mystery metaphysicians, and so on. The only authority is the authority of reason, based on observation. In public discourse, a statement by a preacher or priest has no more validity than that of a layperson. Ordination by religion has no significance.


In the commerce based, cosmopolitan port city of Melitus, the market place was an arena of public debates among merchants, travelers, and intellectuals. Thales participated in the market and in the debates: interacting with representatives of cultures from throughout the Afro-Asian-Mediterranean region.

Diogenes Laertius informs us:

"Hieronymus, of Rhodes, also tells us, in the second book of his Miscellaneous Memoranda, that when he [Thales] was desirous to show that it was easy to get rich, he, foreseeing that there would be a great crop of olives, took some large plantations of olive trees, and so made a great deal of money."(Diogenes Laertius: The Lives and Opinions of the Eminent Philosophers) http://classicpersuasion.org/pw/diogenes/dlthales.htm

"Aristotle, for example, relates a story of how Thales used his skills to deduce that the next season's olive crop would be a very large one. He therefore bought all the olive presses and then was able to make a fortune when the bumper olive crop did indeed arrive" http://www.hellenism.net/eng/thales.htm

Diogenes also informs us that Thales was a man interested in knowledge, a traveler, who went to Egypt to access knowledge accumulated over centuries, preserved by the educated elites, which in Egypt meant foremost the priests. Diogenes writes:

"And he never had any teacher except during the time that he went to Egypt, and associated with the priests. Hieronymus also says that he measured the Pyramids: watching their shadow, and calculating when they were of the same size as that was. He lived with Thrasybulus the tyrant of Miletus, as we are informed by Minyas"(Diogenes Laertius: The Lives and Opinions of the Eminent Philosophers) http://classicpersuasion.org/pw/diogenes/dlthales.htm

Thales was also conversant with the astronomy of ancient Babylonia. According to Herodotus, Thales predicted, on May 28, 585 BC, a solar eclipse, confirming his access to Babylonian records. Thales is believed to have had established the Ionian (Milesian) school of Greek astronomy.

Thales was also a man of political affairs as well. "He lived with Thrasybulus the tyrant of Miletus, as we are informed by Minyas"

Diogenes informs us: (Diogenes Laertius: Lives of the Philosophers)

"Tradition also claims that he was a statesman, and as a practical thinker he is classed as one of the seven wise men."

As a farmer-merchant in the olive business there was a practical side to Thales’ pursuit of knowledge. Moreover politics is a practical profession. Yet, the rumor of Thales as an otherworldly abstract individual persists from Plato's vulgarization of him, and other materialists.

Plato tells a story of how one night Thales was gazing at the sky as he walked and fell into a ditch. A pretty servant girl lifted him out and said to him "How do you expect to understand what is going on up in the sky if you do not even see what is at your feet". http://www.hellenism.net/eng/thales.htm

This story is no different than the satirical mockery of Plato's beloved Socrates by Aristophanes.

The image of Greek, and other philosophers as otherworldly, separate and apart from social praxis, squatting with chin on fist, outside society, is an Idealist myth. These philosophers were ordinary men produced by socialization in the cultures in which they were born and raised. Technological, economic, and political conditions made them what and who they were, both what they were, and based on that, what they believed and the party they supported and what they disagreed with and the party they opposed.

Thales is the earliest Greco-Ionian philosopher of whom we have any knowledge. After having been immersed in state affairs, he applied himself to speculations in natural philosophy; though, as some people state, he left no writings behind.

Aristotle, and others quoted from Thales’ works. We know that the Great Library at Alexandria, Egypt housed the works of Anaximander. Anaximander was directly a student of Thales, and therefore a contemporary. The books by Anaximander were destroyed when the Christian Crusaders destroyed them by burning the Great Library. (Carl Sagan: "Cosmos") http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail...

Aristotle wrote of Thales and his contribution to the origin of philosophical materialism:

"Of the first philosophers, then, most thought the principles which were of the nature of matter were the only principles of all things. That of which all things that are consist, the first from which they come to be, the last into which they are resolved (the substance remaining, but changing in its modifications), this they say is the element and this the principle of things, and therefore they think nothing is either generated or destroyed, since this sort of entity is always conserved, as we say Socrates neither comes to be absolutely when he comes to be beautiful or musical, nor ceases to be when he loses these characteristics, because the substratum, Socrates himself remains. Thales, the founder of this type of philosophy, says the principle is water (for which reason he declared that the earth rests on water), getting the notion perhaps from seeing that the nutriment of all things is moist, and that heat itself is generated from the moist and kept alive by it (and that from which they come to be is a principle of all things). He got his notion from this fact, and from the fact that the seeds of all things have a moist nature, and that water is the origin of the nature of moist things.” http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/metaphysics.1.i.html

Thales was not the ethereal philosopher that Plato described anymore than Socrates was an apolitical philosopher with his head in the clouds as ridiculed by Aristophanes. Merchants, farmers, workers -- including engineers such as Thales -- are practical businessmen and men of public affairs. Traders and travelers from divergent cultures merged in Melitus for different reasons, but, by interacting upon one another in trade and discourse, engendered philosophical discourse.

The natural philosophers consciously and deliberately turned away from the "sacred texts" of all Greece and surrounding kingdoms, including Judah, Babylon, and Egypt. Therefore, the would-be priests had no special status in the public discourse.

Materialism is a posture that devises methods of thinking about the world, and of analyzing it without reference to gods and creationism. Materialism is the great contribution of the Ionian philosophers of 7th century Asia Minor.

Thales and Philosophy

In “History of Philosophy”, Hegel observed:

"With Thales we, properly speaking, first begin the history of Philosophy. The life of Thales occurred at the time when the Ionic towns were under the dominion of Croesus. Through his overthrow (548 B.C.), an appearance of freedom was produced, yet the most of these towns were conquered by the Persians, and Thales survived the catastrophe only a few years." http://philos.wright.edu/Dept/PHL/Class/PS/GWFHtha.html"

This confirms what Marx had intimated in the dictum: "The existence of revolutionary ideas, presupposes the existence of a revolutionary class"
(Marx and Engels: The [Critique of] German Ideology) http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/german-ideology...

Sartre is correct therefore, in explicating the Marxian theory of socio-political philosophical praxis:

"A philosophy is first of all a particular way in which the arising class becomes conscious of itself. This consciousness may be clear or confused, indirect or direct. ...Every philosophy is practical, even the one which at first appears to be the most contemplative. Its method is a social and political weapon." (Jean-Paul Sartre's Search For A Method) http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/sartre/works...

Thales and Solon were businessmen in practical politics. Thales, one of the Seven Wise Men of Greece, was among those Sophists (meaning men of wisdom), "drawn from among the outstanding politicians and political philosophers of ancient Greece."

There are differences of opinion of who these Sophists were however, the list normally includes Bias of Priene, Chilon of Sparta, Cleobulus of Lindus, Periander of Corinth, Pittacus of Mytilene, Solon of Athens, and Thales of Miletus.

Thales of Miletus was the one of the seven wise men to move from the life of the mind to the life of practical issues. Thales has the historical-philosophical distinction of moving from the philosophical to the practical: "the first to undertake the study of physical philosophy.

"Thales of Miletus, one of the seven wise men, was the first to undertake the study of physical philosophy. He said that the archê (principle) and the end of all things is water. All things acquire firmness as this solidifies, and again as it is melted their existence is threatened; to this are due earthquakes and whirlwinds and movements of the stars. And all things are movable and in a fluid state, the character of the compound being determined by the nature of the principle from which it springs"
(Hippolytus, Refut. 1; Dox. 555).

There were no doubt other philosophers in other locations (Ethiopia, Egypt, Babylonia, Persia, India, China). Thales is one we know about.

The cosmopolitan commercial Greco-Ionian polis encouraged freethinking, critical thinking, partisan of democratic commercial interests who benefited by progress in technology and science.

Sophists were philosophical materialists who "emphasized skills useful for achieving success in life, particularly public life, these latter Sophists were popular for a time, but their elastic approach to absolute truth and morality eventually got them into trouble with the establishment." http://www.scienceandyou.org/articles/ess_10.shtml
Yet, they were not the opportunists that they are described as being by Plato and Aristotle.

Plutarch, for instance, reports in his essay on Solon, the following from a poem by Solon:

"Each day grew older, and learnt something new,
and yet no admirer of riches,
esteeming as equally wealthy the man
Who hath both gold and silver in his hand,
Horses and mules, and acres of wheat-land,
And him whose all is decent food to eat,
Clothes to his back and shoes upon his feet,
And a young wife and child, since so 'twill be,
And no more years than will with that agree;

Obviously, Solon, like Thales, viewed the world from the point of view of commerce and philosophical politician: "Wealth I would have, but wealth by wrong procure I would not; justice, e'en if slow, is sure." http://classics.mit.edu/Plutarch/solon.html

Commerce and politics are objective phenomena. The value of objects, commodities of exchange, in the market-place, is objective, and haggling over prices revolves around the objective value of the object, determined on one hand, by the socially necessary labor time required to produce the commodity, and by transport to market on the other. The commensurability of products as products of cumulative human labor value or substance of value inhering in each object is quantified by the time required for production, the transfer of human labor-value by work-objectification to the value of the object so produced. The price of commodities is based on the quality and quantity of labor united in the value of the product, but at the same time is the mathematics of quantity: supply and demand, competition.

The work of individuals becomes objectified value of specific qualities and quantities of labor, externalized by work and measured by labor-time.

Objectified Labor embodied in the product is the substance of value: is noumenological and invisible but phenomenological, real and measurable. Similarly Thales had held the material substance of the universe, which he posited as Water has objective existence, both invisible, in non-hydraulic forms, and visible, and intelligible.

Solon and Thales

"Part of the original Wise Men, Solon is generally considered the founder of the Athenian democracy which makes him sort of responsible for a lot of modern political theory. Another member of the group, Thales of Miletos in Asia Minor is sometimes called the founder of Greek philosophy." http://www.scienceandyou.org/articles/ess_10.shtml>

Thales of Melitus, and Solon of Athens were educated businessmen and political activist, democrats, in conflict with the landed aristocracies and their ideological representatives, the priests. This opposition inevitably engendered philosophical materialism.

The historian of philosophy and specialist on pre-Socratic Greek materialism, John Burnet, noted the socio-political context and content of the Greco-Ionian origin of philosophy. Burnet wrote:

"We shall have occasion to notice more than once that the early schools of philosophy by no means held aloof from politics; and there are many things, for instance the part played by Hecataeus in the Ionian revolt, which suggest that the scientific men of Miletus took up a very decided position in the stirring times that followed the death of Thales. (John Burnet: "Early Greek Philosophy") http://plato.evansville.edu/public/burnet/intro.htm

Aristotle writes in Metaphysics:

"Thales, the founder of this type of philosophy, says the principle is water (for which reason he declared that the earth rests on water), getting the notion perhaps from seeing that the nutriment of all things is moist, and that heat itself is generated from the moist and kept alive by it (and that from which they come to be is a principle of all things). He got his notion from this fact, and from the fact that the seeds of all things have a moist nature, and that water is the origin of the nature of moist things." http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/metaphysics.1.i.html

The 'metaphysics' and 'subtleties' in the Universals in early Greco-Ionian materialism, originally metaphysical pantheism, is the recognition that species of animals, and objects, including economic objects, contain the concept of universal substance.

"To the owner of a commodity, every other commodity is, in regard to his own, a particular equivalent, and consequently his own commodity is the universal equivalent for all the others. But since this applies to every owner, there is, in fact, no commodity acting as universal equivalent, and the relative value of commodities possesses no general form under which they can be equated as values and have the magnitude of their values compared." (Marx: Capital vol. I ch.2) http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch02.htm

“Like the religious world, so the philosophical world is but the reflex of the real world.” http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch01.htm#S4

The ontological and therefore epistemological issue in materialist philosophical monism is the problem of conceptualizing the Universe as One, while at the same time accounting for the sensuously present Many. If there is in actuality but One Substance, then what accounts for the many forms? As far as we know, Thales did not actually address the problem of transition.

But, Thales' insistence on a materialistic, rational approach to Nature is what was decisive, not so much his hydraulic monism. In the origin of materialism and scientific empiricism, the materialists after Thales would concretely address the issue of change and transition.

The problem of transition of the One into the Many was first consciously taken up and explained in the ontological and cosmological theories of Anaximines and Heraclitus.

But, the idea that Being and Change was natural -- which implicitly occurred over time (evolved) -- meant also that societies evolve and change, with new evidence. There is an obvious connection between the natural philosophy of change (evolution in the monistic materialism of Thales), and the practical political work of Solon. It was not just an issue of interpreting the world, but in changing it.

Thales' natural philosophy opened human reasoning to the cosmos, and would be followed by other explicitly materialistic explanations, which directly lead to the modern sciences. But at the same time, in its social context, the natural philosophy of Thales was also partisan of the political philosophy, and reforming activities, of Solon.

The Constitution drafted by Solon was clearly in the class struggle mode. The ideas of the aristocrats and priests were in support of the existing order. However, just as the ruling classes find their intellectual weapons in conservative religions represented by priests, so rising classes find their intellectual weapons in critical philosophy.

Solon is known for having acted on behalf of the debtors against predatory creditors. Critical theory presents new ways of looking at and analyzing the world, and therefore finds their material support in the rising classes. Thales and Solon were not just friends but comrades.

Anaximander, who was a contemporary of Thales, -- his student in fact -- had discovered a fossil of an extinct animal species. He reasoned, correctly as we now know, that life evolved in the sea from whence land animals emerged.

Since this species had become extinct, so too, perhaps older social forms? If one species can change, be displaced by its changed offspring, why not societies?


Anaximander was a student of Thales. This, however, is not the same as a master/disciple relationship in religion. Rather, as a student of philosophy, Anaximander was taught to think for himself.

Simplicius wrote the only existent account of Anaximander's ideas as reasoned originally, stated to him by Aristotle's student Theophrastus, or from Alexander, who was a student of Aristotle and wrote a now lost treatise on Aristotle's physics.

Simplicius wrote:

"Anaximander ... said that the indefinite was the first principle and element of things that are, and he was the first to introduce this name for the first principle [i.e., he was the first to call the first principle indefinite]. He says that the first principle is neither water nor any other of the things called elements, but some other nature which is indefinite" (There is also a different translation: "Anaximander ... said that the infinite is principle and element of the things that exist. He was the first to introduce this word “principle”. He says that it is neither water nor any other of the so-called elements but some different infinite nature." http://faculty.washington.edu/smcohen/320/anaximan.htm

Anaximander agreed with Thales that there was one substance from which all different materials evolved over time. He disagreed that Water or any other of the existing elements could have been the primary entity. Anaximander argued that it was rather an indeterminate stuff, which he called the Apereion. Anaximander thought his apereion -- meaning boundless substance or the "indefinite" stuff -- was that from which the elements and all things emerge, and to which they return.

Since Language is social consciousness in an ordered system of symbolic meanings and understandings, and the meaning of words/phrases are determined by Culture, the word, or rather the concept represented by the words, "the Infinite" and especially the capitalized "I", is metaphysical. But, the concept of the "indefinite" is human, stating it is a problem.

Anaximander found a distinct fossil, which, by observation and reason, engendered a theory of evolution -- that all present life-forms, including human, evolved over time as aquatic animals in the sea, and from the sea came land animals as well. Fossils of extinct species indicate that what exists now is relatively new, more environmentally adapted species. The existence of pre-existing fossils of species long extinct inferred that the world as we know it has not always been so.

Anaximander agreed with Thales that matter was eternal and the universe one substance manifested in infinite forms. However, Anaximander was no "disciple" in the religious sense, in the regurgitating the ideas of the "master" sense. Nor in stating the same concept, in reverse, as was the case of Parminides and his disciple Zeno. (See Plato's Dialogue: "Parminides").

Rather, Anaximander critiqued Thales, proposing instead that this material substance could not be Water, nor any other visible element, (Fire, Air, Earth) but something prior, something more fundamental. Anaximander said that the uncreated and indestructible substance of all forms is derived from a pre-existent boundless potential that comprises actuality.

The "indefinite," or "indeterminate" can and must be ascertained by analysis.

The fact of apparent differences, that differences appartently exist, is in contrast to the monistic ontological argument. The differences recognized by sensuous perception are real enough, but must be penetrated to discover the monistic unity of substance in the variegated forms. The indefinite is a material substance, the boundless source from which all things arise and to which all things return.

On the basis of his work as a scientist, the Indefinite, in the philosophy of Anaximander, was predicated upon the premise that Matter is neither created nor destroyed, but that the One substance in the Many things in the material universe evolves differences by Its changes into and through, it’s variegated forms.


Anaximenes advanced by critical critique of Thales as well as Anaximander, the monistic idea of an "apeiron" as imperceptible and, therefore, not subject to an empirical analysis. Like Thales, Anaximenes grounded his analysis on an empirical element -- except, not Water, as was argued by Thales. Rather, the monism, developed by Anaximenes said that the first principle was Air.

What is important in Anaximenes' philosophy is that he posited natural causes for change and diversification, by quantitative changes engendering qualitative changes in natural transitions. The elements changed by rarefaction or by condensation -- from one quality to the next.

Anaximenes argued that the basic "stuff" or primary principle of the material universe is Air. The mechanism of change was natural by way of the process of condensation and rarefaction. By condensation Air becomes Fire; by rarefaction, Air becomes Wind. By condensation, Wind becomes Air; by rarefaction, Wind becomes Cloud. By condensation, Cloud becomes Wind; by rarefaction, Cloud becomes Water. By condensation, Water becomes Cloud; by rarefaction Water becomes Earth. By condensation, Earth becomes Water; by rarefaction Earth becomes Stone.

Marx or Engels said that the early philosophical materialists were "natural dialecticians." This because of a comprehension of difference -- the One transformed into many ones -- Being is understood as always to exist within a process of change: being is becoming. The transitions from one form into another -- in the theory of atoms, combining and disassociating -- is the mode of being qua becoming: affirmation and negation of elements.

Anaximenes' concept of transitions from one element to the next -- by rarefaction or condensation -- iisssss all natural. The concept of rarefaction and condensation is suggestive of an objective, explainable -- if not observable -- process of quantitative/qualitative changes.

Xenophanes and Heraclitus were successors to Anaximenes. Thus, the monistic materialism that Thales had introduced -- without, as far as we know, concretely discussing mechanisms by which the one substance became many -- was taken up by Anaximenes. The problem of change was of central importance to Xenophanes, and especially to Heraclitus.

As we saw earlier, Xenophanes and Heraclitus were both critical of the authors of the "sacred scriptures," Homer and Hesiod -- and, therefore, of the texts as well. Xenophanes was more interested in pursuing his anthropomorphic critique of theology than he was in physics and politics.

Xenophanes mockingly wrote:

"But mortals consider that the gods are born, and that they have clothes and speech and bodies like their own. The Ethiopians say that their gods are snub-nosed and black, the Thracians that theirs have light blue eyes and red hair. But if cattle and horses or lions had hands, or were able to draw with their hands and do the works that men do, horses would draw the forms of the gods like horses, and cattle like cattle, and they would make their bodies such as they each had themselves.

Xenophanes is reported to have once debated the priests of Memphis, Egypt, saying that if they thought Osiris a man they should not worship him, and if they thought him a god they need not talk of his death and sufferings. The same point could be made to Catholic priests and to Protestant preachers today: If Jesus was a man they should not worship him, and if they thought him a god they need not talk of his death and sufferings.

The contemporary anthropomorphic critique, humanism, is associated with the philosophical materialism of Ludwig Feuerbach. This critique is that the essence of Christianity is Man – that all the qualities of Jehovah in the Old Testament (the same as Osiris, et al., of the Egyptians, and Zeus, et al., in ancient Greece) are human qualities. This is especially true of Jesus: the theology that God became human is inverted reality, humanity is divine. According to Feuerbach, this so-called divinity of humanity in Christianity was the theological "secret" in the speculative philosophy presented by Hegel.

Xenophanes' anthropomorphic critique was of use in application -- whether the critique was of the hummaaaaan-like deitiess of the Ethiopians, the Egyptians, the Hebrews, the Greeks, the Romans, the Christians, Islam, and so on. A couple thousand years after being formulated by Xenophanes, Ludwig Feuerbach picked up Xenophanes' anthromorphic critique of the worship of deities, and used it as his method of the critique of both Christianity, and of the speculative philosophy of Hegel.


In Ephesus, the philosophy of the market economy was articulated in the Logos dialectic philosophy of Heraclitus. As the example to prove his cosmology Heraclitus moved from ontology to epistemology using materialist economics as an "example." The actual logical progress however, was in the processes of dialectical reasoning from the empirical to the conceptual: the empirical things -- commodities and money -- to the abstract concept.

The concept of "Fire," qua Strife, or derived from strife, as determinate, governed by objective reason, or Logos, is not manifested in human economics and politics which were by Heraclitus used as examples. But, the opposite: the objective relationship of "wares" i.e. things qua products in commodity form, and gold qua money or commensurate value was not grasped until the capitalist commodity production by wage-labor became dominant in the world 2500 years thence in the scientific works of Adam Smith, David Ricardo and Karl Marx.

Heraclitus is the first known philosopher to have consciously presented the concept of dialectics in nature, in society, and in thinking itself.

For Heraclitus, Fire is the material primal substance, primal and imminent in all things. Logos is the Fiery Natural Logic, mediating principle of change, determining diversification by transformation of an object into its opposite.

Heraclitus wrote:

"The world-order [the same of all] did none of gods or men make, but it always was and is and shall be: an everliving fire, kindling in measures and going out in measures


Fire's turnings: first sea, and of sea the half is earth, the half 'burner' [i.e. lightning or fire] . (earth) is dispersed as sea, and is measured so as to form the same proportion as existed before it became earth.


All things are an equal exchange for fire and fire for all things, as wares are for gold and gold for wares."


"Thunderbolt steers all things."


Aristotle also acknowledges "exchange cannot take part without equality, and equality not without commensurability" (Aristotle: The Politics).

Just as it comes out of the bowels of the earth, gold and other wares are, forthwith, the direct incarnation of all human labour. Thus "all wares are exchanged for gold, and gold for wares."

Heraclitus argued similarly the ontological substance of all bodily objects in his monist philosophy is Fire. In his philosophy -- just as labour in economics is the gggggenerating and differentiating medium by which change manifests difference -- the separate and distinct elements achieved separate forms as distinct qualities.

"All things are and are not Fire."

As we discussed previously regarding the universal equivalents in the market, in Heraclitus' philosophy: "all things are exchangeable for fire and fire for all things, as wares for gold and gold for wares."

Matter into energy and energy concentrated into matter for instance. Every nanosecond inside the sun hydrogen is fused to create heavier elements: in the process, energy is released.

Heraclitus is quoted in Aristotle, On the World:

"Things which are put together are both whole and not whole, brought together and taken apart, in harmony and out of harmony; one thing arises from all things, and all things arise from one thing."

In contrast to the axiom in the Book of Proverbs that, "there is nothing new under the sun", Heraclitus said that not only is everything new under the sun, from moment to moment, but that the sun is itself new from moment to moment!

"The sun is new every day."


"We step and do not step into the same rivers; we are and are not."

As in the case of the earlier Greco-Ionian materialists, at first sight Heraclitus's materialism is Pantheism:

"God is day and night, winter and summer, war and peace, satiety and hunger; but he takes various shapes, just as fire, when it is mingled with different incenses, is named according to the savour of each."
(Fragment [2 Byw.] Sextus Empiricus, Contre les mathématiciens, VII 132 [s. A 16.]) http://www.wsu.edu:8080/~dee/GREECE/HERAC.HTM

On the other hand the eternal substance of all form, which for Heraclitus thought to be Fire is thereby Atheism:

"This order, which is the same in all: things no one of gods or men has made; but it was ever, is now and ever, shall be an everliving fire, fixed measures of it kindling and fixed measures going out."
(Fragment [2 Byw.] Sextus Empiricus, Contre les mathématiciens, VII 132 [s. A 16.])

The One (Fire) into Many Ones (Elements) -- and manifestation of the objects that populate the Universe -- Heraclitus explained quantitative and qualitative changes: "fixed measures of it kindling and fixed measures going out."

Anaximines posited conditional qualitative change engendered by quantitative changes, and positive or negative expansion or contractions: "rarefaction" and "condensation." Internal, quantitative changes engender altered qualities in the objects in the empirical world.

In Science of Dialectics, Frederick Engels wrote, "[T]he old Greek philosophers were all born natural dialecticians." The dialectics in logic are engendered by social praxis moving through the maze of social contradictions, and based in the objective dialectics in society.

Heraclitus wrote:

"War is the father of all and the king of all; and some he has made gods and some men, some bond and some free."
(Fragment [2 Byw.] Sextus Empiricus, Contre les mathématiciens, VII 132 [s. A 16.])

This is important. Heraclitus' doctrine of strife in natural philosophy and socio-political analysis is that "all things occur by strife."

Heraclitus wrote:

"It is necessary to know that war is common and right is strife and all things happen by strife and necessity.

The same way ruling class so-called "statesmen" want to end -- or, at least, keep at a minimum -- the strife or factionalism of the political parties of the ruling class in government -- for fear of bringing into the conflict other social factions -- so Homer wanted strife between the gods to cease.

When factional strife between the elements of the ruling class reaches a crisis, the oppressed classes are brought into the political arena on one side or the other -- either as a mob or as soldiers. This always has an element of risk involved (from the standpoint of the ruling class) in that the mob might, through this praxis, come to be a mind and will of its own -- pursuing its own class interests. This is what happened in Greece during the Peloponnesian war in Athens, and in Rome during the Civil Wars.

In fact, it was as criticism of Homer's wish for "domestic tranquility" -- Homer wanting a tranquil society both of gods in their mutual relations, and among men -- that Heralitus issued the revolutionary challenge:

"It is necessary to know that war is common and right is strife and all things happen by strife and necessity.

This same dialectical reasoning was articulated by Mao tse Tung in the 20th century in the Chinese peasants' revolution: "every Communist must grasp this truth: political power grows out the barrel of a gun," and "war is the highest method of struggle, for resolving contradictions, when they have developed between nations or classes."

It is important to note that the society of the gods in Homer's epics is stratified. The god-king Zeus, and the queen, Hera, on down to the semi-divine humans, such as Hercules were in constant conflict.

The desire for tranquility on the part of the ruling class is always conservative -- that is, to maintain things as they are.

Rousseau made the profound observation:

"It will be said that the despot assures his subjects civil tranquility. Granted; but what do they gain, if the wars his ambition brings down upon them, his insatiable avidity, and the vexatious conduct of his ministers press harder on them than their own dissensions would have done? What do they gain, if the very tranquility they enjoy is one of their miseries? Tranquility is found also in dungeons; but is that enough to make them desirable places to live in? The Greeks imprisoned in the cave of the Cyclops lived there very tranquilly, while they were awaiting their turn to be devoured."
(Jean-Jacque Rousseau: The Social Contract)

Rousseau certainly had the hindsight of two millennia. Not to mention the scientific gains of the Greco-Alexandrian, which were passed on to the Arabs and Muslims in Asia and Africa and then to the European Renaissance.

I mention the social dialectics in the continuity of exposition from the revolutionary class in philosophical argument for change -- whether it were in the cases of Herraaaaaclitus, Mao tsse-Tung or Jean-Jacque Rousseau. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence but their social being that determines their consciousness.

To grasp the revolutionary essence of the dialectical reasoning in the materialist philosophy of Heraclitus -- one must understand the sociopolitical components. This will also provide insight into the infamous hostility of aristocratic Idealist Plato and aristocratic metaphysical speculations of Aristotle to Heraclitus. Plato, who waxed fat with the wealthy, and denounced the democratic mob, said that Hericlitus' writings should be burned!

Heraclitus and Aristotle: Social Theory

Heraclitus was not just writing about ontological dialectics when he wrote of all things happening by strife and necessity. All things happen by strife in human society as well, not just in the physical universe. In dealing with the class society of his day, Heraclitus rejected the religious notion that kings and slaves, and everything in between, were by the will of or/and ordained by the gods. Rather, Heraclitus reasoned by empirical observation that all things have natural causes -- classes are formed through strife and maintained by violence.

Heraclitus wrote:

"War is the father of all and king of all, and some he shows as gods, others as men; some he made slaves others free.

On the contrary, Aristotle regarded slavery as natural, and the obedience of the slaves to the instruction of the master a teleological manifestation in a natural relationship. Thus, obedience of slaves was in the best interests of both slave and master, and -- most importantly to the understanding of the class basis for Aristotle's reasonings -- for the good of the polis. Aristotle argued that slavery is a "natural" condition. This was based on the ethno-centric notion that the Greeks were civilized and naturally endowed with culture and sophistication, whereas the barbarians were naturally fit for conquest and slavery.

Thus, Aristotle -- friend of Philip of Macedonia and tutor to his son, Alexander -- wrote:

"For that which can foresee by the exercise of mind is by nature intended to be lord and master, and that which can with its body give effect to such foresight is a subject, and by nature a slave; hence master and slave have the same interest.


But among barbarians no distinction is made between women and slaves, because there is no natural ruler among them: they are a community of slaves, male and female. Wherefore the poets say: 'It is meet that Hellenes should rule over barbarians'


The master is only the master of the slave; he does not belong to him, whereas the slave is not only the slave of his master, but wholly belongs to him. Hence we see what is the nature and office of a slave; he who is by nature not his own but another's man, is by nature a slave; and he may be said to be another's man who, being a human being, is also a possession."
(Aristotle: Politics)


Rousseau made an interesting rejoinder:

"Aristotle was right; but he took the effect for the cause. Nothing can be more certain than that every man born in slavery is born for slavery. Slaves lose everything in their chains, even the desire of escaping from them: they love their servitude, as the comrades of Ulysses loved their brutish condition. If then there are slaves by nature, it is because there have been slaves against nature. Force made the first slaves, and their cowardice perpetuated the condition."
(Jean-Jacque Rousseau: The Social Contract)

To justify slavery, Aristotle had to cast nature into a metaphysical mode, because there is no empirical basis in nature for slavery in human societies.

The conservative, slave-owning, aristocratic classes were represented by Aristotle's political theory, which was grounded in religious literature and articulated in metaphysics. By contrast, Heraclitus' philosophy represented the rising merchant and artisan cosmopolitan world-view, as well as change. Aristotle's political theory articulated justification for slavery. It was based in the conservative, ethno-centric poetry that was the Hellenic religion of Homer. This political, religious-metaphysical philosophy sought to justify slavery by a would-be "natural order." This justification was adopted and adapted by priests and scholars who were the ideological representatives of the economically and, thereby, politically dominant classes -- whether in slave-owning or/and feudal serf-based societies in Greece or Rome, feudal Europe or/and America. The American version merely substituted for the reference to "barbarian" a reference to "Nigger".

Slaves in an ancient civilization or in a Greek polis, burdened by oppression, might come to regard it a "necessity" to put an end to being oppressed -- to rise up in violent revolution, as they did in a big way in the Roman Empire led by Sparticus. The Natural philosophy of Heraclitus, on the contrary, had said that whether one is slave or free depended upon natural human power -- strife or violent conquest -- maintained by brutal suppression.

As Rousseau put it:

"…a slave made in war, or a conquered people, is under no obligation to a master, except to obey him as far as he is compelled to do so. So far then is he from acquiring over him any authority in addition to that of force, that the state of war continues to subsist between them: their mutual relation is the effect of it, and the usage of the right of war does not imply a treaty of peace. A convention has indeed been made; but this convention, so far from destroying the state of war, presupposes its continuance."

(Rousseau: Social Contract)

Regarding the social evolution of the human natural community in society occurring as natural history, Marx and Engels wrote in the Communist Manifesto that:

"The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles: Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes."
(Marx and Engels: The Communist Manifesto)

That is objective, empirical history.

The reason Plato and Aristotle had recourse to return to Homer, Hesiod and the prophets -- or, then, to the priestly caste ideologies of Egypt and India -- was to justify class stratification or/and slavery. They had recourse to this because the Ionian philosophers, especially Xenophanes and Heraclitus had dismissed this Greek mumbo jumbo as absurd. The Egyptian priests, mystery schools and the Hindu claptrap about immortality of the soul, and the divine order of social stratification, provided Plato and Aristotle with evolved rational arguments.

If slavery was, as Heraclitus said, the result of war and conquest, then slavery is not only not “natural”, but slaves have the right to overthrow, and even to kill and enslave, those who had enslaved them.

In opposition to dialectics, Aristotle's Metaphysics was a socially-based ideology that represented the economic and political interests of the dominant class. The crap about slaves being "by nature intended" (to quote Aristotle), is nothing but the ideational imposition on nature of metaphysical teleology in Nature -- thus, human slavery as nature in sooccccciety. In his mmetaphysical writings, Aristotle wrote of teleos, purpose, "final cause," and so on.

Among other things, Aristotle's metaphysics was adopted and adapted by ruling class priests and theoreticians, and Islamic philosophers. In particular, the early Church Fathers and theologians -- like Augustine and Anselm -- were Platonists or even neo-Platonists, which had its basis in the cosmology advanced by St. Paul. (Compare Paul's Epistle to the Colossians to the cosmology articulated in Plato's Timaeus.) In this regard, Paul's Christology was itself based in the Platonist, Jewish philosophy of Philo. There were also Islamic Platonists -- for example, Avicenna.

However, as scientific knowledge advanced -- especially mathematics and history in the Islamic world -- the ethereal nether world of Platonists was displaced by the materialist metaphysics of Aristotle -- for example, Ibn Rusdi in the Islamic world, and appropriated by Maimonides in Jewish philosophy and Thomas Aquinas in Christian Europe.

It is significant that Enlightenment philosophers in the 17th and 18th centuries dispensed with metaphysical rigidity to rediscover the dialectical reasoning advanced by the early Ionian philosophers. Prime examples of this are Hegel and Marx. Hegel wrote:

"Here we see land; there is no proposition of Heraclitus which I have not adopted in my Logic."
(Hegel's History of Philosophy)

The clear and comprehensive statement of dialectics presented by Heraclitus, where he writes:

"In certain opposites are said to be essentially connected [literally, to be 'the same,' a pregnant expression] because they succeed, and are succeeded by, each other and nothing else”.

All things in nature and human relations are fluid, historical and transitory. Nothing is permanent: "one cannot twice step in the same river" for both the individual and the river are changed every moment.

Although an Absolute Idealist, in dialectical reasoning, Hegel emphasized -- as did Karl Marx -- that materialist class struggles in history determined political changes. This reasoning by these two dialecticians led them to understand that by the force of revolution, new class formations emerge, and their political forms become dominant.

But, the social base and the interests which brought Hegel to the University of Berlin as the "official" philosophy was not the same, but opposite, to that of the Young Hegelian, Karl Marx. In particular, Marx was driven from his German home by the Prussian state. This fact is to be considered when studying the Marxian critique of the mystifying side of Hegel -- its Absolute Idealist form -- as distinct from the humanist and materialist point of view of the proletarian communist.

In a Preface to Capital, Volume I, Karl Marx noted that his dialectic method is not only different from the Hegelian, but is its direct opposite:

"To Hegel, the life-process of the human brain, i.e., the process of thinking, which, under the name of "the Idea," he even transforms into an independent subject, is the demiurgos of the real world, and the real world is only the external, phenomenal form of "the Idea." With me, on the contrary, the ideal is nothing else than the material world reflected by the human mind, and translated into forms of thought. *** In its mystified form, dialectic became the fashion in Germany, because it seemed to transfigure and to glorify the existing state of things."

In Hegel's ontological dialectic, the Idea is what the "rational Fire" and Logos is in the ontological dialectic of Heraclitus.

Marx wrote:

"The mystifying side of Hegelian dialectic I criticised nearly thirty years ago, at a time when it was still the fashion.

Marx' materialist critique of Hegel eliminated "the mystical shell" in which Hegel rediscovered -- at any rate rearticulated -- dialectics.

"The mystification which dialectic suffers in Hegel's hands, by no means prevents him from being the first to present its general form of working in a comprehensive and conscious manner. With him it is standing on its head. It must be turned right side up again, if you would discover the rational kernel within the mystical shell.

"In its rational form," says Marx of dialectics, of class struggle in historical application: "it regards every historically developed social form as in fluid movement, and therefore takes into account its transient nature not less than its momentary existence; because it lets nothing impose upon it, and is in its essence critical and revolutionary.

Marx's analysis of the natural history of societies, acknowledging that in the production of means of subsistence, changes in production technology occur over time. There are corresponding changes in forms of labor and the appropriation of the products of labor with correspondingly appropriate social forms: chief among which are relations of production and predicated upon this, class property. The division of labour is determined by the material productive forces, the progressive development of which engenders changes in the division of labour, exchange between branches of labour, property, socio-political class formations, class struggle, politics, and social revolutions. To this end, Marx rejected the "Unfolding Idea" in individuals, and Hegel's personification of the Idea. Instead, Marx regarded social history as natural history that was driven by progress in technology.

Marx developed the Materialist conception of history as natural social science. That is, that the "evolution of the economic formation of society is viewed as a process of natural history." Thus, "social movement is a process of natural history, governed by laws not only independent of human will, consciousness and intelligence, but rather, on the contrary, determining that will, consciousness and intelligence" (Karl Marx, Capital, Volume I, Preface, p.23)

At the publishing of Darwin's "Origin of the Species," correspondence between Marx and Lassalle acknowledged that:

"Darwin’s work is most important and suits my purpose in that it provides a basis in natural science for the historical class struggle.... Despite all shortcomings, it is here that, for the first time, 'teleology' in natural science is not only dealt a mortal blow but its rational meaning is empirically explained."
(Marx-Engels, Correspondence 1861 / Marx To Ferdinand Lassalle MECW, Volume 41, p. 245)

Leucippus, Democritus: Atomism Is Materialism

Monistic materialism is a philosophy of the material universe. The highest achievement of ontological monism was in the atomist philosophy of Leucippus, Democritus and Epicurus, in that the Atom was a single quality. The differences between them were quantitative rather than qualitative -- that is size, shape (form) and weight. It was by coming together or separating that those different qualities emerged.

In History of Philosophy Hegel wrote:

"The Atomists are opposed to the idea of the creation and maintenance of this world by means of a foreign principle. It is in the theory of atoms that science first feels released from the sense of having no foundation for the world."
(from Hegel: The History of Philosophy).

The theory that the universe is comprised of atoms and void was first articulated by Leucippus of Melitus, and Democritus of Abdera. We have already considered the Milesian philosophers in connection with Ionian trade and politics.

Self-interest and competition in commerce engenders science, inventions and new, more efficient technology. Changes in technology and subsequent new divisions of labour are grasped as progress. But, just as merchants and inventors compete and challenge one another in the market place, so in the "market place of ideas", interaction of folk from different cultures in a cosmopolitan community engendered progress in philosophical and scientific thinking.

Ionian city-states were Greek colonies established by commercial interests both from mainland Greece and the colonies as such. Miletus was a cosmopolitan city based on commerce. Thus, economic individualism -- the polis was a competitive society comprised of "atomized", self-interest-promoting individuals.

Abdera was such a polis.

Abdera was located on the coast of Thrace near the mouth of the Nestos River; a commercial polis like Melitus. With its harbour, and dockyards, Abdera was a polis based on commerce. The citizens of Abdera were cosmopolitan and prosperous. Thus, the philosophical discourse, public debate and literary polemics were part of the culture. In other words, the culture was conducive to critical thinking.

Pythagoras is reported to have written: "the universe has a secret impulse toward the evolution of more inclusive wholes..."

Heraclitus wrote: "Things taken together are wholes and not wholes, something being brought together and brought apart, which is in tune and out of tune; out of all things come a unity, and out of a unity all things."

Leucippus and Democritus regarded the universe, as a whole world comprised of bit particles that are themselves whole, with each its own size, shape, weight, and having an "impulse toward the evolution of more inclusive wholes."

For Leucippus and Democritus, however, these bits of matter were empirical phenomena. Thus, their views were materialistic, rather than the mystery-metaphysics associated with Pythagoras. Democritus quotes Leucippus as saying: "The Atomists hold that splitting stops when it reaches indivisible particles and does not go on infinitely."

In Democritus' works, atoms are defined as the ultimate tiny particles of matter that are the building blocks of the physical universe. The atoms "described" by Democritus existed only in the articulation of a philosophical concept. The same was true of the altered concept of the atom articulated by Epicurus. It was no less a philosophical concept than was Liebniz's theory of 'monads.'

It was prior to experimental science. The early scientists didn't have the sophisticated technology of the modern sciences that today enables us to 'see' the atom and the sub-atomic particles in motion in space/time. Empirical atoms are not the tiniest irreducible particle, but is itself comprised of electrons, protons, neutrons, photons, etc., which combine to form the 'organizations' we call atoms. With advances in technology, even quarks, w-particles, z-particles and so on have been discovered.

The atom was a concept postulated as a monistic quality -- each varying in size, shape, and weight. Thus, the monistic theory of the primary "stuff" is at once retained, and transcended, by Democritus. The different things in the empirical universe -- e.g., water, air, fire, earth, etc. -- are derived from quantitative additions of atoms as today would fit parts of a puzzle. Thus quantitative additions, or subtractions are at the same time qualitative changes -- liquid into solids, water into air or fire, etc.

Epicurus adopted and adapted Democritus' theory that the different things in the universe are comprised of atoms of varying sizes, forms, and weights. What Epicurus had to tackle, however, was the logical contradiction obvious in his time (rather than that of Democritus) regarding precisely how these atoms come together to form the elements.

Democritus said that atoms fall in a straight line. But, if this is so, asked Cicero and others, how then do they move toward one another, which must be presupposed if they "combine." To solve this, Epicurus added another, additional quality to atoms -- individual self-determination.

This was brought out skillfully in a doctoral dissertation, written by Karl Marx.

"Epicurus assumes a threefold motion of the atoms in the void. One motion is the fall in a straight line, the second originates in the deviation of the atom from the straight line, and the third is established through the repulsion of the many atoms. Both Democritus and Epicurus accept the first and the third motion. The declination of the atom from the straight line differentiates the one from the other."
(Marx: The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature. Part II, Chapter One)

Democritus' deterministic materialism had the atoms falling in a straight line. Epicurus advanced the concept in terms of individual freedom or self-determination of atoms, which mirrors his philosophical axiology or materialist ethics of freedom. The Epicurean atoms were not restricted by weight, falling in a straight line but had the capacity to "swerve"

Early modern scientists and philosophers had actual information of atoms -- some accepted the idea, others rejected it.

The early modern scientists and philosophers -- including Isaac Newton, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Rene Descartes, Francis Bacon, James Hutton, Johannes Kepler, Antony van Leeuwenhoek, Galileo Galilei, Leonardo Da Vinci -- laid the foundations for modern science. They had no empirical evidence of an existing atom. The scientific theory of atoms started with James Dalton (1766-1844), who wrote his first paper in 1803.

Dalton proposed that atoms of any one element are exactly alike in all respects. In particular, they have identical weights. A chemical compound is composed of molecules. Each molecule of any compound consists of a definite number of atoms of each of the various elements present. Molecules of different compounds are different. No atoms are created or destroyed. Qualitative changes consist in the redistribution of atoms in consequence of which the original molecules are broken up, and new ones formed.

Lueccippus and Democritus reasoned by empirical observation that an object can be divided, say by half, and each half into halves, and each of those halves into yet other halves, and so on, but not infinitely so. Eventually, they argued that one could theoretically reach indivisible bits of matter. Lueccippus and Democritus called "atoms" minute particles of varying shapes, sizes and weights.

According to Aristotle, Lueccippus believed that atoms "move in the void (for there is void), and when they come together they cause coming to be, and when they separate they cause perishing. They have effects and are affected wherever they happen to be in contact (contact does not make them one), but when they are compounded together and entangled they create something."
(Aristotle on Lueccippus, as quoted in "The Presocratic Philosophers: A Critical History With A Selection of Texts," by G.S. Kirk, J.E. Raven and M.S. Schofield; Second Edition, 1983, Cambridge University Press; p.407).

Atoms were believed to be small, indivisible particles of varying shapes (forms), sizes, and weights, which were naturally moving in the void. Aristotle wrote that Lueccippus' view "is consistent with sense perception." Lueccippus presented Atomist theory as a materialist ontological theory, consistent with materialistic epistemology: that is, predicated upon the objective existence of the external, empirical world.

Atoms are tiny -- so tiny as to be imperceptible bits, small particles that are nonetheless empirical, invisible substances of diverse size, shapes and weights that are the basis, or substructure of all perceptible, visible matter. Atoms, as such, are the particles that are the building blocks of Nature.

In his work, On the Heavens, Aristotle wrote: "of those who have maintained the existence of indivisibles, some, as for example Leucippus and Democritus, believe in indivisible bodies, others, like Xenocrates, in indivisible lines."

The fundamental thesis of Atomism is that all Matter is comprised of atoms that move about in the void -- vacuum, or space. Moving in space, atoms approach other atoms, and by way of combination of different shapes, sizes and weights, form different and distinct objects. Thereby, the theory of combination and dissociation of atoms explains the coming into being and passing away of the different objects that populate the material universe. Change. The philosophical issues of substance and structure, being and change, are, thereby, solved by the theory of combination and disassociation of atoms of different sizes, shapes, and weights, having the powers of attraction and repulsion.

It is reported that Democritus traveled to Athens to meet with Anaxagoras -- whom, we are told, was old and refused to meet with him. Democritus' search was to ascertain knowledge -- mathematics, science, and philosophical knowledge. His scientific quest was to ascertain rational, objective, demonstrable knowledge regarding the nature of things, as well as philosophical discourse regarding ontological and epistemological issues.

Geometry and physics are exact sciences, developed by engineers and not by prophets and priests. These sciences were used to build pyramids and to construct the economic substructure of ancient civilizations.

Democritus wrote:

"I have among my contemporaries wandered through the largest part of the earth, investigating the remotest things. I have seen most climates and lands, and I have heard most learned men, and in linear composition with demonstration no one surpassed me, not even the so-called Arsipedonapts of the Egyptians"

The primary influences on Democrtus' atomist theory were the material circumstances of his life-activity. In the market economy each individual, qua homoeconomicus, was a singular self-consciousness motivated by self-interest. As circumstance dictates, they are ever forming and dissolving alliances thus combining with some and disassociating with others.

Democritus, Science and Religion

For the consideration of the physical structures of the universe, religion was useless. Democratus was concerned with investigating the structure of the universe, which he regarded physical and uncreated. Democritus was convinced that the material structure of the universe is comprised of combinations of atoms that naturally form the structure of all objects, visible and invisible alike.

In fact the tiny atoms that are the building blocks of structures are themselves separately so tiny that they are invisible to the naked eye. Yet they comprise every object that populate the space-time continuum. To Democritus, the earth, the sun, the moon, and all the stars are uncreated combinations of eternal atoms.

This left no room for gods. Religion is based on faith -- "the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen." (Paul to the Hebrews, Ch.11) This is the opposite of science, which, on the contrary, is the epistemological certainty that what is, can be known by sensuous human reasoning. It is not faith that makes for good science. The scientific methodology is observation and analysis -- that is, sensuous human reasoning: investigating and analyzing empirical phenomena.

Democritus and Epistemology

The Atomist ontology and epistemology in the first articulations by Democritus are presented as self-contradictory. This is because atoms are posited so small that they are invisible to the naked eye and are grasped only by reason. At the same time the visible, empirical structure of Nature, is sensuously perceptible. As Kant would say, the empirical universe is comprised of invisible atoms, and manifest to us in the forms of "things as they appear."

Marx viewed the ontological and epistemological atomic theories of Democritus as contradictory, yet consistent in the relationship between the atom and the world that is apparent to the senses.

Marx wrote of the Democritean epistemological problem:

"Sensuous appearance...does not belong to the atoms themselves. It is not objective appearance, but subjective semblance. The true principles are the atoms and the void, everything else is opinion, semblance."
(Karl Marx: The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature)

Similarly, what Epicurus "saw" was a combination of burning atoms. But, he took its visible appearance in size to be its reality.

"The sun seems large to Democritus, because he is a man of science well versed in geometry; to Epicurus it seems to be about two feet large, for he pronounces it as large as it seems."
(Cicero: On the Highest Goods and Evils, 1, vi.) Comp. (Plutarch: On the Sentiments of the Philosophers, II, p. 265.)

Marx comments:

"Democritus, for whom the principle does not enter into the appearance, remains without reality and existence, is faced on the other hand with the world of sensation as the real world, full of content. True, this world is subjective semblance, but just because of this it is torn away from the principle, left in its own independent reality. At the same time it is the unique real object and as such has value and significance. Democritus is therefore driven into empirical observation. Dissatisfied with philosophy, he throws himself into the arms of positive knowledge."

Although objectively determined, humans on the basis of empirical analysis know atoms and the objects they comprise. In his Doctoral Dissertation, Marx pointed out that:

"…in Aristotle's Psychology it is stated: 'Democritus posits soul and mind as one and the same, since the phenomenon is the true thing. But in his Metaphysics writes: 'Democritus asserts that nothing is true or it is concealed from us."
(Marx: Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature)

Of course this "soul" or "mind" in the materialist natural philosophy of Democritus is a natural phenomena.

Life, or organic matter, arises from inorganic matter and is a particular organization of atoms structured in the forms of inorganic and organic matter. Plants and animals do not exist separate and apart from this organic and inorganic matter.

The epistemology in Democritean materialism is that the empirical world apprehended by sensuous human reasoning is both subjective and objective.

"Cold exists only according to opinion, heat exists only according to opinion, but in reality there are only the atoms and the void."
(Karl Marx: The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature)

The empirical structures of matter including air, fire, water, and earth are experienced by sensuous perception. These elements therefore, exist for us: "through the combination of atoms each thing appears to become a unity." In Atomist theory, the whole is qualitatively different than the sum of its parts. The human person is comprised of atoms -- the soul person.


"Now Democritus uses necessity as a form of reflection of reality. Aristotle says of him that he traces everything back to necessity. Diogenes Laertius reports that the vortex of atoms, the origin of all, is the Democritean necessity. More satisfactory explanations are given by the author of De placitis philosophorum: 'Necessity is, according to Democritus, fate and law, providence and the creator of the world. But the substance of this necessity is the antitype and the movement and impulse of matter.' "

Marx on Necessity in Democratus:

"Necessity appears in finite nature as relative necessity, as determinism. Relative necessity can only be deduced from real possibility, i.e., it is a network of conditions, reasons, causes, etc., by means of which this necessity reveals itself. Real possibility is the explication of relative necessity. And we find it used by Democritus.

Everything is comprised of atoms whose combinations are the work of inherent impulse necessity (motion, combinations, disassociations).

In analyzing Aristotle's thinking of the dialectical materialist epistemology of Democritus, Marx observed:

"…in Aristotle's Psychology it is stated: "Democritus posits soul and mind as one and the same, since the phenomenon is the true thing." ***** "But in his Metaphysics [Aristotle] writes: "Democritus asserts that nothing is true or it is concealed from us.

Marx comments:

"Are not these passages of Aristotle contradictory? If the phenomenon is the true thing, how can the true thing be concealed? The concealment begins only when phenomenon and truth separate. But Diogenes Laertius reports that Democritus was counted among the Sceptics. His saying is quoted: "In reality we know nothing, for truth lies at the deep bottom of the well"

Therefore, the primary entities, the atoms, are understood but not perceived. The tiny bits of matter are inaccessible to the eye (or, to sense perception in general), because of their smallness. As the substructure of all empirical structures, atoms are objects that populate the material universe. In Democritus' day, however, atoms were not apprehended by sensuous experience, but comprehended by reason.

In his Doctoral Dissertation on 'The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature', Karl Marx comprehended that, in terms of epistemology

"Democritus makes sensuous reality into subjective semblance; but the antinomy, banned from the world of objects, now exists in his own self-consciousness, where the concept of the atom and sensuous perception face each other as enemies." (Karl Marx: The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature)

Material objects that populate the material universe are made into visible bodies -- physical things that, subsequently, are/have sensuous appearance -- by way of the combination of minute atoms. Yet, the conceptual significance of objects sensuously perceived is that they present themselves to the subjective perception of social individuals as objects apprehended by rational sensations. The perceptions of these bodies are, as such, predicated upon conditions -- social being is the socialization, upbringing and education that, though determinant, are itself imperceptible.

Atoms are indivisible and indestructible bits of matter. Although by combinations and disassociations, things arise and pass away, in reality matter -- atoms, as such -- are uncreated, a permanent phenomena.

Democritus and Epicurus both believed the sun to be a natural object comprised of burning atoms -- not a god named "Atom." Democritus and Epicurus were both materialists. Because the Catholic Church had for centuries upheld Aristotle's doctrines as infallible, it accepted Aristotle's rejection of Atomism. The Catholic Encyclopedia maintained hostility toward Empiricism and Materialism. For example, the Catholic Encyclopedia's biased hostility states:

"Empiricism: Materialism: Materialism in its crudest shape was taught by the ancient atomists (Democritus, Leucippus, Epicurus, Lucretius), who, reducing the sum of all reality to atoms and motion, taught that experience, whereof they held knowledge to be constituted, is generated by images reflected from material objects through the sensory organs into the soul. The soul, a mere complex of the finest atoms, perceives not the objects but their effluent images." http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05407a.htm

In an article, entitled "Atheism," Madalyn Murray O’Hair, founder in 1962 of the American Atheist Society, wrote: "The indestructible foundation of the whole edifice of Atheism is its philosophy, materialism, or naturalism, as it is also known. *** Our history has been marked by a ceaseless struggle against ignorance and superstition. In ancient Greece the works of the materialist philosopher Democritus, who first taught the atomic theory of matter, were destroyed." http://atheists.org/Atheism/atheism.html

Marx and Engles explicating their materialist conception of history and sociology of class based religious and philosophical culture observed in their "Critique of German Ideology", how:

"The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas; hence of the relationships which make the one class the ruling one, therefore, the ideas of its dominance."

Stefan Stenudd wrote a passage from Critias:

"There was a time when the life of men was unordered, bestial and the slave of force, when there was no reward for the virtuous and no punishment for the wicked. Then, I think, men devised retributory laws, in order that Justice might be dictator and have arrogance as its slave, and if anyone sinned, he was punished. Then, when the laws forbade them to commit open crimes of violence, and they began to do them in secret, a wise and clever man invented fear (of the gods) for mortals, that there might be some means of frightening the wicked, even if they do anything or say or think it in secret. Hence, he introduced the Divine, saying that there is a God flourishing with immortal life, hearing and seeing with his mind, and thinking of everything and caring about these things, and having divine nature, who will hear everything said among mortals, and will be able to see all that is done. And even if you plan anything evil in secret, you will not escape the gods in this; for they have surpassing intelligence. In saying these words, he introduced the pleasantest of teachings, covering up the truth with a false theory; and he said that the gods dwelt there where he could most frighten men by saying it, whence he knew that fears exist for mortals and rewards for the hard life: in the upper periphery, where they saw lightning and heard the dread rumblings of thunder, and the starry-faced body of heaven, the beautiful embroidery of Time the skilled craftsman, whence come forth the bright mass of the sun, and the wet shower upon the earth. With such fears did he surround mankind, through which he well established the deity with his argument, and in a fitting place, and quenched lawlessness among men ... Thus, I think, for the first time did someone persuade mortals to believe in a race of deities.

This analysis of Critias is essentially correct.

It is an analysis however that by the work of Greco-Ionian materialists and Sophists excluded religion from scientific observation and subjected Society to materialist critical examination.

Critias however looked at religious ideology from an Idealistic class perspective of the landed aristocrats and urban oligarchy of which he was a part. That is, read it and recognize that he approved of the ideological trick by which men became obedient to the gods and therefore, in actuality to the ruling classes, their politicians and priest.

Democritus and Epicurus dispensed with these gods and priests by the atomic physical principles they respectively articulated.

Madalyn Murray O'Hair:

"The materialist philosopher Epicurus, revered by the ancients for having liberated man from fear of gods and for asserting the validity of science, was for 2000 years anathematized and falsely depicted as an enemy of morality and a disseminator of vice. The Alexandria library, housing 700,000 scientific and literary works, was burned by Christian monks in 391 AD. Pope Gregory I (590-604) destroyed many valuable works by ancient authors."
(Madalyn Murray O'Hair "What Is Atheism")

Nonetheless, in the European Renaissance materialist philosophy re-emerges, specifically with Francis Bacon in England in the 17th century. During the early stages of the commercial revolution the rising bourgeoisie like the Ionian merchants favored critical thinking, science and industry.

Tracing the origin of modern materialism to Bacon, Karl Marx recognizes materialisms birth as a re-birth, full circle from its starting point in Ionia, to it’s revival in 17th century Britain:

"Materialism is the natural-born son of Great Britain.*** The real progenitor of English materialism and all modern experimental science is Bacon. To him natural philosophy is the only true philosophy, and physics based upon the experience of the senses is the chiefest part of natural philosophy. Anaxagoras and his homoeomeriae, Democritus and his atoms, he often quotes as his authorities. According to him the senses are infallible and the source of all knowledge. All science is based on experience, and consists in subjecting the data furnished by the senses to a rational method of investigation. Induction, analysis, comparison, observation, experiment, are the principal forms of such a rational method. Among the qualities inherent in matter, motion is the first and foremost, not only in the form of mechanical and mathematical motion, but chiefly in the form of an impulse, a vital spirit, a tension — or a ‘Qual’, to use a term of Jakob Böhme’s — of matter."
(Marx and Engels The Holy Family)

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