Early Greek Philosophy & Other Essays Collected Works, Volume Two

By Friedrich Nietzsche

Page 46

a culture; then you shall experience what Philosophy
can and will do."--


Greek philosophy seems to begin with a preposterous fancy, with the
proposition that _water_ is the origin and mother-womb of all things.
Is it really necessary to stop there and become serious? Yes, and
for three reasons: Firstly, because the proposition does enunciate
something about the origin of things; secondly, because it does
so without figure and fable; thirdly and lastly, because in it is
contained, although only in the chrysalis state, the idea: Everything
is one. The first mentioned reason leaves Thales still in the company
of religious and superstitious people, the second however takes him
out of this company and shows him to us as a natural philosopher, but
by virtue of the third, Thales becomes the first Greek philosopher.
If he had said: "Out of water earth is evolved," we should only have
a scientific hypothesis; a false one, though nevertheless difficult
to refute. But he went beyond the scientific. In his presentation of
this concept of unity through the hypothesis of water, Thales has not
surmounted the low level of the physical discernments of his time, but
at the best overleapt them. The deficient and unorganised observations
of an empiric nature which Thales had made as to the occurrence and
transformations of water, or to be more exact, of the Moist, would
not in the least have made possible or even suggested such an immense
generalisation. That which drove him to this generalisation was a
metaphysical dogma, which had its origin in a mystic intuition and
which together with the ever renewed endeavours to express it better,
we find in all philosophies,--the proposition: _Everything is one!_

How despotically such a faith deals with all empiricism is worthy of
note; with Thales especially one can learn how Philosophy has behaved
at all times, when she wanted to get beyond the hedges of experience
to her magically attracting goal. On light supports she leaps in
advance; hope and divination wing her feet. Calculating reason too,
clumsily pants after her and seeks better supports in its attempt to
reach that alluring goal, at which its divine companion has already
arrived. One sees in imagination two wanderers by a wild forest-stream
which carries with it rolling stones; the one, light-footed, leaps
over it using the stones and swinging himself upon them ever further
and further, though they precipitously sink into the depths behind
him. The other stands helpless there most of the time; he has first
to build a pathway which will bear his heavy, weary step; sometimes
that cannot be done and then no god will

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