1 - Everything is Full of Gods: Thales

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In this episode, Peter Adamson of King's College London introduces the podcast as a whole, and the thought of the early Greek philosophers called the Presocratics. He also discusses the first Presocratic philosopher, Thales of Miletus.  



Further Reading

K. Algra, "The Beginnings of Cosmology," in A.A. Long, The Cambridge Companion to Early Greek Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 45–65

D.W. Graham, Explaining the Cosmos: The Ionian Tradition of Scientific Philosophy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006)

E. Hussey, “The beginnings of epistemology: from Homer to Philolaus,” in Epistemology, ed. S. Everson [Companions to Ancient Thought: 1] (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 11-38



In reply to by Samy

Peter Adamson on 19 June 2016


Thanks! Glad you like it - please thank your ethics teacher for letting students know about it.

Robert Solomon on 3 December 2016

Earliest Philosophy and the Axial Age

There are many reasons to wonder why philosophy begins when it does.  Certainly trade and travel are a factor, forcing people - or enticing people - to see that the world is seen from many perspectives, and they cannot all be wrong or right.  But I wonder about the role of technology in any cultural change.  Better ships, navigational aides, such things may play an indirect role.  But the Axial Age is more.  

I speculate that this all occurred about the time that writing became cheaper.  Cheap parchment - although the center of parchment production in Pergamon comes later.  But perhaps the beginning of a less expensive and awkward medium than inscription on stone and clay.  Pergamon represents industrialized production of parchment.  But parchment production may have had a production stage as a cottage industry before its fame and association with Pergamon?  Diversified production not centralized in Pergamon yet?  Of course, writing on animal skins began earlier, but perhaps there was a new technique, something to make writing cheaper, easier.  Something that made it possible to write down your thoughts on a somewhat regular basis.  

A clever archeologist might be helpful, someone with a specific interest in such details.  Wikipedia's article on parchment notes that, although parchment existed way earlier, it does not seem to have been popular in Mesopotamia until . . . the 6th Century BCE!  Does this indicate parchment is competitive with the cost of cuneiform?  

By analogy, printing existed before Gutenberg, but movable type changed the very nature of printing.  There was an explosion of printing after Gutenberg, perhaps a factor in that other Age of Philosophical Change, the Renaissance.  

Perhaps it was papyrus, not parchment.  Theophrastus used the word βίβλος  to refer to papyrus-plant derived writing material, that he in fact used.  He used the word uses  πάπυρος (papyros) when referring to the plant used as a foodstuff.  So it was a familiar medium.  If papyrus went through a phase of popularity, due to some economic or technological change in its production, it may also be a candidate for qualifying as a specific cause to the Axial Age.  

I am only an amateur, and I lack the training to follow up on such an idea.  But you are manacled to a university, and that may be an advantage.  

I would appreciate hearing your thoughts on this, and the reflections of others who are more connected to the actual archeological record of documentation, in parchment or papyrus, or Chinese paper.  


In reply to by Robert Solomon

Peter Adamson on 4 December 2016


Thanks, those seem like excellent questions to me. We will actually address this whole question of how far back philosophy goes, when we do the African philosophy episodes and talk about ancient civilizations apart from Greece as context for Egyptian literature. I don't have much to add to what you say apart from that scholars have very frequently talked about the transition from oral to written culture around the 6th-5th c BC. So the beginnings of recorded philosophy in Greek are tied to that, for sure. It's an open question whether philosophy goes back further and the Pre-Socratics are simply the first surviving philosophy; or maybe not even that, if we acknowledge Egyptian, Babylonianetc texts as being "philosophical."

Richard Carson on 5 December 2016

This subjects

I am a doctoral candidate in organizational psychology focusing mainly on non-profits. I currently have Audible and I am listening to The Great of Philosophy (2nd edition). So I was pleased to find this site. It great to listen to it while working at my computer. 

Jane Cote on 6 March 2017

Thank you

This is great, thanks so much.  

Alexander Johnson on 6 June 2018

Chinese Philosophy

I wasn't sure where to put this, so i figured the overview of the podcast as a whole was as good as any.  I won't be caught up for likely 3 years (or if you ask zeno, i'll never be caught up :P ) but i was just curious, since you haven't reached chinese philosophy yet, is there another podcast that covers it well that makes you avoid it, or are you saving it because the classical chinese schools are on par with the classical greek schools (you may disagree) so you need to do a lot of prep work for it.

In reply to by Alexander Johnson

Peter Adamson on 8 June 2018


Sorry your comment didn't appear at first - it went over a 50 comment per page limit so we had to change that!

Anyway, to your question: I am actually hoping to cover Chinese philosophy after Africana philosophy and am already making plans for it. I will make an announcement once I know for sure. But it is on the agenda. There are some questions that arise here, like how far into Chinese history to go, whether and how to include other East Asian cultures, etc. But the question is more how than whether, assuming things go according to plan.

Spooner on 5 August 2018


Great podcast! I'd like to assign one of them to my class, but I'm only legally allowed to do so if there is a transcript. Is there a link to any transcripts? I'm especially interested in the first episode.

In reply to by Spooner

Peter Adamson on 5 August 2018


This question is actually answered under FAQ below - basically the answer is that I don't make transcripts available but for everything up through Islamic philosophy there are the book versions, which are very close to the scripts in most cases albeit with added material. Thanks for recommending it to your students!

Alexander Johnson on 20 August 2018

Devil's Advocate

Hi Peter.  I just heard your interview on the Political Philosophy Podcast on the first philosophers.  In that view, you were willing to trace it back to the first of men in prehistory reflecting on a wide range of topics.  I was wondering if you could play devil's advocate to yourself, and say why it would still be reasonable to call Thales "the first philsopher," or why Socrates is where "philosophy came into its own".  Or, to put in a possibly less judgemental or elitist way, if even prehistoric thought is grounded in philosophy, why should we care about developments of Thales or even Socrates over, say, Xenophon or or Tiglith Pilaser?

In reply to by Alexander Johnson

Peter Adamson on 21 August 2018

Thales as the first philosopher

Well, I think it is difficult to make a case for Thales in particular - we know so little about him. But you could, I think, argue that the Presocratics in general deserve some sort of priority in our history of philosophy on the grounds that they engage explicitly in abstract reflection on such issues as metaphysics and natural philosophy. It is not the opposition to myth that is important, which is what people usually emphasize, as the urge to give maximally general accounts and in a way that is tied to the thought of an individual thinker. That is not so clearly present in, say, Egyptian cosmological accounts. But it seems to me that there is certainly at least science and ethics in Egypt and Babylonia, so it would only be in some sub-areas of philosophy that the Presocratics are "first". This by the way still ignores the fact that we have India and China getting going with philosophy independently and around the same time, so even by this devil's advocate argument the Presocratics are in a tie for first.

Sandra Mian on 1 October 2018


Hello! I would like to thank all the people involved in this wonderful project! I'm an engineer and the usual taught in certain universities (for instance the one I have studied) is that engineers only need "useful stuff". How wrong those guys were ... In the projects I'm doing now I need Phisolophy even more than Differencial Calculus ... that by the way has a lot of Philosophy behind.

I'll do my best to follow all the episodes and try to read a more using your suggestions!

Merci beaucoup! Gracias! Obrigada!

Ektaa on 9 December 2018

Where can I find the written version of the audio?

I would like to read what is being while I listen to the podcast. Is there a link?

Derick on 20 March 2019

Introduction and starting

Thank you so much. This is a great way to start with philosophy. I think it shows the interest in your program if people are still making use of it 9 years later. Peter I can only find from Episode 23 on the iTunes Podcasts - is there a reason for that? Thank you for spending the time to embark on what seems to have become a massive project.


In reply to by Derick

Peter Adamson on 24 March 2019

23 and up

Yes, the problem is that iTunes only shows 300 episodes for any feed, so it will show the most recent 300 i.e. back to 23 at the moment. But if you subscribe you can get all old episodes through iTunes. Thanks for listening!

Tom Miller on 29 May 2019

How to integrate art, literature, culture

Dear Peter,

After a 37-year career in the investment world, I was dragooned out of retirement and asked to create and teach a course on Model of Leadership for AP juniors and seniors.  It was an absolutely marvelous experience.   It seems logical that there should be a companion course, The History of Philosophy, which I am also going to construct this summer and teach, again to AP juniors and seniors, begionning in the fall. 

The question is therefore: how would you suggest integrating the cultural, governance, art, literature, and economic dimensions of each period and the philosophers being read to provide a richer and more substantive course?

Many thanks to you for this project.


In reply to by Tom Miller

Peter Adamson on 29 May 2019

Cultural context

Wow, that sounds like quite an undertaking! You are thinking very much along the same lines as I have with the podcast, since I've always tried to integrate these other cultural aspects into the story - like with the episodes on Chaucer, medieval economic theories, music in Islam, etc. etc. In an actual course where you are under much more time constraint, this will not be so easy. But I think it would be an amazing idea to pair philosophical texts with near contemporary texts from other cultural areas, like, say, Plato's Republic with speeches of Pericles or sections of Thucydides, or Aquinas and Dante. Of course that would give you less time to cover philosophical literature but I would imagine that, especially given the audience you are aiming at, this could be a really successful approach. Let us know how it goes!

Brian Van Dolah on 28 January 2020

Enjoying the Podcasts

I'm about 58-59 podcasts in & enjoying.  Found this on Google podcasts & am very interested in philosophy.  I do not have academic training in the subject, but studied film when I was in school.  One of the reasons I have been listening is because some philosophy corresponds w/ study in film. I remember when we were shown Rashomon by Akira Kurosawa & the idea behind the film is that there is no such thing as a universal truth, but is based on perception.  This idea has been expressed in several of your discussions.  Also you have inspired me to go & buy some philosophic texts by Xenophon, Plato, Machievelli, Nietzche & Rousseau & JS Mill. I may not understand it all, but I'm enjoying trying!

In reply to by Brian Van Dolah

Peter Adamson on 28 January 2020

Further reading

Thanks, that's great to hear! I always say that if the podcast inspires people to read further that is "mission accomplished".

Shota on 20 April 2020

Title of the music used in intro and outro

I'm very grateful of these audio lectures you're providing to us, they're very helpful for me. Could you please tell me the title of the music that is used for the intro and the outro of the audio track?

Thank you in advance.

Josué Cantos on 5 June 2020

The Cradle of thought

Hi! I just discovered this amazing website. Thanks for your incredible effort

However, I have a serious doubt

All my life It has been said to me that philosophy had its begining in Greek. Of course, if we want to be more especific we would say Ionia but according to you Ionia does not equals to Greek . In your opinion Iona is not Greek


I always thought Iona was a part of Greek

I do not understand

Sorry if I made a grammar or spelling mistake . I am not a native english speaker

In reply to by Josué Cantos

Peter Adamson on 5 June 2020

Greece vs Greek

Oh I think what I said in the episode was simply that the first Presocratics did not live in Greece, because they lived on the coast of modern-day Turkey. We need to distinguish between Greece (a geographical designation) and "Greek" which in this case really only designates the language the relevant people were speaking; so for instance Heraclitus spoke and wrote in Greek but didn't live in Greece.

In reply to by Peter Adamson

Josué Cantos on 8 June 2020

The Cradle of thought

Hi Dear Adam 

I want to let you know that I bought your book "History of philosophy without any gaps" Vol.1 . I really like it and it is a way to improve my english reading skills by learning something I am interested in such as philosophy 

I am from southamerica and I have been learning english for 8 months so forgive me If I made a grammar or spelling mistake 

I am afraid I mistake Greek for Greece so I will try to express my doubt in a better way this time 

Some time ago I read "A History of Philosophy" by Copleston in my own language and he says that the early Greek philosophers were Ionians . That implies that Ionia is a city o region which belongs to Greece therefore the cradle of philosophy is Greece . However ,  the first lines of your book  states that philosophy does not begin in Greece but Ionia implying the idea that Ionia is different from Greece.

I do not get the picture at all when it comes to understand the beginning of philosophy . According to you Ionia is not Greece but Copleston says the opposite or that is what I understand fromt the reading

Could you please help me clarify this doubt I have?


In reply to by Josué Cantos

Peter Adamson on 8 June 2020

More on Greece vs Greek

Wow that is very good English for only 8 months of study! Felicidades.

I think the issue here is just that "Greece" might be used, informally, for the whole sphere of Hellenic culture which would include, basically, everywhere where Greek was spoken. So that is how Copleston may have been using the term. Then one might want to be more precise and distinguish "Greece" (the penninsula we call by that name today) from the rest of the Hellenic world. Actually there is a historical question here as to how the ancients used the word Hellas ("Greece") and whether they spoke of Ionia as being part of Hellas in the 6th c. BC. Actually I don't know the answer to that off the top of my head, maybe someone else does. But in the podcast I just wanted to make sure people understood where these figures lived geographically, since I think many people simply assume that all the classical Greek philosophers lived where modern-day Greece is.

B. Bauzá on 9 June 2020


I have just been addressed to your webpage by a friend (thanks, P!) and I have listened to the Thales' podcast. I intend to keep coming to this web. I was a sailor by trade (now, retired) and my philosophical background is null, but I did enjoy listening it. And I liked the reference to Thales writing about Navigation and Sea!

My question, I believe, is too basic, but from the little philosophy I have read I am only confused. What is the agreed ultimate object of philosophy? Is it wisdom (as the word would imply), or knowledge, or truth, or God? Has it changed with time?



In reply to by B. Bauzá

Peter Adamson on 10 June 2020

What is philosophy about?

Wow that is a big and difficult question! I think the short answer would be that "philosophy" has indeed changed with time, for instance it used to include most or all of what we now think of as "science." In terms of how the word is used nowadays, probably the best guide would be to think about the different branches of philosophy, like epistemology (theory of knowledge), metaphysics (questions about what exists), ethics, political philosophy, philosophy of language, mind, etc etc. It's not actually so clear what one thing unites all these sub-disciplines into one overall endeavor called "philosophy" but a rough approximation might be that these are all cases where we ask fundamental questions that cannot be answered empirically.

George Dolezal on 27 August 2020

Persian/Zoroastrian Influence upon Greeks

Dear Prof. Peter Adams,


thank you so much for this great Project and Poadcasts. Since you have discussed the possibility of an Egyptian Influence on Thales and the other Milesian thinkers, i would like to mention the works of Walter Burkert "Die Griechen und der Orient" and M.L. West's "Early Greek Philosophy and the Orient", where both scholars proof the immense influence that Persian thought had on the Greeks! When discussing possibly inspirations from the Near East, we think atuamtically of Egypt or Mesopotamia, yet the Iranian Civilization seems to had sophisticated tradtions aswell (Zarathustras Gathas, Pahlavi Texts, Manichaeism, Mazdakism, Zurvan-Myth, Dahris and later in the islamic period: Farabi, Avicenna, Khayyam, Nasir ad-din Tusi, Iranshari, Rumi, Suhrawardi, Mir Damad, Fakhr ad-din razi, Mulla Sadra etc. etc.)

Hope to see future Poadcasts on Persian (Iranian) Philosophy and Chinese Philosophy in near future.


Kind Regards, 



In reply to by George Dolezal

Peter Adamson on 28 August 2020

Persian influence

Thanks very much - I haven't done that much on Zoroastrianism but many of the figures you mention here are actually covered in the series on Philosophy in the Islamic world (most of them have their own episodes). To be honest I am pretty skeptical about Persian influence on Greek philosophy; you might compare our discussion of Indian influence on the Greeks in the episode on that in our series on Indian philosophy.

In reply to by Peter Adamson

George Dolezal on 28 August 2020

Persian Influence on Greek Thought

Dear Prof. Dr. Adamson,

thank you for your attention and time.

I would share your scepticism in regards of the hypotzhesis of an Indian influence upon Greek thought, since both Civilization were to far away. The Hypothesis of an oriental influence upon the "Greeks" (Milesians were at least half Carians in origin according to Herodotus) makes much more sense with the Persians, since most of the Greek-Speaking People lived under Persian (Achaemenid) dominion.

 In the 6th century BC we have 12 “philosophers” appearing within just one century. It is more than a strange (and suspiciously overlooked) coincidence that the sudden rise of philosophy like a meteor from a Greek mind sunken for millennia in the dark marshes of fatalist myth and superstition, coincides exactly with the Persian conquest and colonization of Greece beginning in the 6th century BC and enduring for well over a hundred and fifty years.

 Heraclitus has a very explicit connection to Iran. He was at one point invited by Darius the Great (if we belive Diogenes)  to become the Court Philosopher of the Achaemenid dynasty. If we look at the remainingFragments of Heraclitus’ writings on Nature, we see many parallels between his thinking and that of Zarathustra and these have no precedent whatsoever in Greek thought. One of them is the reverence for Wisdom and “thinking well” set apart from all else. In fact, at one point Heraclitus cautiously hints that Zeus is not the true God and he refers to the true Lord as “the Wise One.” He takes the chief aim of human life to be the cultivation of the best or most intelligent thinking, and to align one’s thoughts, words, and deeds: what you say and do should be based on careful contemplation, not a casual unreflective acceptance of what others have said. In this regard, Heraclitus levels a scathing critique at the ritual priesthood and at the poetic bearers of tradition or custom among the archaic Greeks. He is as critical of Homer and Hesiod, and of the ritualistic priesthood of his society as Zarathustra is of the priestly caste repeatedly targeted throughout the Gathas.

Heraclitus adopts fire – an undying or everlasting fire – as the symbol of cosmic order. This idea of cosmic order, which he refers to in terms of the interpenetration of cosmos and logos, is identical to Asha or Arta in Persian thinking, which you will recall is associated with the element of fire in theGathas. This metaphorical eternal fire of Lord Wisdom’s mind becomes the central sacred symbol of Zoroastrianism. Such fires are perpetually tended at Zoroastrian temples to this day. Heraclitus also lays an emphasis on dualistic or oppositional forces as the wheelwork of evolutionary development in the cosmos. There are small details which are also significant. For example, one of the Fragmentsrefers to throwing out corpses as quickly as one can, which was anathema to the Greek practice of mortuary rites, but is very similar to the Zoroastrians taking their dead bodies to the dakhmeenclosures where they would be picked clean by vultures.

Anaximander, according to Hippolytus’ evidence (Refutatio omnium haeresium 1.6), taught that the spheres of the heavenly bodies followed one another in this order, starting from the earth: the stars, the moon, and the sun. The Avesta (Hādoxt nask 2.15; Yt. 12.9 ff.) teaches that the souls of the dead reach paradise through three intermediate stages: humata (good thoughts), huxta (good words), and huuaršta (good deeds). Now, according to the Pahlavi books (e.g., Mēnōg ī xrad 57.13), each of these stages is respectively identified with the place of the stars, the moon, and the sun. It is obvious that the stars, the moon, and the sun follow each other in the order of increasing light, and this progression is completed in a fourth and final stage, which is the destination point of the soul’s journey; one of the Pahlavi names of Paradise is, in fact, anaγrān “beginningless (lights)” (Frahang ī pahlavīk 28). To each stage there corresponds a category of living beings: to the stars, the plants; to the moon, the animals; to the sun, man; to the beginningless lights, the gods or God. The hierarchy between these beings is obvious. So we can explain, through Iran and by means of an organic body of beliefs, Anaximander’s doctrine on the spheres of the stars, the moon, and the sun. ( See also Iranisches bei Anaximandros, Walter Burkert)

Everything that exists comes, according to Anaxi-menes (Diels, I, p. 22) from a single substance, aēr, which notably means wind. In Iran it is said in the Dēnkart (278.14) that “He who quickens the world and is the life of living things is Wāy, etc.” The existence of a great god Vayu, already Indo-Iranian, is warranted by similar testimonies in the Rig Veda (4.46 etc.). Anaximenes’ explanation of eclipses as being caused by dark bodies has its counterpart in Dāmād nask, in Šāyest nē šāyest (12.5). These dark sun and dark moon are not mentioned in the Avesta, but, as writes West (p. 108), “One would not expect to find a theory of eclipses in the Avesta,” at least not in the extant, liturgical part of it.

Plato's theory of forms has its only parallel in iranian thought, were the is the distinction bewteen a realm of thought (manahiia) and the material world (getig). Moreover the Myth of Er seems to be an adaptation of Iranian Eschatology. Pausanias attributed to the Chaldaeans and the Magi an influence on Plato’s teachings. And Aristotle at one time considered Plato the founder of a religion of the Good and therefore a continuator of the work of the ancient prophet. In the myth of Er, the souls must choose between two paths: on the left is the way to descend from heaven to hell, on the right is the ascent of the souls who rise from the Tartarus up to the stars. The very idea of this ascension was quite new in Greece and must have come from the Zoro-astrian belief in the primeval choice and in the Činuuatō Pərətu separating the good from the wicked. Plato may have heard of it through Eudo-xus of Cnidus, who was well aware of the doctrines of the Magi. In the myth of the Politic, Plato envisaged the idea of an alternate predominance of a good god and an evil god, an idea he may have learned from the Magi. But he decidedly refused it. In the Timaeus time is given as the mobile image of immobile eternity, maybe a Platonic transposition of the Iranian distinction between “time long autonomous” and “time infinite” (Av. zurvan darəγō.xᵛaδāta- and zurvan akarana-; see Air Wb., cols. 46 696). The Timaeus owed much to Democritus, whose relationship with the teachings of the Magi is well attested. In the Phaedrus, Plato, with reference to Hippocrates, views man as an image of the world, a microcosm, an idea propounded in the Dāmdāt nask, a lost part of the Avesta summarized in the Bundahišn and whose antiquity is proved by the Indo-Iranian myth of a primeval man sacrificed and dismembered to form the different parts of the world.


kind regards,



In reply to by Peter Adamson

Alexander Johnson on 29 August 2020

Mesopotamian Influence

I always thought that the most plausible source of influence, if we wanted to draw upon any, would be Mesopotamian.  To compare mathematically, Aristotle cites the Egyptians as the primary sources for Greek mathematics, but the records we had suggests that egyptian mathematics was actually quite basic and practical, and we can't really find any evidence of setting out general theoretical principles.  But the Mesopotamians were doing far more advanced algeberic and geometric equations, and theoretical problems using "dummy" units.  And while we don't have definitive proof they had general rules, they had tables that strongly suggests they understood the related underlying rule for things like Pythagorean triples.  So that suggests 2 likely conclusions.  Either that mathematicians were citing "an ancient land of sophistication" to give something they created more weight.  Or they used Mesopotamian sources, but cited them to Egypt instead.

Now the 2nd one, that they lied about where they got it, seems like an extreme claim, but one there is reason to believe is plausible.  For one, there was a huge push to remove the Assyrians from the record books.  Everyone hated the Assyrians, and both Persian sources and Greek ones speak to eliminating sources of knowledge about Assyria other than the narrative the Persians wanted to tell (for example, Xenophon passed by the abandoned fortress of Ninevah and had no idea what it was, ascribing it to be an old Median city), and many Assyrian things were ascribed elsewhere (records matching the hanging gardens exist, but only in Ninevah).  Then afterwards, the Greeks had every reason to use propeganda to diminish the achievements of the Persian empire, and Mesopotamia was at the heart of the empire (at the very least, administratively, economically, and scientifically).  So the Greek lying about Mesopotamian sources would not be surprising at all. 

Now none of that means the necessarily did get any philosophical influence from Mesopotamia (be it Assyrian, Babylonian, or filtered through Phonecian/Cartheginian sources).  And even if we knew they had, it would still not be interesting unless we knew what those influences were.  Just that I would not be surprised if those influences showed up, and that they seem like the most interesting direction to look for speculation and research if one wished to inquire.

Christopher Taylor on 29 August 2020


can't wait for Ion Man 2

B. Bauzá on 4 January 2021

Thales, magnetism and gravity

Dear Professor Adamson

Thank you very much for your podcast on Thales with I found very interesting. I understand that he was able to sense magnetism in action and from it he derived the concept that magnets have soul: a godlike power to produce the motion (or change the trajectory) of small bits of iron.

I was just trying to understand Thales's cosmovision by filling the gaps between "magnets have a soul" and "things are full of gods". Would you think that his statement: things are full of gods, is also reflecting a perception of gravity, as he had with magnetism? He saw that magnets cause motion. But stones fall to the ground. He perceived magnetism, attributing a godlike power to magnets and amber,... and he might have perceived gravity as well. A thrown stone has its trajectory deflected and falls to the ground. In Thales's view: has the Earth the ability to set things in motion (as an apple falling to the ground), to change the trajectory of objects (as a thrown stone comes back to the ground)? If so, would he had derived that the Earth (as encompassing all things) has the power of gods? And consequently, things are full of gods?

Best regards


In reply to by B. Bauzá

Peter Adamson on 4 January 2021

Thales and magnetism

Well the short answer is that your guess is as good as mine, since the solid information on Thales doesn't go beyond what I mentioned in the podcast. However I would be careful about using the term "gravity," since that obviously is a concept from early modern science. It is plausible though that he did extend his idea about apparently inanimate things having souls to, say, rocks that move downwards when dropped or thrown. If you think about a magnet moving towards a piece of iron, rather than vice-versa, then this could be the same basic idea: even such rudimentary objects have a capacity for self-motion, and self-motion implies possession of soul. Then too soul is divine, so "all things are full of gods."


Jacob Edward on 18 April 2021

"The world floats on water" (floatwheel)

Starts talking about water around 14:40

Not sure if the image will load, the floatwheel idea was possible thousands of years ago, its as if he almost got the message but it was distorted in translation somehow... it wouldn't be the entire world, just the entire city/farm next to a river... today there are 2 story homes in Seattle floating on wooden logs... arrange it in a giant disk (for a perfect rotation) floating on water absorbing current next to a river, over time there would be this massive moment of inertia, like a flywheel but much much slower and with much much more power... I am told the only real thing that prevented the industrial revolution was the invention of the steam engine because they needed a more concentrated form of power... if only Thales had tried floatwheels...

Milan Schlembach on 4 October 2021

The last proposed argument in the first episode

Dear Adamson,


I have two questions: 


1. Related to your reconstructed ancient argument for the thales thesis that everything is full of gods:

Okay if:  a) For each motion there must be force.

              b) For each cosmological force there is god who is identical to it (Hesiod Thesis)

              c) Magnets can pull things, can initiate a motion.

Therefore: a] Behind the ability of the magnet to pull things, there must lie a force behind it

                 b] If a force lies behind the ability of the magnet to pull things, there must be god identical to it

                 c] if a] and b] are true then magnets must have gods.

You can build a-like arguments for living things, since they can also initiate motion. Okay ... I think, I get it (at first I thought this argument was too narrow -- I thought, 'magnets are not everything' --, but you can apply this argument also to the wind or the fire, and so on. But there are some things, like stones without magnetic powers that can't initiate motion. So still: not everything is full of gods, even for an presocratic thinker!


2. I've made a german translation of the first episode of the podcast (by now just transcribed and translated into german, haven't made an audio yet). Can I upload those translations on youtube? (I ask because of copyright infringments...)

In reply to by Milan Schlembach

Peter Adamson on 4 October 2021

German and Thales

The translation is fine, thanks for doing that! But if you are going to do more than a few episodes then better check back; eventually I'd like to see a German version of the book come out and it would be silly for two different people to translate it twice.

I agree that you can't get to "everything is full of gods" just from the magnet - as you say, what about non-magnetic stones? On the other hand even stones perform some natural actions, e.g. if you drop them they fall, and later on this was thought to be a motion grounded in the nature of the stone or of earth. So possibly Thales did think the point could be generalized to all natural bodies.



Anonymous on 13 November 2021

This series is brilliant!…

This series is brilliant! Especially enjoyed the pun of Thales being a "well rounded fellow".


kaan on 6 May 2022

can I find a text of this…

can I find a text of this podcast to reaD?

Grisy on 16 May 2022


I think death has been pushing me towards philosophy and as a result to search the web aimlessly for answers no one has… I thought of asking the ancient humans of the past so I can hear what they were thinking. I found your podcast and want to use it as a base to start this journey. 

ep.1- Thales podcast: so far I’ve read the Theogony so I can get a glimpse of the ideas and views that were read by, and that influenced the brains of these thinkers. I haven’t tackled Homer.. I will also try to read the “further reading” books you’ve suggested. I’m looking forward to reaching the stoics… I feel like that’s where I will get really good ideas regarding death… but I can’t understand them if I don’t  see where they were built from. So, here I am.. looking at mt Olympus from the base. Idk how you did it! Thanks

In reply to by Grisy

Peter Adamson on 16 May 2022

How I did it

Just one week at a time! Hope you enjoy the series.

Kal El on 19 December 2022

On Homer and Pre Socratics

Hi Professor 

Let me thank you for this easy readable book . It is exactly what I was looking for given that I am just a young man who wants to start learning about philosophy and has no any background on it . So , please let me ask you some questions about your book 

In chapter 1 you say that  Homer has a greater insight into cause and effect  in the human sphere than most Pre - Socratics have into the cause and effect of the world around us 



What does cause and effect in the human sphere mean ? 


What does cause and effect of the world around us? 

I do not know what it means 😔 Could you please explain that paragraph in a brief but easy understandable way? 


In reply to by Kal El

Peter Adamson on 19 December 2022

Homer vs the Presocratics

Well I wrote that in 2010 so I guess I am not entirely sure what I was thinking. But for sure on the Presocratic side I meant things like their attempt to explain natural phenomena in terms of basic elements, the issues I go on to discuss in the following chapters. And I suppose I was crediting Homer with having quite a lot of psychological insight in the way he portrays his characters, their motivations, stuff like that.

Jeffry Finer on 10 May 2023


I drive a lot. So it was only nine months ago that I found your podcast and today I am up to date today (episode 409 or so…).

Starting over. I probably won’t go beyond the Ancient Greek & jArabic language sections, but before we get to Hume Kant and — gasp! — the 20th century French philosophers (and Russell, and Ferge, and Wittgenstein!) I want to have a better grounding in the ancients.

Thank you for the most enjoyable talks I’ve heard since college (Yale, 1975). Your contribution is a treasure.

My casual reading in so many other topics is better informed. Taking joy in understanding references that previously escaped my notice.


In reply to by Jeffry Finer

Peter Adamson on 10 May 2023

9 months

Wow, that's quick! Did you do the Indian and Africana series too? If not I'd encourage you to check those out; the India series in particular offers a lot of the same appeal as the ancient Greek one since we are dealing with another antique culture. Thanks in any case for sticking with it, and drive safely! 

ridvan azizi on 21 August 2023

the music at the beginning

I don't have any question, I just wanted to ask where can I find the melody which plays in the beginning?

In reply to by ridvan azizi

Peter Adamson on 21 August 2023


If you have a look under "Links" at the bottom of the page, there is a list of links to all the music I've used in the podcast. Thanks for listening!

Joó Gábor on 29 January 2024

Thales's main theoretical contribution to Western philosophy?

Hi Peter, I would like to add one thing here regarding Thales. I read somewhere - it might've been one of Heidegger's analysis of ancient Greek philosophy, I'm not sure, it's been a while - that Thales's main contribution to Western philosophy was the following: a movement toward abstraction, de-anthropomorphisation and a sort of monism. 

For Homer and the various Hellenic world-views before Thales (that we have records of, at least) the world was formed and controlled by anthropomorphic forces (gods, deities, etc.) Thales is the first in a long line of Greek philosophers who breaks with this tradition and de-anthropomorphizes the organizing principle of the cosmos: it is not a human-like being or beings, it simply an element: water. It could also be seen as a step towards monism or a single-substance ontology (whereas previously there were mostly plural agents shaping the cosmos: the pantheon of gods). 

This is a big step, a breaking with tradition and very different way of thinking about the world. That's all, I hope you find this interesting or helpful - keep up the good work, I really like your podcast! :-)

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