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[983b] [1] however, let us avail ourselves of the evidence of those who have before us approached the investigation of reality and philosophized about Truth. For clearly they too recognize certain principles and causes, and so it will be of some assistance to our present inquiry if we study their teaching; because we shall either discover some other kind of cause, or have more confidence in those which we have just described.

Most of the earliest philosophers conceived only of material principles as underlying all things. That of which all things consist, from which they first come and into which on their destruction they are ultimately resolved, of which the essence persists although modified by its affections—this, they say, is an element and principle of existing things. Hence they believe that nothing is either generated or destroyed, since this kind of primary entity always persists. Similarly we do not say that Socrates comes into being absolutely when he becomes handsome or cultured, nor that he is destroyed when he loses these qualities; because the substrate, Socrates himself, persists.In the same way nothing else is generated or destroyed; for there is some one entity (or more than one) which always persists and from which all other things are generated. All are not agreed, however, [20] as to the number and character of these principles. Thales,1 the founder of this school of philosophy,2 says the permanent entity is water (which is why he also propounded that the earth floats on water). Presumably he derived this assumption from seeing that the nutriment of everything is moist, and that heat itself is generated from moisture and depends upon it for its existence (and that from which a thing is generated is always its first principle). He derived his assumption, then, from this; and also from the fact that the seeds of everything have a moist nature, whereas water is the first principle of the nature of moist things.

There are some3 who think that the men of very ancient times, long before the present era, who first speculated about the gods, also held this same opinion about the primary entity. For they4 represented Oceanus and Tethys to be the parents of creation, and the oath of the gods to be by water— Styx,5 as they call it. Now what is most ancient is most revered, and what is most revered is what we swear by.

1 Thales of Miletus, fl. 585 B.C.

2 That of the Ionian monists, who sought a single material principle of everything.

3 Cf. Plat. Crat. 402b, Plat. Theaet. 152e, Plat. Theaet. 180c,d.

4 cf. Hom. Il. 14. 201, Hom. Il. 14.246.

5 Cf. Hom. Il. 2.755, Hom. Il. 14.271, Hom. Il.15.37.

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