The Beginnings of Scientific Inquiry

History and Impact of Presocratic Philosophy of Nature

In this project concepts and issues are investigated which stand at the beginning of the occidental tradition in philosophy and which became formative for later intellectual history. The aim is to show historical and systematic relations between particular concepts from presocratic philosophers and some central issues in modern philosophy and science. An important preliminary work treats the ancient concept of physis and its relevance for present attempts towards a philosophy of nature. Here the main concerns are about a dynamic understanding of nature and about the integration and boundedness of a human being with respect to its natural environment. Additionally, there are points of contact with our former research project on the development and unity of physics—see the introductory volume "Philosophie der Physik" (C.H.Beck, Munich 2014)—where ancient concepts of matter are discussed together with questions about the origin and development of certain "explicatory strategies" which are typical also for modern physics.

An important focus of the present project is on Anaximander’s notion of the apeiron. Based on the history of the actual usage of the term, the apeiron is interpreted as something which is spatially or numerically inexhaustible. This interpretation is supported by investigations on the relations with a Homeric worldview and, in particular, on the way landmasses and sea are depicted on the first occidental world map (which goes back to Anaximander). A further topic of investigation is the way in which the notion of apeiron marks an important step towards introducing abstract concepts and theoretical entities in later accounts and descriptions of nature. At the same time, coarse and simplifying comparisons with modern notions of infinity and boundlessness are defeated.

At the moment, further studies are in preparation. One of these studies concerns the prominent role which, from antiquity right up to the nineteenth century, was played by poetry as a means of assuring and transmitting non-discursive knowledge about nature. A further study will be about the origin and development of historical consciousness, and especially of historiography, during the Archaic period. Accordingly, there are links to our current research project about time—see, e.g., "Philosophie der Zeit" (C.H.Beck, Munich 2018).


  • N. Sieroka (2019): Anaximander's ἄπειρον: From the Life-world to the Cosmic Event Horizon. Ancient Philosophy 39 (1), pp. 1-22.
  • N. Sieroka (2018): Relevanz und Vielstimmigkeit der gegenwärtigen Naturphilosophie. Allgemeine Zeitschrift für Philosophie 43 (1), pp. 95-100.
  • N. Sieroka (2017): The Bounds of Experience—Encountering Anaximander's In(de)finite. Ancient Philosophy 37 (2), pp. 243-263.
  • N. Sieroka (2014): Philosophie der Physik (series: C.H. Beck Wissen). Beck Verlag, München.
    Reviews in: Spektrum der Wissenschaft (Heft 2, 2015), Sterne und Weltraum (Heft 6, 2015) Physik-Journal (14(2), 2015), VSMP Bulletin (127, 2015), Bunsenmagazin (17(6), 2015), Physik in unserer Zeit (46(6), 2015).
  • N. Sieroka (2013): Die "Eigenwüchsigkeit" der Natur: Über ein dynamisches Naturverständnis und unser Verhältnis zur Natur. Archithese 6.2013, pp. 26-31.
: Prof. Dr. Dr. Norman Sieroka
Prof. Dr. Dr.

Norman Sieroka

Institution Philosophie (Phil)

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Universität Bremen
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