We learn from Aristotle that it is of a different nature than water and similar elements (Phys. 204b24–29). As a source of all material bodies, it is some kind of a body as well, but it seems best not to attempt to give a more precise description of the Apeiron. Anaximander was interested in the nature of divinity and found it the fusion of inﬁnity and moral order. He was not interested in a more deﬁnite description of the Apeiron, and we may venture to say that he would refuse to give such a description. The best description of the Apeiron is in its privative name: something with no limit, and any attempt to be more speciﬁc could be considered by him presumptuous. Human means are ﬁnite and thus inadequate to describe the inﬁnite. Hence, paradoxically, this privative term “had an advantage of predicating something positive of the arche without committing Anaximander to any view of its nature.”36
It is clear that Anaximander goes further than his teacher by abstracting inﬁnity from eternity and making the inﬁnity itself the arche, not a particular, empirically known element. This does not mean the Apeiron is a nonmaterial substance. It is as material as everything else – although subtler and so ﬁne that it is imperceptible. But the universe and everything in it is derived from the Apeiron through the mechanism of separation. The opposites are separated off from the Apeiron to become the material for the world, and the worlds are destroyed into the Apeiron (12A9, A10).
The Apeiron is not just a physical principle; it governs the universe and uses the principle of justice to oversee the process of generating and perishing. Being eternal, spatially inﬁnite, and rational because of the ability to govern and being a seat of the moral law the Apeiron is explicitly called divine; the Apeiron is God.
Although Anaximander brings theological thinking to another level, he is not disinterested in physics. It can be claimed that, precisely because his theology was apparently so abstract, Anaximander makes an effort to show that it can be seamlessly connected with physics, that theology can form a basis for physical explanations. In that, physics for Anaximander is secondary to theology – it is used to substantiate theology; physics becomes an afterthought of sorts that is used to make his theology less otherworldly. No such effort is made by Thales because there was not much of a need for it. Thales’ theology is strongly rooted in traditional religious thinking and although slightly more abstract than this thinking, it is close to it. Anaximander could not rely on connections with traditional religion; he needed to show that his theology was relevant, and his biological, astronomical, and physical explanations are such attempts. Anaximander proposes the mechanism of separation and destruction in physics to explain the emergence and destruction of physical entities. The separation-destruction mechanism is a physical counterpart of the theological mechanism of what
36 H.B. Gottschalk, ‘Anaximander’s apeiron’, Phronesis 10 (1965), p. 53. “The Boundless represents the unknown entity which encompasses the known world in time as well as in space,” Kahn, Anaximander and the Origin of Greek Cosmology, p. 237. See also Allan S. Gnagy, ‘The apeiron: Anaximander’s concept of the endless ground of nature’, The Northwest Missouri State University Studies 35 (1975), no. 2, pp. 16–18. His concept of the Apeiron as “the ground of becoming and perishing” is very similar to Walther Kraus’s image of the apeiron as “der ewige Urquell des Seins,” ‘Das Wesen des Unendlichen bei Anaximander’, Rheinisches Museum 93 (1950), p. 378.