Anaximander and the Architects is clearly the most important work on the origins of Greek philosophy in recent years. The traditional study of the Ionian philosophers has become stagnant. The limited information available from sources such as Aristotle and the surviving fragments has been largely exhausted. Professor Hahn taps a new source of information: archeology. In chapter one, Hahn outlines the competing theories, championed over the last century, and proposes a completely new approach. While he is not claiming to offer a new sufficient condition to explain why Greek philosophy began in eastern Greece, he shows how two of the much discussed hypotheses overlap in an original way: the development of the polis, whose democratic and legal practices nurtured a community open for rational debate, and the development of technologies associated with monumental temple building that opened a new vista for understanding nature's laws. Anaximander opened for his Greek community a rational debate over nature's laws. In chapter five, the last chapter, Hahn offers what professional philosophers refer to as a "Science Studies" approach to this historical episode: the social and political context in which western philosophy and science began. Along the way, Hahn explores the community of architects and early philosophers (chapter two) and the technological processes and products that consumed the temple architects (chapter three). In chapter four, Hahn shows how these technologies were adopted and adapted by Anaximander as he imagined "cosmic architecture." Hahn encourages the philosopher to leave his armchair, go outside, and get his hands dirty. He states his position clearly and supports it convincingly: philosophy did not originate in a vacuum, it had a mother and her name was Architecture. This book will change the course of this very old field of study.
While I am no expert in ancient philosophy, I confess to having read over the years several survey books on the subject. Never before had I seen so many diagrams and illustrations in a book on this topic. What Anaximander and the Architects does is to present a case about the origins of Greek philosophy by walking the reader through the powerful images that shaped Anaximander's world and his philosophizing. The more one thinks about, the more original is Hahn's argument: while early Greek philosophy is almost always marked by the literary evidence for "rationalizing the cosmos," explaining the origins of the universe without recourse to myth, Hahn offers us an argument to understand "rationalizing" by evidence from "images" and "pictures." By this approach, Hahn exposes the philosophical imagination of the early Greek philosophers. This approach is really new, and it asks us to think again -- as do some studies in cognitive science --about the role that the imagination plays in the development of rationality.