What I’ve learned from Bung Hatta’s Greek Philosophy stories

Isti Marta Sukma, M.A.
4 min readMar 8, 2024

Sending Hatta’s “Alam Pikiran Yunani” all the way from Indonesia to Warsaw turned out to be an excellent decision.

I first learned about this book during one of Rocky Gerung’s interviews, where he recommended it as an ideal starting point for those new to philosophy.

Prior to this, my exposure to Indonesian thinkers had been limited to figures like Tan Malaka and Soekarno.

This book is a gem.

It’s as if Hatta is personally narrating a bedtime story, his voice almost audible.

Unlike most philosophy books that kick off with Socrates, Hatta chose a distinctive start, delving into “Filosofi Alam,” translated as Nature Philosophy.

Philosophy might be as distant as one’s vision allows

Thales of Miletus

Hatta initiates the narrative with Thales, a renowned politician from Miletus.

Thales, often considered somewhat detached from people due to his deep connection with the universe, posited that everything originates from water and ultimately returns to it.

“Everything is one!”

“Everything is water!”

“Everything begins with water, ends with water.”

Thales’s coastal residence in Egypt, situated along the Nile, draws a parallel to the transformative nature of water — bestowing life, taking lives, and turning land into desert.

Here, I argue that even in today’s landscape, what we see in our surroundings defines our core beliefs.

As someone who grew up as a Muslim and is now living in a Catholic-majority society, I can tell how distinct my beliefs would be if I were born here.

To see everything is to zoom out.

To understand more, is to read and see different perspectives.

How can one be certain that their belief represents truth if they have never considered alternate perspectives?

Never underestimate ideas, no matter how small


The second story came from Anaximander, a student of Thales, deviated from the conventional belief that the sky was a dome with the earth at its center.

He sought the origin of everything, refusing to merely accept Thales’s teachings. While he acknowledged the concept of a single source proposed by Thales, Anaximander introduced the idea of ‘Apeiron.’

This principle transcended the observable elements in the world, distinguishing itself from familiar entities like water.

“Everything happens because of Apeiron, and return to Apeiron.

Anaximander’s organized thinking in the ancient era bears a noteworthy and intriguing similarity to the Darwinian theory that emerged in the early 19th century.

When reflecting on today’s academic and professional settings, it’s apparent that individuals often adopt a “yes-man” mentality, particularly in the presence of esteemed figures.

There’s a tendency to undervalue our own ideas, questioning their worth and, at times, dismissing them as potentially foolish.

The concept of Apeiron emerged as an antithesis to Thales’ belief in water as the source and end of life, a divergence born from Anaximander, his own pupil.

This highlights the importance of listening, mentoring, and engaging in critical thinking, as it is through these processes that one gains the capacity to consider alternative possibilities.

This stands in contrast to the constraints imposed by dogma and norms, which can limit the exploration of diverse perspectives.

Thinking differently does not always mean being a contrarian, start with a question


The next figure Hatta brought up was Anaximenes, a student of Anaximander, who apparently holds views that lean more towards Thales.

He posits that everything originates from and returns to something familiar, identifying everything as akin to air.

Anaximenes extends this analogy to the soul, marking him as the first natural philosopher to introduce the concept of ‘soul.’

This notion is further developed by Aristotle and subsequently explored in the realm of psychology.

According to Anaximenes, when the soul departs from the body, the body succumbs to death and disunity.

“What kind of movement becomes the source of nature that is very diverse, from that one particular source?”

He emerges as an early empiricist in Greek nature philosophy, seeking “answers” from his experiences and the insights of earlier thinkers.

Rather than intentionally thinking differently to contradict, his approach is grounded in observation.

He evaluates whether his thinking aligns with his experiences and represents a more universal understanding.

This is how we should develop our thoughts — not solely to contradict something but also to make them more ‘personal.’ One can integrate both empirical observations and instinctual insights simultaneously.

Dismissing an idea merely for the sake of contradiction does not align with a healthy approach to achieving an ideal synthesis.

On Hatta

He is a remarkable writer and storyteller.

I was pleasantly surprised by how easily accessible his writing is, especially when compared to Malaka’s, which proves challenging even for native Indonesian speakers.

I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in philosophy.

The quoted passages from these three sections are just a small glimpse of the wealth of insights in this valuable book.

It’s the perfect bedtime story for those eager to explore more.



Isti Marta Sukma, M.A.

Interdisciplinary researcher based in Warsaw. I write political science, tech, security, psychoanalysis and philosophy.