Ancient Greek Philosophy Give Rise To Modern Science Philosophy

Essay add: 14-11-2017, 10:09   /   Views: 83

It could be argued that all modern science has evolved from the basic theories and suggestions of the ancient Greek philosophers. The great philosophers of ancient Greece questioned how and why the world around them was as it was. One of their main goals was to find the origin of their world. "The first philosophy (Metaphysics) is universal and is exclusively concerned with primary substance. .... " (Aristotle Metaphysics, 340BC) . This is almost exactly the same goal as modern day scientists. "My goal is simple. It is complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all." (Stephen Hawking) A Brief History of Time',1988

In their search to reason why things were as they were the ancient Greek Philosophers investigated all of life which included mathematics, art, politics, philosophy and science. Great philosophers like Thales, Anaximander, Pythagoras, and Heraclitus came up with theories that were studied and built on by later philosophers. Their theories have inspired many of the proven laws in science and math that are used by scientists today which, in turn, help them make further scientific inquiries and discoveries.

In ancient times there were so many things that people did not understand. For example; what caused rain, thunder and wind? Why did shadows change size? What caused war? How did plants grow? Where did the sun go at night? In order to explain the unknown the ancient Greeks created mythical stories and gods. This can be seen in Homer's Iliad and the Odyssey, where Poseidon creates a storm " he gathered the cloud, and seizing his trident in his hands, stirred up the sea, and roused the tempest blast of every wind, and hid the land and sea with vapor: and darkness swooped from the sky." Homer's Odyssey book 5, but some people thought there was more to understanding the world than just believing in supernatural, magical powers of gods. The people who questioned the mythical stories and tried to find reasons for these happenings became known as philosophers. They posed questions that went against the religious and mythical beliefs. Questions like; "How was the earth formed? Where did people come from? How do we think? Why do we exist? And what happens to us after we die?"

Thales is probably the first Greek philosopher that we have any real knowledge of. His explanation for the origin of all matter was that everything was created from water. Aristotle wrote, 'Thales, the founder of this kind of Philosophy, declares it to be water. (This is why he indicated that the earth rests on water.)' Metaphysics Book1 section 3. We know today that most of the universe is hydrogen, which makes two of the three atoms in water (H2O) and scientists believe that water is essential for life to form so it looks like Thales was at least partly correct. Later Anaximander studied Thales theories and introduced the idea that the elements (air, water earth and fire) are constantly fighting against each other trying to become the strongest, causing all matter to be continually changing with no one element ever becoming the strongest. He introduced the idea of "infinite", apeiron, where things have no boundaries or ending points. Simplicius, commentary on Aristotle's Physics. Anaximander was the first Greek to draw a map of the world known to the Greeks. He charted the stars and the movement of the moon. He posed the idea that the world was a cylinder hanging, unaided, in space between the stars. Aristotle wrote that Anaximander claimed the earth is established at the centre and equally related to the extremes to move up rather than down or sideways and it is impossible for it to make a move simultaneously in opposite directions. Therefore, it is at rest of necessity.' Aristotle On The Heavens 2.13 295B11 - 12A26. We now know that Anaximander was correct about the earth being suspended in space but not about the shape. Anaximendes declared that all matter originated from air. Simplicius, commentary on Aristotle's Physics. Pythagoras agreed with Thales that everything came from water but also declared that all things were mathematical. He believed that numbers were the key to understanding the world. He tried to prove everything mathematically and found that solving one problem always led to more questions. Aristotle Metaphysics Book1 section 5. Pythagoras like many other ancient Greek philosophers fell back on his beliefs in the gods to explain some of the unknown. One of his strong beliefs was that our souls are passed on to new life forms after we die. Diogenes Laertius wrote "Once (Pythagoras) passed by as a puppy was being beaten, the story goes, and in pity said these words: 'Stop, don't beat him, since it is the soul of a man, a friend of mine, which I recognized when I heard it crying.' "Diogenes Laertius, LIVES OF THE PHILOSOPHERS 8.36= Xenophanes 21B7 What happens to our souls when we die, is something still questioned today. Heraclitus believed that all matter was created by fire (Plutarch, ON THE E AT DELPHI 338d-e) and saw fire as a means to change things, (similar to Anaximander). He introduced the idea of nothing staying the same; that everything was always changing like a flowing river."[It is not possible to step twice into the same river]….It scatters and again comes together, and approaches and recedes." Plutarch, ON THE E AT DELPHI 392b - 22B91a,b. He was also the one who brought forward the notion of "unity of opposites". This means that opposites cannot exist without each other; there is no day without night, no summer without winter, no warm without cold, no good without bad. Science nowadays shows quite clearly that these things are extremes points of just one thing, hot and cold can both be expressed as a degree of temperature, dark and bright as a degree of light….etc but in the ancient world these thoughts were something new and incredible. Heraclitus idea that fire does not destroy but merely changes matter is the foundation of modern day Chemistry. However, Parmenides declaration that everything can be broken down into elements which can combine together to react differently but do not themselves change Simplicius, commentary on Aristotle's Physics is more correct. Later Leucippus and Democritus developed this theory. Each new generation of thinkers challenged the ideas of the previous philosophers.

Many modern proven scientific facts, laws and theories can be traced back to ideas and guess work recorded by these ancient Greek philosophers. One example is Darwin's theory of evolution. Empedocles wrote about an imaginative world of strange creatures which included the idea of survival of the fittest. He stated in his poem "on nature' that in prehistoric times parts of bodies sprung up."Here sprang up many faces without necks, arms wandered without shoulders, unattached, and eyes strayed alone, in need of foreheads" (B 57). His creatures combined different parts of different animals to make strange creatures and only some of these survived. Although his ideas were very basic they can be compared to Darwin's theories of evolution two thousand three hundred years later.

Another example of the philosophers' legacies is the work of Leucippus and Democritus around 440 B.C Democritus reasoned that, if he were to attempt to cut an object in half over and over again, he would eventually reach a tiny grain of matter that could not be cut in half. He called these "atoms", after the Greek atomos, "uncuttable". Leucippus and Democritus declared that all matter is made up of atoms. The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers -Diogenes Laertius It wasn't until in the 19th century that John Dalton carried out experiments that proved this atom theory was correct.

Astronomy is written about in many ancient civilizations but Archimedes reported that it was the Greek astronomer Aristarchus (c. 320 bc- c. 250 bc) who said that, while the Sun and the fixed stars are motionless, the Earth moves around the Sun on the circumference of a circle. No one believed him, and his writings no longer exist. We know of him today only because Archimedes wrote about Aristarchus having these crazy theories.

Mathematics and the use of numbers were not invented by the Greek philosophers but the developments of theories, proofs and mathematical rules were new. This is the very beginning of modern day "deductive science", the process of making logical mathematical statements from observations and tests. Both Proclus and Diogenes Laertius (Lives of eminent philosophers) wrote about the geometric theories that are credited to Thales: (i) A circle is bisected by any diameter. (ii) The base angles of an isosceles triangle are equal. (iii) The angles between two intersecting straight lines are equal. (iv) Two triangles are congruent if they have two angles and one side equal. (v) An angle in a semicircle is a right angle

Pythagoras theory a²+b²=c² was not invented by him but he proved it and made it famous in his teaching more than 2000 years ago.Weather:Anaximendes developed ideas about how wind, rain and even thunder came about. Aetius 3.4.1 (A Presocratic Reader) although not totally correct his explanations were logical and are the first recorded attempt of a scientific explanation of the weather. His idea that thunder and lightening was caused by compressed air challenged the earlier belief that Zeus, the god of thunder, threw thunderbolts out of the sky.

Philosophy - Socrates- He said that the secret to being wise was to realize that we really do not know much. Everybody wants to think that what they believe is right, and what they have been told, must be true even when they don't understand. One of his famous quotes is." I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance." Socrates, from Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers. It is his way of saying that to be wise you have to forget what you've been told and look for the basic truths - what do I think? -why do I think what I think? This is the beginning of philosophy as it is known today - "the rational investigation of questions about existence and knowledge and ethics" web dictionary meaning

Biology - Aristotle observed that dolphins gave birth to live babies who were attached to their mothers by umbilical cords and so, in the book Generation of Animals, written around 340 B.C., he classified dolphins as mammals like humans. It was not until the nineteenth century that this statement was confirmed by modern science.

Physics - Motion; Aristotle believed that 'a body falls at a speed in proportion to its weight (so that a ten-pound weight would fall ten times faster than a one-pound weight), and that the speed of a falling body is inversely proportional to the resistance of what it falls through (so that a body falling in a vacuum would fall at an infinite rate).' This was believed to be true for 2000 years until Galileo proved him wrong. But the important thing is that Aristotle developed a theory from what he observed and led the way for others to test and challenge the theory. Volume: The best-known story about Archimedes is that he discovered the principle of measuring volume in the bathtub when it over flowed as he got in to the water. He then ran naked through the streets of Syracuse, shouting "Eureka! Eureka!" ("I have found it! I have found it!") Vitruvius; De architectura. Sound- around 400 B.C., Archytas stated that sound was produced by bodies striking together, with swift motion producing high pitch and slow motion low pitch. Later, Aristotle said that sound could travel through air, stating that sound was transferred by one part of the air striking the next until it reached the ear, and also correctly noted that, without a medium such as air or water, man could not hear sound. Aristotle Metaphysics,

Medical science Electrical shocks given by torpedo fish were used for medicinal purposes by the ancient Greeks and Romans. From the fifth century B.C. the Greeks applied torpedo fish on the thorax of sick people in order to stimulate their vital reflexes.

Geology The Greek philosopher Xenophanes' suggested that mountains on which seashells were found must originally have been covered by the sea and everyone laughed at him. Twenty-three centuries later the Scottish geologist James Hutton's scientific deduction proved him to be right.

Scientific engineering The ancient Greeks constructed pyramids of porous rocks in desert climates, which were used as water catchers. They could capture and condense large quantities of water. A group of 13 pyramids were found at Theodosia in the Crimea that were built around 500 B.C. averaged almost 40 feet high and were placed on hills around the city. As the wind moved through the stones, the changing temperatures throughout the day caused moisture to condense, run down, and feed a network of pipes. Science Frontiers #80, MAR-APR 1992.

Hydraulic technology which uses the power of water owes a lot to the work of Ancient Greek philosophers like Thales who recognized the importance of water, which along with progress in mathematics allowed the invention of advanced instruments and devices, like Greek philosopher Archimedes' water screw pump (c. first century BC), Bibliotheke, Book V, 37.3-4

We can conclude from all of this evidence that the Greek philosophers were the first people to question the actual natural causes of happenings rather than making up magical stories as explanations.

"Happy is the man who knows the causes of things" Ancient Greek saying that shows the pursuit of the truth was as meaningful to the ancient Greeks as it is to modern day scientists.

We can also conclude that a great many scientific concepts of the modern world were proven and developed based on the work of these early Greek philosophers.

Sources :

A Presocratics Reader - by Patricia Crud - class handouts

A History of Time - Stephen Hawking 1988

Metaphysics - Aristotle 350BC

Translated by W. D. Ross Geoff Haselhurst

(January, 2010)

Physics- Aristotle 350BC

Translated by R. P. Hardie and R. K. Gaye

On the Heavens - Aristotle 350 BC Translated by J. L. Stocks

Generation of Animals, - Aristotle Translated by Arthur Platt

Five Dialogues - Plato - class handout

The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers -Diogenes Laertius ; third centuryAD translated by C.D. Yonge

On The E At Delphi- Plutarch first century AD

De architectura -Vitruvius First century AD

Odyssey -Homer 7th century BC

Article name: Ancient Greek Philosophy Give Rise To Modern Science Philosophy essay, research paper, dissertation