The Intellectual Revolution

The term "Intellectual Revolution" is used to refer to Greek speculation about the "nature" in the period before Socrates (roughly 600 to 400 BCE). Hence, the alternative, technical terms are "pre Socratic" or "non-theological" or "first philosophy". Bear in mind that the "philosophy" in question has little to do with ethics, and much more to do with what we would call physics or logic.

There are three characteristic features of this form of speculation. First, the world is a natural whole (that is, supernatural forces do not make things 'happen'). Second, there is a natural 'order' (that is, there are 'laws of nature'). Third, humans can 'discover' those laws. I will develop these concepts more fully in class.

Although the texts have been translated as prose, much of what survives is actually verse.

All of these pro-Socratic philosophers reached maturity in the colonies, east and west. Was the "colonial" mentality more intellectually adventurous than that found in the mother country?

Though these thinkers thought in non-theological terms that does not mean that they were atheists, most were not, but rather that they viewed the natural order as reflecting some underlying intelligence, the Logos (loosely: "the rational principle").

The earliest of these thinkers lived in Ionia, on the western coast of modern Turkey, in the town of Miletus. The Ionians were concerned with two issues: What is the underlying and primary 'substance' (Greek: arché)? And, second, how can one explain change and transformation, given that what we perceive derives from one substance? One should note the modernity of these questions. Physicists still seek the primary particle; science still attempts to explain how natural substances 'change'.

Thales, ca. 585 BCE, argued that the primary substance was 'water' perhaps observing that water can be observed in liquid, gas or solid form. Whether he believed everything was truly based on water or whether he used water an analogy, is not quite clear. Consider, too, that the use of water as a primary substance is not far removed from the primary substance of many creation myths. Here is what Aristotle says:

"Most of the first philosophers thought that principles in the form of matter were the only principles of all things: for the original source of all existing things, that from which a thinking first comes-into-being and into which it is finally destroyed, the substance persisting but changing in its qualities, this they declare is the element and first principle of existing things, and for this reason they consider that there is no absolute coming-to-be or passing away, on the ground that such a nature is always preserved…for there must be some natural substance, either one or more than one, from which the other things come-into-being, while it is preserved. Over the number, however, and the form of this kind of principle they do not all agree; but Thales, the founder of this type of philosophy, says that it is water (and therefore declared that the earth is on water), perhaps taking this supposition from seeing the nurture of all things to be moist, and the warm itself coming-to-be from this and living by this --taking the supposition both from this and from the seeds of all things having a moist nature, water being the natural principle of moist things."

This observation led other philosophers to think of transformation as a process of 'condensation' and 'rarefaction', and ultimately to the principle analogous to the modern notion that physical change is subject to the law of 'conservation of matter and energy'.

Other Ionians noted that water cannot be the substance because it is incompatible with fire. This criticism is significant because introduces the assumption that all explanations must be consistent with observed data. That is, explanation must meet a logical standard. Consequently, the successor of Thales turned to more neutral substances like "air" or the "infinite".

Xenophanes, another 6th century Ionian from the town of Colophon, went in a different direction, applying the logical methods of the Ionians to understanding of the Greek gods. Here are three fragments of his thinking:

"Homer and Hesiod have attributed to the gods everything that is sinful and reproached among men, stealing and committing adultery and deceiving each other."

"But mortals consider that the gods are born, and that they have clothes and speech and bodies like their own."

"But if cattle and horses or lions had hands, or were able to draw with their hands and do the works that men can do, horses would draw the form of the gods like horses, and cattle like cattle, and they would make their bodies such as they each had themselves."

**"One gods, greatest among gods and men, in no way similar to mortals either in body or in thought…always he remains in the same place, moving not at all; no is it fitting for him to go to different places at different times, but without toil he moves all things by the thought of his mind."

The criticism of traditional religion is, as Geoffrey Kirk (The Presocratic Philosophers) points out, clear enough. The gods of Homer are often immoral and, by implication, because they are gods, they should be moral. Moreover, there is no good reason to believe that the gods are 'anthropomorphic' at all. Such an criticism goes to the core of ancient believe systems: if the gods are not anthropomorphic and do not respond as humans do, then they cannot be manipulated by gifts, prayer and sacrifice. God(s) must be something quite different in substance and personality from humans, Heraclitus suggests.

It was also Heraclitus who defined this entity with his term "Logos" or 'rational principle'. He writes:

"Of the Logos which is as I describe it men always prove to be uncomprehending, both before they have heard it and when once they have heard it. For although all things happen according to this Logos men are like people of no experience, even when they experience such words and deeds as I explain, when I distinguish each thing according to its constitutions and declare how it is; but the rest of men fail to notice what they do after they wake up just as the forget what the do when asleep.

Heraclitus is also of great significance for his fragment 218:

**"Heraclitus somewhere says that all things are in process and nothing stays still, and likening existing things to the stream of a river he says that you would not step twice into the same river."

In this citation Heraclitus articulates one of the most important problem of philosophy and of science: As everything is in the process of change, how can one know anything for certain? The statement is the foundation of 'epistemology', the study of knowledge. The most recent and significant formulation of the problem is the Heisenberg Principle (devised by the Nobel prize winning physicist of the 1930s).

Pythagoras and his followers perceived that the ultimate reality (arché) was not something material, but number (we might translate that to mean that any natural phenomenon might be described mathematically).

"Ten is the very nature of number. All Greeks and all barbarians alike count up to ten, and having reached ten, revert again to the unit. And again, Pythagoras maintains, the power of the number ten lies in the number four, the tetrad. This is the reason: if one starts at the unit and adds the successive numbers up to four, one will make up the number ten; and if one exceeds the tetrad, one will excceed ten, too. If, that is, one take the unit, adds two, then three and then four, one will make up the number ten. So the number by the unit resides in the number ten, but potentially in the number four.

The square on the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle is equal to the sum of the squares on the side enclosing the right angle…and it is said that when Pythagoras discovered this theorem, he sacrificed an ox in celebration.

Note that Pythagoras is not an atheist!

There were many critics of Pythagorean ideas, among them Aristotle who notes:

How are we to combine the belief that the modifications of number, and number itself, are causes of what exists and happens in the heavens both from the beginning and now, and that there is no other number than this number out of which the world is composed?

**But the Pythagoreans, because they saw many attributes of number belonging to sensible bodies, supposed real things to be numbers; not separable numbers, however, but numbers of which real things consist.

Though Aristotle means to criticize Pythagoreans in the following passage, he reveals indirectly an important contribution, namely the Pythagoreans were the first philosophers to address turn their inquiry to morality

**Pythagoras first attempted to discuss goodness, but not in the right way; for by referring the virtues to numbers he made his study of the inappropriate; for justice is not a square number.

It will not be until Socrates that the methods of the intellectual revolution will be applied to the study human behavior and social values. Hence, Socrates is rightly considered to be the person who gave philosophy and the liberal arts their defining character.

Parmenides and his disciple, Zeno, argue the contrary of Heraclitus; namely that motion/change is logically impossible. Something either "is" or "is not", typically called "being" and "non-being". If "being" changes, it can only become "non-being", but that is impossible.

One way only is left to be spoken of, that it is; and on this way are full many signs that what is is uncreated and imperishable, for it is entire, immovable and without end. It was not in the past, nor shall it be, since it is now, all at once, one, continuous; for what creation will you seek for it? How and whence did it grow: Nor shall I allow you to say or to think "from that which is not"; for it is not to be said or thought it is not. And what need would have driven it on to grow, starting from nothing? … Thus it must either completely be or be not.

Zeno tried to support the theoretical case of his master by providing examples of how the system worked. Note that the very fact that Zeno provided has paradoxes for the general public indicates that the public was aware of the speculation and sought to understand and even to judge the competing models. There was then a strong social component to pre-Socratic speculation.

"Achilles [famous as the quickest of all Greeks at Troy] can never overtake a tortoise; because by the time he reaches the point from which the tortoise started, it wil have move on to another point; by the time re reaches that second point, it will have moved on again, and so forth ad infinitum.

**An object is a rest when it occupies a space equal to its own dimensions. An arrow in flight occupies, at any given moment a space equal to its own dimensions

Motion/change is then logically impossible; moreover, if our senses suggest that motion and change are possible, it must be because they are not reliable, indeed, they [our senses] frequently do deceive us about the structure of reality. Such arguments forced scientists of succeeding generations to articulate such basic features and 'careful observation' and 'verification by others' as a mean to confirm the reality of what one scholar reports.