Were you ever wonder about
what’s our fundamental reason to be alive? Why we do what we do? Why there are
things that we unconsciously do? Why there is belief? Where everything comes
from and what is it made from? Maybe in your years of living in the earth, you
have many questions about your life and this world. Though, if you take this
world for granted, it probably never crosses your head. But, those questions at
least will strike our head once. Those wonder which now only taken seriously by
a small quantity of people. In fact, those are the question that poking
uncertainty in our gut over the centuries. Those are questions that concern
everyone with a beating heart on earth. Those questions are innate for our
life. Those are philosophical questions which occur throughout our life. The
same questions which shake the early Greek philosophers from the comfort and come with new views that
challenge the old world.
If those questions excite you, then the course of Philosophy is what you should seek. This faculty of wonder will help you to find the answer. However, philosophy itself has gone through a lot changes since its break through by the early Greek philosophers. Philosophy also has a wide-ranging concern and subject. Hence, each philosopher has different project and question to tackle. In this, we’ll specifically talk about the natural philosophers that have a big impact to the history of science which is good news from you if you’re new in this subject. They are the important figures from the very early of Greek philosophy history. Thus, dear apprentice, here are nine early Greek philosophers who changes the history of science.
Long ago, natural occurrences were explained in myth. People believe that the gods and goddesses are the cause of the nature. But it is one way because they didn’t know yet about what the world has and they need something to explain when something unusual happen. That’s to answer the uncertainty of their unknown. Although, each of people has their faculty of wonder, only a little that answers those call and do something about it. The fear of breaking and shaking the fundamental knowledge they have are stronger than their curiosity. Thus, majority was sticking with the made-up story by their ancestor. The myth about Thor from Nordic who makes the thunder or the myth about Persephone returns to her mother that causes the spring, for example. The old world believes strongly on that. The Greek as well has their belief in myth unbreakable.
Xenophanes challenged that principle. He criticized the way the gods and goddesses resembles human way too much. They have desire, they do intimate activity, they have offspring, and they have emotion just like human do. For Xenophanes, myth is merely human creation to deceive their insecurity for the unknown.
This man from 570 B.C ago claimed that the gods and goddess are nothing but human imagination. He transformed and slapped those long believed culture by explaining through a thorough observation. The gods and goddesses is only resemblance and an emblem of dignity of each culture. Ethiopians believes that their deity had black skin and flat nose. Thracians had them with blue eyes and fair hair. So to say, it’s safe to say that if at cat, dog and rabbit has gods, it’ll look just like them! That’s more a reflection and imagination than the truth. After all, how it is possible with those various version of gods, they experienced the same things? How comes that there’s different gods while the occurrence is similar and shared together. Xenophanes believed insisted that there is a natural reason for this.
Thus, Xenophanes philosophy took a big development for human thought from mythological to experience and reason. It’s the start where we begin to think more with reason that later build to our scientific development.
As their thought is shaken from the mythological realm, they become curious about what made things around them. It wasn’t gods handmade so surely there is something that created it. The early Greek philosophers observed that the nature was in constant flux of transformation. But how could it occur? How something change? How those frogs come from the water and how those plants come from the dead earth? They believed that there should be a root substance that causes all the change, something where it comes and returns to. The underlying law of nature. They gradually separated themselves from the religion and took direction to scientific reasoning.
Thales is one of the three great philosophers from Miletus, a Greek colony in Asian minor, who held a big importance in this. He traveled to many countries, and spent most his time in Egypt where he misused the height of pyramid using its shadow, predicted a solar eclipse and watched how life raised after the rain and around the Nile. Thales thought the source of all things is water. This belief is heavily influenced during his journey to Egypt. When the water raise and rain falls, it’s where the life such as frogs and worms begin and when it dries, there’s no life shown. The crops grew when the Nile flood reaching the land, but the land died if there’s no water. Therefore, he believed that it was the source of all life. We could see how the direction of reasoning changes since after Xenophanes. Their rail of thought leaned onto the experience and reason, taking from the surroundings to figure about the universe.
He also believed that “all things are full of gods” which can be presumed to refer to the seed of life. Surely around there the faith on gods as in literal was already broken. It probably comes from the observation that from the dead ground can flowers and refreshing greens grew after water come to it. Thus, he believed water as the fundamental substance which made all the things and all the things will dissolve back to water.
While Thales had his head wrapped around water, Anaximander believed in another concept. Lived about the same time as Thales, Anaximander is the next in the three big philosophers from Miletus. He believed that our world is one of the myriad, began and dissolved into a sole substance called boundless. This substance is the beginning of all things which create the earth.
Although it’s not clear what substance he refers to, it’s certainly not the same water envisaged by Thales. Nonetheless, it’s highly possible that Anaximander referred this basic stuff as something others than the things created. So it’s not yet known, but this is certain to be a basic substance that created all the things.
As his two philosopher fellows from Miletus, Anaximenes concerned is in the basic of all things. He was also exploring the nature. When the phenomenal theory from Thales reached him, Anaximenes became curious for its credibility. Is it really water that makes all things? More or less, it was the thought he had. Hence, he sought the answer for himself and found that it was ‘air’ or ‘vapor’ instead. He suggested the phenomenon of rain is a proof for that. The water is born from condensed air, as it falls to the earth we can see vapor from the ground. Therefore, he believed, ‘air’ or ‘vapor’ is the basic substance.
Long ago, there was no science yet but these thought they have is what bring a big wave of chance and create the basic foundation for science in the future. The tendency to observe and reason their surroundings is the taught from the antiquity to be critical to our world and not take it for granted. This nature to be curious and to explore is what Greek philosophers brought to us.
The three Miletus were focus to unravel the substance which makes all the things. That only means, their concern only revolved around the need to know about the basic substance which makes thing into existence. However, how about the opposite? How about the nothingness? Parmenides asked what they missed. Although it still focused to the nature, he upgraded his questions slightly to a question that haven’t yet questioned. The Greek was familiar with the idea of things around changed. Yet, in their comfortable bubble, they see no need to know the later.
Parmenides realized that nothing not everything is everlasting. It’s back to its origin. For the matter of substance, he believed that something existed won’t become nothing and nothing can came out of nothing. Was it a bit complicated? In short, he believed that actual change is a delusion. Thus, it’s either something already existing since a long time ago or never existing. Therefore, there’s no need to debate about the underlying substance that creates all things. Surely, he’s aware that the nature is going through a constant flux and it changed gradually as he can perceive with his senses. But, this flux can’t agree to what his reasons told him. Parmenides believed that his thought evaded him. Hence, he chose to rely solely to his reason.
This extreme stand he had for his reasoning resulted in a conclusion that our senses only give an incorrect picture that’s against our reasons. Thus, he became the early rationalism which will be a big influence to Democritus theory of atom.
Even though Parmenides showed less to a non-existence trust to his senses, a contemporary of him, Heraclitus had the opposite. The nature goes through a constant flow and in fact, that’s the basic characteristic of nature, said Heraclitus. It’s safe to say that he gave his senses a better chance than Parmenides did. Return to his view of everything flows, he justified that if you step into a river now, you’ll step into another river later, even if it’s the same river. As the nature constantly changes, it’ll be a different one, talking about details, when we step on it again. Thus how Heraclitus applied his view.
Heraclitus also thought, regarding to his fundamental belief in senses, that the world is characterized by opposites. Therefore, it’s both good and bad, and it’s inevitable order of things. Without being ill, one won’t know about being well. Without poverty, one won’t know the life of prosperity. The flux continuously happens in all aspects of life. In addition, in Heraclitus’ philosophy, this constant interplay of opposites made the world. Without it, this world will cease to nothing.
Within those opposites interplay, Heraclitus brought about God. Which actually relinks to the three philosopher from Miletus that there must be one underlying factor making this world. Yet, it’s not substance or the like for Heraclitus. He used the word logos to explain about this ‘god’. He believed that there’s a universal reason or law that guide everything in nature. If you’re familiar with the concept of universal law, Heraclites is the first maker of this concept.
The latest two Greek philosophers were opposite to each other. While Parmenides held strongly on reason, Heraclitus held as strong on sense. So, what’s right between two? According to the next Greek philosopher we have, each has a proportion of truth.
Parmenides and Heraclitus both said two points. The first one tells that nothing can change and our sense is unreliable. And the second tells that everything is in a constant change and our sense is reliable. Those views oppose each other, and the Greek philosophers can disagree more on that. Fortunately, Empedocles found a way to bridge these theories. He figures that they’re both right in some proportions and wrong in others. The underlying reason of the disagreement is because Parmenides and Heraclitus had only assumed of a single element which cause a big separation.
Empedocles made a new breakthrough for the natural philosophy. In one way, he agreed with Parmenides that water or air cannot change into a fish even it took million years. Pure water will remain as pure water. Yet, he also agreed with Heraclitus that we must trust our sense of perception for evidence upon what our reason told us. Accordingly, our eyes see that nature changes. Therefore, he concluded a final decision that the idea of single substance is the problem and it should be revoked. The source of nature can’t lean on a single element. Hence, he believed that there are four elements or “roots” created all the things around us. Fire, water, air and earth are the four elements of all natural processes mixtures. It creates things and things dissolves back to these four elements after that. But, the four elements stay untouched and unchanged while the others around change. So, it’s not entirely right that everything changes, and it’s not entirely wrong that nothing changes. Both had their place. It’s merely a repetition of combination and separation of the four elements.
Empedocles theory of the four elements surely didn’t just come from nowhere. It’s influenced by other philosophers before him. As Thales and Anaximenes pointed the importance of water and air, fire and earth was also essential for the Greeks. How the body heat on human and how the tree sprout from the ground. Thus, Empedocles believed in these four elements as the fundamental of all the things around.
Moreover, the change in nature happened because there are two forces. He named it “love” and “strife”. While love bind things, strife separates them. He also explained the way our eyes reacted to these four elements. In our eyes, he believed, there are also the four elements, so the earth sees the earth element; the water sees the water elements; and so on. Therefore, we can perceive the world.
Anaxagoras is our next philosopher to talk about the basic substance. He didn’t believe on one particular basic substance. He also refused to accept that the four elements can create living being. Instead, he believed that everything is created by particle that invisible for the eyes. If body is created by bone and blood, there’re smaller substances and from those smaller substance there’re these particle which is something from everything. Anaxagoras called as miniscule particles. To dive deeper into his philosophy, let’s picture it this way. Every cell of living being bears the blueprint they should construct with other cells. If it’s for human, then every cell has the blueprint to construct human. Thus, the particles are various and indifferent depend on the force.
While Empedocles has ‘love’ and ‘strife’, Anaxagoras held that ‘order’ is the force creating all things in nature. Humans and trees are built because this force on particles. He described this force as intelligence (nous), the ability to join with its group which works for the same construction. Thus, he explained the process of nature around us. Anaxagoras was a brilliant philosopher with many challenging ideas like other early Greek philosophers.Unfortunately, the Greek wasn’t so ready and for all and many eccentric reasons, he was forced to leave the city.
The next philosopher we have is Democritus. He is the last philosopher whose project focusing in the basic substance in nature and one of the well-known philosophers that brings a great impact to modern world. You must be familiar with his theory of atom. It’s fundamental for our science nowadays.
When he created the theory of atom, Democritus reflected to the philosophers before him. As Parmenides had it, he agreed that nothing comes from nothing, so the basic substance has to be eternal and solid. Then, following Anaxagoras, there must be varieties since there’s not only one type living in the earth. Thus, he believed that atoms have unlimited varieties in wide diversity which makes it possible to build the nature. However, unlike his predecessor, he didn’t believe in force. Instead, Democritus has a strong belief of the natural process. The atoms, he said, have hooks and barks that connect them together and it all happens naturally. Therefore, for Democritus, there are only atoms and void.
When a body died, he also believed there’s soul atoms, which built the soul when human life which underlined his claim of no immortal soul since he agreed with Heraclitus that everything flows, so the forms of a soul and a body come and go. It made it hardly possible for a soul to be immortal.
Democritus became the end mark of natural philosophy in early Greek while his works lasts for an exceptionally long time and inspires many of our scientific development.
We can see that the development of thought is linked from one philosopher to another philosopher. Every Greek philosopher has a significant impact to the next. Since we could understand how the theory from Xenophanes supports the thinking processes of the next philosopher and change their mindset about the world. These nine early Greek philosophershave a great role to our science that they are the one to snap our kind to get out from the comfort and seek for the truth about this world, about what makes our world. The change and development in each theory develops the science we know today. Thus, it is important for us to learn from them and keep that faculty of wonder inside out head going instead of taking it for granted. Who knows that you will be the next one to come up with new philosophical theory to change the world?
Tags: Greek philosophers, ancient Greek philosophers, Greek stoic philosophers