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Explaining the Cosmos is a major reinterpretation of Greek scientific thought before Socrates. Focusing on the scientific tradition of philosophy, Daniel Graham argues that Presocratic philosophy is not a mere patchwork of different schools and styles of thought. Rather, there is a discernible and unified Ionian tradition that dominates Presocratic debates. Graham rejects the common interpretation of the early Ionians as "material monists" and also the view of the later Ionians as desperately trying to save ...
Explaining the Cosmos is a major reinterpretation of Greek scientific thought before Socrates. Focusing on the scientific tradition of philosophy, Daniel Graham argues that Presocratic philosophy is not a mere patchwork of different schools and styles of thought. Rather, there is a discernible and unified Ionian tradition that dominates Presocratic debates. Graham rejects the common interpretation of the early Ionians as "material monists" and also the view of the later Ionians as desperately trying to save scientific philosophy from Parmenides' criticisms.
In Graham's view, Parmenides plays a constructive role in shaping the scientific debates of the fifth century BC. Accordingly, the history of Presocratic philosophy can be seen not as a series of dialectical failures, but rather as a series of theoretical advances that led to empirical discoveries. Indeed, the Ionian tradition can be seen as the origin of the scientific conception of the world that we still hold today.
This man [Thales] is supposed to be the originator of philosophy, and from him the Ionian school gets its name. It became the longest tradition in philosophy. (Ps.-Plutarch Placita 1.3.1)
TODAY MILETUS is a mound rising above a flat plain dotted with olive trees. On the crest of the mound stands a Roman-era theater, and off to the east some stately marble facades line a swampy depression that is the remainder of a once proud seaport on the Aegean, from which little merchant ships sailed to far-off colonies in the Black Sea, the central Mediterranean, and the Nile laden with amphorai of olive oil from the ancestors of today's orchards. With her three harbors and a numerous progeny of daughter colonies, Miletus was the "jewel of Ionia," and she counted among her citizens not only wealthy traders but also wise men whose names have long outlived their native city. For it was here that Western philosophy and science were born, in the first days of the sixth century BC. The little ships carried with their perishable cargoes words that would echo across the Mediterranean Sea and eventually around the world.
Miletus was the most illustrious of a chain of city-states dotting the eastern shore of the Aegean Sea, colonies of Greeks from the Ionian tribe, who gave the name Ionia to their coastline. The first prose books were written in their alphabet and dialect, and their culture combined the best of a resurgent Greek civilization, recently emerged from a dark age, with borrowings from Egypt and the Middle East. Themselves great traders and colonizers, they had daughter cities in the south from the Nile and Libya, west to the coasts of Sicily and southern Italy, France, and Spain, and north to the Black Sea. Thus they were in touch with almost the whole Mediterranean world including three continents. They had trading posts in the Levant and served as mercenary soldiers in Egypt. Like the European voyagers of the Age of Exploration, they looked at lands of less advanced cultures as ripe for their own taking, but they traveled to the more advanced civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia to learn their secrets.
These great civilizations had managed to organize kingdoms and empires under the direction of a single autocratic ruler. Vast bureaucracies ran complex operations from fielding armies to taxing produce. In Babylonia temple priests kept detailed observations of the skies in order to report-and, wherever possible, anticipate-ominous phenomena. Handbooks of omens were kept from about 1700 BC and records of eclipses from around 747 BC. The Babylonians developed a powerful if complex system of mathematics based on the number sixty, which they eventually (in Hellenistic times) used to track the motions of the sun and moon. The most important element of their calendar was the lunar month, which being of variable length, caused them to make minute observations. The Egyptians in their bureaucracy used skilled scribes who had a good knowledge of basic arithmetic on which to base practical questions of ordering supplies and the like. They used a simple but highly practical year of 365 days and made simple astronomical observations.
Both of these great civilizations developed some powerful tools for scientific research, but neither had the concept of a scientific research program. For the Babylonians, astronomical observations served astrology, while for the Egyptians they served both to determine religious festivals and to anticipate the Nile floods and the agricultural seasons. Both civilizations furnished textbooks to teach mathematical procedures and the solution of practical problems, but neither had a system of proofs. The Greeks learned highly developed crafts and skills from their neighbors, but could have found no real sciences to borrow. Babylonian archives contained vast stores of mathematical and astronomical data on cuneiform tablets, and Egyptian archives contained vast collections of practical documents on papyrus rolls, which could be used in the service of science. But there was nothing recognizable as an institute or association or organized practice of scientific research.
What the Ionians themselves accomplished, and what their contribution to Western knowledge was, have been the subject of ongoing scholarly debate. Some partisans argue that they fairly invented science, others that they merely speculated about the world in a manner incapable of producing scientific knowledge. Recently most commentators have been willing to grant to them a modest status as forerunners of scientific thought, part of a complex combination of activities that were destined to contribute to scientific thought and method, including mathematics, medicine, technology, and public speaking. While it is surely true that the Ionians provided only one of several ingredients necessary for the creation of natural science, there remains a sense in which they deserve a special place in the history of Western thought. For a good deal remains to be said about what they accomplished, and how, that will show their contribution as definitive of a new approach, both theoretical and practical, to the world, and in that sense genuinely revolutionary.
In this work I propose to address the Ionians' contribution in a fairly straightforward manner: to retell the story of their intellectual development in a roughly chronological order. But this story will not be just like other histories of the Presocratics. In the first place, I will tell the story exclusively from the point of view of the scientific or proto-scientific researchers, those who participated in what I shall call the Ionian tradition, as is rarely if ever done. In the second place, I shall maintain, contrary to assumptions common since ancient times, that Presocratic philosophy is not a mere patchwork of different schools or styles of thought; that the Ionian tradition is the dominant current in Presocratic history; and that even those schools of thought that seem most tangential or most opposed to Ionian philosophy-the Pythagoreans and the Eleatics-are deeply indebted to and even parasitic on the Ionian tradition. In the third place, I shall argue that several of the key doctrines and positions commonly attributed to the Presocratics-continuously since the time of Aristotle-result from fundamental misunderstandings of the Ionians and their principles. When we get the doctrines of the Ionians right, we may be in a position to see relationships that were not evident before. The result will, I hope, be a more coherent picture of Presocratic development than is usually attained. It will, in any case, be different in important respects from standard accounts which have prevailed for most of the twentieth century.
1.1 Anaximander's Project
The story properly begins, as has been recognized for the last forty years, with Anaximander. Although the first of the Milesians was Anaximander's mentor, Thales, we do not have enough reliable information about Thales to know how the various elements of this thought and practice fit together. He viewed water as the source of all things, saw the magnet as somehow animated, studied the stars and allegedly founded geometry; he provided political advice to the Ionians and was famed for engineering feats; he seems either to have traveled widely or to have learned from those who did-or both; he may have brought to his countrymen Egyptian surveying techniques and a curiosity about why the Nile floods; he may have been inspired in his choice of a source by Near Eastern myths; he seems to have borrowed from Phoenician sailors a knowledge of the Little Dipper, which, by its proximity to the pole star, provided a point of reference for navigation and orientation. But apparently he left no writings, and consequently he became an enigma even to Aristotle and the researchers of the fourth century BC. Today we are forced to project back interpretations derived from what we can learn from the later tradition. The first Ionian to leave a written record from which his theory could be reconstructed with some confidence is Anaximander. It is indeed likely that Anaximander inherited both his general assumptions about the world and his approach to it from Thales. But we can get a foothold in the Ionian intellectual world only with Anaximander.
1.1.1 The Pre-philosophical Background
The idea of explaining the world in a scientific way is so common to us now that we should pause to consider its novelty in an earlier time. Many cultures have creation myths which in some way tell the community that shares the myth how it came about that there is a world, and that explain the present order of things, often including the present religious and political arrangements. The Greeks seem to have had creation myths which shared features with other cultures of the Near East and Middle East. At the very beginning of the historical period, when alphabetic writing was new, these stories were organized and unified by Hesiod, around 700 BC, in his Theogony.
In this epic poem, Hesiod tells the story of the origin of the world:
Hail, children of Zeus! Give to me desirable song, and proclaim the holy race of immortals who ever are, who were born from Earth and starry Heaven and Dark night, and whom salty Sea nourished. Tell how first the gods and Earth came to be, and rivers and boundless sea, with raging swell, shining stars and wide heaven above [and the gods that came from them, givers of good things]; and how they distributed their wealth and divided their honors, and how first they laid hold of many-folded Olympus. Tell me these things, Muses, who dwell on Olympus, from the beginning; and say who was first born of them. Indeed, first was Chaos born, but then broad-bosomed Earth, a steadfast seat always of all [the immortals, who hold the peaks of snowy Olympus], and misty Tartarus in a recess of the wide-wayed earth, and Eros, who fairest among the immortal gods, looser of limbs, of all gods and all men overcomes the thought in their breast and their wise counsel. From Chaos Erebus and black Night were born, And from Night Aether and Day were born, whom she bore being with child after mingling in love with Erebus. And Earth first bore equal to herself starry Heaven, that he might cover her all around, that he might be a steadfast seat always for the blessed gods. And she bore long Hills, lovely haunts of the divine Nymphs, who dwell on the woody hills. And she bore the fruitless deep, with raging swell, Sea, without desirable love. But then lying with Heaven she bore deep-swirling Ocean, Coeus, Crius, Hyperion, Iapetus, Theia, Rhea, Themis, Mnemosyne, golden-crowned Phoebe and lovely Tethys. After them was born the youngest, wily Cronus, most terrible of her children. And he hated his flourishing sire. (104-38)
Beginning with an invocation to the Muses, the daughters of Zeus who inspire the poet with truths he cannot know for himself, Hesiod recites the beginnings of the world. In an account that has the form of a genealogy, he names the first beings as Chaos, signifying a gap or open space, Gaia or Earth, and Tartarus, or the Underworld. Then dark and light conditions are born from Chaos, while Earth bears Heaven and hills, and in a sexual union with Heaven, Ocean, the body of water that occupies the edge of the earth disk where earth meets heaven. Further, Heaven and Earth beget the race of Titans, who beget the Olympian gods.
Hesiod's story is not a scientific account. In it cosmic beings beget other cosmic and divine beings, who eventually produce human beings. Yet there is an order to the events he describes which provides a kind of systematic explanation for the world, its structures, its inhabitants, and its processes. A begets B, who begets C. Each divine being has its powers and dominion. Earth provides a place for humans to live, Heaven a place for (most of) the gods. Night and Day take turns traveling abroad on earth; Zeus hurls thunderbolts, Poseidon shakes the earth from below the sea. The divinities form alliances, foment plots, and go to war with one another. A succession of divine potentates leads up to the present state of affairs in which the Olympian gods, led by Zeus, control the world. In short, the world has a history which accounts for the way things are now.
How does Hesiod know the history of the world? He calls on the Muses, daughters of Zeus, to inform him of things he does not know. No doubt he has heard similar stories many times told by other bards, who in turn invoked the Muses. Hesiod's stories are not mere inventions of his own: they agree with stories told by Homer and are similar to stories of the Hittite Kumarbi Epic. Yet Hesiod's authority for his story-his version of the truth-is the inspiration he receives from the goddesses of poetry. He tells a story of divine things inspired by divine beings.
1.1.2 Anaximander's Account
Writing in the sixth century BC, Anaximander seems to have also told a story about how the world came to be. But he did not recount it as a tale of divine beings interacting. Rather, he talked about things coming to pass in a natural way, starting with an initial undifferentiated state:
[Anaximander] says that that part of the everlasting which is generative of hot and cold separated off at the coming to be of the world-order and from this a sort of sphere of flame grew around the air about the earth like bark around a tree. This subsequently broke off and was closed into individual circles to form the sun, the moon, and the stars. He also says that in the beginning man was generated from animals of a different species, inferring this from the fact that other animals quickly come to eat on their own, while man alone needs to be nursed for a long time. For this reason man would never have survived if he had originally had his present form. (Pseudo-Plutarch Miscellanies 2 = A10)
According to Anaximander, the original state of affairs consisted of some everlasting stuff, which he elsewhere calls "the boundless." From this primordial stuff some seedlike substance was, as it were, secreted, which gave rise to differentiated things such as hot and cold. From this arose a mass having an earthy nucleus surrounded by a layer of air, surrounded by a shell of fire. The mass burst, producing concentric rings of fire enclosed in air, surrounding a cylindrical earth. The rings are invisible because of the air surrounding them, but a hole allows the fire inside to be seen. The outer ring is that of the sun, the middle that of the moon, and the inner ring, or, presumably, set of rings are those of the stars. We see also that he pursues his account all the way to the formation of human beings out of other creatures. The earth gradually dried out:
Some say the sea is what is left of the original moisture. For the region about the earth was first moist, and then part of the moisture was evaporated by the sun, and winds arose from it and the turnings of the sun and moon, because their turnings are produced as a result of these vapors and exhalations; and where there is an abundance of moisture for the winds, the turnings take place. And what is left of the original moisture in the hollow places of the earth is sea. Accordingly it continually diminishes as it is dried out by the sun and finally some day it will be dry. Anaximander and Diogenes held this view, as Theophrastus reports. (Alexander of Aphrodisias On the Meteorology 67.3-12 = A27)
The muddy earth gradually became drier and perhaps eventually will be completely dry. Life arose in the primeval seas and moved to land:
Anaximander said the first animals were generated in moisture surrounded by a prickly bark or shell, and as they matured they moved onto land and breaking out of their shell they survived in a different form a short while. (Aëtius 5.19.4 = A30)
Because human offspring must be nourished for a long time before they are self-sustaining, they must have been born as adults. Anaximander explains that they were nourished inside fish until they reached maturity. When the fish burst open, adult humans emerged to populate the land.
Excerpted from Explaining the Cosmos by Daniel W. Graham Copyright © 2006 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission.
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ABBREVIATIONS AND BRIEF REFERENCES xv
Chapter 1: The Ionian Program 1
1.1 Anaximander's Project 4
1.2 Anaximander's Project as a Scientific Program 14
1.3 Toward an Understanding of the Ionian Tradition 18
Chapter 2: Anaximander's Principles 28
2.1 Out of the Boundless 28
2.2 Powers in Conflict 34
2.3 Elements and Powers 39
Chapter 3: Anaximenes' Theory of Change 45
3.1 The Theory of Change 45
3.2 Material Monism 48
3.3 Problems with Material Monism 50
3.4 Anaximenes and the Generating Substance Theory 67
3.5 Anaximenes' Achievement 82
Chapter 4: The Generating Substance Theory as an Explanatory Hypothesis 85
4.1 GST Formalized 85
4.2 A Compromise View? 88
4.3 GST as a Paradigm of Explanation 91
4.4 Advantages of GST 98
4.5 Disadvantages of GST 106
Chapter 5: Heraclitus's Criticism of Ionian Philosophy 113
5.1 Extreme Interpretations 113
5.2 Barnes's Argument for Heraclitus-F 118
5.3 The Unity of Opposites 122
5.4 The Flux Thesis 129
5.5 Heraclitus and GST 137
Chapter 6: Parmenides' Criticism of Ionian Philosophy 148
6.1 Parmenides' Response to Heraclitus 148
6.2 Parmenides' Criticism 155
6.3 Properties of What-Is 162
6.4 Deceptive Cosmology 169
6.5 Parmenides' Scientific Discovery 179
6.6 Parmenides' Response to GST 182
Chapter 7: Anaxagoras and Empedocles: Eleatic Pluralists 186
7.1 The Standard Interpretation 186
7.2 Questions about the Standard Intepretation 188
7.3 The Elemental Substance Theory 195
7.4 Parmenides and Origins of the Elemental Substance Theory 201
7.5 Two Theories of Elements 208
7.6 Empirical Advances 220
Chapter 8: The Elemental Substance Theory as an Explanatory Hypothesis 224
8.1 EST Formalized 224
8.2 EST and Eleatic Theory 227
8.3 EST with and without Emergence 229
8.4 Advantages of EST 233
8.5 Disadvantages of EST 241
Chapter 9: The Atomist Reform 250
9.1 The Challenge 250
9.2 Foundational Arguments 256
9.3 Atomism and EST 269
9.4 Birth of the Cosmos 271
Chapter 10: Diogenes of Apollonia and Material Monism 277
10.1 Diogenes in Modern Accounts 277
10.2 Diogenes in a New Light 279
10.3 Diogenes in Historical Context 284
10.4 A New Theory of Matter 290
Chapter 11: The Ionian Legacy 294
11.1 Paradigms of Explanation 294
11.2 Explanatory Progress 298
11.3 The Primacy of Ionian Research 302
INDEX LOCORUM 327
GENERAL INDEX 337