The Discovery of the Mind: The Greek Origins of European Thought

The Discovery of the Mind: The Greek Origins of European Thought

The Discovery of the Mind: The Greek Origins of European Thought

The Discovery of the Mind: The Greek Origins of European Thought

Excerpt

European thinking begins with the Greeks. They have made it what it is: our only way of thinking; its authority, in the Western world, is undisputed. When we concern ourselves with the sciences and philosophy, we use this thought quite independently of its historical ties, to focus upon that which is constant and unconditioned: upon truth; and with its help we hope to grasp the unchanging principles of this life. On the other hand, this type of thinking was a historical growth, perhaps more so than is ordinarily implied by that term. Because we are accustomed to regard the Greek way of thinking as obligatory, we instinctively --or should we say naively?--project it also into thought processes of another order. Since the turn of the eighteenth century our growing awareness of evolutionary patterns may have contributed to the elimination of such rationalist concepts as the ageless, unchanging 'spirit'. Yet a proper understanding of the origins of Greek thought remains difficult because all too frequently we measure the products of early Greece by the fixed standards of our own age. The Iliad and the Odyssey, which stand at the source of the Greek tradition, speak to us with a strong emotional appeal; and as a result we are quick to forget how radically the experience of Homer differs from our own.

To trace the course along which, in the unfolding of early Greek culture, European thought comes into its own, we must first of all understand that the rise of thinking among the Greeks was nothing less than a revolution. They did not, by means of a mental equipment already at their disposal, merely map out new subjects for discussion, such as the sciences and philosophy. They discovered the human mind. This drama, man's gradual understanding of himself, is revealed to us in the career of Greek poetry and philosophy. The stages of the journey which saw a rational view of the nature of man establish itself are to be traced in the creations of epic and lyric poetry, and in the plays.

The discovery of the intellect cannot be compared with the discovery of, let us say, a new continent. America had existed long before Columbus discovered the New World . . .

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