The Physical World of Late Antiquity

The Physical World of Late Antiquity

The Physical World of Late Antiquity

The Physical World of Late Antiquity

Excerpt

In the history of Greek science one has to distinguish between two parallel developments: on the one hand scientific achievements in the technical sense, comprising all the factual discoveries and inventions in mathematics, astronomy and the physical and biological sciences, and on the other hand scientific thought, aiming at the formation of comprehensive theories and the philosophical foundation of a scientific world-picture. The development of science proper, taken in the first sense, gathered momentum in a relatively short period and reached its apex in the third and second centuries B.C. From then on, it slowly declined and, with few exceptions, faded out after the second century A.D. At that time the two greatest scientific achievements of the Greeks -- geometry and astronomy -- were practically accomplished, and the same can be said of their discoveries in acoustics, optics and mechanics.

Scientific thought, however, continued with uninterrupted vigour from the times of the Milesian philosophers around 550 B.C. until the last Neo-Platonists in the middle of the sixth century A.D. During these eleven hundred years, hypotheses on the creation and structure of the universe were produced, theories on the nature of space, time and matter discussed, scientific concepts formed and analysed from an epistemological and purely logical point of view, and inquiries made into such problems as causality and determinism and the nature of physical action. The main contributors to scientific thinking were not the great scientists themselves, like Euclid, Archimedes, Apollonius and Hipparchus, but rather the founders or representatives of philosophical systems of thought, men like Democritus, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus and Chrysippus, and in late antiquity the Neo-Platonists. It is worth remembering that of these men only Aristotle, who made the most important contribution to the picture of the cosmos, was also an outstanding scientist, in the field of biology.

Thus in antiquity the two types of scientific activity did not merge into a single stream as they have gradually done in modern . . .

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