Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

The Waning of the Light: The Eclipse of Philosophy

Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

The Waning of the Light: The Eclipse of Philosophy

Article excerpt

I

THERE WAS A TIME, EONS AGO, when philosophy as the love of wisdom could lay claim to all knowledge. Aristotle's corpus of writings covered all the main areas of inquiry then known, including an original organon on syllogistic logic and scientific method. But this hegemony over knowledge was soon challenged by separatist disciplines forming their own research strategies. As early as the third century B.C.E., following the deaths of Alexander and Aristotle, the ruling Ptolemies created in Alexandria two centers of scientific research, the Library and the Museum, rivaling the Academy and Lyceum of Athens. In those state-supported institutions specialized research by grammarians, mathematicians, astronomers, physicists, biologists, and physiologists replaced the more speculative syntheses of knowledge of the previous Hellenic period. The resident scholars and those affiliated by correspondence (Archimedes) or as legatees (Galen and Ptolemy) were the originators of axiomatic geometry and what we now refer to as protoscience: for example, Euclid, Herophilus, Erasistratus, Apollonius, Heraclides, Hipparchus, and Aristarchus. (1) Each of the major founders of modern classical science acknowledged their indebtedness to these extraordinary ancient Greeks who initiated the scientific exploration of the universe.

To justify Copernicus's entertaining the hypothesis that the earth undergoes two motions, an annual orbital revolution around the sun and a diurnal rotation on its axis, in his Preface to On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres, Osiander quotes Plutarch as stating that Philolaus the Pythagorean says that "the earth moves around a [central] fire with an obliquely circular motion like the sun and moon," while Heraclides claimed that it rotated on its axis "like a wheel." (2) Copernicus himself cites Aristarchus who, because of his prescient heliocentric conception of the universe, is known as the "Copernican of antiquity." Similarly, Kepler's break with tradition in concluding that the orbital motion of Mars was elliptical and nonuniform rather than uniformly circular, was indebted to Archimedes and Apollonius. As he wrote to a friend, "if the orbit were a perfect ellipse ... the problem would already have been solved by Archimedes and Apollonius." (3)

While Kepler's three laws of planetary motion, particularly his third law, vindicated Copernicus's belief in heliocentrism, it was Galileo's telescopic discoveries reaching for the first time beyond naked-eye observations that offered empirical evidence in its support. Furthermore, it was his incisive critique of Aristotle's qualitative classification of motions underlying the distinction between the celestial and terrestrial worlds that demolished Aristotle's cosmology. Yet Galileo still praised Aristotle as "a man of brilliant intellect," although his real admiration was for the Pythagoreans Archytas, Philolaus, and Aristarchus who, despite the contrary evidence of their senses, declared that the earth moved. But it was Archimedes that he described as "that divine man" whose writings are such that "all other geniuses are inferior." (4)

While this astronomical revolution eventually transformed the cosmos from a finite to an infinite universe, it was a lesser known revolution due to investigations in optics and physiology, along with the revival of the atomic theory of Leucippus and Democritus to replace Aristotle's organismic cosmology, that generated the epistemological and ontological problems confronted by modern classical philosophers. Aristotle held a direct realist conception of knowledge, claiming that the attributes and forms of objects are reinstated in our minds, supporting his well-known definition of truth and falsity: "To say of what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false, while to say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true, so that he who says of anything that it is, or that it is not, will say either what is true or what is false. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.