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Greek Philosophy and Science in Ancient Greece

Thursday, 08 July 2010 09:42 Professor Emeritus 'I Futa Helu
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fheluThis Chapter is taken from "ART OF THE COMMUNITY:The People's Art" (2005) by Professor Emeritus Futa Helu of the

'Atenisi University in the Kingdom of Tonga (writtenunder the request of the UNESCO). I am one of his students, and I am very fortunate to learn from the wisdon of one of the very few genius philosophers of the 20th-21st century. I publish this Chapter as a memory of Helu's lasting academic works that are distilled in the minds of many of his 'Atenisi and Lo'auan students, and among countless scholars throughout Moana and worldwide. Helu just died in March 2010, and it was a privilege for me to attend, together with my other 'Atenisi and Lo'auan associates, and farwelled to his immortal body but celebrated his lasting academic contributions to civilizations, on the other hand - Siosiua F.Pouvalu Lafitani (aka.Tofua'ipangai).   




Chapter 1

Greek Philosophy and Science in Ancient Greece

The birth of philosophy and Science took place at the city of Miletos in Ionia a part of eastern ancient Greece neighbouring Aeolia, Caria etc. along that narrow coast of that seaboard of modern Western Turkey. That momentous occurrence happened from the last quarter of the seventh century to the beginning of the sixth. The first ancient Greek philosophers and men of science, three of them, all by birth Milesians. The first was Thales floruit 625 B.C., then the second Anaximander, fl. 610 B.C. and the third was Anaximenes fl. 585 B.C. They took their departure from myth (cosmogonies), old theologies, occult and rationalistic systems etc., which are explanation of the world in terms of human interests and social behaviour and requirements whereas the Milesians introduced the scientific tradition where facts are explained by other facts and so on. The Milesians were phusiologoi, who in addition to being phusigoi i.e. physicists who treated phusis, what is, created cosmologies i.e. theories of how things in the world are arranged and ordered at any point of time. We must say the Milesians created philosophy and science at the same time. Before the earliest Greek philosophers, older modes of thought ruled the minds and life of people. And those older modes of thought would be religion and myth (theology and cosmogony). In myth people were interested in origins of things where as in theology men were interested in the social order where certain social groupings or classes dominate one over another, etc., or to put it alternatively, that one social class sanctions others, so the sanctioned and the sanctioning could be both within society but according to religion the world i.e. the cosmos can only be sanctioned by something namely god that may be external to the world and it is of a different logical status. Similarly with the question of explanation. With regard to the world and god, the explained (the world) is cut off from the explaining (god). The new type of thinking called science introduced into the world by the Milesians could be expressed in this manner: facts can be explained by other facts i.e. the explanation in one situation can be the explained in another and different situation and vice versa. They therefore were phusiologoi. The most distinctive doctrine of the Milesians was an ardent search for the most basic form of material in the world, substance, which they believed the only thing which is real giving being to any and all. Thus the first man of science, Thales enunciated the epochal and unbelievable dictum "Everything is water!" And so, as referred to in the Preface of the book that only Greek culture focused on an insistent concern with things while all other World cultures started with god or gods, but Greek culture only opened its career in concern with things, the world and the grand intellectual result of that THE ART OF THE COMMUNITY 7

the Greek way of seeing the world". The second Milesian, Anaximanderwas a considerable genius and innovator. He introduced the concept of Opposites into Greek theory. His substance was To Apeiron i.e.. Boundless or Indefinite which he explained that opposites (which he said not things like Night and Day or Black and White) but opposed qualities of things e.g. cold and hot, wet and dry are all packed or combined together into one, the Boundless. Soon opposites would ‘break out’ in various parts of the Boundless and are separated all in different directions to be together and unified into the once again where in the whole process is repeated again and again. This feature of Anaximander’s theory – the process of separation of opposites or elements and their combination into Boundless once again forever remained throughout the changes and creation of new theories in philosophy and science up to the end of Greek philosophy and science in antiquity. The third and last of the Milesians was Anaximenes. He, like Thales, returned to a specific material Aer as substance of the World. He too produced opposed processes, and Condensation whose actions resulted in the world we experience.was Science of which the Scottish classical scholar, John Burnet, says, "is , combined apeiron Rarefaction

We can now add to the above that with the completion of the work of the third Milesian, the meaning of the idea of science and their theories we witness what is meant by science as originated by the ancient Greek philosophers, the Milesians. The first Milesian, and first man of science, Thales focused on water as being the substance which was the arche, the basis and source of everything. Thales gave two other two dicta viz. ‘The world floats on water’ and ‘The world is full of gods’. The first of Thales’ three dicta was formulated by Aristotle in this way ‘water is the material cause of the cosmos’, though Aristotle’s formulation is at variation with the real force of Thales’ first dictum. In the first, the concept of cause has no expressed form in Thales.

However, starting with the second Milesian, Anaximander, our story enters a new phase in the meaning of science. Anaximander propounded the to apeiron as his substance which forms the world. This Boundless or Indefinite is composed by opposites (opposed qualities e.g. hot and cold and wet and dry etc. In the Indefinite form the to apeiron is a unity, the world, but in time cracks or splits would break out in different parts of the Boundless and the opposites would be dispersed in all different directions but then the opposites would be recombined into a unit i.e. the Boundless or Indefinite and the process is repeated over and over again and again. We must take note of the entry of scientific thinking and its main principles: opposites, opposed processes (combination, separation), rhythmic process of the world or Boundless – a unity or system, then a dispersed form. Some similar pattern for early scientific thought was produced by 8 THE ART OF THE COMMUNITY

the third Milesian, Anaximenes: a return to a single specific substance, aer, an opposed process, rarefaction and condensation (separation, combination). The world is accomplished through the opposed process though because there is only one single substance, differences between things in such a world is only in terms of density. Thus science of meaning so far at this stage includes matter (substance), opposites, opposed processes or rhythm. At this stage, certain basic concepts had not been definitely formulated by the Milesians e.g. the principle of Force had to wait for the last phase of scientific theorising for the Sicilian Empedocles to fully formulate the concept of force in association with again of substance but in this case, there are four, earth, water, air and fire in which they are unified and dispersed by two opposed processes viz. Love and Strife that could be generalised as attractive and repulsive energies which are clearly exemplified in so many ways in the world, electricity, magnetism, nuclear etc. The Milesians therefore as well as the Pluralists now give prophetic power in their pre-socratic theories.

The grand upshot of Milesianism was the Milesians propounded MATTER as the first principle of science and the beginning of a mechanistic interpretation of the universe.

The second phase of our story belongs to Pythagoras. He was born in the island of Samos very close to Miletos and probably Pythagoras studied with some Milesian or under their influence somehow. Pythagoras migrated to Italy where he set up a school in the city of Crotona at the instep of the foot of Italy. He was the founder of scientific mathematics and like Anaximander, was a great genius and innovator. His floruit is usually taken to be 540 B.C. and he put forward the view that the essence of the kosmos is numerical and that only unit has being where none else has. Units are dispersed in different ways within patterns or networks where the units are separated or in between them by intervals or space. Networks where units and spaces united regarded as things with particular forms. Thus Pythagoras provided the second great principle of Greek Science, FORM, after Matter which was proposed by the Milesians. Interrelationships of units and spaces referred to forms or patterns as things regarded as having the number shown in the units in the thing or pattern concerned for units only have being whereas the intervals or spaces separating the units are unreal or in the realm of non-being.

Pythagoras’ teaching gave rise to three dualisms or paradoxes which stayed with subsequent Greek thinkers as a legacy from Pythagoras and Pythagoreans. The first dualism was that the world is a Many but the world is also a One or Unity. Secondly, the world is ruled by Change but it is also without Change whatever, and the third dualism, the Pythagoreans claimed that the cosmos is absolutely informed by Motion but it is THE ART OF THE COMMUNITY 9

also static and quite motionless. Then two extraordinary theorists each took a set of halves of the Pythagorean bequest and argued powerfully for each set. The first was Heraclitus of Ephesos, an Ionian who maintained that the World is plural, that movement is fully inherent at every point, and the soul of the universe is change such as Plato who was influenced by the Ephesian, said, panta rei i.e. everything flows. The other thinker, who looked at the Pythagorean tradition, was Parmenides. He was the direct opposite of Heraclitus, in mentality as well as doctrinally also. The Eleatics made contributions to Logic and dialectics but their Monism could not be developed in a fruitful way. On the contrary, modern science supports Heraclitus in almost all ways, and I take the Heraclitean general logical position to be the formal solution of all problems. The Heraclitean central logical position, I express as : All things, events etc. are infinitely complex.

Now our story takes a new and wonderful turn. The emergence of science through the work of the phusigoi and philosophers and continued from the late seventh century for nearly three centuries until the reaction of Socrates who changed the ancient philosophers’ stress on physical science to conduct and moral issues. Plato’s forte was political theory and mathematics while Aristotle effected an incorporation of all forms of inquiry which was the prelude to a New Science, modern science, most importantly experimental science.

The final chapter of our story of Presocratic philosophy and science features Parmenides and those who wanted to adapt or contradict him. He, in fact, took Pythagoreanism to its logical conclusion viz. that we cannot combine unity with plurality. A triumvirate of three philosophers now known as the Pluralists, Empedocles a Sicilian, Anaxagoras of Clazomenae, then lived in Athens and died at Lampsacus, and Leucippus of Miletos (and his pupil or associate Democritos of Abdera. They all wanted to meet and reply Parmenides’ that change and motion are impossible. All propounded not a single but a plurality of substances, which are brought together by some force and dispersed or separated again when the whole process is repeated over and again. For Empedocles his four substances were Earth, Water, Air and Fire and the forces acting on them were Love and Strife. It was him who formally erected Force as a basic Principle in Greek science. For Anaxagoras anything whatsoever could be the foundation or part of anything at all expedited by nous (mind). The last of the Pluralists was Leucippus of Miletus. He was the father of Atomism in which pieces of different sizes of substance divided or separated by the void in the manner units placed through networks or patterns of the Pythagoreans. All the Pluralists maintained that change could be found in some form which Parmenides regarded as impossible in terms of the Not-Being. Leucippus’ 10 THE ART OF THE COMMUNITY

reply was that the Void is just as the Full i.e. the Void was not is-not for the Eleatics absolutely denied substantial change. Atoms were indivisible, indestructible but enmeshed in eternal motion. The pluralists therefore completed the general requirements for working systems in a universe where the matters, forces and interrelations all set up for Science. Finally the Pluralists failed in their offensive against Parmenides because they took over what was weak in the Eleatic doctrine, the notion of an unchanging entity, the One, the atom, the element, but they rejected what was sound viz. we cannot have both unity and plurality.

Therefore the Greeks provided all the rudiments required for Science. At the very inception of ancient Greek philosophy and science, the Milesians provided especially substance i.e. matter and force through Anaximander to the Pluralists. But once Force is in place, comes Motion and then Time and everything else. With Heraclitus who clearly stated in one of his fragments that the world is Fire. That is the commonest and well-known embodiment of Energy for people, and so we can rephrase this great truth found by the Ephesian, we can really overhear Einstein’s amazing modern brain wave viz. matter is Energy whereas Heraclitus’ Everything is Fire (heat or Energy).

In terms of natural speculation, most ancient modes of thought e.g. myth, religion etc., took original condition of universe was darkness, chaos, or emptiness. Then matter arose, the entry of philosophy and science (Thales), then Anaximander held to apeiron to break out into opposites and reunited again etc. but breaking, separation of opposites etc., implied force which implies energy, but when force through energy would certainly lead to motion. But motion is the direct prelude to time which Greek myth says that chronos was the father of all things.

Greek science stayed from start to end on breaking up of matter into opposites and separated and recombined once again, through anticipation of concept of Force by Anaximander, formalised by the pluralists. But we can speak of two science attitudes, that of the Greeks, viz. division of matter and its unification by opposing processes, i.e. the Greeks stayed on their whole career in gravitational force (or energy) but in modern science we see employment of magnetic/electrical etc. forces (energies), where parts of matter thoroughly mixed through liquid and gaseous states. The Greeks were strong in maths, physics, astronomy, where matters are mixed lightly and dealt with by gravitational energy only, whereas they were weak in chemistry [cited in my book Herakleitos of Ephesos, 1995 Nukuʻalofa, ref. to B. Farrington, 1966 Baltimore]. Those two attitudes of science are: (1) focus on mathematics organised by gravitational energy and (2) the chemical attitude concentrating on deep, infinitely mixing organised by magnetic-electrical and other non gravitational energies.




Last Updated on Sunday, 22 August 2010 14:37

Nuama from Fonua and Maama

nuama globe

The title Nuama was derived from the Moanan-Tongan words 'fonua'/land/fulfillment and 'maama'/earth/light. Both words are weltanschauung, worldwide view to life or philosophy of life. Their are several implications of such words regarding the ways Moanan-Tongan people in ancient sociieties perceived the meanings and purposes of life generally. There are five different meanings of fonua in Tongan culture, and four connotations for maama, interrelating in a given social condition within the normal scheme of things in space (va), time (ta) and the categories ('uketo'iangama'u).  



Logo & Motto of Nuama of Moana

"EVERYTHING EXISTS IN MAAMA AND FONUA AS A RESULT OF MAAMA AND FONUA."  Maama and fonua in the first part point to earth and land, and second part stands for light and fulfillment.