Science and Philosophy Come to Italy

Wallace Matson

in Grand Theories and Everyday Beliefs

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780199812691
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199919420 | DOI:
Science and Philosophy Come to Italy

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Xenophanes of Colophon, who had “heard” Anaximander, brought Ionian science to Magna Graecia (Sicily and southern Italy) when he fled from the Persian invaders of his homeland. He made geological discoveries implying the cyclical nature of cosmic time. He denounced the Olympian religion as both silly and immoral. But he had his own conception of “one god”, who does not move, but moves everything else by “intelligent will-power:” the All of Thales, the immanent energy of the cosmos. Pythagoras, an immigrant from Samos to the same region at about the same time, carried mathematics to its highest point in antiquity with his famous Theorem. He set up the Brotherhood, a combination of research institute and religious order. He investigated natural science, notably in the application of mathematics to music, leading to the pronouncement that Things are Numbers. However, he introduced mystical and superstitious elements into his Grand Theory. Heraclitus of Ephesus, back in Ionia, criticized Pythagoras,reemphasizing the importance of unity and logos for the new way of thought. His choice of Fire as the basic stuff made immanent and unifying Energy the central scientific concept. Parmenides of Elea also began from criticism of Pythagoras. He made explicit the basic pair of distinctions in the theory of knowledge: necessity/contingency and a priori/a posteriori. He held that what necessary and a priori knowledge–mathematics-is about is Space, the eternal and unchanging reality; the things within that reality can be studied only by empirical methods: “mortal guesswork.” There can be no science, strictly speaking, of Nature. Hence his Grand Theory was a dualism. Empedocles of Acragas tried to vindicate Pythagoras's science by declaring that individual changing things are mixtures of four Roots, in themselves eternal and unchanging, hence fit objects of a priori knowledge.

Keywords: science; religion; energy; mathematics; music; number; necessary/contingent; a priori/a posteriori; space; root

Chapter.  6081 words. 

Subjects: History of Western Philosophy

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