Sunday, August 27, 2006


Wisdom’s End

As you are aware, one of the goals of this blog is to explain how, in the modern era, we have ended up with two separate and in many cases diametrically opposed disciplines that claim to expand human understanding. Thus far we have shown that with the ancient Greeks, the two were for the most part still considered one. In contrast to this, we have found that by Newton's time, that the two have for the most part had become separate. Therefore, we can surmise that the shift occurred between these two periods. So perhaps we should then look to what has happened in between. As we know the civilization that in effect absorbed and then for the most part adopted that of the Greeks, was the Romans and their empire. The Roman empire initially began by first conquering the Greeks and thereafter in essence took for there own both their philosophy and religion. The Romans however were more ambitious as to their acquisition of influence and thereby territory. To aid them in thier endeavor, they employed Greek science put into practice to facilitate this.

Science, put into practice in the modern definition is technology. Now the narrow view of technology, is thought by many, to be simply engineering. Which is often in turn described as applied science. I submit that in the Roman case and even more poignantly our own, this is far too narrow a view. I would contend that when science is considered to be the practical basis for ones society, it tends to effect and hence shapes all aspects of human endeavor. Now for the Romans, at the outset, they incorporated the Greek ideas in a more holistic sense, as the Greeks themselves had for the most part. Where the expansion of human understanding was taken in the spirit of the exploration of nature and its design, as to how it applied not only to man, but the world as a whole. From this perspective they could form their society on what could be perceived as natural principles. The Greeks viewed things from the perspective of introspection, where this introspection would lead to virtuous individuals that would then form themselves into a thus virtuous society or state. Socrates often was contended to have proclaimed:

"Know thyself,"
To extend this in terms of society as a whole he was known to insist:

"the unexamined life is not worth living."
At the beginning with the adoption of these ideas, the Romans, more or less, mirrored the aspirations of the Greeks. However, later on, when ambitions for Rome extended beyond the Greek concept of city state, to expand to empire, the view and therefore the methods changed. along with the course and thereby the destiny of their society. To accomplish this expansion, the Romans turned away from the Greek ideals that philosophy served to expand the understanding of nature, to focus more on its practical application, in the service of man. Also, what started out as the semblance of a democratic social order, in the service of its citizenry, transformed into a dictatorial system, in the service of empire building. This in turn, inevitably lead to forces of discontent from both inside and out to question the basis of the very authority of Rome. One of these primary forces were manifest in a new emerging philosophy and that was Christianity. In the spirit of the history of Rome when they found one could not destroy a thing, one then incorporates it. This was the case with Christianity. At first emperor Constantine admitted its followers freedom of practice, returned confiscated property and gave land and tax free status to the new founded church. Later emperor Theodosius made it the official religion and banned all others with the closing of what he declared the pagan temples. The last stroke was that of emperor Justinian, in 529 A.D., with his order closing the last of the Greek schools of philosophy at Athens and the banning of such studies.

So how, you might ask, did this act to serve Rome or rather its rulers? From my viewpoint, forces inside the empire started to question the authority of the emperors. For it did not appear to serve the people, as it had once with the long past democratic system. This authority was brought further into question, since the new budding philosophy professed the equality of all men in the eyes of their creator. How then were the rulers going to maintain control in the face of this? The solution, adopt the new philosophy, bane the others and thereafter claim that their authority was given to them by this new God himself. This concept which became tradition has continued to this day and has even been incorporated into the newly created democracies in one guise or another.

Now I don't want you to take me wrong, for I have no political agenda in all this. Nor am I attempting to lay blame on the Christian or any other related philosophy. My sole intent is to set up the context and background as to how and why this split occurred between science and philosophy. For what I contend is, that with the banning of Greek philosophy and methods, for political ends, is what effectively began the then slow process as to what manifested itself into the roles of science and philosophy as observed today. Essentially, this policy, at first halted the expansion of understanding, in philosophic terms, as defined by the Greeks and along with it much of the knowledge gained. Also, it created a tension that would force any new emergence of renewal of such, to avoid conflicting with the new religious philosophy, in terms of its authority. Primarily what I'm referring to, is any aspect that might serve to address the question "why", beyond what this new philosophy so dictated.

In future posts, we will expand on all this, to discover how this new face of science emerged in the early years. We will also find, that ironically the very philosophy that in effect became the instrument used (or more properly misused), as reason to banish the old philosophies became the depository and keeper of this then forbidden wisdom. We will learn of the early practitioners, as to from whence they came and what they did in terms of expansion of human understanding. We will discover the limits placed on them and how this in turn served to shape our modern concept of science. However, for now all of this must wait to be explained in upcoming entries.

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