Philosophers, or scientists?

Aug 2013
956
Italy
In your opinion, forum members, were the Pre-Socratics true philosophers, true scientists, both, or neither? I think it's important to remember that neither philosophy nor formal scientific investigation had been established as disciplines in Greece before their time; so they initiated some novel concepts, perhaps not easy to fit into rigid categories...
 

David Vagamundo

Ad Honorem
Jan 2010
4,439
Atlanta, Georgia USA
I've always thought of science as something that grew out of philosophy. I'd say the Pre-Socratics were true philosophers but did not meet our modern criteria for being true scientists as most based their scientific notions on theory, not investigation.
 
Aug 2013
956
Italy
I've always thought of science as something that grew out of philosophy. I'd say the Pre-Socratics were true philosophers but did not meet our modern criteria for being true scientists as most based their scientific notions on theory, not investigation.
:)That's a good comment, David. They pondered on natural phenomena, as rationally they could; yet in general they did not take their hypothesizing a step further, investigating as Aristotle and Theophrastus did. Oh well, as I said, even the concept of scientific observation would have been quite novel in Greece in the Archaic Period, although the Pre-Socratics did lay the foundations for the more practical developments which came later.

I was wondering if philosophy might have grown out of science...Does that sound strange? Maybe; yet it is not such a big jump from speculation on first empirical causes to theories about a metaphysical/moral origin for physical existence...Personally I think that at least the seeds of philosophy were already present in the minds of these admirable pioneers, the Pre-Socratics.
 

stevev

Ad Honorem
Apr 2017
3,526
Las Vegas, NV USA
Today, there is some controversy over just what "science"is. The "hard sciences" are based on natural experiment such as physics, chemistry and increasingly biology and the life sciences. The "soft sciences" lack strong verification mechanisms but are still important since such data is needed for decision making: socialolgy, economics (despite its showy mathematics), psychology (despite its experimental form and math), meteorology (a natural science, but strictly based on observation and applied physics). There are sciences that apply fairly strong verifercation but are not experimental like geology.
 
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Apr 2017
306
The Ancient World
They were neither, although they do deserve some credit for their novel efforts of inquiry. We might call them men of learning and thinkers, but philosopher and scientist are bigger titles than they can have. Several of them travelled and studied in Egypt, the Near East and even Persia and brought back their learning in either a religious (Pythagoras) or irreligious (Thales) manner. Aristotle, whom I adore, believed that the Pre-Socratics committed many faults, but conceded (as I do) that they initiated the study of nature.
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
27,050
Italy, Lago Maggiore
There has been a kind of path of research in human history:

religion > philosophy > science

the borderline zones between a category and the other are not so well defined.

For example, also when religion dominated there were theologians, that is to say persons who tried and apply the rational thought to religious texts and beliefs.

Anyway generally we can say that while religion was based on faith [beliefs], philosophy begun to give the supremacy to the rational thought [and in this it was "scientific"], the problem for philosophy is that not always it had the possibility to be experimental and philosophers accepted solutions coming from the rational thought.

While, as for principal, a science is experimental and until something is not proved, it's a theoretical assumption. Also here we can see evident limits: some sciences can be only observational, so that someone prefer to call them "scientific doctrines" not exact sciences [typical case: economics].

On the other hand, there are applications of exact sciences which are only observational: when you apply physics to the cosmos [astrophysics] you cannot make an experiment, making two black holes collide, just to see if gravitational waves have generated by the collision!
 
Aug 2013
956
Italy
They were neither, although they do deserve some credit for their novel efforts of inquiry. We might call them men of learning and thinkers, but philosopher and scientist are bigger titles than they can have. Several of them travelled and studied in Egypt, the Near East and even Persia and brought back their learning in either a religious (Pythagoras) or irreligious (Thales) manner. Aristotle, whom I adore, believed that the Pre-Socratics committed many faults, but conceded (as I do) that they initiated the study of nature.
Thank you for your comment, Andronikos.

I am less familiar with ancient Egyptian, Babylonian and Phoenician culture than with Hellenic. Please let me know about scientific and philosophical achievement in Egypt and the Near East prior to the advent of the Pre-Socratics. In your opinion, what elements of early Greek research might have been derived from or influenced by Egypt and the East?

Persian scientific investigation must have begun at a quite early date. Zoroastrian sacred texts, although theologically based, explain natural phenomena with rational precision. The Bundahishn, for example, displays the various periods of creation in logical scientific order, which has been verified by modern research.
 
Apr 2017
306
The Ancient World
From Egypt, the knowledge of mathematics, particularly geometry, as well as medicine and surgery contributed to the early thinking of the Greeks. The Egyptians also left texts on literature, religion and history.

From Mesopotamia, the knowledge of astrology was borrowed by the Greeks. And perhaps from Zoroaster, as you point out, was taken the mixture of religious and rational system of explaining nature, which resembles that of Pythagoras. Indeed, in the biography of Pythagoras by Porphyry, it is boldly said that Zoroaster himself was the teacher of Pythagoras. But even if this statement is not exactly true, Pythagoras must have certainly learned under the Zoroastrians.

The Athenian Greeks in particular, because of their excellent form of government, borrowed this knowledge and transformed it into an advanced system of learning that exceeded the Egyptians and Mesopotamians in many cases.
 
Aug 2013
956
Italy
From Egypt, the knowledge of mathematics, particularly geometry, as well as medicine and surgery contributed to the early thinking of the Greeks. The Egyptians also left texts on literature, religion and history.

From Mesopotamia, the knowledge of astrology was borrowed by the Greeks. And perhaps from Zoroaster, as you point out, was taken the mixture of religious and rational system of explaining nature, which resembles that of Pythagoras. Indeed, in the biography of Pythagoras by Porphyry, it is boldly said that Zoroaster himself was the teacher of Pythagoras. But even if this statement is not exactly true, Pythagoras must have certainly learned under the Zoroastrians.

The Athenian Greeks in particular, because of their excellent form of government, borrowed this knowledge and transformed it into an advanced system of learning that exceeded the Egyptians and Mesopotamians in many cases.
What about astronomy? I think that the Babylonians made progress in this. The Egyptians, also, and the ancient Celts who were very keen on studying celestial phenomena...Celtic stone circles were often employed as observatories where stellar movement, solstices and equinoxes could be determined with precision.
 
Apr 2017
306
The Ancient World
What about astronomy? I think that the Babylonians made progress in this. The Egyptians, also, and the ancient Celts who were very keen on studying celestial phenomena...Celtic stone circles were often employed as observatories where stellar movement, solstices and equinoxes could be determined with precision.
Astronomy and astrology were one and the same in the ancient times. The Chaldeans of Mesopotamia, assimilated by the Babylonians, excelled in that science. Other ancient peoples studied astronomy and astrology, but probably without too much advancement, certainly less than the Chaldeans. We know that Cladius Ptolemaius of Alexandria, a famous Greek astrologer of the 2nd c. C.E., borrowed his knowledge from them and improved a little it.