Classical Greek Essay

1975 words - 8 pages

The Classical Period In Greek Art & PhilosophyAdapted from Charles Van Doren's A History of Knowledge and Marilyn Stokstad's Art HistoryThales and the Greek explosionThere is no evidence that Greek was a written language prior to the middle of the eighth century BC. Suddenly, with the importation of papyrus, Greek written materials began to be produced, and commercial records and treatises on technical subjects began to be distributed throughout the Greek world. The center of this activity was the city Miletus, in what is now Southwestern Turkey, which gained a reputation not only for a commercial power but also as a source of inventions and ideas.Around 625 BC, a man was born in Miletus who was uniquely capable of taking advantage of the special opportunities afforded by his native city. Very little is known about Thales: he was revered, first by Greeks and then Romans; he was supposed to have discovered some of the theorems of the first book of Euclid's Elements; and he was said to have predicted an eclipse of the sun in the year 585 and if so he may have been the first person to foresee this phenomenon. But according to ancient commentators, Thales was best known for being the first thinker to propose a single universal principle of the material universe, a unique substratum that, itself unchanging, underlay all change. Thales recognized that simply naming something doesn't solve the philosophical problem of how that thing can retain a single identity even when its physical properties are altered far beyond the thing's original state. Changes occur constantly. Is there one primordial thing that underlies all this change? And is there one thing that remains the same when everything else is different from one moment, or one eon, to the next? The commentators agree that Thales chose for his substratum, his unchanging property or first principle, water.If one had to name one substance as a substratum, water is not a bad candidate (water is a universal solvent, and in its liquidness it is perpetually mutable, and when heated it becomes a gas and when frozen, a solid); but whether it is a good candidate or not, Thales was performing a significant mental feat by proposing that a single physical entity, or element, underlay all the different things in the world. His doing so showed that he had come to understand the world in a new way. Thales had done two remarkable things:He had not resorted to animistic explanations for what happens in the world. That is, he had not explained the otherwise unexplainable by saying: "I do not know why this happens, and therefore I will assume that the gods made it happen."He had made the extraordinary assumption that the world-the cosmos-was a thing whose workings the human mind can understand.The world that Thales attempted to understand and explain consisted of the material cosmos, the sensible universe, but it did not include the minds of other persons. Thus he was not only the first scientist; he was the first...

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