Explaining the Cosmos

Explaining the Cosmos: The Ionian Tradition of Scientific Philosophy

Daniel W. Graham
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 368
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7t2mb
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  • Book Info
    Explaining the Cosmos
    Book Description:

    Explaining the Cosmosis a major reinterpretation of Greek scientific thought before Socrates. Focusing on the scientific tradition of philosophy, Daniel Graham argues that Presocratic philosophy is not a mere patchwork of different schools and styles of thought. Rather, there is a discernible and unified Ionian tradition that dominates Presocratic debates. Graham rejects the common interpretation of the early Ionians as "material monists" and also the view of the later Ionians as desperately trying to save scientific philosophy from Parmenides' criticisms.

    In Graham's view, Parmenides plays a constructive role in shaping the scientific debates of the fifth century BC. Accordingly, the history of Presocratic philosophy can be seen not as a series of dialectical failures, but rather as a series of theoretical advances that led to empirical discoveries. Indeed, the Ionian tradition can be seen as the origin of the scientific conception of the world that we still hold today.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2745-9
    Subjects: Philosophy, History of Science & Technology, Astronomy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. ABBREVIATIONS AND BRIEF REFERENCES
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. 1 THE IONIAN PROGRAM
    (pp. 1-27)

    Today miletus is a mound rising above a flat plain dotted with olive trees. On the crest of the mound stands a Roman-era theater, and off to the east some stately marble facades line a swampy depression that is the remainder of a once proud seaport on the Aegean, from which little merchant ships sailed to far-off colonies in the Black Sea, the central Mediterranean, and the Nile laden withamphoraiof olive oil from the ancestors of today’s orchards. With her three harbors and a numerous progeny of daughter colonies, Miletus was the “jewel of Ionia,”¹ and she counted...

  6. 2 ANAXIMANDER’S PRINCIPLES
    (pp. 28-44)

    Anaximander stands at the beginning of the Ionian tradition. There is much we do not know about Anaximander’s theory. But we are fortunate to have a few valuable reports and, more important, one informative fragment from which we can glean at firsthand a few precious insights into the structure of Anaximander’s world and his way of explaining it. What is most important for our story, and most difficult, is to understand the principles of explanation in Anaximander’s theory.

    Most of what we need for a reconstruction of Anaximander’s theory comes from two texts as follows:¹

    After [Thales] Anaximander, who was...

  7. 3 ANAXIMENES’ THEORY OF CHANGE
    (pp. 45-84)

    The third philosopher from Miletus, Anaximenes is often thought of as the least interesting member of the school.¹ Thales is known for grand schemes and great predictions, Anaximander for his sweeping vision of cosmology and his daring concepts. Anaximenes retreats from the exotic boundless to prosaic air as a source, and eschews indifference as an account for the earth’s position in favor of a cushion of air. What Anaximenes is renowned for is his theory of change, which assigns a regular sequence of changes for air as well as a mechanism for action. Scholars have recently questioned even this relatively...

  8. 4 THE GENERATING SUBSTANCE THEORY AS AN EXPLANATORY HYPOTHESIS
    (pp. 85-112)

    We have isolated the Generating Substance Theory as a set of assumptions governing the construction of theories in Ionian science or philosophy. If GST has any value for understanding the development of philosophy and science, it will be as a model for understanding the world. What restrictions does it place on explanation? What are its advantages and disadvantages? In order to understand GST, we must look at it as a kind of guide to theorizing. In this chapter we shall examine, first the standards by which we must judge GST, then its advantages, and finally its disadvantages.

    Thus far we...

  9. 5 HERACLITUS’S CRITICISM OF IONIAN PHILOSOPHY
    (pp. 113-147)

    Of the early ionian philosophers Heraclitus is the most dif-ficult to categorize and evaluate. He is seen either as just another Ionian philosopher with a newarcheto promote, or as a radical critic of the establishment who defies not only the conventions of his Ionian forebears but also the laws of logic as well—that is, as either very conventional or very radical. Although he makes radical pronouncements, some of his views seem strictly in keeping with Ionian physics; although aspects of his theory seem conventionally Ionian, he seems to draw radical conclusions from that theory. In this chapter...

  10. 6 PARMENIDES’ CRITICISM OF IONIAN PHILOSOPHY
    (pp. 148-185)

    What connection,if any, there is between Heraclitus and Parmenides has long been disputed¹. Of the four a priori possibilities: (a) that Parmenides influenced Heraclitus, (b) that Heraclitus influenced Parmenides, (c) that the two did not know or acknowledge each other, and (d) that they are influenced by a common source, only (b) and (c) seem likely. For, contra (a), Heraclitus likes to abuse his predecessors², and, contra (d), he tends to radically rework the material he inherits³. There have been, and continue to be, proponents of both (b) and (c). 4 While it seems attractive in some ways to dodge...

  11. 7 ANAXAGORAS AND EMPEDOCLES ELEATIC PLURALISTS
    (pp. 186-223)

    A new style of scientific theory appears after Parmenides. Anaxagoras, Empedocles, and later the atomists account for natural phenomena by appealing not to some single primeval substance that generates all things, but to some set of permanent substances that interact in such a way that all things arise from them. The set of substances always consists of a plurality; hence the new practitioners of cosmology are known as pluralists. They also continue to pursue the aims and ends of earlier Ionian philosophy. Hence they have been called neo-Ionians.¹ What accounts for the new style of explanation, how does it build...

  12. 8 THE ELEMENTAL SUBSTANCE THEORY AS AN EXPLANATORY HYPOTHESIS
    (pp. 224-249)

    We have seen that the neo-Ionians can be said to share a common conception of what it is to explain the natural world: they both accept the Elemental Substance Theory (EST). We must now see what formal claims are made by the theory and how it relates to other theories we have studied.

    We may see EST as comprising several principles, which I number for comparison with GST:

    1. There is a set of substances {Ei} which are the basic substances.

    2. The Ei are permanent existences.

    a. The Ei are (i) without coming to be and perishing, (ii) all...

  13. 9 THE ATOMIST REFORM
    (pp. 250-276)

    The atomists, Leucippus and Democritus, belong to a second generation of pluralists. Unlike Empedocles and Anaxagoras, who can be taken to be enthusiastic followers of Parmenides, they are aware of strong Eleatic criticisms of the scientific project. Aristotle reads Leucippus as responding to the arguments of Zeno and Melissus, and his interpretation on this point seems plausible.¹ Yet atomism retains a good deal of the Eleatic program as well as of the Ionian project. How are they able to reconcile the two apparently hostile theories? And do they have a good philosophical justification for the moves that they make? Although...

  14. 10 DIOGENES OF APOLLONIA AND MATERIAL MONISM
    (pp. 277-293)

    We have come almost to the end of the story, and yet there remains one problem that we have not addressed. Where did the notion of Material Monism that is so prominent in Aristotle and the doxographical tradition arise, if not from the early Ionians? How did it come to be so prominent in the historiography of early philosophy without its being an important feature of that philosophy? Could it really be only a mirage? Certainly Aristotle did not invent Material Monism. By taking a closer look at the appearance of MM, we can form a clearer picture of how...

  15. 11 THE IONIAN LEGACY
    (pp. 294-308)

    We have come to the end of a long story. We have seen that there are two major systems of explanation to be found among the Presocratics: the Generating Substance Theory of the sixth century BC, and the Elemental Substance Theory of the fifth. But what implications does this fact have for our understanding of Presocratic philosophy as a whole, and for the origins of critical and scientific thinking in the West?

    According to GST, a single stuff, the generating substance, changes into all other stuffs. As it changes, it ceases to be what it was and becomes something new:...

  16. REFERENCES
    (pp. 309-326)
  17. INDEX LOCORUM
    (pp. 327-336)
  18. GENERAL INDEX
    (pp. 337-344)