Saving the appearances
Midweek it’s always nice to peek at where the sciences are growing: pointing us to newly discovered phenomena, describing innovative tools of exploration, and developing theories to explain how the parts fit into the whole. Such is the ongoing, perpetual work of the sciences, an integral part of any coherent classical education.
As such, it’s good to remember that the ancient (Greek) origins of science emphasized the theoretical orientation of man as observer and knower of the cosmos. Nearly to a fault, the ancients were biased against technological advancements. As David Hicks’s explains in Norms & Nobility (1999), the ancients had “no concept of material progress or of prosperity triggered by technology.” They clearly had no eyes for the new-new nanotechnology, as we moderns do.
But, the ancients did have the imagination to see that human beings were simultaneously part of the physical world–flesh and blood with five senses–while somehow also being above the material world, with their capacity to reason and understand the inherent order of the universe. The Greek understanding of human nature as rational, logical, even mythopoeic inspired their pursuit of mathematics–rising above “a squalid commercial level,” as Marrou put it–and launched their scientific studies of nature–which, in time, have produced untold benefits for the human race.
All because those “Milesian Greeks were the first to develop an abstract, rational system of inquiry independent of practical concerns.” As Hicks’ explains, “[m]an became conscious of a comprehensible logic at work in himself and in the world around him.” And, that has made all the difference!
If you’re interested in learning what Hicks has been up to lately, check out this Circe Institute interview from 2019 where he describes his new translation of Plutarch’s Lives.
In any case, let us know what you think of Hicks et al. in the comment section below.