POST-CLASSICAL  SCIENCE:   AN  OVERVIEW

 



I.  Alexandrian-Hellenistic Science
A.  The Museum of Alexandria and the institutionalization of knowledge.
1.  Center of Classical research which provided the beginnings of institutional science.

2.  Emphasis placed on scholarship and textual criticism.

3.  Strong neo-platonic bent (that is, more mystical interpretation of Plato)

4.  Important scientific thinkers.

a.  Ptolemy:  synthesis of mathematical-observational astronomy.

b.  Diophantus:  development of algebra.

c.  Galen:  medical thought, anatomy, physiology.

II.  Roman Science
A.  A rather superfical record-keeping encyclopedic tradition (pliny, Seneca, Boethius, Varro, etc.).

B.  A dilettantish approach to Greek science among the elite, typified by handbooks dealing only with the product of Greek inquiry; emphasis on rhetoric.

C.  Lack of origional scientific-philosophic though.

D.  Some translations to Latin of Greek mathematics and Aristotelian metaphysics (Boethius).

E.  Emphesis was on technology:  aquaducts, water wheel (Vitruvius), military applications, agriculture.

F.  Apparently no conscious decision to apply scientific thought and knowledge to social problems accompanied this technology.

III.  Science in the Arabic World
A.  Arabic Science:  intelligent continuation of the Greek model.
1.  Unlike Alexandrian science, tendancy was toward Aristotle.

2.  Major efforts:  medicine, mathematics, and astronomy, refinement of uses of algebra.

3.  Major contribution of Arabs was transmission of Aristotelian corpus to Christian West.

B.Translation of Greek Science.
1. Before 900 A.D., basically a period of translating activity rather than original thought.

2. School at Jundishapur, founded 428 by Christians; originally a medical school; in the sixth century became a center for translation of Greek works.

3. Hunayn ibn Ishaq (c. 850): translations of Galen, Ptolemy's astronomy, Euclid's geometry, other technical treatises.

C.Mathematics.
1. Major Islamic interest was algebra, with some trigonometry and geometry.

2. Used Babylonian and Greek sources, especially Diophantus and Euclid.

3. 6th c. Hindu mathematical sources: Suddhanta, Aryabbata; "Arabic" numerals were introduced from India.

4. al-Khwarizmi (early 9th c.): began process of algebraization (al-jabr), introduced Indian mathematics to Arabic world.

D.Astronomy.
1. Observatory at Baghdad established 9th c. (Thabit ibn Quarra).

2. Astronomical observations carried out at Samarkand; astronomical tables compiled.

3. Moorish Spain was also a center of astronomical studies.

4. Islam elaborated and revised Ptolemaic astronomy and compiled new astronomical tables. Astrology was closely tied to astronomy, alchemy to astrological-astronomical interests.

E.Medicine.
1. Al-Razi (Rhazes), ca. 900: comprehensive medical treatises.

2. Avicenna: Canon on medicine. Commentaries on Aristotle and Plato.

3. Al-Jabir (Geber), late 8th-early 9th c.: medical works and alchemy.

4. Ibn Nafis (13th c.): Could not find Galen's septa in the heart and proposed another scheme for circulation of the blood.

5. Alchemy was also connected to medicine.

F.Alchemy.
1. Islam took over the alchemical tradition from the laboratories at Alexandria.

2. Hermes Trismegistes: supposed author of a body of mystical-alchemical writings, identified with the Egyptian god Mercury (Hermes; Thoth; Moses); gave rise to the Hermetic tradition in alchemy.

3. The mystical philosophy of "all is one" led to attempts to transmute one substance to another, especially to gold; also the four-element theory of the Greeks allowed for the transformation of one element to another, or differing combinations of the elements.

4. Alchemy also represents a philosophic search for interrelatedness, unity, coherence .

5. Idea of an elixer, a magical medicine that would cure anything and everything.

6. The period from 900-1100 was one of writing commentaries with little original thought, as compared to the earlier period which emphasized translation alone; Averroes (12th c.) the Commentator on Aristotle, added neo-Platonic elements to Aristotelian thought; but in general Arabic sciences tended to concentrate on aspects of Greek learning that were of practical value, especially mathematics, astronomy, medicine.

IV. Ancient, Medieval, and Renaissance Technology
A.Technological development remained largely independent of science until the l9th century.

B.Early Technology.

1. Developed at a much earlier date than the philosophical speculation of the classical world.

2. Broad scope of technological development involving increasingly sophisticated processes; for example, metallurgical art for tools, weapons, and objects of art.

3. Generated an artisian-craftsman class which would not come to any semblance of power until the late middle ages.

C.Greco-Roman Technology: The Question of Power.
1. Greek approach: mechanistic inventions were not connected as a power source; technological speculation was not directed to practical applications, for example, Hero of Alexandria's "toy" steam engine.

2. Roman approach: practicallity becomes the dominate factor in attempts to devise new power sources. This new approach would continue into the Christian West with certain social, religious, and technical developments which, it is argued, brought about the Renaissance search for power through technology.

D.Medieval Technology: The Feudal-Manorial System.
1. Period of innovation extending from 6th-9th centuries with general application 1 1 th- 1 2th centuries.
a. Agricultural innovations: iron plough, 3-field rotational system, harnessed horsepower, etc.

b. Military innovations: use of the horse, hardened iron, stirrups, etc.

2. Attitude change occasioned by technological innovation and Christian theology.
a. Development of a manipulative and dominating attitude toward nature with respect given to the ethic of hard work.

b. Monastic combination of the ideal of meditation and labor, for example, the Benedictine rule.

E.Renaissance Technology: The Search for Power.
1. Renewed appreciation of and search for mechanical power.

2. Greater diversification of approaches to and control of the natural world, for example, clock mechanisms, printing, and resulting psychological changes.

V.   Scholasticism & Medieval Universities
A.Philosophy.
1. Until the 12th century, medieval philosophy was basically neo-Platonic, loosely reconciled with Christian theology.
a. Patristic doctrines of late Roman period: Tertullian, St. Augustine; philosophy regarded as subservient to theology.

b. Boethius (late 5th to early 6th c.): translations and commentaries on Aristotle's logical works; ConsolationofPhilosophy.

2. During the 12th century Aristotle's natural philosophy was transmitted from the Islamic World.
a. Spain became a center of translation from Arabic to Latin, especially at Toledo by Gerard of Cremona.

b. Aristotle was incorporated into the medieval philosophical-theological tradition, especially in the writings of Thomas Aquinas.

3. The problem of Universals: Do abstract qualities or essences associated with groups of individuals have existence outside of material things? Rosellinus (Roscelin), early 12th c.; William of Champeaux, early 12th c.; Peter Abelard, 12th c.

4. William of Occam (early 14th c.): Nominalism: only individual, material objects can be known; the mind cannot abstract essences from a material thing. There is no such thing as a Universal: the essential tenet of Nominalism.

5. The Scholastic tradition.

a. Characterized by logical debates and presentations, using a method of contrast, similar to that established by Abelard's Sic et Non.

b. Based largely on Aristotle.

c. A very structured, logical, textual approach to questions of natural philosophy, rather than an approach to Nature itself.

B.Medieval Universities.
1. The Universities grew out of the late 11th century.

2. Church organization of the medieval universities (Aristotle; Christian theology; Latin discourse; uniform curriculum) provided a high degree of standardization and allowed mobility from one university to another for teachers and students.

3. 'Undergraduate' curriculum centered on the Seven Liberal Arts.

a. Trivium (verbal): grammar, rhetoric, logic.

b. Quadrivium (mathematical): arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, music.

c. Logic and natural philosophy were Aristotelian, geometry was Euclidian, astronomy was Ptolemaic (or simplified by Sacrobosco)

4. The Universities originated as professional training centers.
a. Salerno (the first university): Medicine.

b. Bologna: Law.

c. Paris (arose from the cathedral school): Theology.

d. Oxford (especially Merton College): Mathematics.

e. Oxford and Paris became the leading European universities.

VI. Medieval Physics: General
A.The science of motion is the core of medieval physical thought.
1. Worked within the classical framework of a logical qualitative approach to mechanical problems, especially the approach suggested by Aristotle.

2. Sought to clarify the formulation of problems surrounding motion such that questions could be posed and answered.

3. Primarily a logical exercise in mechanics with little empirical investigation.

4. Argument by analogy from theology and philosophy.

B.Medieval dynamics and Impetus theory.
1. Weak point of Aristotelian science was its discussion of motion, for example, the necessity of a constant, external agent to account for motion.

2. Medieval discussion of dynamics centered on this problem of the cause of motion and its expression in terms of impetus.

C.  11th to 13th Centuries.
1. Confined to translation of, and commentaries on, Aristotelian works.

2. Most of Aristotle's physical concepts accepted without serious criticism.

3. Thomas Aquinas baptized Aristotelian cosmology into Christian framework.

D.14th Century Scholastics.
1. Critical approach to Aristotle.

2. Preoccupied with logic of terms and propositions, that is:

a. What does Aristotle mean when he says that the velocity of a moving object is directly proportional to the force and inversely proportional to the resistance?

b. Is this law or proposition logically valid?

3. Debated idea of matter and form. Questions include:
a. Does Aristotle's forms (or essences) have existence independent of the imagination?
1. Nominalists, against Aristotelians and Platonists, argued in the negative. Forms are only a product of the imagination.

2. Above position has been interpreted as the shift from the idea that science should look for the 'nature' of things (that is, essence) to the idea that science is a discipline whereby one talks or writes about natural phenomena more accurately (that is, the linguistic study of scientific propositions to determine their logical validity).

b. Is the intention and remission of forms (the change in intensity of such qualities as heat, motion, faith, goodness, etc. ) a fluent form of a flux of forms?
1. Notice that motion is thought of as a quality.

2. Flux of forms = idea of change as a series of states.

3.Fluent form = idea of change as a state in its own right.

E.Scholasticism and Medieval Physics.
1. Scholastic preoccupation with terms led to classification of physics into kinematics and dynamics.
a. Kinematics: descriptive (quantitative) account of motion apart from its causes.

b. Dynamics: causal (qualitative) account of motion.

2. Dynamics and the concept of Impetus: Jean Buridan.
a. Aristotle's Physics stated that a continuous external agent was required. (All motion requires a mover.)

b. Buridan argued that motion could be better explained by the idea of an original impetus imparted on a projectile.

1. Idea similar to that of John Philoponus (600 A.D.).

2. Impetus, once imparted on a projectile, keeps it in motion.

3. Decrease in acceleration explained by decrease of strength of impetus owing to resistence of the medium.

4. Is concept of impetus similar to modern concept of inertia?

c. Buridan further speculated that God may have impressed an original impetus on the celestial spheres which, once imparted, kept the spheres in continuous motion since there is no resistence in the heavens to sap the strength of the originally imparted impetus.

d. Possible implications of Buridan's speculations:

1. Would make unnecessary the supposition that the celestial bodies were made of a special element (that is, Aristotle's quintessence or fifth element) which could move only with circular motion.

2. Could rid heavens of the spirits and intelligences which Aristotle introduced to account for the sphere's movements. (More mechanical view of the universe?)

3. Made less distinct the Aristotelian dichotomy between terrestrial and celestial physics. Motion on earth and heavens could be accounted for by the same idea.

a. Celestial: impetus + no resistance = uniform continuous motion. (However, does not explain circular motion.)

b. Terrestrial: impetus + resistance accounts for acceleration and deceleration of motion on earth.

3. Medieval Kinematics.
a. Attempted clarification of concepts of velocity, resistance, etc.

b. Classification of different kinds of motion.

1. Uniform motion.

2. Diform motion (accelerated motion).

3. Uniform diform motion (uniformly accelerated motion).

4. Diform diform motion (nonuniform accelerated motion).

c. Debate concerning motion as a flux of forms or as a fluent form.
1. Occam (Ockham): motion is a flux of forms (series of states).

2. Others argued that motion was a fluent form (that is, a state).

d. Consideration of motion as a state in itself rather than a series of integral states made possible speculation on the relations between various factors involved in motion. Whereas Aristotle had preferred to compare speeds to speeds, forces to forces, and resistances to resistances, scholastics like Buridan, Thomas Bradwardine, and Nicole Oresme attempted to make explicit statements on the relationship between all of these factors.
1.Thomas Bradwardine: Attempted what seems to be one of the earliest efforts to use algebraic functions to describe motion; to show how the dependent variable, v (velocity) was related to the two independent variables: f (force) and r (resistance). Although the function he came up with was incorrect, Bradwardine had formulated the Aristotelian 'law of motion' metrically as a function so that it could be quantitatively refuted.

2.Nicole Oresme: Attacked the problem of accelerated motion (and variation of other 'qualities') by graphic constructions. Treatment of kinematic problems (as with Bradwardine) were posed as imaginary possibilities for theoretical analysis and without empirical application.

e.  Discussion of motion by scholastics was part of much more general debate (the intension and remission of forms).
1. Essentially logical exercises.

2. No application of theories to practical situations.

3. Could not break out of Aristotelian framework.

VII.   Medieval Astronomy
A.Amalgamation of Classical Conceptions of the Heavens.
1. Aristotelian system: provided a spherical, physical model compatible with medieval physics.
a. Earth conceived as a material point at center of concentric, quintessential spheres.

b. Idea of quintessential spheres was later replaced by common concept of solid, transparent crystalline spheres.

c. Superimposed spheres account for perfect, circular motion.

2. Ptolemaic view: provided a nonobservational, mathematical model which would 'save the phenomena' or 'save the appearances'.
a. The mathematical treatment of Ptolemy gave a better description than the Aristotelian model.

b. Ptolemaic system was used by professional, mathematical astronomers rather than the Aristotelian, cosmological model.

B.Medieval Approach to Astronomy.
1. Popularization and extension of the Ptolemaic, computational tables coupled with an attempt to refine Ptolemy.

2. Aristotelian metaphysical approach was combined with Christian theology which gave the medieval world a comprehensive cosmological picture, for example, Aquinas and Dante.

3. Revival of a mystical, Platonic approach in the 15th century.

a. Platonic-Pythagorean doctrines of order, harmony, simplicity, balance, proportion, etc. were more in conformity with Ptolemaic geometrical model than Aristotelian cosmology.

b. Revival of Platonism in the late middle ages and Renaissance provided alternate cosmological system for those thinkers dissatisfied with the inconsistencies and precictive limitations of the Aristotelian cosmos.




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