Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The History of Civilization

Chapter Fifteen: The Advancement of Learning

As democracy and prosperity came to Greece through Pericles and the Athenian Empire, people had the leisure time and freedom to develop new ways of thinking. Great advances occurred during this period in medicine, science, and philosophy.

One important event in the history of Greek science was the rise of rational medicine. 
In the fifth century BC, medicine was mostly bound up with religion, and the treatment of disease was practiced by temple priests. Hippocrates and his followers rejected notions of miraculous cures, and gradually placed medicine on a rational basis. 

Hippocrates wrote at least four books on medicine, and gives thousands of case histories of patients, their symptoms, the treatment, and the final results.

Surgery was still mostly an unspecialized activity of general physicians, although the army had surgeons on its staff. A book called On the Heart, from the Hippocratic collection, describes the ventricles, blood vessels, and their valves. 

The state required no public examination of prospective doctors, but required satisfactory evidence of an apprenticeship. 
There were, of course, many quacks. Hippocrates raised the profession to a higher standard by his emphasis on medical ethics.

While Hippocrates made advances in medicine, Anaxagoras did the same in other secientific areas. He believed that the Sun was a red-hot rock, many times larger than Greece. The Moon, he said, receives its light reflected from the Sun, and is of all heavenly bodies the nearest to the Earth. He correctly explained that eclipses were caused through the interposition of the Earth, Sun, and Moon, and supposed that other planets besides Earth might support life.

Other revolutions of Anaxagoras include:

"Winds are due to ripples in the atmosphere caused by the heat of the Sun. Thunder is caused by the collision of clouds, and lightning by their friction."

"The quantity of matter never changes, but all forms begin and pass away; in time the mountains will become the sea."

Socrates was the first in a series of great philosophers who lived during this period. His method was simple: he asked for the definition of a large idea, then explained how the definition might be wrong or incomplete, leading the listener to a fuller definition. He believed it was important to consider both sides of a controversial subject. Today this system is called the Socratic Method.

The majority of Athenians looked at him with irritated suspicion. The orthodox in religion considered him a dangerous firebrand; for while he observed the amenities of the ancient faith, he rejected tradition, wished to subject every rule to the scrutiny of reason, and encouraged morality in the individual conscience rather than social custom. For this he was condemned to death by poisoning , but his emphasis on conscience as above the law became one of the cardinal tenets of Christianity.

Many cities (above all, Sparta) forbade the public consideration of philosophical problems, "on account of the jealousy and strife and profitless discussions to which they give rise." In spite of such laws, Greece developed a passion for philosophy and science which would remain unmatched until the Renaissance. Much of the knowledge discovered during this period remained the peak of advancement for over a thousand years, to modern times.

To be continued...

For my previous posts on The History of Civilization, click here.

1 comment:

BR♀TH♂R_S♥RR♥WS said...

In the case of Socrates, I can not figure why it is constantly suggested that all he did was argue definitions and conscience. He very politely and thoroughly and, gasp, publicly, on the street in front of witnesses, showed that those who claimed to KNOW something did not and those who were famous had nothing to be famous for as they did not have any more knowledge than those who they were famous among. He showed all their ignorance. Which is why he is famous for repeating "I know nothing", a self defense move. Having publicly shamed the rich and powerful over the years, he was tried at age 72, they being cowardly enough to hurt an old man! Socrates was "too honest" to be a politician and refused to become one. From him comes the notion of not being an unarmed philosopher and he was at least untouchable until he became 72. He insisted on Honesty and Knowledge as truly human endeavors.