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THE GREEK APPROACH THE ATOMISTS AND THE SCEPTICS

Aside from Plato there were two other schools that evolved from Socrates. Following the death of Alexander and Aristotle it was these schools, and derivatives from them, that gained in popularity. Whatever else can be said of Alexander, he did bring peace to a world that had never known it. Alexander's approach to governing resulted in a redefining of the world. When he conquered a community he took care that the culture of that community was maintained intact, particularly in the former Greek city-states. However, he acted as though he was a God. Perhaps he even believed himself one, for he never set up an order of ascendancy. Of course he was only thirty three when he died and every one knows when they are thirty three that they are going to live forever. Whether anyone other than himself believed in his divinity might be an unanswered question, in any case it was very much like the world had lost a God. These new schools, though they may not have denied the existence of the gods, had one thing in common, they made both the Gods and the Divine irrelevant, and they lost faith in their sources of truth.

Plato's philosophy, his idea of the good and the world of the forms came in a direct line from Pythagoras through Parmenides and Socrates and thus to Plato. Following the cue of Parmenides and in direct opposition to Hericlitus, Plato proposed a world separate from the world of our experience. This was the world of the forms and everything that existed derived its existence through participating in the forms. But Aristipus of Cyrene and Epicurus, though also pupils of Socrates, derived their theories from Democritus and the Atomists. The atomists taught that existing things were nothing but arrangements of atoms, hard bits of matter that differed only in size and shape. As a result, they believed that gods, though they existed, were not of any particular importance. This was simply because everything that existed, did so through essentially random arrangement. Aristipus and the Cyrenaics held therefore that the good is pleasure and virtue the art of calculating which course of action would result in the greatest balance of pleasure over pain.

Epicurus, on the other hand, while he made pleasure the good, and though he made his philosophy a fanatic opposition to religion, established a new concept of pleasure, a concept that was in one form or another to dominate Hellenistic philosophy, at least until Plotinus and the later neo-platonists. In a letter to Menoeceus, Epicurus said that both the young and the mature should pursue philosophy . "The latter to be rejuvenated as they age through the blessings they achieved from a pleasurable past. The former, in order to become mature through having no fear of the future."

Epicurus placed two preconditions on happiness. First, you should think of deity as imperishable and blessed being and not attribute to it anything foreign to its immortality or inconsistent with its blessedness. The irreligious man is not one who destroys the gods of the masses, he is the one who imposes the ideas of the masses on the gods. The second precondition, he said, was to accustom yourself to believing that death means nothing. Every good and every evil lies in sensation and death is nothing but a privation of sensation. Thus the mortal aspect of life becomes pleasurable not by conferring on us a boundless period of time but by removing the yearning for deathlessness. "There is nothing fearful in living:, He said, " for the person who has really laid hold of the fact that there is nothing fearful in not living."

While their approach to natural philosophy is not as important for our study of the mergence of Greek philosophy and Christian religion, it will become important again when we delve into the philosophy of science. A few comments might be of some help. Epicurus derived his natural philosophy directly from Democritus' purely mechanical picture of the universe. The things that we experience, Democritus said, we know only by convention, in reality all that exists is atoms and the void. There are an infinite number of atoms and the world too is infinite. Most important is that death means nothing but a dissolution of the arrangements of atoms. Because the soul is nothing but an arrangement of a special kind of atoms the soul disintegrates along with the body.

Antisthenes, founder of the second of those schools of thought that helped develop the Hellenic world, the Cynic tradition, was also a follower of Socrates. Socrates, he said, needed little of the pleasures of the body in order to make him content. It was from this Socratic attitude that cynicism drew its force. A later follower, Diogenes, called the best life the one that could get along with the least.

Alexander's march across Asia was bloody and unmerciful. As he went he settled new Greek cities bringing Greek culture along with him. But as he marched west he became more and more like those he conquered. He marched into India, but his armies would go no further. He had already married Roxana, a Bactrian princess. Still, his admiration for the Persian nobles grew to the point that at Susa in 324 he married Statira, daughter of Darius III and Parysatis, daughter of Ataraxes III, attaching himself to both branches of Persian royalty. On the same day eighty of his officers and thousands of his men took Persian wives. As he forced Greek culture east, he also introduced eastern ideas to the west.

As Alexander moved across Asia he always carried with him Greek court philosophers. One of these who was to become particularly important was a Greek from Ellis who had gone with Alexander to India where he became acquainted with the Indian Buddhists. He developed a brand of skepticism that lasted a half a millennium and has been revived in the twentieth century as the proper attitude toward science. This was Pyrrho from Ellis.

Pyrrho's background came from three directions. From Socrates through Phaedo's school in Ellis, from a friend who was a dedicated follower of Democritus, and from his contacts with the Buddhists in India. Mary Mills Patrick said that Pyrrho taught that to be happy one should consider these three things.

I. What is the origin of things?

II. What be should our attitude toward things?

III. What would be the result of this attitude?

What Pyrrohnic skepticism does is face squarely two of the most important problems of science and philosophy, truth and knowledge. As I have been maintaining since the beginning of this chapter one of the fundamental problems of the Hellenistic period was the source and meaning of truth. The mystics taught that truth could not be determined by reason, it required a different, super-rational experience. The Athenian Skeptics, on the other hand, claimed that truth could not be known at all. This is particularly understandable because the Greek idea of the final truth dealt with what Aristotle called the final cause, or the reason for a things existence. But the idea that one could never know truth was not acceptable to Pyrrho.

His answer was to challenge reason to search for the answer to the problem. He recommended three lines of action toward the ultimate realization of final truth.

i. Doubt explanations of things which naturally come to mind.

II. Think, consider, investigate.

III. Suspend judgment as to ultimate truth.

He called both the skeptics who claimed we could not know and the atomists who claimed we could dogmatists. He said that we can not even know if we can know or not. But this was not simply a rejection of dogmatism. This step was derived out of reason. Since we do not know things as they are, but only as they seem to us, nothing can be called good or bad by nature, but only through law or convention. Neither sense perception nor reason lead to truth or falsehood because what we learn from either is wholly related to the world of appearances. We suspend judgment on all theories of reality or philosophical systems. But we do so to doubt what we know and not to deny the possibility of knowing.

The natural result of this kind of skeptical doubt is a state of calmness and tranquility. Although it might not seem likely from what I have said about Pyrrho, he received the highest awards Alexandria could give a man in both religion and the arts. He was a severe moralist. He said that honor and shame and justice were measured only by the laws and customs of the people. He was renown for his modesty. He was never excited by the opinions of others, and he was never disturbed by sudden changes in legislation. Since he deemed virtue the only good he thought health, strength, riches, and worldly honors to be matters of total indifference.

Pyrrho's skepticism concerning final truths was particularly important to the rise of Hellenistic science. Astronomy in Greece was developed from Plato's rational description of the creation of the universe.

Such was the mind of God in the creation of time. The sun and the moon and five other stars, which are called planets, were created by him in order to distinguish and preserve the numbers of time; and when he had made their several bodies, he placed them in the orbits in which the circle of the other was revolving, in seven orbits seven stars. First, there was the moon in the orbit nearest the earth; then came the morning star and the star sacred to Hermes, moving in orbits which have an equal swiftness with the sun, but in an opposite direction; and this is the reason why the sun and Hermes and Lucifer overtake and are overtaken by each other. to enumerate the places he assigned the other stars, and to give all the reasons why he assigned them, although a secondary matter, would give more trouble than the primary. These things at some future time, when we are at leisure, may have the consideration which they deserve, but not at present.

Astronomy in Greece where the sky is mostly cloudy is very different from that in the Arabian desert. The Arabs had developed very extensive measurements concerning the movements of the stars and planets. there was never a question, for example, of a flat earth among the inhabitants of the desert. When Ptolemy developed his description of the universe he had access to this information and he found that the planets did not travel in the perfect orbits postulated by Plato. However, he made no attempt to rewrite the Timaeus. He plotted the planets and developed a description that had them traveling in small circles in addition the orbits suggested by Plato. This description did not conflict with Platonic concepts but left undeveloped the reasons why these smaller circles occurred. He was not concerned. Truth was not the concern of science, he said, but of the philosophers.