History of Scientific Thought


Historyof Scientific Thought


According to the classical Greeks, a variety of nature can be brokendown into four basic elements: air, water, earth and fire. Thissystemized classification satisfied the minds of the Greeks, but thefact that one element can be changed into another developed a problemfor the taxonomic ordering. Therefore, an investigation into basicelements begun. If it were that none of these basic elementstransformed into another, the taxonomic ordering would not havegenerated any problem. Thales was the first systematic thinker whoinitiated a series of speculation concerning the nature of the world.The classical thinkers of Miletus, Pre-Socratics were interested ininvestigating the matter and defining change. These Pre-Socraticswere propelled by questions such as: what is the basic substance ofnature? What ingredients go to form objects of the natural world?What process are accountable for the transformations in the world?What agencies control these changes? The Pre-Socratic sought toanswer these questions by developing a various hypothesis in theeffort to unravel these problems. However, their assumptions wereconnected. The paper seeks to examine the connection inPre-Socratics’ ideologies regarding substance and form.

Thales argued thatthe basic element is water, from which other elements such as air,earth and water form. He considers water as basic because it iswidely spread in nature and plays a significant role in most familiarnatural processes. Besides, water occurs in many forms. Seasonalcycles and weather are all connected to water. Water is involved inthe lives of animate beings such as plant, animals, human beings aswell as inanimate beings. Thales perceived water to be a basicsubstance since it occurs in the solid, liquid and gaseous state.Besides, it is colorless, tasteless, transparent and lack a constantshape. It can also take any taste, shape and color.

Thales notion ofwater as a basic element shades more light on the assumptions behindhis thinking. Thales ideas propelled thinkers to think that adeterminate should be explored in the context of the indeterminate,its opposite. In this context, Thales argument suggests that if abasic stuff has qualities, it stands in need of an explanation,therefore, it cannot itself be an explained reason. This was thebasis of Anaximander (611-557 B.C.) and Plato objection againstThales arguments. Anaximander’s argument is that different kind ofmatter are opposed to one another, and alternates between hot andcold, dry and wet and are at par. If all things contained water, thenthey must be predominantly wet. Therefore, Anaximander rejects wateras the basic element and suggests that a basic element should beentirely characterless. According to him, the indefinite secretedwater. His process of secretion is as follows: from the indefinite,all substances in a period are separated out by opposite qualities.The first substance was the heat and the cold which weredifferentiated to give rise to earth, fire, and air. Anaximanderappears to be more abstract the Thales, who chose water explanatoryprinciple. The opposite proposed by Anaximander swing like a pendulumfrom hot to cold, from wet, to dry to provide seasons of the year.

Anaximenes (588-524B.C), Anaximander’s student, rejected both his teacher’s proposaland Thales’s basic substance water, by suggesting Air in its place.Anaximenes believed that Air in being odorless, colorless, andinvisible and in its pure form could be a basic element. According tohis argument, when the inherent opposites in a kind of equilibriumstate, the air becomes invisible and pure. The effects ofAnaximander’s heat and cold, wet and dry makes the air visible.Therefore developed a solution to the problem of change in the mostsignificant way that his hypothesis has been retained up to date. Hishypothesis is that rarefaction of air leads to the development offire, while condensation of air results in clouds, water, the wind,and stone or earth with increased level of condensation.

Aristotledistinguishes motion into four dimensions: coming into existence andpassing away changing the qualities of a thing decrease andincrease of quantity and change of place. The coming into being andthe passing way is connected to substantial change while the otherthree are accidental. For Aristotle, the problem of motion is ofinanimate matters. The soul is the critical principle of animatematters as well as a principle of motion since they drift in theirown effort. Aristotle classifies motion of inanimate matters asforced and natural. This concept applies to celestial bodies, whichby their nature develop uniform circular motions. The falling ofstones on earth and rising of air are two instances of natural motionwhile a stone thrown or an arrow propelled in any direction is aninstance of enforced motion. The earth has it natural location at thecenter of the universe (Earth) and fire at the center of the earth.Aristotle`s notion is founded on the Greek’s classification of thefour basic elements. The two elements, fire, and earth, have opposingtendencies, with earth gravitating and fire levitating, since theextremes of the contraries heavy and light. The other two elementsare placed relatively to each other with water being above the earthand air above the water. Fire and earth cannot be media of motion.While Aristotle rules out motion of anything in a vacuum asimpossible, the motion of fire and earth are argued to take placeonly through a media.

Plato’s perceptionof the world is the pure mathematical interaction of elements ratherthan the physical interaction of elements. The building blockelements are right angled triangle and right angled isoscelestriangles. The four basic elements, air, water, earth, and fire arecreated from the combination of these triangles and cubes.Twenty-four of these triangles can be combined to form the cubiccorpuscles of the substance earth. Twenty-Four equilateral trianglesform tetrahedral fire particles and one hundred and twentyicosahedral water particles.

Although Plato and Aristotle have a common framework, they contradictin their perception of the ontological status of the universe. WhileAristotle believed that form inheres in the process and a real thingof the world, Plato did not believe in the existence of form in thecorporeal world. Aristotle notion is that cognitive experience cancertainly understand the corporeal world while for Plato cognitiveexperience can result in accepting the world of forms rather thantoday’s world. Like Aristotle, Plato believed that episteme isencompassed in the connection between Forms which can be understoodas classes. However, Plato will not apply that knowledge to thethings of this world. Since the natural science appears to beconnected to things of this world, it appears the views of Aristotleare closer to the natural science of the current world.


Popper, R. K (1958-1959). Back to the Pre-Socratics: The presidentialaddress. Proceeding of the Aristotelian Society. 59:1-4Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/4544602