science: Early Greek Contributions to Science

Early Greek Contributions to Science

The early Greek, or Hellenic, culture marked a different approach to science. The Ionian natural philosophers removed the gods from the personal roles they had played in the cosmologies of Babylonia and Egypt and sought to order the world according to philosophical principles. Thales of Miletus (6th cent. b.c.) was one of the earliest of these and contributed to astronomy, geometry, and cosmology. He was followed by Anaximander, who extended Thales' ideas and proposed that the universe is composed of four basic elements, i.e., earth, air, fire, and water; this theory was also taught by Empedocles (5th cent. b.c.) in Sicily. The philosophers Leucippus and Democritus (both 5th cent. b.c.) held that everything is composed of tiny, indivisible atoms. In the school founded at Croton, S Italy, by the Greek philosopher Pythagoras of Samos (6th cent. b.c.) the principal concept was that of number. The Pythagoreans tried to explain the workings of the universe in terms of whole numbers and their ratios; in addition to contributions to mathematics and philosophy, they also made notable studies in the area of biology and anatomy, e.g., by Alcmaeon of Croton (fl. c.500 b.c.). The most important developments in medicine were made by Hippocrates of Cos (4th cent. b.c.), known as the Father of Medicine, who formulated the science of diagnosis based on accurate descriptions of the symptoms of various diseases. The greatest figures of the earlier Greek period were the philosophers Plato (427–347 b.c.) and Aristotle (384–322 b.c.), each of whom exerted an influence that has extended down to modern times.

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