On the Origins and History of the Scientific Method

This course is intended for thoughtful students who wish to gain a better understanding of Science and its method(s) by knowing their threefold origins and early history. The origins are to be found first of all in the amazing utterances of the early sages whose words have been collected and handed on by tradition as the Fragments of Pre-Socratic Philosophy. The most influential thinkers of this period are Xenocrates, Heraclitus, Anaximander, Empedocles, Parmenides, Zeno and Democritus. Their words proved formative and we will carefully study them with the aid of later commentators.

Secondly, the development of Science was greatly fostered by the mythic-rational-creative worldview of early Hellas which Plato updated, systematized and published in his dialogue "Timaeus". In this text the cosmos comes into being as a living artifice where reason's powers of persuasion (Peitho) and the artificer (Demiurge) succeed together to moderate the strife between necessity and chance by the peaceful means of intelligent communication. The human role in this cosmic setting is to come to know and cooperate in harmony with the universal order. With harmony's reign in mind, the quest for knowledge with its trials and errors was set in motion. Human intelligence sufficed to realize the advantage of cooperation with the set order of things. We will study the "Timaeus" for its early science, its poetry and literary virtues and benefit from contemporary commentaries, especially Luc Brisson's "Invention of the Universe".

Thirdly, what was still missing to give the quest for knowledge dynamic continuity was a reliable, flexible method. Such a method was slow in coming. Its precursor is the Socratic way of inquiry, the pathbreaking innovation of Socratic teaching and argumentation both of which Plato recorded e.g. in his dialogues "Meno", "Gorgias", "Sophist" and "Theaetetus". Plato's successor Aristotle, who was a natural scientist of distinction, adapted the Socratic model to the requirements of empirical research. With some gaps in time Aristotle's version of the scientific method succeeded in making scientific pursuits self-correcting, cumulative and continuous.

Open to any interested student.