Science and culture


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Science and Culture Author(s): Alan Gross Source: American Literary History, Vol. 7, No. 1 (Spring, 1995), pp. 169-186 Published by: Oxford University Press Stable URL: Accessed: 28/10/2008 18:26 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit organization founded in 1995 to build trusted digital archives for scholarship. We work with the scholarly community to preserve their work and the materials they rely upon, and to build a common research platform that promotes the discovery and use of these resources. For more information about JSTOR, please contact [email protected] Oxford University Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to American Literary History. Science and Culture Alan Gross Taken as a story of human achievement, and human blind- ness, the discoveries in the sciences are among the great epics. Robert Oppenheimer Thales lived in Miletus, a Greek colony, in the seventh cen- tury BCE. According to Herodotus, he predicted an eclipse; ac- cording to Aristotle, he declared that water was the first principle of all things. Herodotus was almost certainly mistaken, and Aris- totle's attribution is not a compliment but a criticism. But to judge these two statements thus is to miss their point. They may or may not be facts about Thales; they are most assuredly facts about Herodotus and Aristotle, whose conceptual taxonomies include, significantly, the investigation of the causal structures of physical events and of matter. With these categories in place, sci- ence had begun: you start with eclipse prediction; you end with Kepler's and Newton's laws; you start with water; you end with the periodic table of the elements. The principled investigation of the causal structures of physical events and matter just is sci- ence, then as now. Unfortunately, the conceptual continuity between Greek science and our own is not also a historical continuity. Despite an impressive roll call-Aristotle, Archimedes, Ptolemy, Ga- len-the inquiring spirit of ancient Greek science didn't really catch on in the West. As a consequence, a second birth of science was necessary. It occurred in the late Middle Ages, this time in Western Europe. The results were not trivial, as the historical scholarship of the last half century has established. These achievements did not, however, approach the Greek achieve- ment. Nevertheless, as with the Greek achievement, the science of the Middle Ages sank virtually without a trace; for most, Grosseteste, Buridan, and Oresme ...

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