A very little true science did, however, exist at the dawn of history, such as a description of the zodiac and astronomical knowledge, upon which more or less perfect calendars could be based, and knowledge of the properties of triangles which was useful in surveying after the Nile floods. To this slender store the earliest of the Greek philosophers contributed new discoveries, but before long the genius and power of the Greek mind led to overweening confidence in speculation unaided by observation and experiment, and, as a result, the great period of Athens is not scientifically of the highest importance. Aristotle, to be sure, and his pupil Theophrastus, contributed very greatly to sound knowledge of animals, plants, and rocks, but in the theoretical sciences vague ideas based upon words rather than phenomena or clear and precise concepts led them astray.

“The most conspicuous example,” says Bacon, “of the first class [i. e., of the Rational School of Philosophers] was Aristotle, who corrupted natural philosophy by his logic: fashioning the world out of categories; assigning to the human soul, the noblest of substances, a genus from words of the second intention; doing the business of density and rarity (which is to make bodies of greater or less dimensions—that is, occupy greater or less spaces), by the frigid distinction of act and power; asserting that single bodies have each a single and proper motion, and that if they participate in any other, then this results from an external cause; and imposing countless other arbitrary restrictions on the nature of things; being always more solicitous to provide an answer to the question and affirm something positive in words than about the inner truth of things; a failing best shown when his philosophy is compared with other systems of note among the Greeks. For the Homœomera of Anaxagoras; the Atmos of Leucippus and Democritus; the Heaven and Earth of Parmenides; the Strife and Friendship of Empedocles; Heraclitus’s doctrine how bodies are resolved into the indifferent nature of fire, and remolded into solids; have all of them some taste of the natural philosopher—some savor of the nature of things, and experience, and bodies; whereas, in the physics of Aristotle you hear hardly anything but the words of logic; which in his metaphysics also, under a more imposing name, and more, forsooth, as a realist than a nominalist, he has handled over again. Nor let any weight be given to the fact that in his books on animals and his problems, and other of his treatises, there is frequent dealing with experiments. For he had come to his conclusion before; he did not consult experience, as he should have done, in order to do the framing of his decisions and axioms; but, having first determined the question according to his will, he then resorts to experience, and, bending her into conformity with his placets, leads her about like a captive in a procession; so that even on this count he is more guilty than his modern followers, the schoolmen, who have abandoned experience altogether.”〖Bacon’s “Novum Organum,” Bk. I, lxiii.〗

Later, when Alexandria became the center of the Greek world, and the limitations of metaphysics had become somewhat more evident, there was a return to positive science. For nearly a thousand years men, notably Aristarchus, Eratosthenes, Hipparchus, Euclid, Hero, and Ptolemy, labored at Alexandria, employing the true methods of science and collecting valuable stores of information in astronomy, geometry, trigonometry, optics, heat, and even anatomy. The greatest of the scientific work of antiquity was done during the Alexandrine period by Archimedes at Syracuse. It consists in the creation of the science of statics.

The Romans, practical men—according to Disraeli’s definition, those who practice the errors of their forefathers—did little to advance the science, and, when the dark ages extinguished all intellectual endeavor, it was little enough that men had achieved in science, compared with their other deeds.

Yet it is certain that both true science and the true methods of science had been established in antiquity. It was not so much the errors of the ancient world as the errors of the Middle Ages in interpretation of the ancient world, and the undue importance that was assigned to Aristotle, which held back science during the first centuries of the Renaissance.

On the other hand, it cannot be denied that if the science of antiquity at its best, in the mechanics of Archimedes, the descriptive astronomy of Hipparchus, the geometry of Euclid, and the zoology of Aristotle, did manifest most of the characteristics of method and treatment which we know to-day, nearly all of the results of modern science, the modifications of life and civilization, are lacking in antiquity. Ancient science was in great part sterile; modern science is now the principal agent in social evolution.

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