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Extra resources for A Philosophical Dictionary: From the French of M. De Voltaire ...
This objection appears, at least on theoretical grounds, to be valid. Why were the Presocratics not aiming at the experimental confirmation of their theories? Was it from carelessness and lack of discernment, or was there a deeper reason? We must not forget that we find ourselves in the 6th–5th centuries, B. C . Technology is rudimentary; equipment for experiments and instruments for measurement are as yet virtually non-existent; great practical difficulties impede the easy exchange of ideas and information between various geographical areas; a vocabulary for the 6 B.
From that time, and up to today, no European philosophical system could ignore their work. Heraclitus of Ephesus would see in ceaseless cyclical change and movement the sole reality. He refuses to accept matter as the static substratum of truth, and simple sensuous perception as well, if that is not controlled by logos (reason). The problem of self-knowledge and self-consciousness takes on importance, and it is certainly not coincidental that Attic tragedy first appears in the same period. Matter is not the ultimate reality; it is processes that are real, deriving from a perpetual dialectical conflict and synthesis between opposite tendencies in which there are moments of balance or apparent stability, while the alternating dominance of the one over the other leads to perpetual flux and cyclical birth and destruction of all things.
For the ancient Greek who viewed nature in its entirety as an unbreakable unity, this artificial division of a harmonious totality and the isolation and change of the parameters of a part would have been inconceivable. This would not only be improper for the Presocratics but it could also have constituted an act of hybris (insolence) as an intervention into the phenomena of the harmonious cosmos. They would probably believe, moreover, that to the extent that they would deal with partial experimental data, the boundaries of their thought would be narrowed.