Original Research

Philosophical tendencies in the genesis of our understanding of physical nature

D. F. M. Strauss
Suid-Afrikaanse Tydskrif vir Natuurwetenskap en Tegnologie | Vol 25, No 2 | a150 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/satnt.v25i2.150 | © 2006 D. F. M. Strauss | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 22 September 2006 | Published: 22 September 2006

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D. F. M. Strauss, Dekaanskantoor, Fakulteit Geesteswetenskappe, Universiteit van die Vrystaat, South Africa

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The rise of a long-standing legacy of natural scientific thought is found in ancient Greece – the well-spring of Western civilization and the source of articulated rational reflection. The earliest phase of Greek culture already gave birth to theoretical thinking about the universe. The Pythagoreans are first of all famous for their emphasis on number as a mode of explanation. However, in their thesis that everything is number they solely acknowledged rational numbers (fractions) and this approach eventually stranded on the discovery of irrational numbers that led to the geometrization of Greek mathematics. This transition generated at once also a powerful space metaphysics overarching the entire medieval period. It was only during the early modern period that the predecessors and successors of Galileo contemplated an appreciation for motion as a new principle of explanation (compare the classical mechanistic world view of the universe as a mechanism of material particles in motion). But also this mechanistic reduction (through which all physical processes were reduced to the motion of charged or uncharged mass-points) eventually failed because it was unable to account for the irreversibility of physical processes. As a result it was only 20th century physics that managed to acknowledge the decisive qualifying role of energy-operation (thus of the physical aspect) in the existence of material things and processes. This article is concluded with an explanation of the significance of the preceding considerations for a theoretical approximation of the mysterious nature of matter.


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