Table of Contents
Part V: A Christian World View: The
Framework of History
Chapter 4 (continued)
Religion, Philosophy, and Technology
The Type of World View Related
to Each Language Family
It is clear
to me that with three language families capable of sustaining
and contributing in three such different ways towards the supply
of man's total needs as a spiritual, intellectual and physiological
creature, God has made provision for the preservation of the
whole man while His purposes are being unfolded. It remains to
be seen now whether the course of events supports this threefold
division both with respect to the linguistic evidence and the
evidence to be derived from the stream of history itself. The
first part of this task requires that we establish the following:
First, that Semitic languages favour a World View which is religious
and spiritual in colour, that the Indo-European or Japhetic languages
favour a World View that is reflective and favourable to philosophical
thinking rather than religious in its bent, and that the balance
of the world's languages, or Hamitic languages, are of such a
kind that they do not encourage reflection or abstract, but concrete,
specific, particular thinking, leading to a very practical view
of things. In other words, that as each of these three families
have developed their kinds of
1 of 28
language, in such a way
they have tended to think and so they have tended to act or be.
G. A. F. Knight is quoted by Barr
as having said, "God chose Israel to be the vehicle of His
revelation. . . . Now, if God chose Israel, then He chose to
use the Hebrew language.'' (71) On this observation Barr comments: (72)
The argument may be theologically
reasonable, but if it is to be extended to mean that God chose
the Semitic languages, and the Semitic culture group, and that
His chosen group was the children of Shem and not merely the
children of Israel, one wonders if theologians are really willing
to go so far: and it is hardy to be reconciled with the constant
and obvious struggle of the Israelite religion which was not
against Hellenism at all until the latest period, but against
neighbouring forms expressed in closely allied Semitic language
The point that
Barr has overlooked here, I believe, is that if God needed a
vehicle for religious truth, especially when that truth was revealed
truth, He needed a language best suited to the expression of
religious ideas rather than philosophical ones. That other members
of the family of Shem also found facility in this direction though
they found it in expression of religious error rather than truth,
does not alter the fact that the family as a whole was the logical
one to choose. It was necessary only to separate out one segrnent
of it and to purify that segment from error whenever it was acting
as the vehicle of divine revelation. Naturally, thereafter, their
most dangerous enemies were bound to be those who shared the
same facility but not the same revelation, namely, the Babylonians
and the Assyrians, some of the inhabitants of Palestine, and
later the Arabs. Shakespeare has said, "The nearer in blood,
the nearer bloody," and although he did not have in mind
religious conflict, his aphorism is quite applicable. The Arabs
today remain Israel's most bitter enemy and Islam, the religious
expression of the Arabs, the most recalcitrant opponent of Christianity,
the religious extension of Judaism.
A Semitic language evidently lends
itself to the formulation of a strong religious conviction that
will regulate behaviour and can accommodate itself to people
with very different cultural backgrounds. The religious beliefs
of the Babylonians and the Assyrians came to permeate much of
the ancient world, and in due time formed the basis of paganism.
Paganism was the first
71. Knight, G. A. F., quoted by James Barr,
The Semantics of Biblical Language, Oxford, 1962, p.19.
72. Barr, James, ibid., p.19.
great religiously oriented
opponent of Christianity, as Islam might very well be the last.
Subsequently, Barr quotes with
equal disapproval a statement by Pedersen who wrote, "The
Semitic languages are as perfect expressions of Semitic thinking
as the European languages of European thinking." (73) And Boman similarly wrote,
"The unique character of a people or of a family of peoples
finds expression in its own language." (74) Again, Gerleman observes that "its conception
of reality and its manner of narration have their correlate and
their reflection in the structure of the Hebrew language, in
the construction of sentences, and in the lexical stock . . .
the affinity of narrative art with syntax, of Old Testament experience
of reality with Hebrew grammar . . . ." (76)
In spite of the fact that Barr
disagrees with these ideas (his whole book seems to be an expression
of disagreement with everybody), he has already admitted previously
that "the typical vehicle in Hebrew thinking is the historical
narrative or the future prediction, both being forms of literature
in which the verb is likely to be of great significance; and
that the typical vehicle of Greek thinking is thle philosophical
discussion in which nouns are more prominent and verbs are less
Subsequently Barr writes:
One may however go farther and
assert that not only the frequency but the very existence of
and facility in forming the "abstract" type of noun
is to be correlated with abstract thinking; and conversely that
Hebrew, as the language of a people whose thought is not abstract,
does not form "abstract" nouns and its words are characteristically
"concrete". . .
The Hebrew, almost invariably,
thought in terms of the concrete. There are few abstract nouns
in the Hebrew language.
74. Boman, Thorlief, Hebrew Thought Compared with Greek, SCM
Press, London, 1960, p.27.
75. Gerleman, G., quoted by Barr, The Semantics of Biblical
Language, Oxford, 1962, p.33.
76. Barr, James, op. cit. (ref.75), pp.15, 16, 18 and
40. In his able review of Susanne Langer's Mind: An Essay
on Human Feelings, Robert B. MacLeod (Science, vol.157,
1967, p.1544) notes the author's view that our society sees "things"
as the substance of reality, not "acts.' Action is what
happens to things according to our philosophy. This is not true
of other cultural world-views, where reality is action
not object. Langer believes that our problem in establishing
the relationship between mind and brain comes about because we
are separating "activity," from object and should,
rather, see the two as aspects of one single realiry. see especially
pp 9-11 of vol. I of her book, published by Johns Hopkins Press,
Baltimore, 1967. 1 am not convinced that her proposal really
solves the problem, but it is an interesting idea.
agrees with Boman in one thing at least, namely, that "the
thought of other Semitic peoples is on the whole of the same
formal structure as Israelite thought. . . . The Hebrew linguistic
pattern is not essentially different from the general Semitic."
Thus he concludes, "Obviously the question can be put: Is
there an Indo-European cast of min which somehow corresponds
to the known linguistic stock of Indo-European?'' To which the
answer is, I think, "Undoubtedly." Yet curiously, when
Boman wrote, "The unique character of a people or a family
of peoples, a race, finds expression in its own language,'' Barr
states his disagreement.
This emphasis upon verbs rather than
nouns, upon action rather than idea, has becn remarked upon by
many who have studied the contrast betwcen Hebrew and Greek,
and therefore between the Old Testament and the Ncw Testament.
While it is so very generally recognized that philosophy is in
some unique way a Greek contribution, it is not so generally
realized that (1) they were by no means the sole contributors
in this respect among Indo-Europeans, for in Infia there were
Schools quite as extensive and flourishing as the Greek Schools
‹ which were in fact prior in time, and (2) the so-called
''philosophers'' from among non-Indo-European cultures, from
China, Egypt, and Central America, wcre not really philosophers
at all, but intelligent men who were able to crystallize the
canny and highly practical wisdom of their own society. The writings
of Confucius, of Ptah-hotep, and Pachacutec are intensely practical
in their object, almost in the form of proverbs and in some cases
quite Machiavellian. The Wisdom Literature of the OId Testament
as well as extra-biblical wisdom literature of the Jewish people
is of the same kind ‹ though not Machiavellian.
It is surprising how wide a recognition
has been given to this matter by writers who nevertheless clearly
did not have in mind the overall picture which we are presenting.
They record their observances without any apparent awareness
of the framework which they are helping to establish. For example,
Ralph Linton observed: (77)
All monotheistic faiths of which
we have record can be traced to Semitic sources, and all of them
are confrontedby the same enigma of an all powerful deity in
a Universe governed by law.
And Peter Lange
in his Comrnentary on Genesis observes that
77. Linton, Ralph, The Tree of Culture,
Knopf, New York, 1956, p.293.
the language of the Hebrews
did not lend itself to philosophy but was more particularly suited
to dynamic religious thought. (78)
It has always seemed to me a strange
thing that in the university we were told that the Jewish people
were not historians, not really interested in history at all.
This is strange because if they had a philosophy in the abstract
sense, it is to be found in their overall view of history. It
must be admitted, however, that their philosophy of history,
if it can properly be called such, was not a disinterested one
but had an end in view, namely, the ordering of man's moral behaviour
by using the lessons of history viewed as the working out of
the judgments of a righteous God. This is disqualified as philosophy
in the strict sense because it has a practical objective. But
it would not do to accuse the Old Testament writers of being
without any philosophy if by this we mean that their thoughts
were shallow and without penetration. On this point Kroeber makes
some observations which do not bear on the immediate subject
of this Paper but do show in what way the study of history differs
from that kind of philosophy which ultimately led to the development
of science. He remarks: (79)
Historiographic research, almost
alone, remains without systematic and "theoretic" results.
Some would say that it is knowledge but not science, because
it remains on a concrete level and does not abstract.
It is important
to distinguish carefully between the canny wisdom which we have
attributed to Confucius and others and the philosophy of history
that clearly underlies the Old Testament. And it is even more
necessary to distinguish both these kinds of "philosophy"
from the unique kind which has been the contribution of the family
of Japheth. In order to make this clear, we can with profit note
a number of observations made by various authorities on the nature
of the intellectual adventure undertaken by Indo-Europeans but
not by others.
In Everyman's Encyclopedia
under Philosophy, there is the following observation: (80)
It was not until man sought
wisdom for its own sake, and with no religious or other practical
motives, that he philosophized
78. Lange, Peter, Commentary on Genesis, Zondervan,
Grand Rapids, Michigan, no date, pp.19, 21.
79. Kroeber, A. L., "Evolution, History, and Culture,"
in Evolution After Darwin, vol.2, University of Chicago
Press, 1960, p.3.
80. "Philosophy," Everyman's Encyclopedia, vol.10,
Dent, London, 1913, pp.305, 306.
in the true sense; and previous theogonies,
cosmogonies, etc., cannot strictly claim the title of Philosophy.
. . . The beginnings of philosophy are as a rule attributed to
thle Greeks, but the Indian ideas of the 6th century B.C. and
much later, form an interesting parallel philosophic development.
contribution to the series Great Ages of Man, Schulberg,
writing of historic India, says: (81)
Even before the 6th century
B.C. men of India had demonstrated a philosophical bent. Their
earliest religious scripture, the Rig Veda, appeared some time
in the second millenniurn B.C. . . Some of the Vedic hymns expressed
a spirit of philosophical enquiry. . . .
After the composition of the Rig
Veda, Indian philosophers began to compose commentaries on the
hymns, a practice continued for hundreds of years. The final
and rnost significant portion of the resulting literature is
a collection of philosophical speculations. This portion, begun
about 700 B.C. and called the Upanishads, provided the foundation
for Hinduism. The Upanishads . . . speculate, seeking always
to find truth.
noted that the Hindus were always highly receptive to and interested
in new philosophic ideas but showed an almost complete indifference,
for example, to improved techniques of manufacture. (82) Their interest was in
theory not practice, the material world being considered of so
little importance that minor advances in its control were not
considered worth the trouble of changing established habits.
Similarly, A. L. Kroeber observed that "Hindu civilization
is not only other worldly, but mystical, rationalizing, and extravagant
in its ethos.'' (83)
It is not surprising to find, as
Miriam Chapin has pointed out, that Hindustani has an enormous
vocabulary containing all kinds of scientific concepts, and as
a development out of thle more ancient Sanskrit it became a language
well able to give expression to philosophic ideas and in the
most abstruse speculations." (84) The reader will notice here that a language which
is good for philosophic ideas is also suitable for the development
of scientific concepts.
81. Schulberg, Lucille, Historic India,
in Great Ages of Man, Time-Life Publication, New York,
82. Linton, Ralph, The Study of Man, Student's edition,
Appleton, New York, 1936, p.343.
83. Kroeber, A. L., Anthropology, Harcourt, Brace, New
York, 1948, p.291.
84. Chapin, Miriam, How People Talk, Longmans Green, Toronto,
philosopher Hegel remarked upon the relationship between Sanskrit
and philosophy: (85)
The recent discoveries of the
treasures of Indian literature have shown us what a reputation
the Hindus have acquired in Geometry, Astronorny, and Algebra,
and that they have made great advances in Philosophy, and that
among them the Grammar has been so far cultivated that no language
can be regarded as more fully developed than the Sanskrit.
has beautifully drawn some of these threads together by rernarking:
It is not surprising that all
peoples in the primitive stage of history were ignorant of philosophic
speculation. But it is rnore astonishing that even certain civilizations
were devoid of philosophy ‹ for example, the Semite, and
the Egyptian, which is, in this respect in the same category
as the Semite. Despite the high level of sciertific (technical)
culture reached by the intellectual aristocracy of these races,
the sole philosophic conceptions, it would seem, which the Egyptians
and the Chaldeans possessed, were a few very general ideas inplicit
in their religion concerning the deity, the human soul, its state
after death, and the precepts of morality. . . . These truths
. . . were never made the subject of rational study and speculation.
. . . Religion took the place of philosophy, and from religion
these races received certain philosophic truths; philosophy they
had none. In this matter the Jews did not differ from their fellow
Semites. Scornful of human wisdom and the achievements of pure
reason, and indeed without aptitude for such investigation, they
produced no philosophers.
the opening words of Maritain's Introduction to Philosophy
are: "All the great Indo-European civilizations manifest
an impulse, which no doubt took widely different forms, towards
rational and, in the strict sense, philosophic speculation." (87) Somewhere about the 8th
to 6th centuries B.C., deeply speculative attempts to give a
rational explanation to the vast problem of evil, undertaken
in Persia, filtered down into India where what had been a religious
faith slowly became a non-religious philosophy -- though it still
retained the appearance of being religiously oriented. Speaking
of this, Maritain says: (88)
the original religion ‹ the primitive religion of the
85. Hegel, G. W. F., "The Philosophy
of History" in The World's Great Classics, vol.20,
Colonial Press, New York, I900, pp.161, 162.
86. Maritain, Jacques, An Introduction to Philosophy,
Sheed & Ward, New York, 1955, p.25.
87. Ibid., p.26.
88. Ibid., p.27.
Vedas ‹ no longer proved sufficient
to satisfy the intellectual demands or social needs of a more
advanced civilization, philosophical notions, which seemed to
have originated as interpretations of sacrifice and other sacred
ritual but developed into a spirit hostile to the ancient traditions
and the cult of the gods, found a home among the sacredotal class
and took possession of the priesthood. . . The priests.
. . directed their worship no longer to the old gods but to the
undefined and secret forces of the Universe.
This resulted after a period of
confusion in the formation of a new system, Brahmanism or Hinduism,
which is essentially a philosophy or metaphysic, a work of human
speculation, invested from the outset with the sanctions and
attributes of religion.
When it is realized
that the basic religious concepts which formed the substance
of Zoroastrianism in Persia had been inherited by the Persians
from the Assyrian and Babylonian priests, it will be seen that
what began as a Semitic World View was taken by the Persians,
who belong within the family of Japheth, and transformed into
a theology. This theology passing down into India lost its spiritual
content and reverted more specifically to pure philosophy. In
due time under the influence of Cakya-Muni, surnamed Buddha,
the philosophy became less pure and more applied to life. Its
practical emphasis then made it appealing to the Chinese who
adopted it. In the initial stages in India, while the philosophy
had been purely speculative, it had not actually been agnostic
or atheistic. But under the influence of Buddha it became increasingly
more and more agnostic. By the time it had been adopted by the
Chinese, it had become entirely non-religious, a practical guide
to successful living and nothing more.
When Buddha had made his imprint
on Hinduism, in the 6th century B.C., he had taken a very much
more practical view, and Schulberg has observed: (89) "In this, Buddha
stands alone among the religious leaders of the world, that he
refused to engage in metaphysical speculation about the Universe."
Thus, in due time, whereas Buddhism appealed to the Chinese it
disappeared almost entirely from India. In this connection Alan
Watts observed: (90)
Although Buddhism was originally
an Indian religion, emerging from the traditions of Hindu philosophy,
it did not attain its full vitality until the T'ang Dynasty in
China ‹ about
89. Schulberg, Lucille, Historic India,
in Great Ages of Man, Time-Life Publication, 1968, p.60.
90. Watts, Alan, "How Buddhism Came to Life," Asia,
Oct., 1939, p.581.
the 8th century A.D. Philosophy, Buddhas,
Bodhisattvas, and religious rites are far less significant in
China. Chinese Buddhism ceased to be a matter of other worldly
mysticism. . . .
When Buddhism first came to China
the method used for attaining spiritual illumination followed
the lines of Indian Yoga: a profound state of consciousness obtained
by sitting for hours, days, months, or even years in solitary
meditation. But this did not really appeal to the practical spirit
of the Chinese who wanted a Dhyana that could be applied to everyday
Maritain says that there can be no doubt it was simply a form
of enlightened selfishness, and completely indifferent to metaphysical
In writing of Confucius as a religious philosopher, Epiphanius
Wilson, a Chinese Classical Scholar, pointed out: (92)
The strangest figure that meets
us in the annals of oriental thought is that of Confucius. To
the popular mind he is the founder of a religion, and yet he
has nothing in common with the great religious teachers of the
East. They despised the present life: to them the future was
everything in its promised satisfaction. The teachings of Confucius
were of a very different sort. Throughout his whole writings
he has not even mentioned the name of God. He declined to discuss
the question of immortality. When asked about spiritual beings,
he remarked, "If we cannot know men how can we know spirits?"
The influence of Confucius springs,
first of all, from the narrowness and definitiveness of his doctrine.
He was no transcendenalist. His teaching was of the earth, earthy.
is quite in accord with that of a recent Chinese scholar, Liu
Wu-Chi, who wrote: (93)
The distinguishing features
of Confucianism are many. First of all it is a moral system which
is both practical and practicable. Without any trace of the metaphysical
(philosophy) and the supernatural (religion), its contents are
readily understood by the man in the street; and its ethical
teachings, replete with wisdom and common sense, can be applied
in daily life.
Edward H. Schafer
in his contribution on Ancient China in the Great Ages of
Man Series has a wonderfully illustrative little bit of Chinese
"legalistic advice." It reads: (94)
91. Maritain, Jacques, An Introduction
to Philosophy, Sheed and Ward, New York, 1955, p.39.
92. Wilson, Epiphanius, Introduction to "The Literature
of China" in The Worlrl's Great Classics, Colonial
Press, New York, 1900, pp.3, 4.
93. Wu-Chi, L., A Short History of Confucian Philosophy,
Pelican Books, England, 1955, p.9.
94. Schafer, Edward H., Ancient China,i in The Great Ages
of Man, Time-Life Publication, New York, 1967, p.83.
Give precedence to achievement.
If the "good" are not profitable to the nation, do
not supply rewards.
If the "unworthy" are not harmful to good order, do
not apply penalties.
Ilza Veith in a paper on Far Eastern ideology, speaking about
the attitude toward the forces of nature, said: (95)
When the fields were scorched
and men waited for rain, when winter lingered and sun was needed
to thaw the frozen earth, man saw that heaven was the more powerful
and therefore made heaven his supreme deity. But Chinese imagination
never personalized this higher being or speculated about its
In a similar
vein, Edward H. Schafer wrote: (96)
The origin of this physical
world does not seem to have concerned the men of Ancient China
very much, despite their great interest in its shape. A few creation
myths survive, but creator-spirits did not figure significantly
in their religion ‹ a striking difference from Judaism and
notes interestingly enough: (97)
China is unique among the great
civilizations in that at no time in its long history has it produced
a strong priestly group.
The Chinese attitudes towards religion
are a mixture of superstition and practicality. Although there
were some mystics during the early periocls of developing Chinese
philosophy, the general approach of the Chinese is a thoroughly
practical one. . . . They never persecuted on religious grounds,
and there have been few Chinese
martyrs. . . .
In the 1700's many French Jesuits
were sent to China with the hope of converting the Emperor Ch'ien
Lung to the faith. They were well received at court, but the
Emperor was more interested in their scientific, mathematical
and military contribution.
One reason for
singling China out from among non-Indo-European people is that
the Chinese are particularly useful (in the sense that the Greek
philosophers are) as a paradigm or stereotype. They are a people
who for many centuries had a far higher civilization than was
to be found anywhere else in the world, a people whose technology
was advanced and refined, and a people who having reached such
a highly civilized state, declined dramatically in many respects
almost to the level of a
95. Veith, llza, "Creation and Evolution
in the Ear East" in Evolution After Darwin, vol.3,
University of Chicago Press, 1960, p.3.
96. Schafer, Edward H., Ancient China in Great Ages
of Man, Time-Life Publication, New York, 1967, p.101.
97. Linton, Ralph, The Tree of Culture, Knopf, New York,
1956, pp.566, 569, and 570.
peasant country. Subsequently,
in modern times they have begun a revolution which has brought
them to a limited extent within the scientific community. It
is worthwhile to note just how much progress has been
made in this direction and on this matter we shall have a word
to say later. In the meantime, Robert S. Cohen remarks of this
combination of high civilization yet lack of philosophy: (98)
test comparison with a developed civilization is that of non-theological
China. As Needham and Northrope have rernarked, theology in China
has been so depersonalized, law made so ethical, humanistic,
and particular, that the idea of a rational creator of all things
was not forrnulated. Hence the idea that we lesser rational beings
rnight, by virtue ot that god-like rationality, be able to decipher
the laws of nature never was accepted.
He also notes
that if such philosophly had developed, scientific activity would
have been stimulated, and "if such scientific activity had
been stimulated, theology might have been developed, too"
And what of China today? Writing
on this subject, Kurt A. G. Mendelssohn observed: (99)
in the Western sense hardly existed in China before 1950 even
at Peking University, proper science teaching did not begin until
1920 and made little headway in the following three decades when
the country was torn by civil war and had to suffer Japanese
invasion. . . .
I have seen near miracles
of shrewd inventiveness and manipulative dexterity in some of
the srnall factories attached to agricultural communities where
essentially no rnachine tools were available at the time.
It is not lack
of ingenuity that has "held them back." Very similarly
H. W. Thompson wrote recently: (100 )
are said to be 800,000 students at university level in the whole
of China. All universities are financed of course by
98. Cohen, Robert S., "Alternative Interpretations
of the History of Science", Scientific Monthly, Feb.,
99. Mendelssohn, Kurt A. G., "Science and Technology
in China." I have unfortunately mislaid the source of
this quotation. It appeared in 1960, in the English journal Nature.
In the same journal a Dr. K. Mendelssohn (who may not be the
same individual) under the title "Science in China"
(vol.215, 1967, pp.10f.) indicates in his article that progress
is being made, though the emphasis is still upon applied science
and technology ‹ not unnaturally.
100. Thompson, H. W., "Science in China," International
Science and Technology, June, 1963, p.88.
the state. The four which I visited,
three in Peking and the other in Tientsin, presumably rank among
the most advanced. It is risky to generalize, but my impression
was that they were devoted almost entirely to teaching (i.e.,
not to experiment) with much emphasis on sociology and politics.
As yet they seem to have little contact with scientific research
on the frontiers of science.
I think it is
worth noting that Needham in Vol. IV of his great work Science
and Civilization in China is concerned over the question
of why the Chinese did not develop scientific theories in spite
of the many practical devices they invented. Needham suggests
the lack of an alphabetic language as one reason. (101) The Chinese ideograms,
though they are symbolic, are too tightly bound to their original
primitive meaning to allow them to be the basis of generalization
In spite of this admission, Needham
for some reason still titled his work Science and Civilization
in China. It is strange in view of the fact that he wonders
why they never achieved science! I think the confusion arises
in part from our tendency to equate science with technology,
an unwarranted equation which Conant has written eloquently against.
(102) Robert Multhauf
in reviewing Needham's second volume, remarks: (103)
That he fails to produce a clear
exposition of the relationship of technology to scientific thought
is a weakness of the book, but an understandable one ‹ since
it remains to be accomplished in the relatively better known
area of Western science.
TV commercials are brilliant examples of this confusion. A man
has only to invent a mechanical toothbrush of some kind and it
is introduced to us as a "scientific" marvel, when
of course it really has nothing whatever to do with science.
As L. R. Hafstead, vice-president of research of the General
Motors Corporation at the time, wrote a few years ago: (l04)
A scientist's work is completed
when an item of information is established and recorded. The
same man who makes a discovery may choose, or be persuaded, to
attempt to apply it to a practical problem. In this case he ceases
to be a scientist and works essentially as an engineer.
101. Needham, Joseph, from a review of his
work Science and Civilization in China, Vol. 4, Physics
and Physical Technology, Cambridge, appearing in Nature,
Dec., 1962, p.844.
102. Conant, James: his very widely read book, On Understanding
Science, Mentor Books, New York, 1951, is a protest against
103. Muithauf, Robert, in Science, vol.124, 1956, p.631.
104. Hafstead. L. R., `'The Role of Scientists and Engineers
in Society," The Tool Engineer, April, 1957, p.223.
short, a technical invention is not to be confused with a scientific
discovery, and the toothbrush is the former not the latter, as
are most commercially advertised products.
In China the prevailing World View is
Taoist, which as Needham points out encourages "technology
without science.'' (105)
That technology can thrive independently of science is so easily
established historically that one wonders how serious papers
can be published in such a journal of international fame as Science
stating categorically that technology owes its existence to scientific
endeavour. In point of fact the truth is precisely the reverse,
as Needham himself admits. He says: "Technologists, lacking
scientific background to their thouglit, have a habit of doing
the right things for the wrong reasons."
(106) Kroeber has observed, "It is
significant that the Chinese have made many important inventions
but not one major scientific discovery. They have sought a way
of life but not an understanding or a control of nature beyond
what was immediately useful." (107)
Returning to our more general discussion,
it is interesting
105. Needham's words are: "The spirit
of technology without theoretical science seems to be found within
Taoist philosophy itself" (Science and Civilization in
China, vol.2, Cambridge, 1956, p.85) The word"philosophy"
here really means "view of nature" -- not philosophy
as a special concern with understanding purely for its own sake.
106. Ibid., p.84. The assumption that scientific understanding
must precede technological advance is a fundamental error which
misleads a number of writers today, even such great ones as Claude
Levi-Strauss. Lucien Levy-Bruhl held that primitive people do
not think "scientifically." He did not mean "logically,"
but rather that they were highly specific and observed distinctions
rather than commonalities, concretes rather than abstracts. He
used the term prelogical, which was unfortunate, for he did not
mean they were illogical but rather that they were logical on
different premises. One of the most elaborate challenges to Levy-Brthl
has appeared in Levi-Strauss's work The Savage Mind. But
this writer is not less misguided, I believe, because he fails
to distinguish between technology (which all primitive people
excelled in) and science (which they lacked). Levi~Strauss argues
that the technology of Neolithic Man was sufficiently advanced
that his predecessors, Paleolithic Man, must have had a highly
developed scientific attitude to lay the basis for the subsequent
culture. His reference to "scientific" knowledge (p.14)
is a serious mistake to my mind. And virtually all his illustrations
are really proofs of the precise opposite, since the whole emphasis
is upon discrete knowledge,
knowledge of bits and pieces, of particles ‹ not recognition
of wholes, of non-existent but abstracted categories. The very
fact that the Greeks equated philosophers and scientists and
that Plato himself defined the former as sunopticoi (i.e., "see-ers
of things together") really proves the difference in approach.
107. Kroeber, A. L., Configurations of Culture Growth,
University of California Press, 1944, p.184.
to find that H. G. Wells
also noted the fundamental difference between the thought patterns
of the Chinese and our own: (108)
Tlle difference between any
of these Chinese tongues and the more Western languages is profound.
. . . The relation of words to each other is expressed by quite
different methods from tlle Aryan method. Chinese grammar is
a thing different in nature from English grammar; it is a separate
and different invention. . . . Consequently, any such thing as
a literal translation from Chinese into English is an impossibility..
The very method of the thought is different.
The fact is
admitted by Needham, for he says that caution is required in
interpreting Chinese philosophy since "in China the word
Philosophy did not quite mean what it came to mean in Eurrope."
Throughout this whole discussion
one sees repeatedly recognition of the close bond that exists
between language and World View. Harry Hoijer has put it: (1l0)
It is quite an illusicn to imagine
that one adjusts to reality essentially without the use of 1anguage
and that language is merely an incidental means of solving specific
problems of communication or reflection. The fact of the matter
is that the "real" world is to a large extent unconsciously
built upon the language habits of the group. . . . The worlds
in which different societies live are distinct worlds, not merely
the same world with different labels attached.
underscores this fact, and in his famous work The Philosophy
of Grammar he quotes Stuart Mill with approval as having
said, "The structure of every sentence is a lesson in logic."
Considering once more the situation
in my own country vis-a-vis the French/English language confrontation
and the present discussion about bilingualism as the goal for
the average citizen, it is doubtful if any one individual can
ever be truly bilingual. Possibly a few exceptional people achieve
it in a measure, but since, as Susanne Langer put it, one lives
in an entire universe when one speaks and thinks in a language
and must move into an entirely new one in transferring to another
language, it is hard to see how anyone who was not mildly
108. Wells, H. G., Outline of History,
new enlarged edition, vol.1, edited ny Raymond Postgate, Doubleday,
New York, 1919, p.150.
109. Needham, Joseph, Science and Civilization in China,
Cambridge, 1956, vol.2, p.1.
110. Hoijer, Harry, "The Relation of Language to Culture"
in Anthropology Today, edited by A. L. Kroeber, University
of Chicago Press, 1953, p.558.
111. Jespersen, Otto, The Philosophy of Grammar, Allen
& Unwin, 1963, p.47.
adopt at one and the same time a shift back and forth completely
from one universe to another. Perhaps when the languages are
very closely related in the philosophy of grammar it may happen,
but it seems likely to me that a man who believes he has complete
"facility" in both French and English has in fact cornplete
facility in neither. But I may be quite wrong. The French language
sustains a rather different World View from the English and one
wonders if one can live in two such worlds at one time.
A modern Chinese philosopher, Chang
Tung-San, was quoted as having said recently:
Take Aristotelian logic, for
example, which is evidently based on Greek grammar. The differences
between Latin, French, English and German grammatical forms do
not result in any difference between Aristotelian logic and their
respective rules of reasoning, because they belong to the same
Indo-European linguistic family. Should this logic be applied
to Chinese thought, however, it will prove inappropriate. This
fact shows that Aristotelian logic is based on the western system
of language. Therefore we should not follow western logicians
in taking for granted that their logic is the Universal Rule
in human reasoning.
I think it significant
that in her latest book, Mind: An Essay on Human Feeling,
Susanne Langer, in trying to deal with the old problem of the
relationship between mind and brain argues that we have our problems
in dealing with the origin of consciousness because we have a
"thing-oriented" culture. (113) It will be recalled that a fundamental difference
between Hebrew and Greek lies in the emphasis in Hebrew upon
verbal forms by contrast with the Greek emphasis on nouns. So
Susanne Langer says that as long as we look at the problem as
though man were essentially a machine with a driver in charge
(two "things"), we shall always have difficulty in
accounting for the driver since he cannot be allowed to originate
from the same source as the machine he drives. So she argues
we need a new approach, and the key to this new approach is not
"thing" but "act." When we discuss the subject,
when we speculate on the problem on the basis of a "thing"
view of reality, we have the old classic materialism, a "nothing
but" (no-thing but) philosophy, a reductionist
112. Tung-San, Chang, quoted by Warren Weaver,
"Science and People," Science, vol.122, 1955),
113. Langer, Susanne, Mind: An E;ssay on Human Feeling,
Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore, 1967, vol.1, pp.5-10 especially.
philosophy that has
not led to any useful advance in our understanding of how the
mind works on the body. We see the mind as one thing and the
body as another thing, and we have not been able to dream up
a useful idea as to how they interact. Langer proposes that we
should abandon the old paradigm stated in the form "agent-action-object"
which she believes is "rooted in the grammar of our language."
We must not divide the agent from the object but bind them inseparably
in the single verb "act". I have not done justice at
all to her thesis which occupied nearly 500 pages, but one cannot
help seeing in this approach a reflection of the Chinese philosopher's
complaint that we must not assume that Indo-European languages
per se automatically give the only true picture of reality.
We may have reached a critical point where the philosophy of
grammar of some other culture might have to be called into play
to complete our understandmg. It is with some such thought in
mind that Benjamin Lee Whorf wrote: (114)
I believe that those who envision
a future world speaking only one tongue whether English, German,
Russian, or any other, hold a rnisguided ideal and would do the
evolution of the human mind a great disservice. Western Culture
has made, through language, a provisional analysis of reality
and, without correctives, holds resolutely to that analysis as
final. The only correctives lie in all these other tongues which
by aeons of independent evolution have arrived at different but
equally logical provisional analyses.
What has been
said of China is also essentially true of primitive people and
of all those civilizations of antiquity which were neither Semitic
nor Indo-European. At the very foundation of all civilizations
in which organized city life plays a significant part were the
Sumerians. One of the most informed students of these people
at the present time is Samuel N. Kramer. After considering their
inventiveness and having referred to them as a gifted and practical
people, he says nonetheless that they never apparently made any
search after truth for its own sake. The quite advanced subjects
(mathematics, and so forth) which tley taught in their schools
"did not stem out of what may be called the scientific urge."
the whole idea of making generalizations seems to have been unknown
to the Sumerians,
114. Whorf, Benjamin Lee, quoted by Alexander
Gode, "The Case for Interlingua," Scientific Monthly,
Aug., 1953, p.90.
115. Kramer, Samuel, The Tablets of Sumer, Falcon's Wing
Press, Indian Hills, Colorado, 1956, pp.6, 33, 59, and 83.
and thus, although we
have quite a number of Sumerian grammatical lists, "no where
do you find a single explicit grammatical definition or rule."
Similarly, although we have many mathematical tables and illustrations
of problems with their solutions, we have "no statement
of general principles, axioms, or theories." Once again,
although the Sumerians compiled numerous law codes, "no
where is there a statement of legal theory." Speaking of
the highly practical medical knowledge which they left on record,
there is no evidence that a Sumerian physician ever made use
of experiment or verification. Their cosmology was set forth
in some detail and the deities of their pantheon appear to have
been real enough, yet the Sumerians apparently never tried to
correct the anomalies and inconsistencies that were involved
in them; these anomalies never seem to have struck them. Similarly
J. J. Finkelstein observed: (116)
There probably has never been
another civilization so single-mindedly bent on the accumulation
of information, and on eschewing any generalization or annunciating
of principles. Ultimate understanding of the Universe, they seem
to have held, required nothing but the painstaking accumulation
of as much detail as possible about literally everything.
This is not
the first step toward scientific thinking: indeed, it may actually
be a hindrance against taking any further such steps at all.
In his book dealing with science in antiquity, Benjamin Farrington
in speaking of the mathematics which the Babylonians inherited
from the Sumerians and which, incidentally, was remarkably advanced
‹ involving the use of fractions, of quadratic equations,
and even of a kind of logarithmic system ‹ remarked:
We are in the presence of abundant
evidence of Babylonian mathematical ability, but their tables
of roots, cube roots, squares, and cubes, etc., are offered to
us like our own practical tables for calculating interest, without
proof of theory. So that as far as the evidence goes, Babylonian
arithmetic is under the suspicion of being largely empirical.
The same is
equally true of Egypt. Martin Engberg has said, "Nowhere
is there any indication that the Egyptians were interested
116. Finkelstein, J. J., "Mesopotamian
Historiography", Proceedings of American Philosophical
Society, vol.107, 1963, p.463, in a series of papers entitled,
"'Cuneiform Studies and the History of Civilization."
117. Farrington, B., Science in Antiquity, Home University
Library, Oxford, 1947. p.24.
in theoretical problems.''
Sir Alan Gardiner in the introduction to his Egyptian Grammar
put the matter even more forcibly when he said, "No people
has ever shown itself more adverse from philosophical speculation
or more wholeheartedly devoted to material interest.'' (119)
It is general to find in
articles written for popular consumption references to the highly
developed technology of the Egyptians, which is not infrequently
equated with or misnamed science. But William Hayes wrote: (120)
Though intensely devout,
the ancient Egyptian had neither the mental nor the spiritual
equipment necessary to the creation or even the adaptation of
a great religion. An analysis of the Egyptian religion shows
that it consisted of at least four unrelated cults or phases,
no one of which ever passed beyond what we should regard as a
primitive stage. Though intelligent and quick to learn, he had
a mind of the practical unimaginative type. He was a materialist,
not given to deep speculative thought, and was unable either
to evolve or express a purely abstract idea.
It is not surprising
that for all their advanced technology and skill, the Egyptians
should not have moved into a scientific age for the same reason
that they did not develop a theology. The reason for this seems
once again to be rooted in their World View which, in turn, was
predetermined in each generation by language. P. LePage Renouf
in his Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion,
noted that certain languages as vehicles of thought appear to
be inferior to others, and he proposed as an example the Egyptian
language as not capable of giving expression to theological thinking.
On another occasion Renouf, quoting
Renan, wrote: (122)
Certain languages as vehicles
of (certain kinds of) thought are inferior to others, and as
long as men are confined to the
118. Engberg, Martin, The Dawn of Civilization,
University of Knowledge Series, Cuneo Press, New York, 1938,
119. Gardiner, Martin, Egyptian Grammar, Oxford, 1927,
Section 3, p.4.
120. Hayes, William C., "Daily Life in Ancient Egypt,"
National Geographic Magazine, Oct., 1941, pp.425f. Susanne
Langer says: "The Egyptians and Mayans and Aztecs moved
enormous stones, but left no theoretical work on dynamics which
would indicate that they knew -- or even asked -- how and why
their methods worked just the way they did" (Mind: An
Essay On Human Feeling, Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore, 1967,
121. Renouf, P. LePage, Lectures on the Origin and Growth
of Religion, Hibbert Lectures for 1897, Williams & Norgate,
122. Ibid., pp.60, 61.
inferior vehicle of thought, they are
unable to raise themselves to the levels of others who enjoy
a more efficient instrument. It is difficult to conceive the
Egyptians as otherwise than incapacitated by their language from
profound philosophy. It is hardly possible to read a page written
in an Indo-European language, from Sanscrit to Keltic, without
coming across some kind of dialectic process of which I do not
remember a single trace in an Egyptian text.
is far removed from matters Egyptian, it is interesting to note
an ethnologist, Elie Reclus, writing many years ago of the Quoit
(Eskimo) and remarking: "Their religion, purely 'instructive,'
has little resemblance to our abstract theologies, so closely
bound up with metaphysics." (123) He concluded:
men have some rudimentary ideas, some moral, religious, and philosophic
perceptions which after being refined, elucidated, and arranged,
would yield a system neither better nor worse than many others,
but they have not elaborated this system.
In his four-volume
study of mathematics, James Newman, speaking of the Rhind Papyrus,
made no great contribution to mathematical knowledge. They were
practical men, not given to much speculative or abstract inquiries.
Dreamers were rare among them, and mathematics is nourished by
is basic to the development of science. Newman continued subsequently:
Rhind Papyrus, though it demonstrates the inability of tue Egyptians
to generalize and their penchant for clinging to cumbersome calculating
processes, proves tuat they were remarkably pertinacious in solving
everyday problems . . . and uncommonly skillful in making do
with the awkward methods they employed.
connection with Egyptian medicine, Ileen Stewart observed: (123)
of the medical law of the Egyptian became the heritage of the
Greeks as they fashioned their civilization in the last few centuries
B.C. . . . The knowledge they inherited was essentially factual,
the accumulation of Egyptian observations and
123. Reclus, Elie, Primitive Folk: Studies
in Comparative Ethnology, Walter Scott, London, no date,
124. Newman, James R., "The Rhind Papyrus" in The
World of Mathematics, vol.1, edited by by J. R. Newman, Simon
8: Schuster, New York, 1956, p.11.
125. Ibid., p.11.
126. Stewart, lleen, "Helminths in History," Scientific
Monthly, June, 1951, p.348.
experience. The Greeks attempted to
put these facts together and to derive a systematic pattern in
nature. Many of their interpretations are still tinged with mysticism,
but they were philosophical and logical -- as the Egyptians had
James R. Newman
wrote elsewhere in the same connection: (127)
The Greeks were the pupils of
the East, but as the noteh historian Michael Rostovtzeff has
said, "they refashioned all they received, and stamped a
fresh character upon it." They had an endless curiosity,
a passion to discover "the rule of law in nature."
The Greeks asked not How? but Why?
same thing may be said of Chinese medicine, the achievements
of which are quite astounding. George E. Wakerling in the journal
Circulation Research refers to what has come to be known
as "the Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine,"
the Emperor himself being dated somewhere around 2600 B.C., points
out that Harvey was anticipated. "The blood current flows
continuously in a circle and never stops," is one among
many acute observations in this very ancient manuscript. (128) He points out further
that in the 16th and 17th centuries B.C. several Egyptian papyri
not only counselled examination of the pulse but also direct
auscultation of the heart as the source of the pulse. Wakerling
refers to several other remarkable observations but concludes,
". . . then followed the period of the Dark Ages."
Technology, or purely factual knowledge, has its limitations.
One might suppose that in Egypt
some philosophers would have arisen, and it is customary to refer
to such people as Ptah-hotep as one of them. But just as we have
seen in connection with Confucius, so of this man James Baikie
All the evidence goes to show
that the Egyptian was one of the most severely practical of men,
who sought learning not for any joy in the attainment of truth
for its own sake but simply as a means to an end. . . . The wisdom
of Ptah-hotep and of Kagemni is in general of a canny, practical
nature, concerning itself with the ordinary details of life and
conduct and inculcating
127. Newman, James R., reviewing Morris Kline's
"Mathematics in Western Culture," Scientific American,
Feb., 1954, p.92.
128. Wakerling, George E., "From Bright Towards Light: The
Story of Hypertensive Research," Circulation Research,
vol.11. Part 2, 1962, p.131. I think it is worth noting also
that the ancient art of feeling the pulse was also known in China
from works dated 2500 B.C. 8ee an article on this by D. E. Bedford,
British Heart Journal, vol.13, 1951, p. 423-47.
129.Baikie, James, The Story of the Pharaohs, Black, London,
prudence which, how ever praiseworthy,
reaches no high ideals but is based mainly on self interest.
The daily lives
of their upper classes must have been as comfortable as one can
imagine, their physical needs supplied with elegance and good
taste in marked contrast with the Greeks who initiated science
in Europe but whose lives were evidently lived in rather comfortless
austerity. Clive Bell has pointed out that the disinterestedness
of the latter in their pursuit of truth has been made a reproach
to thern. As he put it, "They sought truth for its own sake
. . . not as a means to power and comfort. . . . The Athenians
wished to live richly rather than to be rich.'' (130) The life of a well-to-do
Greek in classical times, so rich and complete in thought and
feeling, was in most material tlings, as Clive Bell put it, "indecently
I think the same is still true
of Indo-Europeans: that those who are really immersed in deep
thought have a tendency to be totally indifferent to practical
things and to the ordinary amenities of life. This in itself
is not too surprising perhaps, and while it might conceivably
be true in any culture that some of the more thoughtful members
were impractical and would tend to be considered merely as lazy,
what is to be remembered is that Indo-Europeans have had a tendency
to look up to such men, not down upon them. Not every Semite
is religious, nor every Japhethite an intellectual ‹ by any
means Nevertheless, the Semites have always recognized the pre-eminence
of spiritual life over physical life, they have had what might
be called a spiritual aristocracy. I am excluding those Semites
who are not strictly culturally Semites any longer, who have
been immersed in a culture that is alien to their own. It is
true also that Indo-Europeans have tended always to revere an
intellectual elite. And I think it worth noting (apropos of the
Hamite branch) that many primitive cultures demand that a young
suitor prove himself in some way to be ingenious before he is
acceptable; and the Chinese produced biographies on a national
scale dealing with their inventors but not with anyone else.
And there is a tendency for Egyptian and Sumerian records to
attach more importance to engineers in the broadest sense than
to any other class. We do not know the name of one priest as
far as I am aware, but we do know the names of some of their
architects, builders, and engineers.
Moreover, as Hegel pointed out
years ago, Hindu philosophers
130. Bell, Clive, Civilization, Penguin
Books, London, 1938, p.63.
achieved great heights,
yet because they attached so little importance to the material
world they did not produce science. The dependence of science
upon the amalgamation of philosophy and technology needs to be
underscored, since the Greeks also failed to bring Europe into
a scientific age owing to their stated disinterest in practical
things, although in both India and Greece the technical base
was lacking for the conversion of philosophy into science. The
reasons why science did not emerge in either Greece or India
seem to have been much the same, in the final analysis: namely,
a scorn for things practical and a distaste for manual labour.
Aryan philosophy in India was not
applied to Hamitic technology because the caste of technicians
was not to be associated with. It was, on the other hand, applied
to religion because the priestly caste was a high one. Consequently,
while science did not emerge, theology, in the form of Hinduism
‹ did. Lucille Schulberg observed: (131)
The enormous racial pride of
the Aryans, in fact, encouraged the separation of peoples, and
non-Aryan craftsmen who banded together to guard the secrets
of their craft, apparently came to supervise all the aspects
of the behaviour of their groups.
And again, of
these technicians who were the descendants of the original inhabitants
of India who had founded the Indus Valley civilization, Schulberg
wrote, "These conquered peoples were completely segregated,
forced to live in clusters outside the Aryan village boundaries
and barred from Aryan religious rites.'' (132) Aryan philosophical interests were dominant: (133)
Of all the philosophers that
India has produced one who graced the 9th century A.D. ranks
among the great minds in all history. That was Shankara, a brahman
born in Kerala, in South India. In a brief life of 32 years he
did for Hinduism what the 13th century Thomas Aquinas did for
Christianity: he took his religion apart and examined it in minute
detail, then drew the pieces together again in one cohesive whole.
He wrote the most famous of all the commentaries on the Upanishads
and established himself as chief exponent of the system of philosophy
most esteemed by Hindu intellectuals.
often been argued that England lags behind some other countries
(notably the U.S.A.) in technology because there is a strong
feeling that technology is a somewhat less
131. Schulberg, Lucille, Historic India
in Great Ages of Man, Time-Life Publication, New York,
132. Ibid., p.37.
133. Ibid., p121.
The true gentleman does not do things with his hands. Against
this, it has also been pointed out that in the early days the
Royal Society was formed by men who were actively engaged in
doing experiments and working at their instruments with their
hands. Still, it appears that they were not really concerned
with applied technology. Lord Raglan said of them, "Scientists
of the 17th century were but little interested in utilitarian
aspects of their inventions. Their object was to cause wonder
and surprise, to produce 'a most incredible thing.' Nothing was
farther from their minds than the idea of developing their inventions
for the purpose of altering the conditions under which they lived.''
I think Lord Raglan has stated
only half the truth about them, because they were driven by an
even more powerful urge, namely, the urge to explore and define
and demonstrate the orderliness of the universe -- almost as
an act of worship. The basis of this urge is important in the
present context. Alfred North Whitehead asserted that "centuries
of belief in a God Who combined the personal energy of Jehovah
(the Semitic contribution) with the rationality of a Greek philosopher
(the Japhethic contribution) first produced that firm expectation
of systematic order which rendered possible the birth of modern
Their concern was in no sense a practical one.
In our culture the scientist in
his ivory tower appears generally as something of a heroic figure.
But he can also be a ludicrous one. James Conant says, "The
scientific attitude is essentially that of the savants who, drinking
to their next discovery, coupled with their toast the hope that
it might never be of use to anybody.'' (136) And Robert Clark in a similar vein refers to the
great Irish mathematician, William Hamilton, who when he had
developed a theory of quarternions in the middle of the 18th
century, "was very pleased because it had no practical application.''
Susanne Langer has observed that
philosophy has traditionally dealt in general terms and that
the reason for its "proverbial uselessness" once the
sciences have been "born from its mysterious womb"
is that it made general propositions not only its
134. Raglan, Lord, How Came Civilization,
Methuen, London, 1939, p.176.
135. Whitehead, Alfred N., quoted by C. S. Lewis, Miracles,
Macmillan, New York, 1947, pp.127, 128.
136. Conant, J. B., On Understanding Science, Mentor Books,
New York, 1951, p.117.
137. Clark, Robert A., Six Talks on Jung's Psychology,
Boxwood Press Pittsburgh, 1953, p.22.
immediate aim, but its
sole material." (138) The philosopher's aim is, as she has said, "generality"
‹ but it leads to science which can deal with specifics and
is increasingly being called upon to do so in terms of "products"
of basic research, though "all really basic thinking is
In view of the tremendous strides
forward which have resulted technologically as a direct outcome
of this philosophizing tendency among Europeans, one may wonder
why the Industrial Revolution wasn't paralleled in India where
thoughtful men were doing much the same thing. It seems to me
that if the Aryans had not so completely destroyed the Hamitic
cultures of the Indus Valley when they first moved down from
the north into their subcontinent, and had not also degraded
the survivors of that culture to such an extent that they never
had the opportunity to perpetuate their technical know-how even
at a much reduced level, these conquered people might have provided
the same kind of pabulum which Europeans inherited partly from
the great Middle East cultures and partly from the Far East through
the Arabs, which has been the basis of their advance. Had the
Indian also made more frequent contacts with the Chinese and
some other Far Eastern peoples like the Koreans who were equally
ingenious, this too might have supplied their lack. It has been
said of the Greeks that they did not move forward toward an Industrial
Revolution because they did not need labour-saving devices or
technological aids of any kind since they
138. Langer,Susanne, Mind: An Essay on
Human Feeling, Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore, 1967, vol.1,
pp. xx, xxi. A. N. Whitehead wrote: "All the world over
and at all times there have been practical men, absorbed in the
irreducible and stubborn facts; all the world over and at all
times there have been men of philosophical temperament, who have
been absorbed in the meaning of general principles" (Science
and the Modern World, Macmillan, New York, 1925).
Commenting on this quote, Philipp
Frank remarks: "In antiquity and the Middle Ages, there
was very little co-operation between these two types of men.
Whitehead emphasizes the point that Science in tle modern sense
was born when such co-operation started, and when both interests,
in facts and ideas, were combined in one and the same person.
. . . In the society of ancient Greece the philosophers . . .
who were interested in general principles belonged to a higher
social class than those more interested in the hard facts of
technological application, the artisans and craftsmen. The latter
belonged to a low class and had no understanding of general ideas.
. . . We know that the ancient Greeks and Romans displayed a
marvellous art and skill in building and even in some fields
of mechanical engineering but the knowledge of these ancient
builders and engineers was not 'philosophic' or 'scientific';
it was purely technological" (Philosophy of Science,
Prentice Hall, New Jersy, 1957, p.25).
were so well supplied
with slaves. Farrington and others believe that this is not entirely
correct. Apparently, what actually happened was that, having
a very large slave population, all menial (i.e., manual) tasks
were undertaken by them so that any kind of labour was, in a
sense, degraded. Hence the Greeks objected to doing anything
with their hands, even to drawing diagrams in the sand to illustrate
a theorem. There were exceptions among the Greeks, but they were
exceptions only in a manner of speaking, and the "manner
of speaking" is interesting. Ralph Linton has pointed this
At the siege of Syracuse by
the Romans, Archimedes really upset them by his constant invention
of new devices to burn their ships and disorganize them generally.
But Plutarch, writing 600 years later, feels it necessary to
apologize for Archimedes having made practical use of his mathematical
formulae and so on, and he says that the philosopher had made
machines not of his own free will but because the King of Syracuse
had requested him to build these machines as a demonstration
of the clear laws of mathematics and mechanics which, in this
way, could be explained to persons of lower minds who could not
perceive the truths in the abstract.
go back to Plutarch's own words, we find the following: (140)
Archimedes had such a depth
of understanding, such a dignity of sentiment, and so copious
a fund of mathematical knowledge, that, though in the invention
of these machines he gained the reputation of a man endowed with
divine rather than hurnan knowledge, yet he did not vouchsafe
to leave any account of them in writing. For he considered all
attention to mechanics and every art that ministers to common
use as meanand sordid, and placed his whole delight in those
intellectual speculations, which, without any relation to the
necessities of life, have an intrinsic excellence arising from
truth and demonstration only.
this tradition is the feeling which has still persisted in parts
of Europe, particularly in England, that engineering is a less
distinguished and honourable profession than philosophy or scientific
But so completely deceived
139. Archimedes: see Ralph Linton, The
Tree of Culture, Knopf, New York, 1956, p.665.
140. Plutarch, Lives, translated by John and William Langhorne,
Routledge, London, no date, p.221.
141. On this see The Integration of Technologies, edited
by Leslie Holliday, Hutchinson, London, 1966, 167 pp., illustrated,
where it is shown clearly how British social attitudes still
militate against the exploration of a scientific technology.
In an editorial entitled "Does Every Apple Have A Worm?"
in the British journal Nature, Dec. 30, 1967, p.1257,
a report is given of the (continued. . .)
have we been in the
New World by the tremendous strides we have made in technology
that we assume our high technology to be the result of our own
natural inventiveness and interest in mechanics, and the almost
direct outcome of our science. Charles V. Kidd, quoting Vannevar
Bush, remarked: (142)
New products and new processes
do not appear full grown. They are founded on new principles
and new conceptions, which in turn are painstakingly developed
by research in the purest realms of Science.
It is hard to
think of any statement on this general subject which is so completely
and utterly wrong. Vannevar Bush also remarked: "A nation
which depends upon others for its new basic knowledge will be
slow in industrial progress. . . .'' (143) If the writer did but know it, this too is a complete
misrepresentation of history, for it can be shown that our "basic
knowledge" in the technical sense ‹ and he is speaking
of "mechanical skill," etc. ‹ was derived almost
entirely from non-Indo-European sources.
Claude Levi-Strauss tends to make
precisely the same mistake when he speaks of the emergence of
Neolithic culture as being based on a "long scientific
tradition" [my emphasis] because the developments which
preceded it must have involved an extended period of conscious
and deliberate experiment. (144) The fact is that almost all we know about primitive
people (with a very few notable exceptions) is that they are
conservative in the extreme and simply do not experiment to evolve
new and better techniques. What they do seem to have been able
to do is to hit upon remarkably effective solutions without hunting
for improvements as we habitually find we must do. He argues,
wrongly I believe, that only experiment "could have yielded
practical and useful results." Hamitic peoples have advanced
technology because they have a genius for invention, not because
(141 continued) Reith Lectures in which Dr.
Edmund Leach of Cambridge said: If you ask a professional scientist
. . . he will insist that genuine human control of technology
is impossible. That being so, the wise man must avoid all involvement
affairs. . . . Only by detachment can he hope to gain true understanding.
. . . (This) summarizes the basic philosophy of our science-laden
society. . . . His concern is to understand the universe, not
to improve it."
142. Vannevar Bush, quoted by Charles V. Kidd, "Basic Research:
Description versus Definition," Science, vol.129,
l44. Levi-Strauss, Claude, The Savzge Mind, Weidenfeld
& Nicolson, London, 1966, pp.14, 15.
they have been scientific;
and Japhethites have advanced technology because they are philosophically
minded and not because they are inventive. Our "inventions"
are basically imports. In this sense we who lacked technology
have been completely dependent in the past upon people who never
created science, though we have so far outstripped them that
they now look to us instead of we to them.
David G. Barry in the same journal
had said this: (145)
As a culture we have prided
ourselves on our "practical nature" and on Yankee inventiveness.
These ideas are pleasant to contemplate and are seldom questioned.
Historians of American Science have not, however, been able to
establish any unusual capacity for inventiveness or practicality
in the American record.
out that we have placed tremendous emphasis as a people on the
concept of "utility," but he thinks that this is undoubtedly
due to the demanding religious views of the Founding Fathers
"who left us with the Puritan ethic of useful work."
He shows how very different this was from the practical interest
of the non-Indo-European peoples who had no such "other
world" aims in view. Although he does not do so, he might
also have noted that this was the spark which led to the founding
of the Royal Society. He wrote:
It is generally agreed that
this concept is a heritage from the upright and demanding religious
views of the New England forefathers, who left us with the Puritan
ethic of useful work. However, the operational significance of
the early Puritan concept of utility differs greatly from that
of the concept widely held in this country today. Utility as
early Americans viewed it was an integral part of the Puritan
religion blended with their theology and the science they used
to support it. The Puritans saw nature and the cosmos as the
unchanging product of the original creation. All nature had been
designed by the Creator, and was operated with providential utility
to benefit man. Man himself was part of this orderly scheme and
had a moral responsibility to acquire new knowledge of nature
and to seek to understand the divine utility of natural phenomena
as part of his daily life. Through such knowledge he could better
know the Creator. Thus the Puritan concept of utility was part
of an open-ended, ever-expanding system which gave highest honour
to pursuit of new knowledge.
We revert once
more to the statement made above by Bush.
145. Barry, David G., "Research and Purpose,"
in a letter to the editor, Science, vol.147, 1965, p.1524.
Melvin Kranzberg in
reviewing a work by Bronowski and others entitled, Technology:
Man Remakes His World, wrote: (146)
A typical statement (from the
book) reads as follows: "All progress in technology depends
on a scientific understanding of the way in which nature works.
. . ." Nonsense! For most of human history, when technological
progress was dependent on craft tradition, no "scientific
understanding" was involved in technological advance.
He gives several
further similar examples of this kind of faulty reasoning which
in the final analysis is really based on national pride ‹
one might almost say, on racial conceit.
In the next chapter we shall examine
some of the evidence which students of the history of technology
have begun to uncover.
146. Kranzberg, Melvin, under the heading,
"Our Industrial Society," Science, vol.146,
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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