On the Pre-Socratic Thought and the Modern Scientific Theory.

This undergraduate philosophical paper was originally written as a four-page comparative study in partial fulfillment of the requirements for PHIL 2013.

A Paper in PHIL 2013

A comparative study between the Pre-Socratic thought (of Empedocles and Democritus), and the Modern Scientific Theory (of Darwin and Newton)


Through the lens of evolutionary model, human origins and human nature are significant aspects of the history of all living beings. It is for this reason that the theory of evolution, with its global pervasiveness since the mid-nineteenth century, marked a pivotal moment, in empirical human history.

This evolutionary thought has had barged into the orthodox standpoint, like the proverbial thief in the night: it stole away the then well-established religious conception of human origins and challenged other conventional ways through which humanity had viewed itself. Nonetheless, it has been—and remains—a subject of empirical controversy.

Historically the natural development of species, which involved the evolution of one into another along the ‘great chain of being’ has captured the interest of various naturalists, from the ancient Greek philosopher Anaximander (c.547 BC), who believed that men evolved from fish, to eighteenth-century theorists such as Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829) and Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802). By the early 1800’s, evolutionary theory, though it stands in contradiction with the biblical account of man’s creation, had attained some respectability as a corollary of the historical thinking prevalent in Europe, Western modern science.

There are at least three theories that aimed to explain the origin of living species through evolutionary light. A first one, the Curvier Theory of Catastrophes, assumes that the different parts of the world are often visited by catastrophes, and these catastrophes cause mass extinction of various types of organisms living in those parts of the world. After each catastrophe, the area is repopulated by another group of organisms living in the nearby territory that were not affected by the catastrophe. These events explain why, archeologically, different earth strata show different kinds of new organisms that are more modern in form compared to the other fossil organisms found in the previous layer.  A second one, Lamarck’s Theory of Evolution, supposes that the environment causes adjustment in the living organism’s physiological form: the body parts are either atrophied (discarded) or developed (enhanced and thus passed on to the offspring) over time. A third theory of evolution —and the one upon which this comparative reflection shall concentrate—is that of the English naturalist Charles Darwin (1809-1882). 

Darwin’s Theory of Evolution by means of Natural Selection wheels around the belief that due to a competition for scarce resources (scarcity due to the ever-increasing numbers of consumers), the survival of the species-organism depends upon the capacity to cope and adapt with the said struggle for existence. Those who could adapt the most are ultimately favored under the principle of ‘natural selection’ between, within or amongst organisms. Thus, under and through the lens of evolutionary model, the organisms that are unable to adjust to their specific environment are doomed to face extinction.  And the development and origin of species, that was once an occult zone, became an object of systematic speculation and scientific reflection.

Within the discourse of science, the theory of evolution has been ascribed to Darwin. Nevertheless wayback antiquity, a philosopher by the name of Empedocles had propounded a theory explaining the origin and development of living species, an older theory resembling an archetype to the later modern evolutionary theory. According to Empedocles (495-435 B.C.), flesh and bone transpired as products of the fusion of the elements. These mixtures materialized into disjointed body parts and wandered around until they coincided with other disjoined parts. Among these formations only the fittest of the structures survived into what we now know as human and animal species.

To contrast however, the spirit of Darwin’s evolutionary model in the 1895 On the Origin of Species projects a linear, progressive, and cumulative development of the organisms, toward a more superior and higher form. On the other hand, Empedocles’ evolutionary idea, it seems, only result from the ‘Love’ and ‘Strife’ forces—the principle of attraction and repulsion—which explains the phenomena of change and motion. This attraction and repulsion, in Empedocles, explains the erratic interaction as may occur between and amongst the four root substances of air, fire, water and earth.

It is noteworthy to add, for purposes of taking cognizance of a relatively recent scientifico-philosophical advancement, as much as for leaving the future of science as ‘always open’: that although Darwinian Evolutionism appears to mightily depart from the religious theory of origins of man, i.e. by it refuting the sacred Divine Creation: it just the same only crystallized though time, as yet another touchstone in its own right, in the light of psychoanalytic discourse. Freud (1856-1939)  in 1916 wrote as follows:

In the course of the centuries the naive self-love of men has had to submit to two major blows at the hands of science. The first was when they learnt that the earth was not the center of the universe … The Second blow fell when biological research destroyed man’s supposedly privileged place in creation and proved his descent from the animal kingdom … But human megalomania will have suffered its third and most wounding blow from the psychological research of the present time which seeks to prove to the ego that it is not even the master in its house. —Introductory Lectures in Psychoanalysis.


It has been said that Ancient Greek philosophy reached its grand pinnacle with the work of Leucippus and Democritus (460-360 B.C.) when the initial question of Thales after the true nature of matter climaxed approximately 180 years later in the minute concept of the atoms, which concept in a sense remerged—institutionalized, this time—in a rather modern discipline of physics and chemistry. It is for this reason that philosophically, Leucippus and Democritus have an innovative, original, historical, significant contribution in the field of atomism, while at the same time making the best possible speculations in ancient Greek philosophy in terms of natural science.

To expound, the Greek Atomists put forth a principle which seeks to explain the nature of reality by postulating the corollary conceptions of the ‘atoms’ and the ‘void.’ Democritus particularly posed the notion of the void or an empty space as a component of being. Which fact [particularly propounding for the concept of the void] suggests a clear but firm contradiction from the relatively earlier Parmenides’ view which had claimed that what-is-not does exist.  These Atoms, to expound further, have their features. First of which is that, they are indivisible, eternal, unchanging. Second, there are quantitative differences between them. (They come in various shapes and sizes.) Third, they are qualitatively alike or neutral. (They have no color, taste, temperature or odor.)

Atomism in Greek philosophy, thus, is the doctrine that all matter consists of different arrangements of a limited number of indivisible particle or atoms. And the Ancient Greek Atom pertains plainly to the smallest portion of matter displaying the characteristic properties of a given particular thing.

To contrast such a conception of the Atom from the modern conception of it in the field of modern Sciences: the modern atom has to be distinguished as to consist of a heavy nucleus composed of neutrons and protons held together by extremely strong nuclear forces surrounded by a cloud of electrons. Moreover, this modern atom has been made more complex in the light of Quantum advancements. Furthermore, the concept of a ‘quark’ (coinage attributed to American physicist Murray Gellmann) has been hypothesized as to reify the basic subatomic nuclear particle held to be the basic component of protons, neutrons, etc. or a mathematically convenient parameter of a model, which conceptual development is far more advanced than the Greek Atom.


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