The History of Life: Aristotle – Underlying philosophy

Plato’s pupil, and later Alexander the Great’s tutor, Aristotle was born in Stagira in Macedonia in 384 BCE (died 322 BCE), and is sometimes known as the “Stagirite” in older writings. His activity was mostly in Athens, where he studied with Plato, and where he set up a school after Plato’s death, where he and Read More…

The History of Life: Before Aristotle 4 – Plato and the birth of design

As we have seen, Greek thought before Aristotle tended to fall into two broad camps on the nature of life. One (the Milesians and Atomists) held that life could be explained more or less naturally based on the parts of organisms, and the other (the Eleatics and Pythagoreans) that empirical evidence was insufficient, and that Read More…

The History of Life: Before Aristotle 3 – The Four Elements

The Four Elements (Empedocles) Empedocles (ca. 495–435 BCE), who lived in Sicily, was influenced both by the Pythagoreans and Parmenides (in his poem “On Nature”) and proposed what came to be called the “four elements” theory to explain why there was change if the universe was monistic. It was just recombination of eternal and unchanging elements (he called Read More…

The History of Life: Before Aristotle 2 – The Eleatics and the atomists

I will be passing over many philosophers, such as Heraclitus (“everything flows”) only because they said nothing of great influence directly on biology. As we shall see when we finally get to the modern era, this doesn’t mean that some philosophers like Whitehead or Teilhard didn’t draw biological conclusions from them. For perhaps the most Read More…

The History of Life: Before Aristotle 1 – the Milesians and monism

Normally in the history of philosophy the earliest Greek thinkers are referred to as “pre-Socratics”, but in biology, the first systematic thinker is Aristotle, so here we look at his predecessors. One of the issues in histories of ideas is that one can find precursors for nearly every idea you like. Back in the 1890s, Read More…

The History of Life: Nature versus Humanity

Before there was a literate, and philosophical, historical record, humans existed at least some 80,000 years. Around 12,500 years ago in the region surrounding Anatolia in modern Turkey, agriculture slowly began (the Neolithic Revolution, which spread across Eurasia over a period of some five thousand years or more), at first with the domestication of sheep, Read More…

The History of Life: Prelude

I thought I might write a series on the history of biology from prehistory to the present day. It might take a while… However, perspicacious students of history will note that the very first sentence contains a fallacy, so some words might be necessary. Biology did not exist as a separate discipline of study from Read More…