Richard Carrier: Science Education in the Early Roman Empire

Discuss the world of the Greeks, Romans, Babylonians, and Egyptians.
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lpetrich
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Richard Carrier: Science Education in the Early Roman Empire

Post by lpetrich » Sun Oct 23, 2016 2:27 am

He has published a book, " Science Education in the Early Roman Empire", that is an expansion of part of his PhD thesis. The rest of it he is still working on, and it should come out as "The Scientist in the Early Roman Empire".

He discusses ancient Roman education with an emphasis on science-related subjects.
And by “science” in this context I mean knowledge of the natural world, actively pursued by empirical means, with an ongoing concern for developing and employing valid methods of drawing conclusions from observations.
Even if it had been called "natural philosophy" until the late 19th cy.

It was mostly members of the elite and their children who got educated, because education could get expensive, and not many people had the time and money to get very educated. A few slaves did get some education, however, because literacy was a useful skill.

Primary education was mostly in the three R's: reading, writing, and arithmetic, and secondary education, until the mid teens, continued it, with emphasis on the literary classes and writing in a good literary style. Higher or tertiary education was usually in rhetoric: speechmaking and debating -- making speeches was a fine art in that society. Advanced or quaternary education was often professional: medicine or engineering or law.

A good preparation for higher education was taking the enkyklios paideia courses (roughly "well-rounded learning"). The lower three, later named the trivium ("three ways"), were grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic, while the upper four, later named the quadrivium ("four ways"), were arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music. Arithmetic included what is now algebra, geometry what is now trigonometry, astronomy what is now timekeeping and calendars, and music acoustic theory. Not a lot of people completed it, though many educated people had at least some acquaintance with it.

There was a curious difficulty: a lot of the scientific literature, or at least what qualified as science back then, was in Greek, without good Latin translations, because some Latin literati disliked neologisms. But many educated Romans learned Greek for other reasons, and that would have helped them there. How did science come to speak only English? | Aeon Essays chronicles the history of languages for describing scientific research. First Greek, then Latin, then Latin and vernacular languages, then English, French, and German, and then finally English.

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Re: Richard Carrier: Science Education in the Early Roman Em

Post by lpetrich » Sun Oct 23, 2016 2:49 am

RC discusses what various schools of philosophy thought about science. The Stoics: important, though not as important as moral philosophy. The Platonists and Pythagoreans: theoretical science important, empirical science not so important. The Aristotelians or Peripatetics: the most scientifically-minded of all. The Epicureans: much like the Stoics, though they considered mathematics not as important. The Skeptics (Academicians to Pyrrhonists): nobody could really know what the truth is, though they spent a lot of time learning stuff to critique it. The Cynics (a hippie-ish school): science is useless or worse.

Then specialized science education, mainly medicine (included biology) and engineering (included physics). Chemistry was very poorly developed. We have some sources who discuss that education in detail: Galen on medicine and Vitruvius on engineering.

Literacy in the ancient world had some big problems. Writing material could be expensive, and printing did not exist -- it was necessary to make copies by hand. But both public and private libraries existed, and many people attended public lectures.

There was some public support for higher education, like endowing professorships and supporting professional associations. Some of them got close to what we'd recognize as universities.

Writing material was preserved mainly in Egypt and in the cities buried by Mt. Vesuvius, because otherwise it would decompose.

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Re: Richard Carrier: Science Education in the Early Roman Em

Post by lpetrich » Sun Oct 23, 2016 3:09 am

RC then continues with Jewish and Christian attitudes.

In the more conservative and strict places, education was mostly on the Bible and religious law, while Jews in Alexandria and other such places got a pagan-like education.
Philo argued that scientists and natural philosophers ought to dedicate their study of nature to God, just as a sailor dedicates the success of a voyage to God, showing humble thanks for the talent God had given them, which God obviously intended them to use. This means Philo had no problem with Jews becoming scientists and studying science, so long as they honored God as they ought.
But he thought that contemplation of God was the highest activity.

Xianity had some very different attitudes. Mostly disdain for education as pagan, coupled with lack of interest in developing Xian alternatives. The theologian Origen was an exception, however. But some theologians argued that God would not have made the knowledge necessary for salvation difficult to acquire. RC quotes a 3rd-cy. tract:
Avoid all books of the heathen. For what have you to do with strange sayings or laws or lying prophecies, which also turn away from the faith those who are young? For what is wanting for you in the word of God, that you should cast yourself upon these fables of the heathen? If you want to read historical narratives, you have the Book of Kings. If wise men and philosophers, you have the Prophets, wherein you shall find more wisdom and understanding than of [the so-called] wise men and philosophers, for they are the words of the one God, the only wise being. And if you wish for songs, you have the Psalms of David. But if you’d rather read about the beginning of the world, you have the Genesis of the great Moses. And if you want laws and commandments, you have the glorious Law of the Lord God. All that is strange therefore, everything contrary [to the Bible], wholly avoid.
There were some exceptions, like a sect that admired the works of Euclid, Aristotle, Theophrastus, and Galen, but that sect never got very big, and it was scorned as heretics by other Xians.


Then RC discusses Justin Martyr's considering various schools of philosophy. RC suspects that JM's account of his quest is at least partially fictionalized, but it is nevertheless interesting.

JM first went to a Pythagorean, but that gentleman was disappointed in JM's lack of learning. JM's response was to argue that being learned is not really necessary. Then JM went to an Aristotelian, and that gentleman wanted to charge him for being taught. JM didn't want to pay anything. Then JM went to a Stoic, and that gentleman de-emphasized God. JM didn't like that either. So he settled on Platonism for a while before discovering Xianity. Interestingly, many later theologians also liked Platonism, and that's why most of Plato's books survive.


Then 3rd-century Clement of Alexandria. RC notes that he thought that one should study science and philosophy, but mainly to avoid seeming stupid, as Augustine of Hippo also recommended. However, it was not as an end in itself.
Clement seems to treat these subjects as closed and finished, as mere traditions that had only to be passed on, never expanded or improved.

...
To him, science and philosophy must be subordinated to Christian dogma and studied primarily to arm the Christian against attacks upon the faith by scientists and philosophers. Thus, for Clement, science and philosophy take on the role of the enemy’s scriptures, a view voiced by other Christians, too.
This reminds me of how some recent Xian apologists misunderstand science. They seem to think that it is just like their religion, a set of revealed truths. Thus, Ray Comfort once handed out copies of Charles Darwin's Origin of Species with this curious addition.
The catch is that he wrote a 50-page introduction that explains how evolution has no support, brainwashes people, and has a direct connection to Adolf Hitler.
Complete with omitting his name (Ray Comfort Tries to Sneak Creationism into On the Origin of Species).

After noting that science was not a high priority for early Xian theologians, RC pointed out that that can easily explain the decline of science and science education after the 4th cy., when Xianity was made the Roman Empire's official religion. It also did not help that not many people learned Greek in the West after the fall of the Western Roman Empire.

It wasn't until the late Middle Ages that science started to revive again, and it only did so in the Roman Catholic parts of Europe, and not in the Eastern Orthodox parts. It also was over a millennium after the origin of Xianity, so Xianity does not deserve any real credit.

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Re: Richard Carrier: Science Education in the Early Roman Em

Post by Kunigunde Kreuzerin » Sun Oct 23, 2016 12:40 pm

.
Thanks. Very interesting.

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Re: Richard Carrier: Science Education in the Early Roman Em

Post by andrewcriddle » Mon Oct 24, 2016 10:41 am

One issue is that doing Science (producing new scientific results) as distinct from learning the established wisdom seems to come to almost a full stop before 200 CE. This is probably too early to blame Christianity. One possible factor in the 3rd century and later is the hostility of the developing Neoplatonic orthodoxy to natural science.

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Re: Richard Carrier: Science Education in the Early Roman Em

Post by Peter Kirby » Mon Oct 24, 2016 12:05 pm

lpetrich wrote:Primary education was mostly in the three R's: reading, writing, and arithmetic
I believe it should be mentioned that math education was structured very differently in antiquity and even in the middle ages (course of study). We learn algebraic arithmetic first and foremost, with geometric applications of it. In Greek mathematics, arithmetic was learned from geometry. Squaring was literally squaring. Taking the square root was finding the side with the area of the square desired. Fractions were the ratios of the sides of a triangle. Solving quadratic equations was achieved with the method of "completing the square." Even number theory (primes, divisibility, etc.) was fundamentally based on the mathematics known from (Euclidean) geometry.

The emphasis on geometry continued until the times of renaissance Italy, when a somewhat-convenient algebraic notation was developed, which was used (for example) to solve the general cubic equation (with an easily-understood geometric argument) and the quartic (without). The great pivot occurred with Cartesian coordinates in the 17th century (in 1637); after that, all geometric arguments could be easily translated into algebraic ones, and the algebra actually made analysis easier. The slope of the tangent line to a curve was a topic of interest, which is equivalent to the idea of the derivative at a point. Within a few years after that, Newton (in 1665-1671) developed his method of fluxions (i.e. the calculus), and Leibniz (in 1676-1684) developed the familiar notation for derivatives and integrals.

The next big paradigm shift in math was to base algebra on set theory and logic, which began with Cantor in the 19th century and was continued by Russell and others in the early 20th. And this is essentially where we still are today.
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Re: Richard Carrier: Science Education in the Early Roman Em

Post by Secret Alias » Mon Oct 24, 2016 12:25 pm

Algebra is Arabic. My son asked me the other day what algebra was called in antiquity. Didn't know.
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Re: Richard Carrier: Science Education in the Early Roman Em

Post by Peter Kirby » Mon Oct 24, 2016 12:28 pm

Secret Alias wrote:Algebra is Arabic. My son asked me the other day what algebra was called in antiquity. Didn't know.
The word is (based on "al-Jabr"). The math used by the medieval Arabs was still essentially geometric. The "method of completing the square" (a method for the "reunion of broken parts" i.e. algebra), for example (which comes to us through Arab scholars in mathematics), for solving quadratics, uses the drawing of a square, instead of using an algebraic formula.

They didn't have a word for algebra because they didn't have algebra. They had geometry. There was no widely used algebraic notation. It was all descriptions of geometric ideas.

In Italy, they abbreviated words describing their equations in Latin, and they started describing things that had no analogy in 2d or 3d geometry (like the solution to the quartic equation). It has some precedents in Arab, Greek, and Babylonian texts -- but overall the geometric model dominated math.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_algebra (the Italian and French of the 1500s-1600s giving us algebra as we know it, generalizing earlier Arab work).
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Re: Richard Carrier: Science Education in the Early Roman Em

Post by Peter Kirby » Mon Oct 24, 2016 12:45 pm

Credit should also be given to Abū al-Ḥasan ibn ʿAlī al-Qalaṣādī in Arab Granada in the 1400s. I suppose we can jointly credit Arabs, Italians, and French in the 1400s-1600s for the development (in the west).
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Re: Richard Carrier: Science Education in the Early Roman Em

Post by Ben C. Smith » Mon Oct 24, 2016 12:55 pm

Peter Kirby wrote:
Secret Alias wrote:Algebra is Arabic. My son asked me the other day what algebra was called in antiquity. Didn't know.
The word is (based on "al-Jabr"). The math used by the medieval Arabs was still essentially geometric. The "method of completing the square" (a method for the "reunion of broken parts" i.e. algebra), for example (which comes to use through Arab scholars in mathematics), for solving quadratics, uses the drawing of a square, instead of using an algebraic formula.

They didn't have a word for algebra because they didn't have algebra. They had geometry.
Reminds me of this old way of envisioning the Pythagorean theorem (a2 + b2 = c2):

Image

The combined area of the small and medium squares equals the total area of the large square.
ΤΙ ΕΣΤΙΝ ΑΛΗΘΕΙΑ

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