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Recognising the potential o f its seeds to become apple trees, Greek philosophy and the origins of western linguistics or seeing the force o f gravitation at work in its fall, was quite another question. The more a particular discipline had to grapple with matter, the less certain its results, in Aristotle’s eyes. Where matter was heavily involved, the most one could hope for was practical knowledge - knowledge based on experience that could be realised in action. But a higher sort o f knowledge, theoretical knowledge, is accessible to us in those domains where the content is not bound up with matter: mathematics, physics and theology.

What was actually stable and eternal when everything seemed subject to change? As they pondered this problem, a new phenomenon emerged: intellectual disagreement. As long as everyone was aware o f the activity o f the gods, they shared the same knowledge, but once they began to unfold their own thinking, different people could - and did - arrive at different conclusions. As the generations passed, one thinker after another put forward his view o f the universe. Pythagoras and his followers, in southern Italy, sought to grasp the proportions and harmonies inherent in the universe in terms o f numerical relations.

3 Nature vs convention The antithesis between nature and convention was a theme which ran right through Greek experience in Plato’s generation. In trying to find some kind o f basis for order in what looked like an increasingly chaotic world, as the old certainties faded into tradition, Plato and his contemporaries examined every aspect o f life in a search for order. Order, they realised, was o f two kinds: one kind is innate, inevitable, and intrinsic to the things or beings to which it applies; while the other kind is externally imposed by arbitrary human decision.

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