There's not much there I don't agree with.It is a good point about the Romantic roots of environmentalism, and has a great deal of truth. Theodore Roosevelt (and others), who preserved so much of the USA in National Parks, were also nationalists and often racists (in our terms).
However, the scientific study of nature comes from a different ancestry. Josiah Wedgewood, pioneer of the Industrial Revolution, had a friend in the Lunar Society called Erasmus Darwin, himself an amateur biologist and doctor. Both men were grandfathers of Charles Darwin, and the Wedgewoods had as much influence on him as the Darwins. He was anti-slavery, like the Wedgewoods, for the whole of his life.
Pretty much modern environmentalism (a love of the natural world + bio-ecological sciences) is indebted to both.
I think it is fair to label the intellectual spirit of the 18th century as "the Enlightenment", and of the 19th century as "the Romantic Era", despite both names containing value judgements. But that does not mean one had a monopoly on the good ideas. The Enlightenment saw the start of scientific racism, while the Romantic Era saw the rise of modern anti-semitism. Both together led to the Holocaust.
Adam Smith may have "invented " capitalism, but it is argued (and I think it is true) that the brand of capitalism we see today is not the same as Adam Smith's. OTOH, Fascism is often typified as Hegel + Le Maistre, and Communism as Hegel + Marx. Hegel being considered a "Romantic", or Idealist philosopher,
If Pinker is saying that the Enlightenment had all the good ideas, and the Romantic Era was full of misguided reactions to them, then he is completely wrong. The history of ideas is much more nuanced than that.
PS I disagree about Science and the Enlightenment, but maybe that is for another day.
I agree - the history of ideas is at least as important as the history of political or military events.Excellent post, most newly promoted Sublime One. Serious point though is that the best historians I can think of will note times and dates of course but I'm not sure they would put such things as the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution or indeed the Romantic period in cultural terms in neat boxes labelled by year, decade or century.
The best thing about the study of history from all my wild reading has been that realisation beyond the schoolboy rote learning of dates when this happened or your man won a battle or whatever, but the ebb and flow of dynamics which erupt into events in the human consciousness.
My definition of art as distinct from production would be; 'That activity which seeks to convey, question or comment on the human condition'. Haven't found a work of art yet that falls outside that description, nor have I ever found a template production in manufacturing which fits easily into it.
So adapting that I'm going to say that proper studies in history are 'political dynamics over time where the human collective is conscious of those dynamics'.
How far ancient science advanced is a fascinating question.Yes, the history of ideas is weird because there are things out of time. Exquisite engineering such as the Antikythera machine, the fantastic hydraulic systems of Phoenicia.
The island of Santorini where there are mosaics and wallpaintings which have a three dimensional aspect to the way they are completed which is probably 1500-1700 years or more ahead of the western European switch from one dimensional renderings of people and animals to three dimensional representation. Not sure if I'm explaining that well enough but the history of ideas is sort of jumbled in an interesting way.
One theory why the classical world didn't develop science fully is they didn't have Christian theology.How far ancient science advanced is a fascinating question.
It is an interesting speculation as to why the Classical World never developed anything like modern science, as it is also true for the Chinese, or the Islamic Civilization that inherited the wisdom of the ancients.
- Aristotle was the most accomplished scientist of his day, and dissected animals to study their anatomy.
- Archimedes was a brilliant physicist, comparable in his day to Newton or Einstein. It seems he had a basic understanding of Integral Calculus, using limits of infinite series to calculate areas and volumes.
- Hero of Alexandria constructed a wind turbine, and a primitive steam engine.
- Euclid's Geometry was the model for axiomatic systems down to the 19th century, besides having myriad practical applications up to the present.
- Aristarchus of Samos advanced had a sun-centred model of the Solar System nearly 2,000 years before Copernicus or Galileo.
- Eratosthenes of Cyrene made an accurate determination of the circumference of the Earth.
- Epicurean philosophers had a completely materialist conception of the Universe, based on a qualitative concept of the atom, that was not to appear again until the 17th century.
- Skeptical philosophers of the ancient world opposed dogma, and favoured free enquiry.
- Roman engineering and military technology was (possibly) the most advanced in the world in its day. Its only rival was the Chinese Han Dynasty.
More basic problems were lack of a proper number system - the concept of the zero came eventually from India, in the middle ages. No simple mathematical notation (no +, - , X or division for example).
- One reason has to be slavery, , which made it too easy to fulfil demand for labour-saving and efficiency. The most "efficient" solutions to problems might be to just buy more slaves, not pay some Greek to invent a steam engine.
- Another was the lack of a decent educational system that could produce an annual crop of eager research students.
- Another was the haphazard way knowledge was organised, though Roman cities has public libraries, and the Library of Alexandria was famous as the Roman world's top research institute and classifier of knowledge.
- There would have been an international network of thinkers and writers, but it was thin. Plato's Academy in Athens lasted until the 6th century as the world's leading University. Most of its students were rich aristocrats learning rhetoric.
And that is before you get to pandemics, barbarians, economic collapse and religious fanaticism. The Muslims may have done for the Library of Alexandria, but the Christians had already made a fair old job of destroying it. The death of Hypatia, a female and one of the last Alexandrine philosopher-scientists, makes gruesome reading.
Christian theology did act as a sort of midwife for science, but perhaps unintentionally. Some of the best "science" of the Middle Ages went on in monasteries - which were often multi-disciplinary "institutes", acting as hospitals for the sick, refuges for the poor, highly productive farms and libraries. The 12th century saw some advances in medicine, farming technology ( a new plough) and horticulture that were possibly invented and spread by monasteries. The monasteries kept alive the study of Aristotle's work, and the development of logic, all of which were of use to the nascent experimental sciences.My point, to clarify, is that one theory (and it's not my own) as to why ancient science wasn't as successful as later science is that the Christian worldview created more favorable conceptual conditions for science to flourish; namely the idea that the world was designed by a creator and that to understand the design was to understand the creator. That made science more exciting and purposeful than it was for the ancients. It's not that you need that to have science, just that it creates more favourable conditions for it to flourish.
Baruch Spinoza 's, a philosopher from the Netherlands, of Portuguese Jewish extraction, equated God and Nature .... he saw the Universe as a machine where the Laws of Nature were God's Laws and there was no personal intervention by a God. Two hundred years later, when Albert Einstein was asked if he believed in God, he replied "I believe in the God of Spinoza".My point, to clarify, is that one theory (and it's not my own) as to why ancient science wasn't as successful as later science is that the Christian worldview created more favorable conceptual conditions for science to flourish; namely the idea that the world was designed by a creator and that to understand the design was to understand the creator. That made science more exciting and purposeful than it was for the ancients. It's not that you need that to have science, just that it creates more favourable conditions for it to flourish.
Einstein did invoke God many times ... he called him [or her?] "The Old One".Einstein and others like him were always being put on trial by the anti-science religionists. He said a lot of things in response and they all add up to a certain amount of scepticism.