Online Problem #1

The One and the Many

This is the oldest, and one of the hardest, of all philosophical questions: What is the one concept in terms of which all the many things we find in the world of our experience can be explained? What, that is, is the basic nature of everything?

We are told by our science teachers that most things are composed of atoms, which are themselves made up of neutrons, protons and electrons, which in their turn can be broken down into even smaller sub-atomic particles, and these infinitely tiny things can be viewed as either particles or wave packets, and on and on. These tiny physical things compose apples and galaxies, trees and people, cabbages and kings. Everything. And everything else is empty space-- the void. This modern doctrine sounds a lot like the ancient atomic theory of Leucippus and Democritus. And it is; for the presupposition is still that whatever is, is physical. All modern sciences-physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy- necessarily assume that whatever is real must be physical (observable, measurable). But surely there are some things--not "things", exactly, but which really exist--that are not physical? Thought, for example: is a thought physical? Psychologists will tell you that the brain is a physical object, and what goes on in it is physical, too. Thought is simply a matter of brain waves, just a kind of faint electronic activity. So is everything really physical? Is there anything, any aspect of reality, that is not physical?

Bibliography

Kirk, G.S. and J.E. Raven: The Presocratic Philosophers, Cambridge University Press, New York, 1960