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LUCRETIUS M. D. C. TAIT T HE part which creative imagination and intuition play in framing scientific hypotheses when disciplined by a logical habit of mind, is strikingly illustrated'in the views ofsome of the early Greek philosophers . For though they did not understand the method of empirical science, and had no mechanical aids, they adumbrated the two most fruitful hypotheses of modern sciet:lce, evolution and the atom,ic structure of matter. In the latter case they did more than adumbrate the conception, they worked it out in detail. In the work of the Roman poet Lucretius the atomic view' of nature was finally presented 'as a complete interpretation of the unIverse. We have very little information about the life of Lucretius, and the significance of the little that we have is doubtful. He was born in 99 B.C. (or possibly 94) and died in 55 B.C. He lived, that is, in the stormy period of the Roman Republic when the struggle for control between armed political leaders robbed the free institu..:. tions of the city state, and the political life which centred in them, of all meani~g for the majority of the citizens, _ who became the helpless spectators and often the victims of the struggle. The only safe, and often the only possibIe course was to withdraw 'from the political life of the community altogether, and seek interest and satisfaction in one's ·own private affairs. Of the details of Lucretius' life we have almost no record, except a notice in St. Jerome who says thathe was driven mad by a lovephiltre , wrote his poems in the lucid intervals of insanity and committed suicide. 'There may well be an elem'ent of truth in this tradition, made familiar by Tennyson's ' !2I. - THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY poem, but when we remember its origin, the details are, , to say the least, 'suspicious. A more suitable fate {or an atheist and amore pointed warning to wavering believers could hardly be imagined. The poem of Lucretius is, so far as we can judge, a faithful restatement of the doctrines of the Greek philosopher Epicurus who lived about two hundred and fifty years earlier, at a time in the history of Greece when political and social conditions there resembled those of the age of Lucretius in Rome in this respect, that they favoured an individualistic ideal of life. When the Gr'eek city states lost their independence and fell under the control of Macedon, men gave up hope ,of achieving the ideal and common good which Plato and Aristotle taught it was the purpose of the state to realize, and centred their attention on a good which could be realized by the individual, if not in complete isolation from organized , society, at least not in any closeand'vital connection with it. At the same time interest in the idealist systems of ,philosophy tended to give way to a greater interest in the physical world and a disposition to find an explanation for all problems in material terms. Moreover, a philosophy of life was needed for the plain man who had no interest in philosophical speculation, and was quite satisfied with the world which he could see and touch, the man who wanted to go about his own business ,and get as much satisfaction out of life as he could. ' Curiously enough it was the obscure theory of the atomic structure of matter, proposed nearly two centuries earlier: as a solution of the problems of change and permanence, which was revived by Epicurus to meet these social and intellectual condition.s, and to supply the plain man's need of a guide to good living. Adopting the atomic theory, he made it the basis of a closely woven 22 ,LUCRETIUS system of knowledge and- conduct whose fundamental ,principle was_the validity and adequacy of sense perception . This was curious~ -as the reality of which the atomic theory told was in that age remote from sense perception. }Ie insisted, however, that it is by the senses alone that we apprehend matter, which is the only reality. Their testimony is always true in what they directly reveal, 'and in any sphere...


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