Historical context

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Philosophy is at the root of the totality of the European culture, and of science in particular. It appears in Greece in the 6th century BCE, on the occasion of the emergence of the democratic ideal that it contributed to. In short, the birth of philosophy is linked to a double mental transformation: the apparition of a thought that is both positive and abstract.

Philosophy is positive in the sense that it pilots the shift from a mythological, supernatural experience of the world to a natural experience of the world. One does not look for the divine lurking behind the mundane, but for the natural force that explains the genesis of all things.

Philosophy is abstract in the sense that it installs the reign of reason by promoting a rigorous definition of concepts and a sharp demarcation of the levels of reality. This does not mean however that religiosity is ignored : its ield of relevance is simply redefined. Thalès (624–546 BCE) is considered to be the irst philosopher. Just like all other “presocratics” (the philosophers prior to Socrates, executed in 399 BCE), he focused on cosmology : what mattered was the understanding of the nature of reality and, thereby, to boldly anchor human beings in it. The question of the meaning of existence becomes a priority only with Socrates, whose thought favoured the theme of the “authentic existence”. Socrates’ goal was to achieve harmony with himself, with his fellow human beings and with the cosmos. Whitehead’s “process” philosophy synthesizes these two roots : the cosmological legacy of science and the Socratic existential legacy.

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