The Human Sciences in World History (Part 1)

In ancient Greece, we see the first significant development of the human sciences, mainly in the forms of narrative history and political thought, along with philosophy and natural science. Why?

There seem to have been three key conditions.

First, freedom. Intellectuals were relatively free of control by rulers and priests. They could make a living by traveling among the cities to teach the art of argument to citizens (useful in courts and assemblies). Later, they could subsist in independent schools teaching the sons of the wealthy. Since there were many cities, they could move to another if threatened.

Second, there were enough intellectuals to reach a critical mass. Ultimately, this depended on the average intelligence of the population. Curiosity or the desire for intellectual understanding had to have been widespread enough in the population. Enough intelligent young men who wanted to be intellectuals must have existed.

Third, there was a competitive ethos in Greek culture. When intellectuals compete they innovate, develop novel ideas, approaches, and disciplines. So, freedom from political/religious control, a critical mass of the intelligent, and competition—these were the three distinct features of Greek intellectual life and the reasons why the human sciences first emerged there. None of these three conditions prevailed elsewhere.

(To be continued…)

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