I take the question which is the title of this paper in two ways. First, I take it to mean, "what racial, historical, cultural, geographical and political factors gave rise to what is commonly considered the first flowering of philosophical thought;" Second, to mean, "for what purpose did this flowering occur, in that time, among those people?" I presuppose at least two main things by asking these questions. I presuppose the nature of philosophy to be that which the Greeks originated, and, in order to answer the second question, I presuppose my own Christianity and its general analysis of history. What follows is an attempt to answer the first question by isolating the peculiar feature of the Greeks that set them apart from other potentially fruitful cultures, and an attempt to show that the only possible origin of this feature points inevitably to the teleological or eschatological reason for the birth of philosophy.
[...] I find the evidence for this particularly in their attitude to religion. Greek religion, points out Herman Dooyeveerd, seems to have been a mixture of two distinct mythological streams—an older, darker, earthier Mycenaean stream, and a younger, beauty-loving, Olympian stream. Individual Greeks evince an astonishing diversity in their theology: some take the gods as little more than impersonal anthropomorphisms of natural forces, some take them as glorified humans keenly interested in the tragic stream of human life and ready at all times to meddle at the request of their favorites. [...]
[...] Even the ideas which they gathered from the older civilizations around them were brought to new life in the Hellenic hands. One historian wrote, Greeks imported a large amount of information out of the Orient. This consisted in special facts of knowledge, particularly of the mathematical and astronomical kind, and consisted perhaps beside in certain mythological ideas. But with the recognition of this situation . one does not rob the Greeks in the least of their true originality . They were the first to transmute this knowledge into a wisdom sought on account of itself. [...]
[...] My answer to the question, why the Greeks, may now be summarized as follows: amongst a myriad of fortuitous social, political, cultural and geographical factors, I believe the distinguishing and decisive factor to be their innovative spirit, as found in their critical, receptive and creative impulses,—a spirit the mysterious origins of which lie disclosed only to the sovereign God, whose influence one cannot mistake in the exquisite and useful timing of the Greek achievement. As Abraham Kuyper wrote, . it was the ‘common grace' of God which produced in ancient Greece and Rome the treasures of philosophic light, and disclosed to us [...]
[...] But all that I have managed to do is analyze a few important aspects of this people, and I am driven, in order to offer any kind of temporal resolution to the question, to inquire after the teleological why. I have not begun to penetrate the reason for a design until I have begun to penetrate the motive of the designer—I firmly believe this, although I know the impossibility of the task. As a Christian, the framework of history into which I am interested in fitting my subject, is the History of Redemption. [...]
[...] They did not originate philosophy in the sense that they were the first people to have a philosophy—the earliest recorded history contains the implication of philosophy within the very fact of written communication; the Greeks instead were the first to isolate those motions of the human mind necessary to philosophize, and the first to consciously, purposefully, speculatively use them. The critical impulse may be described as the impulse to understand the nature and purpose of a thing in order to react to it, as opposed to simply accepting its truth or existence. [...]
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