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Three Studies in Epicurean Cosmology



This dissertation consists of three studies dealing with various aspects of Epicurean cosmology. The first study discusses the Epicurean practice of explaining astronomical and meteorological phenomena by multiple alternative theories. The second study compares the meteorological accounts of Epicurus and Lucretius with other ancient meteorologies as regards the scope and order of their subject matter. The third one examines the claim that Epicurus and Lucretius held the earth to be flat.
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... According to my learned brother Frederik A.Bakker (2010) it is unclear whether Epicurus claimed that all alternative explanations are true or can at best be called possible, because both are supported by some evidence. ...
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The strong global warming of the last 150 years and the expected continuation at an even higher rate has raised the concern among decision makers. The political debate and decisions are, however, complicated by the large disagreements and 'deep' uncertainties involved. Several decaces ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established to provide a common frame to streamline this process. This was originally done by periodic assessments of all scientific efforts. In the course of time, the influence of the IPCC on scientific research and national assessments has gradually increased and a common practice based on General Circulation Model simulations has become dominant. Fully relying on this common practice does, however, not necessarily support 'robust' strategies and infrastructure that many decision makers aim for. In this thesis, the tenability of this 'climate modelling paradigm' is explored. In part I, it is argued that a 'paradigm shift' from scientific certainty to a full exploration of what might be possible better fits the objective of robust decisions without sacrificing on the scientific soundness. In part II, four peer-reviewed articles are presented of which three (implicitly) rely on the above mentioned climate modelling paradigm.
The paper discusses the testimonies for the diurnal solar movement in various early Greek texts, focusing especially on its nocturnal segment. Alongside the instantiations of myths containing references to the daily course of the sun in poetic and mythographical texts, the pertinent opinions of selected natural philosophers are also studied. Several speculative models were constructed by the early Greeks in order to account for this natural phenomenon. Two of the most widespread models involve the northerly or southerly horizontal course of the sun(-god) after setting, with the non-personalistic accounts preferring the former and the personalistic accounts favouring the latter. The southerly course during night as a rule involved the sun-god travelling in a boat over the circumambient Ocean. Another model utilized the concept of cosmic nadir, located deep in Tartarus at the underside of the earth, as a key feature in the phenomenon of the daylight/night exchange. Sometimes these models interacted, but more often were used separately by different authors. In the wake of the development of spherical geometry they were supplanted by the model derived from this scientific discipline, although their resonances can be observed in the Antiochene exegetical school of late antiquity.
In “Nos in Diem Vivimus: Gassendi’s Probabilism and Academic Philosophy from Day to Day,” Delphine Bellis challenges Popkin’s twofold reading of Gassendi. On Popkin’s account, Gassendi was first a Pyrrhonian, and later in his career became a mitigated “sceptic” who tried to elaborate a specific epistemology in order to overcome the sceptical crisis of his time. Bellis shows that, beyond the role played by Pyrrhonian arguments in rebuking Aristotelian theses, Academic philosophy (in particular as conveyed by Cicero) played a much more constructive role in building Gassendi’s own philosophy right from its beginning. Academic philosophy offered to Gassendi a probabilist model of knowledge which, contrary to Pyrrhonism, opened the possibility of a natural philosophy conceived as a science of appearances, i.e. as based on experimentation on appearances, in the line of the Academic notion of “inspected” or “scrutinized” appearances. By showing the long-lasting permanence of Academic philosophy as a source of inspiration for Gassendi’s own philosophy, Bellis demonstrates how probabilism became central to his epistemology and natural philosophy. In addition to Gassendi’s erudite interest for Cicero and Charron, Academic probabilism suited Gassendi’s own practice as a natural philosopher in the realms of meteorology and astronomy. But first and foremost, Gassendi’s preference for Academic philosophy rather than for Pyrrhonism was motivated, early in his philosophical career, by ethical concerns: the importance of preserving his libertas philosophandi, combined with his personal incapacity not to incline toward one opinion or another, led him to formulate his epistemological probabilism and to claim the freedom to revise his opinions from day to day.
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