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Copyright © 1997, Jay Ligda.  All rights reserved.  Published by Humans in the Universe and Jay Ligda.

The Development of Western Civilization

     Anthropologists have discovered that whenever groups of humans come into contact with another resulting in conflict, there is a greater chance of civilization.  The groups involved would need to "build walls" to aid in their defense.  The region of the Mediterranean, thought to be the birthplace of Western civilization, is surrounded with bodies of water: The Mediterranean Sea, the Arabian Sea, the Persian Gulf, the Black Sea, The Caspian Sea, the Atlantic Ocean, as well as the possible existence of an early Suez canal creating the wide use of sea-faring technologies in this region.  This increased use of boats and ships brought about greater interaction between cultures in this area.  Civilization flourished.  Empires expanded and fell.

     During the Roman Empire, under the rule of Constantine in the fourth century, the Christian religion was adopted as the official religion.  The Roman Catholic Church was spread throughout Europe.  The church provided a set of rules and guidelines for people to live by as well as explanations of the nature of life and the universe, a paradigm.  Ultimate authority was passed down from an omnipotent god through the Pope and an extensive hierarchy down to the common people.  This religious belief was based on faith that the omnipotent god did in fact exist and therefore planted the seeds of a highly ethnocentric cultural identity.

      After the Middle ages, there began a change in the way of thought in Western culture.  This period became known as the Enlightenment, the process of secularization.  Economic and political systems lead the people and undermine the authority of the church.  The Enlightenment included "a culmination of attempts to provide a universally valid approach to the explanation of the world and of man in the world, a paradigm, for which the theological approach of the medieval mind ... had proved increasingly inadequate" (Gagliaro, 1).  Societies breaking away from traditional institutions have been seen from time to time in history, but unique to this era is that the reform was taking place simultaneously throughout Europe.  Late in the fifteenth century, the printing press was introduced.  Before the printing press, because of the scarcity of printed material, the sharing of material could only be done by the elite.  Knowledge and ideas could now be shared with the masses.

      Not only were ideas now being shared in greater abundance, but also, commerce was flourishing.  The peasant classes noticed the wealth and luxury goods being enjoyed by the aristocracy and the clergy.  No longer tied to the church for survival and able to produce tradable goods by their own craftsmanship, the poverty class resented the authority of the church, lost faith, and placed their faith in political and economic systems that could bring them wealth and power.  They no longer believed that rewards should come only in the after-life.  The idea of making money became their god.

      By breaking away from the church, they lost their sets of rules to live by as well as their explanation of the universe.  Many of the philosopher/ scientists still held a firm belief in the mystical forces of the universe that couldn't be explained.  However, in order for an explanation to be universally acceptable, it had to be proven, communicated to others, and canonized in written laws.  Science took over as religion and mathematics was the language by which the world could be explained.  Mathematics, however, could not recognize the internal qualities of humans such as feelings, reason, and the desire for freedom; those very qualities that make humans human and allow us to develop life supporting values.  Amongst conflicts between schools of thought, science achieved final authority as an explanation of the universe.  The result was disenchantment which occurs when "there are no mysterious forces that come into play but rather one can, in principle, master all things by calculation" (Weber quoted from Rubenstein, 28).

      This scientific revolution changed the face of technology and set the stage for the industrial revolution.  The acquisition of knowledge was no longer empirical-- based on observation alone.  Now, with mathematical models, our understanding of the physical environment increased and so did our ability to manipulate it.  Technology could now provide better tools which in turn could aid in the testing of scientific theories.  The science/technology explosion began, leaving the development of humane values behind.

by Jay Ligda

(This work is a all or part of an original work first published/written for Humboldt State University, I.T. 492:  Senior Project., May1991.)

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  • Gagliaro, J. (1967).  Enlightened Despotism.  New York, NY:  Thomas Y. Crowell.
  • Rubenstein, R. (1975).  The Cunning of History:  The Holocaust and the American Future.  New York, NY:  Harper & Row.
  • Cardwell, D.S.L. (1972).  Turning Points in Western Techology.  New York, NY:  Science & History Publications.
  • Wells, O.  (1931).  The Outline of History. Revised ed.  New York, NY: Garden City.


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