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Pythagoreanism - Number, Cosmos, And Harmony, Bibliography

western purification mathematical pythagoras

The most central teaching of the Pythagorean school—that there is an underlying mathematical structure to the universe—is a foundational idea of Western civilization, particularly in the sciences. Because of this, the entire history of Western scientific and cosmological thought has been intertwined with Pythagorean ideas. Certainly many of the greatest physicists and mathematicians have embodied a kind of Pythagorean worldview, especially those who have emphasized the elegant, mathematical harmonies of nature and the human mind's ability to grasp the underlying world order.

The first person to call himself a philosopher or "a lover of wisdom," the historical Pythagoras was born on the Greek island of Samos circa 570 B.C.E. According to his biographers, he traveled to Egypt and Babylonia before founding his philosophical school in Croton, in South Italy. The school included men and women, and was influenced by the Greek mystery religion of Orphism, which taught reincarnation and stressed the purification of the soul. Like the other Presocratics, for Pythagoras there was no differentiation between philosophy and natural science. The Pythagoreans conceived of philosophy as a total, integrative "way of life," and the purification of the soul was achieved through study and contemplation, rather than through religious ritual.

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