Course: ECON 3R03 - The History of Economic Growth
Instructor: J. Leach
Origins of Western Science
An economy requires the assistance of science in order to sustain long-term
economic growth. There is some debate that the ﬁrst Industrial Revolution
didn’t require science but rather that it was obvious engineering advancements
but this was certainly not true for the second Industrial Revolution where
science & technology were deeply intertwined.
Advancement of science is not an inevitability; we see that there are numerous
economies in which science didn’t succeed. Western societies seem to have
found the right set of institutions to allow science to ﬂourish.
The Greeks were far advanced in science but it took the Europeans until the
Middle Ages just to get up to this level of scientiﬁc advancement. The people
we know as Greeks today were the amalgamation of 3 tribes. As a result of
the continued growth of the Greek state the population eventually outgrew
the land’s ability to support them. In response the Greeks attempted to
colonize other arable land as well as engaging in trade to acquire more food.
Greek colonization was bounded by the Mediterranean Sea. Most of the land
on the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea possessed arable land that could be
used to grow excess food which was shipped back to the Greek mainland.
The settlers on Turkey’s west coast evolved a way of thinking about the world
called naturalism and essentially became the world’s ﬁrst scientists.
1 Greek Scientiﬁc Heritage
The Greeks didn’t start their science from scratch they borrowed and built
on top of the knowledge from other societies. From the Babylonians they
borrowed math & timekeeping. Many mathematical concepts we still have
today have Babylonian origins. The Babylonians were also very advanced
astronomers and were able to correctly predict lunar eclipses. Until the
Copernican Revolution astronomy was mostly concerned with measurement
and less concerned with the principles/theory behind what was observed.
The other society the Greeks learned from were the Egyptians who also
had a very good grasp of mathematics. While the Egyptians had a good
understanding of measurement mathematics the Greeks were more interested
in the abstract ideas of mathematics.
For instance while the Egyptians were happy to know that there were 3
Pythagorean triples the Greeks weren’t satisﬁed until they had an under-
standing of the relationships between the sides of a right angle triangle. The
Pythagorean Theorem precedes a