"Why Thales Knew the Pythagorean Theorem: Re-Viewing the Origins of Greek Geometry and Philosophy"
ZOOM Lecture, Friday 12 March 2021, 3:30PM – 5:30PM
The Joint Graduate Program in Classics, Philosophy, and Ancient Science at the University of Pittsburgh Presents:
Robert A. Hahn
Professor of Philosophy
Director, Ancient Legacies Seminars to Greece, Turkey, and Egypt
Southern Illinois University Carbondale
The publication of Burkert’s Lore and Wisdom in Ancient Pythagoreanism [1962/72] galvanized an avalanche of scholarly consensus away from “Pythagoras the Mathematician” and discredited the connection of Pythagoras with the famous theorem that bears his name. Burkert had shown that the ancient testimonies alleging Pythagoras’ mathematical achievements were too late to be trustworthy. More recently, Zhmud  has argued that Burkert was too hasty in dismissing “Pythagoras the Mathematician,” and his arguments show that even in the fifth, fourth, and third centuries BCE there are trustworthy doxographical reports certifying Pythagoras’ mathematical interests and even a reference to a diagram revealing a geometrical discovery/proof, possibly of the hypotenuse theorem. I think that Zhmud has it right, but I propose to follow the geometrical diagrams to show that even before Pythagoras, Thales had visualized, if not proved, the hypotenuse theorem. Thales arguably knew the theorem, and the “big picture” places Thales in the broader technological context of modular thinking. Geometry supplied an answer to the underlying structure of diverse appearances, and hence the connection between the origins of geometry and philosophy in Greece.