La ética católica y el espíritu del pre-capitalismo o porque los griegos no desarrollaron una tecnología a la altura de su ciencia

Me he referido en otras ocasiones a este ensayo (Why did the Ancients not Develop Machinery? ) que trata de las razones por las que los griegos no desarrollaron una tecnología a la altura de su ciencia. Recojo los puntos principales:Esto es lo que hay que explicar:

He includes any number of gadgets worked by means of levers and weights, among them the first known coin-operated machine: when a five-drachma piece was dropped through a slot in the cover of a sacrificial vessel filled with holy water, it triggered by means of a Rube Goldberg contraption a spurt from a spout on the side. But these and others like them were all that Alexandria’s scientific savants turned out; their imaginative exploiting of water, wind, hot air, and steam went into toys and gadgetry, never into machines for replacing men’s labor.

The ancients’ failure in this regard stands in stark contrast with the accomplishments of their heirs, the men of the Middle Ages. By A.D. 983 there probably was a mill for fulling cloth on the banks of the Serchio in Tuscany. By 1008 there were water-driven grain as well as fulling mills around Milan. The windmill for grinding grain makes its debut in Persia, perhaps in the seventh A.D., certainly a century or two later.

It was no one from the ancient world but a western European of the Middle Ages, Hugh of St. Victor, who said, «Propter neressitatem inventa est mechanica, necessity is the mother of technology. By his time technology had become integrated into men’s thinking habits. (..) The phrase would never have come to the lips of a Greek or Roman. They totally lacked a tradition of carrying on sustained effort to produce a technological solution to a felt need. Invention, as they saw it, was the result of happy accident.

Es decir, por qué los griegos con tanta ciencia no desarrollaron ni aplicaron tecnologías y por que los medievales con mucha menos ciencia se pusieron manos a la obra.


It is said that the Greeks never exploited steam, that they never converted Hero’s toy into a useful engine, because they did not have the materials or technology for steamfitting, for fashioning and joining tubing to take the pressures.

There is a school of thought, whose ranks have been swelled by the unswerving adherence of most Marxist historians, which holds that slavery was the culprit: the economy of the ancients was based on slavery and, the argument runs, with slaves to do the work there was no incentive to develop technology.

Another school of thought holds that it was the abundance of labor in general, whether slave or free, which did the damage.

El autor rechaza que carecieran de materiales o desconocieran esas tecnologías, que tuvieran mano de obra barata por la esclavitud. No, también había una relativa escasez de mano de obra y se conocían algunas de las tecnologías en cuestión, pero nunca se aplicaron a actividades productivas.

El autor da la vuelta al argumento marxista: es la ideología la que hace cambiar los modos de producción. Es difícil no ver en ello las consideraciones sobre las artes mecánicas y liberales que tenían lugar en España en el s. XVII:

The prejudice against the artisan that Lucian’s words reveal can be traced throughout the fabric of Greek thought. In the Greek pantheon, Apollo, god of music, Ares, god of war, Hermes, messenger of Zeus, are all gloriously handsome; Hephaestus, god of the forge, is ugly and lame and, when he hobbles about Olympus, the sight makes the rest of the divine family break out into «unquenchable laughter,» to use Homer’s phrase. The Greeks admired and respected the artisan’s work; they neither admired nor respected the artisan. Socrates, who ho happened to be a stonemason by trade, was often to be found lounging around the workshops of his fellow craftsmen_but not his blue-blooded pupil Plato, scion of one of Athens’ best families. In the utopias he conjures up, Plato relegates craftsmen to the lowest rung of the social ladder. Xenophon, a fellow aristocrat, points our that in those Greek cities that pride themselves on their military reputation, citizens arc not allowed to practice a craft. Aristotle, tutor to Alexander the Great, sniffily remarks that «the finest type of city will not make an artisan a citizen.»

Cicero, categorizing the pursuits that men follow, declares without qualification that «all craftsmen are engaged in a lowly art, for no workshop can have anything about it appropriate to a free man» They were all, as it were, sicklied o’er with the pale cast of slavery

A passage in one of Plurarch’s lives makes it crystal clear why Ctesibius, Hero, and the other scientists of antiquity stopped at toys and gadgets and never went on to machines_except in that one field which ail through history has had a special claim on men’s faculties, the art of war. (…) After describing the formidable array, Plutarch remarks that Archimedes, though he had won universal acclaim for his military inventions «never wanted to leave behind a book on the subject but viewed the work of the engineer and every single art connected with everyday need as ignoble and fit only for an artisan. He devoted his ambition only to those studies in which beauty and subtlety are present uncontaminated by necessity.» It was solely the intellectual challenge that led Archimedes to his discovery of the principle of specific gravity; its practical application, though it provided the occasion. for his inspiration, was beneath his notice.

(…) Their city was located on the tip of a peninsula, and once, fearing the attack of a powerful enemy, they began to cut through the neck to put a barrier of water between them and the mainland. As the work proceeded, they noted an inordinate number of injuries from rock splinters, especially about the eyes. It was serious enough for them to consult the Delphic Oracle; the response was that they were to quit work, that «Zeus would have made your peninsula an island had he so willed.» [Esto contrasta con Tales, que desvió un río para que pasara un ejército… Tales era de Mileto, ciudad de comerciantes… gentes de mente abierta]

Estos mismos prejuicios siguen en los herederos de la antigüedad por el este, árabes y cristianos ortodoxos:

– For five hundred years the best scientists wrote in Arabic, yet this did nothing whatsoever to hasten the pace of technological development in Islam. The idea that science can advance technology was not clearly formulated until as late as A.D. 1450 and was not consistently acted upon until our own century. [Y si ese rechazo español por la industria hasta el final del s. XIX fuera consecuencia del mal llamado “legado andalusí”?]

Se refiere al hecho de que esto es independiente del afán de lucro. Los antiguos consideraban que el dinero se ganaba dignamente en el campo y en grandes operaciones mercantiles a continuación, pero no con la industria de producción. La materia esta considerada cosa ruin, sucia y baja .Ver por ejemplo Materia y ¿Qué es la Ciencia? de G. Bueno

Tampoco existe en la Antigüedad el cálculo mercantil y el concepto de beneficio

As a matter of fact, profitability of operation was so far from the ancient farmer’s mind that he did not even have the bookkeeping that would make it possible. We happen to have some of the records_they were a lucky find in an archaeological excavation_ from a big Egyptian estate of the third century B.C. They reveal that the system of accounting in use was fine for the control of stock and staff but could not possibly yield the information required for efficient exploitation. The owner had not the slightest idea which of his numerous crops was the most profitable, what his cost per crop was, and so on.

El artículo analiza entonces los cambió del s. X. Empieza refiriéndose a Munford (leí por casualidad hace unos años el primer capítulo de su libro):

Lewis Mumford thinks that the answer is to be found in that quintessentially medieval institution, the monastery. «The monastery,» he writes, «through its very other-worldliness, had a special incentive to develop mechanization. The monks sought . . . to avoid unnecessary labor in order to have more time and energy for meditation and prayer; and possibly their willing immersion in ritual predisposed them to mechanical (repetitious and standardized) solutions. Though they themselves were disciplined to regular work, they readily turned over to machinery those operations that could be performed without benefit of mind. Rewarding work they kept for themselves: manuscript copying, illumination, carving. Unrewarding work they turned over to the machine grinding, pounding, sawing.»

Como ejemplo de control se pone el de la Iglesia de Oriente, continuadora de pleno derecho del imperio romano, en la que no se dieron estas condiciones.

This is a problem that has particularly engaged the attention of Lynn White, whose work on medieval technology we had occasion to mention earlier. He looks for the explanation in a basic difference in spiritual direction between the two churches: the eastern generally held that sin is ignorance and that salvation comes by. illumination, the western that sin is vice and that rebirth comes by disciplining the will to do good works. The Greek saint is normally a contemplative figure, the Latin an activist

Al igual que en la idea de progreso (linealidad, frente a circularidad, de la historia), vemos que detrás de ello está la mentalidad judía:

The effect of this theological difference was to restore respectability not only to the artisan but to manual labor, to remove the disrepute under which it had suffered during all of ancient times. And in this, monasticism played a significant role. From the beginning, the monks had been mindful of the Hebrew tradition that work was in accordance with God’s commandment: Here, too, there was a division between east and west.

Y “punto pelota”:

The western attitude toward work and toward technology, as an expression of Christian faith, thus stands in contrast equally to the ancient Greco-Roman attitudes and that of the medieval eastern church. It is dramatically symbolized in a manuscript of the Gospels produced at Winchester shortly after the year 1000. Here, God is portrayed as He would never be in the eastern church, as a master craftsman holding scales, a carpenter’s square, and a pair of compasses. He is at the opposite pole from Homer’s Zeus, who joined his fellow deities in laughing unquenchably at the gnarled, limping Hephaestus.

En occidente se recuperó el concepto de trabajo como actividad digna, creadora. Esa fue la gran diferencia.

Sé el primero en comentar

Dejar una contestacion

Tu dirección de correo electrónico no será publicada.