by Sean McDowell
How is there both unity and diversity in reality? Why is there both change and sameness over time?
According to Frederick Copleston, in his massive ten-volume A History of Philosophy, these questions relate to the first philosophical issue people wrestled with, which is often called the problem of the one and the many. In the 5th and 6th centuries B.C., Greek philosophers wanted to know what accounted for both the unity and diversity within nature and so they began to offer various theories for ultimate reality.
According to Copleston: “We can already discern in them [ancient Greek philosophers] the notion of unity in difference and of difference as entering into unity” (21). Various philosophers differed over what they believed accounted for the unity of all things, but they agreed there must be some unifying element. Thales believed primary reality was water, Anaximenes claimed it was air, Pythagoras thought it was numbers, and Heraclitus argued for fire.
These philosophers were certainly on the right track in attempting to account for both unity and difference. If you think about it, our world consists of both. For instance, there is a family (unity) that is made up of many members—parents, siblings, aunts, grandparents, etc. (diversity). The United States is one country (unity) that is made up of many states (diversity). A team has many players. A company has many workers. And a body has many parts.
Even the word “university” is the combination of two words—unity and diversity. Most universities in America were founded to teach a variety of subjects (diversity) under the umbrella of the Christian worldview (unity).
Any adequate worldview must be able to account for both the unity and diversity found within reality. Consider a few examples…
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