#24 – Euclid & The Shape of Modern Science with Emmet Penney

Online Great Books founder Scott Hambrick and seminar leader Emmet Penney tackle the first scientific work on the podcast, Euclid’s Elements. The Elements are a collection of treatises, postulates, and propositions that ultimately drive toward important mathematical concepts such as the Pythagorean theorem and the theory of numbers, i.e. integers, divisibility, prime numbers.


Everyone who has attended American public school has heard of these concepts, and their mention likely dredges up memories of endless, boring, rote work about triangles and algebra. Indeed school teaches the formulas, but it does not teach Euclid, who compiled numerous propositions form earlier mathematicians and weaved them into a thoughtful, cogently argued work about the nature of geometry and mathematics. Studying Euclid prompts the question: are these concepts discovered or invented? Does mathematics represent a fundamental truth of the universe, or does it merely describe the truth?


And that’s why we study Euclid and other formative scientists and mathematicians at Online Great Books; they prompt us to consider the nature of truth and how the things we are taught in school came to be. It’s quite a philosophical exercise. Yet philosophy and science exist in diametric opposition, at least in today’s age. Emmet points out a difference between the practice of science (and the technological fruit it bears) and scientism, the faith in science as a diviner of absolute truth. Reading Euclid, he argues, shows us the deep interconnection between science and philosophy, and leads us to a deeper understanding of the truth.


You can find Emmet on Twitter as Emmet Martin Penney. You can read some of his written work at: