Extra-scientific culture, not yet touched by science, is a task accomplished by man in finitude. The openly endless horizon around him is not made available to him. His aims and activities, his commerce and his travel, his personal, social, national, mythical motivation – all this moves about in an environing world whose finite dimensions can be viewed. Here there are no infinite tasks, no ideal attainments whose very infinity is man’s field of endeavor – a field of endeavor such that those who work in it are conscious that it has the mode of being proper to such an infinite sphere of tasks.
With the appearance of Greek philosophy, however, and with its first definite formulation in a consistent idealizing of the new sense of infinity, there occurs, from this point of view, a progressive transformation that ultimately draws into its orbit all ideas proper to finitude and with them the entire spiritual culture of mankind. For us Europeans there are, consequently, even outside the philosophico-scientific sphere, any number of infinite ideas (if we may use the expression), but the analogous character of infinity that they have (infinite tasks, goals, verifications, truths, “true values’’, “genuine goods’’, “absolutely’’ valid norms) is due primarily to the transformation of man through philosophy and its idealities. Scientific culture in accord with ideas of infinity means, then, a revolutionizing of all culture, a revolution that affects man’s whole manner of being as a creator of culture. It means also a revolutionizing of historicity, which is now the history of finite humanity’s disappearance, to the extent that it grows into a humanity with infinite tasks.
Here we meet the obvious objection that philosophy, the science of the Greeks, is not, after all, distinctive of them, something which with them first came into the world. They themselves tell of the wise Egyptians, Babylonians, etc.; and they did in fact learn much from these latter. Today we possess all sorts of studies on Indian, Chinese, and other philosophies, studies that place these philosophies on the same level with Greek philosophy, considering them merely as different historical formulations of one and the same cultural idea. Of course, there is not lacking something in common. Still, one must not allow intentional depths to be covered over by what is merely morphologically common and be blind to the most essential differences of principle.
Before anything else, the attitude of these two kinds of “philosophers’’, the overall orientation of their interests, is thoroughly different. Here and there one may observe a world-embracing interest that on both sides (including, therefore, the Indian, Chinese and other like “philosophies’’) leads to universal cognition of the world, everywhere developing after the manner of a sort of practical vocational interest and for quite intelligible reasons leading to vocational groups, in which from generation to generation common results are transmitted and even developed. Only with the Greeks, however, do we find a universal (“cosmological’’) vital interest in the essentially new form of a purely “theoretical’’ attitude.27 This is true, too, of the communal form in which the interest works itself out, the corresponding, essentially new attitude of the philosophers and the scientists (mathematicians, astronomers, etc.). These are the men who, not isolated but with each other and for each other, i.e., bound together in a common interpersonal endeavor, strive for and carry into effect theoria and only theoria. These are the ones whose growth and constant improvement ultimately, as the circle of cooperators extends and the generations of investigators succeed each other, become a will oriented in the direction of an infinite and completely universal task. The theoretical attitude has its historical origin in the Greeks.