Is there science in the ancient world? The issue has been the subject of much heated debate in recent years. 1 One side to the question is definitional: what do we mean by science? Another is substantial: what were the actual investigations that were pursued? The next chapter will deal with the taxonomies of the learned disciplines in ancient Greece and China. Here I shall deal with the general definitional problem. All descriptive terms carry, potentially, an evaluative charge and this is particularly strong where 'science' is concerned, given the place it occupies in today's world. Besides, the question of the applicability of that term to ancient societies is a classic instance of the methodological problem discussed in Chapter 1 , namely that of the conceptual framework within which we can discuss ancient ideas. In no ancient language was there a term that exactly corresponds to 'science', even though they generally have rich vocabularies to talk of knowledge, wisdom, and learning. So it might be thought that our term is in every case inappropriate to a study of their enquiries. As we shall see, however, the issue is more complicated than that.
Two further considerations might, nevertheless, be invoked to suggest that we should give a short answer to our original question by simply denying that what we find in the ancient world is indeed science. The first depends upon stipulating that science must deliver truth and then observing that very few of the results of ancient investigations would now be held to meet any such criterion. We have records of a considerable variety of cosmological and physical systems, atomist and continuum theories of various types in ancient Greece, various systems of correspondences and correlations, as well as other theories, in ancient China. But we would not now accept any of these as straightforwardly