Scientific Method in Ptolemy's Harmonics

Scientific Method in Ptolemy's Harmonics

Scientific Method in Ptolemy's Harmonics

Scientific Method in Ptolemy's Harmonics

Synopsis

This book examines, for the first time, the scientific procedures devised by Ptolemy (second century AD) for investigating the structures underlying musical melody, a project that he conceived as closely related to astronomy. Ptolemy's account of his methods is unusually explicit, and he pursues them faithfully. By providing an analysis of Ptolemy's sophisticated theoretical apparatus, his strategies for integrating theory with observation, and his meticulous instructions for the design and conduct of experimental tests, the book offers historians of science a new starting-point for wider studies of ancient scientific method.

Excerpt

During the 1970s and 80s, it was my regular habit to take Philosophy undergraduates at the University of Warwick on a guided tour around a selection of Platonic and Aristotelian texts; and I generally found myself placing issues about the nature of knowledge, and about the procedures by which it may be pursued, firmly at the centre of our agenda. I became more and more fascinated, in the course of this annual pilgrimage through Meno, Phaedo, Republic, Theaetetus, Posterior Analytics, Physics and Nicomachean Ethics, by their intricate negotiations between what we would call 'rationalist' and 'empiricist' conceptions of the route towards knowledge in a variety of different fields of enquiry. in 1976 the University of Warwick allowed me to accept an invitation to spend two years teaching in the Faculty of Classics at Cambridge; and it was there, with my mind full of these matters, that I first stumbled, largely by accident, into the thickets of the Greek musical sciences. As I worked backwards from Aristoxenus to Plato and the early Pythagoreans, and then forwards into later antiquity, I discovered that the surviving texts of that unfamiliar tradition can be read as a record of continual controversy, not so much over musicological details as over the general character of the understanding sought by scientists in this field, the methods by which it is to be pursued and secured, and the relations that hold between the propositions of this science and those belonging to other domains. the attempt to unravel the complexities of these debates has occupied me, with a few intermissions, ever since. I translated Ptolemy's Harmonics during the late 1980s as part of the material for the second volume of my Greek Musical Writings, and the more I studied it the clearer it became that it is a landmark of major significance in the contentious and quarrelsome history of reflections on scientific method. I realised that it called for much fuller examination, from a methodological perspective, than I could possibly give it in the context of that book.

I set out on the project in 1991. a period of leave from the University of Warwick gave me the opportunity to take up a Visiting Fellowship in the Department of Classics at the University of Queensland, where I had the . . .

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