For much of my working life I have been engaged in the study of ancient societies, Greece and more recently China, especially, attempting to understand their world-views, why they took the form they did, and how and indeed why they changed. My principal investigations fall broadly into the category of the history of ancient science. But reflecting my education in Cambridge and my early contact with such denizens of the Department of History and Philosophy of Science there as Mary Hesse and Gerd Buchdahl, I have always assumed that it makes no sense to divorce the history of science from its philosophy, nor to try to do the philosophy without the history.
Philosophy enters my work in two ways, first in the form of ancient philosophy of science, primarily though not exclusively Greek philosophy of science, and secondly in the guise of modern philosophical concerns, about what science is, the debate between various brands of 'realism' and 'relativism', the analysis of truth, and many other questions. This book is an attempt to do two things. The first is to confront more directly than I have done previously the fundamental philosophical issues of what it is to study science in ancient civilizations, and in so doing to make a contribution to those modern philosophical debates. The second is to reflect, again more explicitly than I have done before, on how ancient history can be brought to bear on some of the crucial social and political problems of today's world.
Under the first heading, I here tackle head-on such questions as these: how far is it possible to arrive at an understanding of ancient societies? Is it possible to talk meaningfully of 'science' or of its various constituent disciplines, 'astronomy', 'geography', 'anatomy', and so on, in the ancient world? Are logic and its laws universal, or in what sense is that, or must that be, true? Is there one ontology—a single world—to which all attempts at understanding are directed? Do the notions of truth and belief represent reliable cross-cultural universals?
In each case the answer does not take the form of a simple yes or no, but consists in the clarification of the issues and the removal of the confusions that have bedevilled their discussion. Those clarifications can, indeed, be brought to bear on ongoing philosophical debates, for