Ancient Worlds, Modern Reflections: Philosophical Perspectives on Greek and Chinese Science and Culture

By Geoffrey Lloyd | Go to book overview

7 Styles Of Enquiry and the Question Of a Common Ontology

The companion question to the one raised in Chapter 4 —is there a common logic?—is: is there a common ontology? Is there just the one world to which all ontological theories are directed, at which they aim, and which they either succeed or fail to describe and explain? Or should we acknowledge a plurality of worlds, each an independently valid object of investigation?

The two contrasting answers to those questions correspond, very broadly, of course, to two well-known radically opposed types of position in the philosophy of science, the plural-world answer to philosophical relativism, the one-world one to one or other of a variety of brands of philosophical realism. Realism insists that there is just the one world for any scientific enquiry to investigate. So in that sense if we find Westerners and Chinese, for instance, differing, they must be thought to be just giving different accounts of the same world, the only one there is. But against that, the relativist insists that truth is relative to individuals or groups. So in that sense we could allow that Westerners and Chinese do inhabit different worlds and further that there is no single world by reference to which their accounts can be judged more, or less, adequate.

What light can be thrown on these questions if we focus on early Chinese and Greek cosmology? First I shall examine briefly the nature of some of the differences in the world-views we actually find in ancient Chinese and Greek writers. That will lead me to some reflections on the philosophical issues and how they relate to problems of historical interpretation. Building on some familiar, if still sometimes contested, ideas from the philosophy of science, namely that all observation statements are more or less theory-laden, and the underdetermination of theory by data, I want to make a claim for the multidimensionality and openendedness of the data—of what there is for a theory to be a theory of—and warn against assuming that we know in all cases what it should be of.

-76-

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Ancient Worlds, Modern Reflections: Philosophical Perspectives on Greek and Chinese Science and Culture
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Ancient Worlds, Modern Reflections iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • 1: Understanding Ancient Societies 1
  • 2: Science in Ancient Civilizations? 12
  • 3: Carving Out Territories 24
  • 4: A Common Logic? 39
  • 5: Searching for Truth 52
  • 6: The Questionability of Belief 64
  • 7: Styles of Enquiry and the Question of a Common Ontology 76
  • 8: The Use and Abuse of Classification 93
  • 9: For Example and Against 118
  • 10: Universities 142
  • 11: Human Nature and Human Rights 155
  • 12: A Critique of Democracy 169
  • Conclusion 188
  • Glossary of Chinese and Greek Terms Chinese 196
  • Notes on Editions 197
  • References 200
  • Index 213
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