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

4.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0199288700
ISBN-10: 0199288704
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Editorial Reviews

Review

`Review from previous edition Lloyd's work is one of those rare studies that brings together the various debates of the East-West dialogue without favouring one side.' Quadrant

About the Author


Geoffrey Lloyd is Emeritus Professor of Ancient Philosophy and Science at the University of Cambridge.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Clarendon Press (March 30, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199288704
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199288700
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 0.5 x 5.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,912,553 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
It had always intrigued me how ancient Greek culture, cradle of Western civilization, compared with ancient Chinese culture, because China has been for most of the last 2000 the most advanced nation on earth. Were revolutionary ideas, like that there should be a rational explanation behind every phenomenon, uniquely Greek, or did the Chinese independently come up with them too ? Geoffrey Lloyd is probably one of the very few, erudite enough on both cultures, to have written a relatively concise book in which he compares both cultures on a number of issues, such as human rights, logic, the existence of one absolute truth, the nature of scientific discovery etc...

It turns out that both cultures were very different (although the author stresses they were not incomensurable, whatever that means in this context), in particular the process of scientific and philosophical discovery. Greek philosophers acted as individuals, defending their theories against colleagues with purely rational arguments on the stage in front of their audience in search of the more convincing truth, even if it was uncomfortable, in an environment where almost all opinions could be voiced (with notable exceptions, such as Socrates) and all (men) were in principle equal, and with the victor earning a larger following of students, much like Western academics do to this day (except at Harvard lately). On the other hand, Chinese philosophy stressed that there is a natural order, with the emperor at the top, with his subjects all interconnected and philosopher mandarins - they were employed servants rather than independent minds - needing to convince the emperor of specific policies beneficial to society as a whole.
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Format: Paperback
This book's best accomplishment is that it enters Philosophy through History's door. Although it is posed as a comparative study, its gist is looking back at Greece and at ourselves.

Throughout the work, I couldn't help thinking of Anthropology and of the myriad of studies about otherness, only that this time "the other" is not standing in full view for the interactions leading to ethnological fieldwork. This book achieves the magnificent task of seeing Greece as the other, as ourselves and back in time, but without self-proclaiming a better modernity or an idyllic picture of the past.

The result is a high quality, state-of-the-art and serious piece of work and the realization that stale Philosophy needs to be abandoned in change for an all encompassing approach to humanity. That which is human is complex and cannot be tackled in isolation or with systems deprived of interaction with all the human sciences.

In reading, however, I did come across a point in which I disagree with the author. In the definition of geometry as a case-by-case basis in the Greek schools, the conclusion is that both Greek and Oriental schools are similar in that they all treat specific cases. In the case of Greek geometry, although "shapes" are the object of inquiry, these were meant to be abstractions or universals, as opposed to the approach in Egypt in which the case analysis was the applicability of a result to an outcome (in this case, agriculture or other). This is mostly evidenced by the construction of axioms in Euclidean geometry (which the author cites). A similar stance happens with number theory.
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