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Early Greek Science: Thales to Aristotle (Ancient Culture and Society) New Edition

4.2 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0393005837
ISBN-10: 0393005836
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Geoffrey E. R. Lloyd succeeded Moses Finley as Master of Darwin College, University of Cambridge. He is the author of numerous works on the classical period, among them Early Greek Science: Thales to Aristotle; Greek Science after Aristotle; and Magic, Reason, and Experience: Studies in the Origin and Development of Greek Science.

G. E. R. Lloyd is Emeritus Professor of Ancient Philosophy and Science at the University of Cambridge, Former Master of Darwin College, Cambridge, and Senior Scholar in Residence at the Needham Research Institute, Cambridge. He is the author of twenty-two books and editor of four, and was knighted for 'services to the history of thought' in 1997.

M. I. Finley, who died in 1986, was Professor of Ancient History and Master of Darwin College at Cambridge University. Ian Morris is the Jean and Rebecca Willard Professor in Classics and Chair of the Classics Department at Stanford University.

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Product Details

  • Series: Ancient Culture and Society
  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; New edition (February 17, 1974)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393005836
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393005837
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #277,140 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I really enjoyed this book. The Greeks undoubtedly had a very interesting culture, and an analysis of their early scientists is an important an interesting read. Mr Lloyd has compiled a good introductory overview, outlining the major players, the development of various ideas, and some suggestions why their "science" got started in the first place. This is not an easy question to answer. I liked his idea that critical analysis of ideas about the natural world may have been a corrollary of a general environment of critical examination of political structure and ideas in difficult times. In other words, because ideas in general were subjected to critical analysis, critical examination of the natural world logically followed, more as an afterthought than a deliberate injunction. It is an interesting theory.
The book includes discussions of various differences and similarities between modern and ancient science. Ancient thinkers seemed less concerned with the practical potential of their ideas. The pursuit of knowledge for knowledge sake, with a few notable exceptions, was a worthy enough endeavour in itself. They saw the natural world as something more to be studied than "tamed". "Science" was a more vaguely defined discipline; few people practised it much less got paid for it. The book discusses the various streams and ideas which grew about, with, and around it, such as medicine, philosophy, astronomy, mathematics, and biology. The Pythagorians, Platonists, Milesians, Aristotle, Thales, and Anaximander are all names which come to the fore, but unfortunately, their contribution withers away far too quickly in the history of the world.
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Format: Paperback
This is the best introduction to Greek science I've seen. Lloyd talks about Greek science in general and introduces the reader to the names and schools they will encounter if they read more detailed presentations. Although he does not give the technical details necessary to follow the science, he gives the reader as perfect a framework for further reading as I can imagine. In the preface Lloyd writes, "Indeed the study of early Greek science is as much a study of the development and interaction of opinions concerning the nature of the inquiry as of the content of the theories that were put forward." The writing is clear and pleasant to read.

The two big achievements of early Greek science were giving natural (as opposed to supernatural) explanations for how the world works, and having rational debate about the natural world. Even though early Greek explanations for natural phenomena like earthquakes are speculative, they are an advance over previous explanations because they are entirely naturalistic, for example explaining earthquakes as a result of waves in water on which the earth floats instead of being due to the anger of Posiedon. Also, rather than dealing with any particular earthquake, early Greek scientists were interested in earthquakes in general. On the other hand, a tradition of intellectual criticism forced thinkers to justify their theories, rather than just to assert them. Their theories were in competition and these thinkers were not telling stories that could be inconsistent with other stories. Therefore Greek thinkers would develop solid ideas that could be defended with evidence lest their opponents find weaknesses in their arguments.
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My background is in philosophy and I have studied the Presocratic philosophers quite a few separate times before reading this book. What Lloyd does very well is to present the presocratics and the reasons why they say what they say. In fact it is one of the best sources I have come across to give a synopsis of the presocratics to a philosopher. I know now that it is very hard to separate science from their philosophy. Indeed, philosophical questions are still very much en vogue in modern science, although many modern scientists don't know much about philosophy (and in my opinion they ought to, if only to spare us from redoing something already proven or disproven)

Many readers have voiced that they did not "get" this book, nor its importance. That is likely because the Ancient Greeks were largely concerned with knowledge of all things and how they interrelated. We are very compartmentalized in our current educational system. Science is science, philosophy is philosophy and they don't need to mix (or so some moderns will say). For the Greeks, they were inseparable because they aimed at one and the same thing, the truth. It's odd to think that one can mix geometry and religion, but there it is in the Pythagoreans.

There are many modern "science" books that claim theological and philosophical positions. One only need to look around for half a second to find books on godless science, creationism, universe from nothing and the like. Such questions were also asked by the presocratics. Parmenides realized that something could not come from nothing, thus implying a permanence to the universe (and likely an eternal universe as Aristotle would (comment on). These are still themes in modern science. Is the universe infinite? Is it composed of many things?
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