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Early Greek Science: Thales to Aristotle

Early Greek Science: Thales to Aristotle [Kindle Edition]

G E R Lloyd

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Product Description

Product Description

In this new series leading classical scholars interpret afresh the ancient world for the modern reader. They stress those questions and institutions that most concern us today: the interplay between economic factors and politics, the struggle to find a balance between the state and the individual, the role of the intellectual. Most of the books in this series centre on the great focal periods, those of great literature and art: the world of Herodotus and the tragedians, Plato and Aristotle, Cicero and Caesar, Virgil, Horace and Tacitus.

This study traces Greek science through the work of the Pythagoreans, the Presocratic natural philosophers, the Hippocratic writers, Plato, the fourth-century B.C. astronomers and Aristotle. G. E. R. Lloyd also investigates the relationships between science and philosophy and science and medicine; he discusses the social and economic setting of Greek science; he analyses the motives and incentives of the different groups of writers.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1217 KB
  • Print Length: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Digital (30 Sept. 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0091R2Z2E
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #375,224 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.1 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great and important stuff! 30 Oct. 2000
By Roger McEvilly (the guilty bystander) - Published on
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. Some interesting points I noted were early suggestions that man had sprung from other organisms, (namely fish), the problem of change, theories concerning the nature of matter-you know-elements, atoms and so on.
A look into the thinking of the early Greeks is in part a mirror into the heart and nature of our society. My only complaint with the book is that we have so little remaining information about these thinkers and their times.
Please, archaeologists and the like, find much more about the Greeks in some colossal discovery of thousands of well-preserved, buried manuscripts in a buried ancient city somewhere about Greece, so we can know more about the ancient world.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Natural explanations for the world and rational debate of scientific theories 18 Mar. 2012
By Jordan Bell - Published on
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. This habit of rational debate was due to citizens having to make convincing arguments when participating in the government of their cities. (There is indeed tension between winning arguments and determining the truth, and Lloyd discusses this.)

Greek scientists had to decide what convincing evidence was. Heraclitus and Parmenides raised the question of how much we should trust the evidence of the senses; Heraclitus said that evidence of the senses should be used cautiously, while Parmenides said that reason alone should be trusted. Empedocles made what I consider a very important point: "[the senses] are feeble instruments, but so too is the mind" (p. 39). Of course we can come to wrong conclusions by observation, but we also make mistakes in reasoning.

Naturalistic explanations were a huge advance, but having precise, mathematical, explanations is a further advance. Empedocles had a theory that everything is made from the irreducible roots earth, water, air and fire in precise proportions. But the surviving fragments of his writings only have two instances where he assigns precise proportions: bone is composed of fire, water and earth in the ratio 4:2:2, and blood is made of the four roots in equal ratios. It's not at all clear how one would figure out the proportions of the roots in a given substance and how one could be sure they were right. Similarly, Leucippus came up with an atomic theory of matter but didn't apply the theory to explain anything in particular. But their goals were different than our goals: "Empedocles, Anaxagoras, Leucippus and Democritus were chiefly engaged not in programmes of research, but in discussions of a highly abstract nature in which what counted was not the empirical data that could be adduced in support of a theory, so much as the economy and consistency of the arguments on which it was based." (p. 49) Another example of the shift to a precise theory is Eudoxus of Cnidus's mathematical model of the movements of the heavenly bodies, which Lloyd discusses in Chapter 7. Earlier systems didn't give precise accounts of these movements, and it is giving a precise account "that distinguishes the later fourth-century theories and marks an epoch in the development of astronomy. (p. 82)
4.0 out of 5 stars Not, Perhaps, for the Beginner 7 Aug. 2014
By Timothy Haugh - Published on
In this slim volume, Professor Lloyd does precisely what he indicates he is going to do: he leads us through the development of Greek science from its earliest roots through the work of Aristotle. Though his prose has a classic academic tone, it is quite readable and he does an excellent job of sticking to what the ancient authors actually wrote (or had written about them) so as not to speculate too much about what the authors intended. Overall, this is quite an excellent little book indeed.

Two things stand out while reading this. First, Lloyd makes very clear that the early Greeks did not think about their work as science in the sense that we do today. Their work fit into many categories of thought which we have now subsumed into science. On the other hand, he is very good at explaining what made the Greeks the forbearers of modern science. In particular, he shows how these Greeks were the first to generate explanations that were independent of the actions of gods or supernatural powers. In addition, they developed a culture of investigation that made it possible for ideas to be criticized and developed. It is this radical shift in modes of thinking that is ultimately going to be the bedrock of science.

Second, Lloyd has respect for the ideas of these ancient thinkers even when modern science shows them to be completely off base. Specifically, he shows how ideas we now consider foolish—for example, like the framework of earth, air, fire and water as the four main elements and the existence of aether—were developed to address problems others’ work. If there were problems with systems like those of Aristotle and Ptolemy which impacted Western Europe for centuries, they can hardly be blamed. Their work often minimized problems and the observational apparatus to challenge their logical work would not come around until much later.

For a reader not familiar with the outlines of Greek contributions to science, this work may be a little too deep, delving far into the foundational ideas. On the other hand, it is the engagement with these ideas that make this such a useful and interesting book. Anyone with respect for the contributions of the Greeks to the development of Western civilization would be foolish to pass this one by.
4.0 out of 5 stars Good, but more about Greek philosophy than about the history of science 20 Feb. 2011
By Henry H - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The book’s title “Early Greek Science” led me to believe that the book was about the history of Greek science. While science and philosophy were one and the same in the Greek world, I found this book to be focused more on what we have come to call philosophy than on what we have come to call science. Furthermore, I found the text to be somewhat dry, and in spite of my interest in the subject of the history of science not as interesting as I had hoped it would be.

This book is deemed a classic in its genre and if you have more of an interest in Greek philosophy than I do, you will likely enjoy it more. There is a lot here, but it was either the subject or its treatment, but I just could not get into this book, so had it been possible I would have given it 3.5-stars. Since fractional stars are not possible I am rounding up to 4-stars, primarily because of the inclusion of 9 useful diagrams, one map, an index and chronological table listing the philosophers/scientists and concurrent events.

What is in the book-
The book follows Greek philosophy/science from a chronological perspective - starting with Thales and the Milesians, then to the Pythagoreans, the Hippocratic writers, Plato, and finally to Aristotle. From my perspective, I would have preferred a book that took one subject at a time; for instance, Greek biology, medicine or concepts of the solar system and developed that fully before going onto another subject.

The book did contain some thematic elements such as such as the introduction of mathematical considerations by the Pythagoreans, "The Problem of Change", the medical ideas of the Hippocratic writers, and fourth-century astronomy. However, many of the chapters mixed these elements together in a way that I found a bit difficult to follow, so I did not enjoy the book as much as I had hoped to, but if you are more into Greek philosophy you might give it 5-stars.
4.0 out of 5 stars Valuable resource, though a bit heavy reading. 17 Sept. 2014
By Samo - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Gave it 4 for the education, not the writing. This is not a popular science book, but for those with a serious interest in history (of science, of ideas, of ancient history, Greek world, philosophy, etc.
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