chapter  9
42 Pages

Understanding the cosmos: Greek ‘science’ after Aristotle

There is no exact equivalent in Greek of the term ‘science’.1 The semantic field of the English word itself is varied, including not only an objective branch of knowledge, based on systematic observation, experiment, and tests and aimed at understanding the material world – the primary sense of the word today – but also a number of other classes of systematized knowledge (such as ‘political science’).2 Despite this difficulty of definition and translation, we can justify using ‘science’ – with all due caution – as an analytical category even though members of a past society would not have recognized it; for in order to explain the past in satisfactory terms we have to make it meaningful to the present, being clear at the same time about the differences between how we conceptualize things and how the ancients did. Here, then, ‘science’ will be used to cover a range of investigations and theories about the workings of the material world (natural philosophy, as distinct from ethical and political philosophies); but part of the aim will be to clarify how ancient investigations differed from modern, with no presumption that they had features in common.