This introduction to the Common Knowledge symposium titled “Comparative Relativism” outlines a variety of intellectual contexts where placing the unlikely companion terms comparison and relativism in conjunction offers analytical purchase. If comparison, in the most general sense, involves the investigation of discrete contexts in order to elucidate their similarities and differences, then relativism, as a tendency, stance, or working method, usually involves the assumption that contexts exhibit, or may exhibit, radically different, incomparable, or incommensurable traits. Comparative studies are required to (...) treat their objects as alike, at least in some crucial respects; relativism indicates the limits of this practice. Jensen argues that this seeming paradox is productive, as he moves across contexts, from Lévi-Strauss's analysis of comparison as an anthropological method to Peter Galison's history of physics, and on to the anthropological, philosophical, and historical examples offered in symposium contributions by Barbara Herrnstein Smith, Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, Marilyn Strathern, and Isabelle Stengers. Comparative relativism is understood by some to imply that relativism comes in various kinds and that these have multiple uses, functions, and effects, varying widely in different personal, historical, and institutional contexts that can be compared and contrasted. Comparative relativism is taken by others to encourage a “comparison of comparisons,” in order to relativize what different peoples—say, Western academics and Amerindian shamans—compare things “for.” Jensen concludes that what is compared and relativized in this symposium are the methods of comparison and relativization themselves. He ventures that the contributors all hope that treating these terms in juxtaposition may allow for new configurations of inquiry. (shrink)
This piece is a response to Barbara Herrnstein Smith's article, “The Chimera of Relativism: A Tragicomedy,” in the Common Knowledge symposium on “comparative relativism.” The theme is complexity—as distinct from simple contrast or binarism of any kind—similarities as well as differences are observed in ancient Chinese and ancient Greek responses to cultural difference; also the significantly different views of these matters among the Greek philosophers. In the same vein, discussing studies of cultural/linguistic variability or counterclaimed universality among humans in color (...) perception, the essay stresses the complexity of such cognitive activities, including the ongoing interactions among the multiple variables presumably involved. Noting the challenge that such intrinsic complexity and inevitable interactivity present to standard dichotomies of universality and cultural relativity, the essay concludes that these and other familiar dualisms have been made obsolete by a century of research in genetics, ethnography, and related empirical disciplines. (shrink)
The organisation of higher education across the world is one of several factors that conspire to create the assumption that our own map of the intellectual disciplines is, broadly speaking, valid cross-culturally. Disciplines in the Making challenges this in relation to eight main areas of human endeavour, namely philosophy, mathematics, history, medicine, art, law, religion and science. Lloyd focuses on historical and cross-cultural data that throw light on the different ways in which these disciplines were constituted and defined in different (...) periods and civilisations, especially in ancient Greece and China, and how the relationships between them were understood, particularly when one or other discipline claimed hegemonic status (as happened, at different times, with philosophy, history, religion and science). He also explores the role of elites, whether positive (when they foster the professionalisation of a discipline) or negative (when they restrict recruitment to the profession, when they insist on adherence to established norms, concepts and practices and thereby inhibit further innovation). The issues are relevant to current educational policy in relation to the ever-increasing specialisation we see, especially in the sciences, and to the difficulties encountered in making the most of the opportunities for inter- or trans-disciplinary research. (shrink)
Geoffrey Lloyd engages in a wide-ranging exploration of what we can learn from the study of ancient civilizations that is relevant to fundamental problems, both intellectual and moral, that we still face today. These include, in philosophy of science, the question of the incommensurability of paradigms, the debate between realism and relativism or constructivism, and between correspondence and coherence conceptions of truth. How far is it possible to arrive at an understanding of alien systems of belief? Is it possible to (...) talk meaningfully of 'science' and of its various constituent disciplines, 'astronomy' 'geography' 'anatomy' and so on, in the ancient world? Are logic and its laws universal? Is there one ontology - a single world - to which all attempts at understanding must be considered to be directed? When we encounter apparently very different views of reality, how far can that be put down to a difference in conceptions of what needs explaining, or of what counts as an explanation, or to different preferred modes of reasoning or styles of inquiry? Do the notions of truth and belief represent reliable cross-cultural universals? In another area, what can ancient history teach us about today's social and political problems? Are the discourses of human nature and of human rights universally applicable? What political institutions do we need to help secure equity and justice within nation states and between them? Lloyd sets out to answer all these questions, and to argue that the study of the science and culture of ancient Greece and China provided a precious resource in order to advance a wealth of modern debates. (shrink)
This original and lively book uses texts from ancient medicine, epic, lyric, tragedy, historiography, philosophy, and religion to explore the influence of Greek ideas on health and disease on Greek thought. Fundamental issues are deeply implicated: causation and responsibility, purification and pollution, the mind-body relationship and gender differences, authority and the expert, reality and appearances, good government, and good and evil themselves.
Taking a set of central issues from ancient Greek medicine and biology, this book studies first the interaction between scientific theorising and folklore or popular assumptions, and second the ideological character of scientific inquiry. Topics of current interest in the philosphy and sociology of science illuminated here include the relationship between primitive thought and early science, and the roles of the consensus of the scientific community, of tradition and of the authority of the written text, in the development of science.
This book challenges several widespread views concerning Aristotle's methods and practices of scientific and philosophical research. Taking central topics in psychology, zoology, astronomy and politics, Professor Lloyd explores generally unrecognised tensions between Aristotle's deeply held a priori convictions and his remarkable empirical honesty in the face of complexities in the data or perceived difficult or exceptional cases. The picture that emerges of Aristotle's actual engagement in scientific research and of his own reflections on that research is substantially more complex than (...) is usually allowed. (shrink)
The Symposia Aristotelica were inaugurated at Oxford in 1957. They are conferences of select groups of Aristotelian scholars from the UK, USA and Europe, and are held every three years. In 1975 the meeting was held in Cambridge and was devoted to Aristotle's psychological treatises, the De anima and the Parva uaturalia. The members of the conference discussed some of the much debated problems of Aristotle's psychology and broached important new topics such as his ideas on imagination. Dr Lloyd and (...) Professor Owen have collected and edited the papers presented to the Symposium and provided an analytical index. (shrink)