Rostovtzeff Lecture Series: Epistemic Corruption and Epistemic Progress in Ancient Science

Lecture 3: Naturalizing the Social

Daryn Lehoux

Queen’s University

This lecture will take place in person at ISAW.

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The Rostovtzeff Lectures are supported in part by a generous endowment fund given by Roger and Whitney Bagnall.

How did ancient Greek and Roman authors conceive of their own knowledge of the natural world? Did they see it as progressing and increasing, or as degenerating in some way? What did they see as the strengths or dangers posed by their own and others’ epistemic practices, and what are the strengths and dangers that we in turn face in interpreting and understanding those practices today? By framing these questions in terms of a larger category of ‘epistemic corruption,’ I hope to show that ancient ideas about knowledge practices are tightly correlated with claims about moral and bodily virtues and vices.

Ancient scientific and philosophical thinkers not infrequently developed theories about how different groups of people are differently constituted. When classifying people who are different from themselves in some way (different by class, by gender, by national origin), we find that an author’s social biases often bleed over into what they try to justify as natural categories. This slippage is easy enough to spot from our own vantage point, but its relative invisibility to our historical actors poses some interesting problems for the philosophy of history.

Daryn Lehoux is Professor of Classics and Archaeology and Professor of Philosophy at Queen’s University. He is the author of Astronomy, Weather, and Calendars in the Ancient World (Cambridge, 2007), What Did the Romans Know? (Chicago, 2012), and Creatures Born of Mud and Slime (Hopkins, 2017). He is co-editor of Lucretius: Poetry, Philosophy, Science (Oxford, 2013) and the author of more than forty articles on ancient science and epistemology.

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