|The Tarner Lectures (established 1916) are on the Philosophy of the Sciences.
The Tarner Lecturer for Michaelmas 2012 will be Prof. Sir Geoffrey Lloyd, FBA, formerly Professor of Ancient Philosophy and Science in the University and Master of Darwin College.
Tarner Lectures 2012”The Ideals of Inquiry: An Ancient History”
Prof. Lloyd will speak in the Winstanley Lecture Theatre. The individual lectures will take place on the first four Friday afternoons of Full Term, as follows:
Friday 5 October
1. Democracy and Demonstration (Proof)
Friday 12 October
2. Gurus, Experts, Idiots and the Modalities of Debate
Friday 19 October
3. Heuristics and its Hazards
Friday 26 October
4. Ontologies and Values
These lectures take place in the Winstanley Lecture Theatre and all begin at 17:00. They are open to all, with no ticket required.
The ideals of inquiry: an ancient historyThe general issues these lectures address concern how different models of inquiry were developed, and various types of knowledge claims were justified, in different ancient civilisations (Greece, China, Mesopotamia, India). I shall focus on three interrelated questions especially, namely the methods of inquiry, their subject-matter (ideas about what is there to be investigated) and what inquiry is good for. We think we have good answers to those questions where the natural world is concerned, thanks to science, its methodology, its definition of its subject-matter and its goals, which nowadays include holding the key to ongoing material progress. I am concerned to explore how ancient investigators got on, not with the aim of judging how close they came to our science (the old positivist agenda), so much as to assess them in their own terms.
The first lecture (‘Democracy and demonstration’) deals with the political background to the development of an ideal of rigorous demonstration. I argue that dissatisfaction with rhetorical persuasions (as practised in the political and legal domains) provided an important stimulus to Plato and Aristotle to construct what they offered as an alternative mode of reasoning yielding incontrovertible conclusions. This argument can be tested against the Chinese evidence, where, in a very different political environment, sophisticated mathematics developed without any sense of a need for axiomatic foundations.
The second is entitled ‘Gurus, experts, idiots and the modalities of debate’ (where the ‘idiots’ in the title should be taken in the ancient Greek sense, of private persons). This has a two-fold aim, first to set out a taxonomy of ancient debates in terms of subject-matter, degree of formality, who adjudicated and what the object of the exercise was, in order to assess the positive and negative roles of debates in the development of inquiry, and secondly to review the grounds on which expertise in different domains was recognised or claimed. Two of the ideals in question here are those of transparency and accountability.
The third lecture (‘Heuristics and its Hazards’) focuses on the techniques of research developed by ancient investigators, on the collection and use of data bases, and on the disputed topic of ancient experimentation. Two of what I call the hazards heuristics faced relate to the controversiality of certain methods (such as dissection and vivisection) and to the problem of the acceptability of any results that challenged received opinions.
My final lecture (‘Ontologies and values’) asks what assumptions ancient investigators themselves made about the objects of their investigations and what, in their view, made their inquiries worthwhile.
Throughout I aim to recover the plurality and heterogeneity of ancient traditions and to explore how inquiry itself came to be the focus of attention, analysis and controversy already in ancient societies. There was no one royal road to ‘science’, but rather multiple routes to different goals, not that just any goal was acceptable in the ancient world any more than it is today. In the background the major cognitive problem on which I hope to shed some modest light is the history of human reason. If the faculty does not change, the ways it has been used have, as I shall endeavour to illustrate.