HISTORY OF SCIENCE - Ancient Philosophy of Science

Other subject area

About this course

This course serves as an introduction to the ancient Greek-Roman philosophy of science, spanning from the “Presocratic” naturalists (7th century BC) to Galen (2nd century AD). Emphasis will be placed on significant philosophical writings and influential figures that left a profound imprint on the fields of physics, biology, mathematics, and medicine.

Lecture topics: Session 1 : Introduction and the Ionians naturalists (Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes) Session 2 : Parmenides, Hippocrates, and the main pluralists (Anaxagoras, Empedocles) Session 3: The early Pythagoreans and Plato’s Timaeus (plus extracts from Republic, book VII, and Theaetetus) Session 4 : Aristotle’s main works on physics and biology (selected extracts from Physics, On Generation and Corruption, On the Parts of Animals, and On the Soul) Session 6 : The atomists (Democritus, Epicurus’ Letter to Herodotus and Letter to Pythocles, Lucretius’ On the Nature of Things) Session 7 : Heraclitus and Stoic physics (Aratus’ Phenomena, Seneca’s Natural questions, Manilius’ Astronomics) Session 8 : Hellenistic Greek geometers (Euclides, Archimedes, Erathostenes, Hero of Alexandria) Session 9 : Hellenistic Greek medicine (Herophilus, Erasistratus, Nicander, Asclepiades) Session 10 : Posidonius and Roman encyclopedias (Pliny the Elder’s Natural History, Celsus’ On Medicine, Vitruvius’ On Architecture) Session 11 : Aristarchus of Samos and Ptolemy (selected extracts from the On the Criterion, Almagest, and Harmonics) Session 12 : Galen’s neo-Hippocratism (selected extracts from On the Elements according to Hippocrates, On the Natural Faculties, On the Uses of Parts, On the Doctrines of Hippocrates and Plato) Session 13 : Final discussion and oral/poster presentations

Semester Start: November 3, 2024

Day & Time: TBD

Contact Hours per Week: 2

The lessons are online. There is no final exam, but students must finish their assignments by March 2nd, 2025.

Primary Reading (mandatory):
The lecturer will prepare an anthology containing selected passages from the texts of ancient philosophers of science. The twelve chapters are preceded by a short introduction providing relevant details about the philosophers' lives and key ideas. Students are expected to read one chapter (maximum 3-4 pages long) prior to each session, allowing them to arrive in class prepared with questions for discussion. Additionally, these passages will be further analyzed and discussed on the Perusall platform (see below).

Further Reading (suggested):
Barnes, J. (1982), The Presocratic Philosophers, Routledge. De Santillana, G. (1961). The Origins of Scientific Thought, The New American Library. Feke, J. (2018). Ptolemy’s Philosophy: Mathematics as a Way of Life. Princeton University Press. Huffman, C.A. (1993). Philolaus of Croton. Cambridge University Press. Long, A., Sedley, D. (1987), The Hellenistic Philosophers. Cambridge University Press. Nutton, V. (2014). Ancient Medicine. Routledge. Nutton, V. (2020). Galen: a Thinking Doctor in imperial Rome. Routledge. Tieleman, T. (2018). Stoicism and the natural world: philosophy and science. In Keyser, P.T., Scarborough, J. (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Science and Medicine in the Classical World. Oxford University Press: pp. 677-698. Tipton, J. (2014). Philosophical biology in Aristotle’s «Parts of animals». Springer. Wardhaughm, B. (2021). Encounters with Euclid: How an Ancient Greek Geometry Text Shaped the World. Princeton University Press. Wilson, M. (2000). Aristotle's Theory of the Unity of Science. University of Toronto Press. Zeyl, D.J. (2000). Plato: Timaeus. Cambridge University Press.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will be able to: • Demonstrate a basic knowledge of the development of the ancient philosophy of science; • Compare science and philosophy by focusing on the scientific and/or technological advancements attributed to ancient philosophers; • Read ancient philosophical texts with both historical sensitivity, acknowledging the values and worldviews of the past, and philosophical insight, namely to evaluate critically the logic, methods, and ideas conveyed by these texts; • Recognize various methods of conducting science in antiquity and apply them to contemporary scientific practice; • Discuss complex philosophical problems rigorously and informedly.


Assessment The final grade will be the sum of a reading assignment (60%) and either an oral or poster presentation (40%). Students can earn up to 15% bonus by doing a writing assignment.

Reading (mandatory) On the platform Perusall, you will find the anthology with the selected passages from all the authors discussed during the course. You will need to read it in its entirety and arrive by the end of the course with 1-2 constructive comments/reflections on every chapter (= 12 corresponding to the topics covered in sessions 1-12 of the course). These comments can have the form of a comparison between one or two philosophers, a defense or a criticism of the ideas defended by them, or a proposal for a potential connection between the ancient view of science and the contemporary one.

Oral or poster presentation (mandatory) Students can decide whether to deliver an oral presentation on a topic covered during the course, or to prepare a poster. The presentation will last 5-6 minutes at most. After all the scheduled presentations, a discussion will follow. The presentation can be an individual or group effort with a maximum of six participants, depending on the class size and the number of students interested in delivering a talk. Students have the option to deliver it either in person, or online, or to record it. You are free to organize the presentation as you wish, provided that you: • State at the beginning what is the goal of your presentation, defend it and dedicate the last slide to a summary of your main arguments; • Use a maximum of 12 slides • Select one or more passages from the anthology that are particularly relevant to your topic and explain their content to the class, plus the reason for your choice. In case you prefer to present a poster, you have the creative freedom to structure it as you wish and, once again, to prepare it singularly or in a group. However, this will have to contain three elements: • A summary of the main thought of one author or a group of authors studied in class; • A more detailed exposition of at least one philosophical-scientific idea defended by the selected author / group of authors; • A personal opinion on the topic from the student(s).

Please note: Most oral and poster presentations will be scheduled in session 13. You will need to contact the lecturer in advance to let him know the composition of your eventual group and the topic you have chosen. If you intend to record it and/or present earlier, .

Writing (optional) You will submit a short essay or reflection to the teacher on a selected topic from the course. While you have flexibility in terms of content, adherence to the following rules is expected: • Do not exceed 500 words; • Start with a brief introductory paragraph and add at least 2-3 paragraphs where you explain your arguments in detail; • Write a short conclusion or summary of the main points. The criteria for assessing the quality of the writing assignment include clarity of exposition, good structure of the arguments, originality of thought.

Please note: You are permitted to submit a maximum of two essays. In this case, your final grade will coincide with the grade of your best essay.

Office hours Students are welcome to speak with the teacher and schedule an appointment via Zoom.

Other notes • Students must attend at least 9 sessions of the course, more if justified. • You are strongly encouraged to ask as many questions as you like and share your own thoughts in class (and beyond). You are not here to be judged; we are learning and investigating together. • While working on the assignments, copy/plagiarism will not be tolerated and will lead to an automatic failure of the assignment. As long as you adhere to this strict rule, you are permitted to utilize AI software for the purpose of revising your English and structuring your presentation and/or essay. In short, use this tool with intelligence and adult responsibility. • You will not be evaluated for your command of the English language. Taking this English course will allow you to improve your linguistic skills.

Course requirements



Lecture, Exercise, Project

Additional information

  • Credits
    ECTS 2
  • Level
  • Contact hours per week
  • Instructors
    Enrico Piergiacomi
  • Mode of instruction
    Online - at a specific time
If anything remains unclear, please check the FAQ of Technion (Israel).
Please note, for TalTech students there is an earlier deadline for applications - 18th June 2024


  • Start date

    3 November 2024

    • Ends
      2 March 2025
    • Term *
      Winter Semester 2024/25
    • Location
    • Instruction language
    • Register between
      14 May - 29 Jul 2024
    Only 8 days to enrol
    Apply now
These offerings are valid for students of TalTech (Estonia)