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the Complete Review
the complete review - history of science

The Ambitions of Curiosity

G.E.R. Lloyd

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To purchase The Ambitions of Curiosity

Title: The Ambitions of Curiosity
Author: G.E.R.Lloyd
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2002
Length: 147 pages
Availability: The Ambitions of Curiosity - US
The Ambitions of Curiosity - UK
The Ambitions of Curiosity - Canada
  • Understanding the World in Ancient Greece and China
  • Based on the 2000 Isaiah Berlin lectures at Oxford
  • Includes 30 figures and 1 table
  • Includes a Glossary of Chinese and Greek terms
  • Volume 64 of Cambridge University Press' Ideas in Context-series

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Our Assessment:

B+ : good introduction to a fascinating subject

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Bryn Mawr Classical Review . 24/10/2003 Scott Rubarth

  From the Reviews:
  • "In summary G. E. R. Lloyd has produced an important work which is not really about East versus West but rather about the way social and institutional factors promote or hinder the spirit of methodological inquiry. Although the book has a 'compare and contrast' format, it is more than simply a survey of similarity and difference." - Scott Rubarth, Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Ambitions of Curiosity focusses on one theme: the growth of systematic inquiry, specifically (though not exclusively) in ancient Greece and China. It's an interesting subject. Systematic inquiry, mainly in the form of well-organised and often well-funded research and development programmes, is commonplace in the contemporary world, and significant resources are devoted to it, both by governments and companies. Everything from universities (essentially centres of systematic inquiry) to private industry (where a large portion of revenue is often (re-)invested in R & D) is unimaginable without it. Obviously, however, it was not always so.
       Despite its obvious benefits, it is nevertheless not always clear how (and why) systematic inquiry was pursued in certain cultures (and times) -- and wasn't elsewhere. G.E.R.Lloyd tries to show the reasons why and the circumstances under (and extent to) which systematic inquiry flourished in Greece and China -- particularly interesting examples since these cultures of innovation were eventually (for different reasons) largely stifled. Systematic inquiry offers the benefits of innovation but can also challenge the status quo, and Lloyd also shows how attempts to balance these consequences clearly affected the regimes of systematic inquiry that developed in ancient Greece and China.
       The Ambitions of Curiosity is a book on history of science, as Lloyd explores numerous advances and how (and possibly why) they were reached. One chapter focusses on prediction: the pseudo-science of divination might seem very far from reliable systematic inquiry, but it contains some of the seeds of it, allowing for causality, recognising regularity (the reappearance of certain conditions -- be they in the stars or in the pulse of sick patients). Numerous engineering advances are also discussed, mainly dealing with agricultural and military applications.
       Lloyd also discusses the rise of an understanding of mathematics, valuable because we consider maths generally only from the perspective of what we know while the maths of the Greeks and Chinese (and other cultures) differed markedly from ours in many respects -- leading, in some cases. to quite a different way of seeing things. Lloyd also consider the role of language, including the development of a specialised language for systematic inquiry -- a familiar issue in our (jargon-laden) world but, as Lloyd shows, also of considerable significance in classical times.
       A final chapter focusses on "Individuals and institutions", considering the role of these in systematic inquiry (with the Chinese state, for example, certainly being a dominant feature in the shaping of systematic inquiry there).

       Lloyd offers a whirlwind tour of science, philosophy, and culture in ancient Greece and China (with a few other ancient cultures tossed in where appropriate). He writes with an easy (and often daunting) familiarity about these, offering an amazing variety of examples and references. But the book is a broad sketch rather than a detailed study, suggestive rather than setting out to prove every last idea and argument. Lloyd does this well: one is eager to follow up on many of his strands, to consult the works he refers to and see for oneself -- and explore further. The book is dense but -- as its lecture-origins suggest -- often almost conversational in tone, overwhelming in the fill of examples but not how they are presented.
       The Ambitions of Curiosity is too specific for a general audience, but readers interested in the history and philosophy of science, Greek and Chinese culture, and similar subjects should find it of great interest.

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The Ambitions of Curiosity: Reviews: Professor Sir Geoffrey Lloyd: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Geoffrey Ernest Richard Lloyd was born in 1933. He taught at Cambridge University.

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© 2002-2021 the complete review

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