Ancient Philosophy and Science Beyond Borders

March 14, 2024 - March 15, 2024
Faculty of Classics, University of Cambridge

Faculty of Classics, University of Cambridge
United Kingdom


  • British Society for the History of Philosophy


Cambridge University

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In anything from ‘Areas of Specialization’ in resumes and job descriptions to introductory textbooks and university courses, the field of ‘Ancient Philosophy’ is often presented as being restricted to ancient Greek and Roman philosophy. Broad judgements about the nature of ancient philosophy are also commonly made in publications which purely address Greek and Roman texts. Such a narrow construal of the field, though not universal, perpetuates a presumption that philosophical inquiry throughout antiquity was confined to the Greeks and the Romans.

Similarly, the history of science is often said to begin in ancient Greece and little attention is usually given to the sustained investigations of shape and number, health and disease, and the motions of the heavens that were undertaken in other ancient societies. The modern division between philosophy and science is an anachronism when applied to the premodern world, and scholars have much to gain from crossing this somewhat artificial border.

This conference looks beyond the traditional canon of ancient philosophy and science to ask what can be learned from engaging with cross-cultural perspectives on ancient ethics and politics, metaphysics and cosmology, as well as the mathematical and the life sciences. Speakers from a range of disciplines (including Classics, Philosophy, History and Philosophy of Science, Theology, and Asian and Middle Eastern Studies) will thus discuss a range of texts, ideas, and figures from ancient Chinese, Egyptian, Greek, Indian, Jewish, and Mesopotamian traditions of thought.

The first day of the conference will be structured around two philosophical panels: the first will address topics in ancient ethics and politics, while the second will focus on cosmology and metaphysics. The second day will then consider themes in ancient mathematics, astronomy, and physics; before moving on to issues in ancient medicine and the life sciences.

Confirmed speakers:

Bernardo Ballesteros (Vienna)

Amber D. Carpenter (KCL)

Karine Chemla (CNRS) 

Mark Geller (UCL)

Elisabeth Hsu (Oxford)

Annette Warner (Frankfurt)

Ashley Lance (Cambridge)

Chiara Martini (Cambridge)

Stephen O Peprah (Cambridge)

Eleanor Robson (UCL)

Mor Segev (South Florida)

Jan Westerhoff (Oxford)

Jingyi Jenny Zhao (Cambridge)


Gábor Betegh (Cambridge)

Laura Castelli (Cambridge)

Sophia Connell (Birkbeck)

Myrto Hatzimichali (Cambridge)

The Conference will take place in-person at the Faculty of Classics (G21), Cambridge, on 14th March (12:30-18:30) and 15th March (9:00-17:00).

Registration: A limited number of tickets for in-person attendance (priced at £10, which includes lunch and a closing drinks reception on Friday 15th March as well as coffee/tea on both days) can be purchased here:


Thursday 14th March 2024

12:30 Registration 

12:45-13:00 Introductory remarks

Panel 1 – Ancient Ethics & Politics (G21, Faculty of Classics)

Chair: Myrto Hatzimichali (Cambridge)

13:00-13:45 Amber D. Carpenter (KCL), ‘Knowledge and Ethical Transformation in Vasubandhu and Dignāga’

13:45-14:30 Jingyi Jenny Zhao (Cambridge), ‘Children, Nature and Morality in Ancient Greece and Early China’

14:30-15:15 Stephen O Peprah (Cambridge), ‘Plato on the Individual, Polis, and Political Authority: A Study in Moderate Communitarianism’ 


Panel 2 – Cosmogony, Cosmology, & Metaphysics (G21, Faculty of Classics)

Chair: Gábor Betegh (Cambridge)

15:45-16:30 Bernardo Ballesteros (Vienna), ‘Honours and Destinies: Hesiod’s Theogony and the Babylonian Epic of Creation’

16:30-17:15Jan Westerhoff (Oxford), ‘The place of rebirth in Buddhist philosophy’

17:15-17:45 Break

17:45-18:30 Mor Segev (South Florida), ‘Maimonides' Torah-based response to Aristotle on cosmic eternity and perfection’

19:00 Conference dinner (speakers & chairs only)

Friday 15th March 2024

 Panel 3 – Ancient Medicine & Life Sciences (G21, Faculty of Classics)

Chair: Sophia Connell (Birkbeck)

9:00-9:45 Mark Geller (UCL), ‘The Anatomy of Ancient Babylonian Medicine’

9:45-10:30 Elisabeth Hsu (Oxford), ‘Resonance (gan ying) as a philosophical problem, or is it an anthropological one?’

10:30-11:00 Break

11:00-11:45 Ashley Lance (Cambridge), ‘Airs, Waters, Places and 'Racecraft' in Politics 7.7’

11:45-13:15 Lunch

 Panel 4 – Ancient Mathematics (G21, Faculty of Classics)

Chair: Laura Castelli (Cambridge)

13:15-14:00 Chiara Martini (Cambridge), ‘Theorems, Problems, and Diagrammatic Reasoning in Euclidean Geometry’

14:00-14:45 Karine Chemla (CNRS), ‘Computing through proving versus computing formally. Reflections based on Chinese sources’ 

14:45-15:15 Break

15:15-16:00 Laith Hussain (University of Baghdad) and Eleanor Robson (UCL, presenting), ‘Micro-geographies of Old Babylonian mathematics’ 

16:00-16:45 Annette Imhausen (Frankfurt), ‘The Conceptualization of Mathematics in Pharaonic Egypt’

16:45-17:00 Closing  

End of Conference

17:00 Closing reception

The conference is generously supported by the Cambridge Faculty of Classics, in collaboration with the Classics Beyond Borders project; the Cambridge Department of History and Philosophy of Science; and the British Society for the History of Philosophy.


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Cambridge University
Birkbeck, University of London
and 1 more.

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