The problem with the idea of science

The concept of science and its division into disciplines cannot be treated as unproblematic. Science and scholarship are themselves historically defined human enterprises, with a specific social function and background. An ancient body of knowledge may contain things rather different from our conception of science, and may be put to uses far removed from what seems proper for a scholarly subject in our eyes. The history of science has for a long time been satisfied with tracing the course of modern scientific ideas through the past. Now it is becoming clear that such an approach is very limited. It isolates those ancient ideas which ‘fit’ from ideas which cannot be related to ours. Moreover, ideas tend to be treated as more or less independent things, separate from the social context in which they functioned. The unreflected application of the modern concept of science necessarily distorts the relations between the data, putting together what was separate, and separating things that belong together.

– ‘Elementary education at Nippur. The lists of trees and wooden objects.’ by Nicolaas Christiaan Veldhuis, 1997, p138.

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