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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Philosophy, Science and the Sciences


Philosophy, Science and the Sciences aims to make a major innovative contribution to our understanding of the relationship between philosophy and the special sciences in the Graeco-Roman and Islamicate world. Our research program will analyze the connections, or confrontations, between different conceptions of knowledge and practices of seeking knowledge. It is devoted to the dialogues between different forms and models of knowledge as they are discussed, conducted and implemented in ancient Greek, Roman and Arabic philosophy and science. These dialogues include: (1) interaction between different manners and modes of knowledge or inquiry (demonstrative, dialectical, inductive, empirical, revealed, etc.); (2) interaction between different disciplines or organized bodies of knowledge (philosophy, mathematics, medicine, astronomy, grammar, law, etc.); (3) interaction between different cultural contexts (Greek, Roman, Arabic).

Examples from mathematics and medicine

A special science such as geometry, astronomy or medicine was often taken as a model both by scientists working in other fields and by philosophers. Conversely, philosophical reflection about knowledge influenced work in the special sciences. One important example of a philosophical response to a special science is Aristotle’s analysis of the structure of science in general, in the Posterior Analytics, on the model of the axiomatic-deductive structure of geometry. Philosophers have also taken medicine as their model, at least as far back as Gorgias. Plato tries to carry out the philosophical ‘medicine of the soul’ that in his view Gorgias had failed to achieve. Later doctors, like Galen and Râzî, try to show that the perfect doctor can treat the soul as well as the body, rejecting the Platonic division of labour between the philosopher and the doctor. Alexander of Aphrodisias and Fârâbî, in response, try to show the inadequacy of Galen’s demonstrative practice and of his theory of the soul. Ghazâlî rejects the views of both sides in that dispute, and tries to show that neither medicine nor philosophy but only sûfism yields a real medicine of the soul.

Integration of Arabic tradition

An important innovative aspect of our program is its integration of the whole Arabic tradition into the study of ancient philosophy and science. The study of Greek and Roman philosophy has long profited from a multidisciplinary culture, in which philosophers and philologists are in dialogue. We believe that the study of the Arabic tradition, not only falsafa but also other disciplines such as kalâm, requires the same combination of philological and philosophical training.

Arrangements for doctoral study and research supervision

Each doctoral student will focus on a concrete, particular instance of dialogue and interaction between philosophy and the sciences, bringing to bear their own disciplinary approach and interdisciplinary expertise. At the same time, each doctoral student will be helped to situate their own work within a larger historical and methodological framework, by meeting and interacting with the other members of the Research Training Group, faculty as well as their fellow doctoral students.

Read more about the doctoral program and the curriculum.