Daryn LehouxWhat Did the Romans Know?: An Inquiry into Science and Worldmaking

University of Chicago Press, 2012

by Carla Nappi on August 16, 2014

Daryn Lehoux

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[Cross-posted from New Books in Science, Technology, and SocietyDaryn Lehoux’s new book will forever change the way you think about garlic and magnets. What Did the Romans Know?: An Inquiry into Science and Worldmaking (University of Chicago Press, 2012) is a fascinating account of the co-production of facts and worlds, taking readers into the sciences of Rome from the first century BC to the second century AD. Masterfully blending approaches from the history and philosophy of science, Lehoux traces the significance of the “threefold cord” of nature, law, and the gods in making up the early Roman world. The chapters use the works of Cicero, Seneca, Galen, Ptolemy, and others to explore topics making up the foundation of a history of Roman science, including the importance of divination to Roman politics and natural knowledge, the relationship between optics and ethics in the Roman world, and the entanglements of law, nature, and witnessing.  What Did the Romans Know? also contributes to philosophical debates over the theory-ladenness of observation, scientific and historical realism, and relativism. Lehoux ends his account as an “epistemological coherentist,” suggesting a model for thinking about and with the sciences in history and beyond. On top of all of this, the language of the text sparkles. It’s a wonderfully enjoyable read.

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