Globalizing History and Philosophy of Science: Problems and Prospects

Network Node: 
Thu., Aug. 21, 2014, 9:00am - Fri., Aug. 22, 2014, 5:00pm

Globalizing History and Philosophy of Science: Problems and Prospects
21 Aug 2014 - 22 Aug 2014
ARI Seminar Room
Tower Block Level 10, 469A Bukit Timah Road
National University of Singapore @ BTC

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This conference is jointly organised by Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore, Center for Dialogue, La Trobe University, Australia and Situating Science Strategic Knowledge Cluster in partnership with University of King's College, Canada

Although it is generally acknowledged that Asian philosophies can make important contributions to the philosophy of religion, moral philosophy, aesthetic theory and other areas of philosophy in the humanities and cultural studies, there have been few attempts to study their past and potential contributions to natural philosophy and the philosophy of science. One major reason for this neglect must be the general perception that Asian traditions of science made no significant historical contributions to modern science. This makes it seem reasonable to assume that the philosophies that underpin Asian traditions of science can have no relevance for understanding modern science, or enriching the future growth of scientific knowledge.

However, ever since the pioneering studies by Joseph Needham of the contributions made by Chinese science and technology to modern science an expanding body of literature has emerged to document the influence of not only Chinese but also other Asian traditions of science - especially the Indian and the Islamic-Arabic. This opens the door even wider to investigate what role, if any, philosophical insights from Asian traditions played in forging the identity of modern science, and what contributions they can make to advance future philosophy of science.

The emergence of environmental studies has also opened the door to drawing on marginalized reservoirs of ecological knowledge of traditional cultures – both the cultures of the advanced pre-modern Asian civilizations and Asian indigenous cultures – to forge an eco-sensitive body of knowledge about the natural world. Emergent systems theory and complexity theory highlight the significance of contextual knowledge of local ecologies embodied in pre-modern traditions of natural philosophy. Thus both the recognition of the historical contributions of Asian traditions of natural philosophy and science to modern science, and their potential contributions to future science, require us to take seriously both Asian traditions of science and the natural philosophies and epistemologies associated with them.

Attempts to engage in such an exercise may be seen as problematic because different cultural traditions of science are often seen as enclosed within incommensurable world perspectives shaped by their distinctive networks of beliefs, semantics, perceptions and values. Nevertheless, both the record of successful historical exchanges of scientific knowledge across civilizations, and the possibility of transmissions of traditional environmental knowledge from one culture to another, suggest that the notion of incommensurability may have to be examined more carefully. Does it make sense to see distinct cultures and civilizations as necessarily either commensurable or incommensurable? How can the recognition of historical exchanges and resistances to such exchanges be explained by such dichotomous binaries? Or should aspects of cultures and civilizations be identified as commensurable and incommensurable through the process of their hermeneutic encounters? Can such identification be used to explain both what gets historically transmitted and what can be accommodated in future across cultural boundaries? Should we re-examine these questions in order to both globalize the history of science and make possible future global contributions to science? What does this imply for a global history, philosophy and sociology of science?

This workshop will bring together leading scholars to examine how and why globalizing the history of science generates intellectual and conceptual tensions that require us to revisit, and possibly rethink, the leading notions that have hitherto informed the history, philosophy and sociology of science.



Conference Convenors

Dr Arun Bala
Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore

Prof Prasenjit Duara
Asia Research Institute, and Office of Deputy President (Research and Technology), National University of Singapore


Jonathan Lee
Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore

  Contact Person: Mr LEE Ming Yao, JonathanEmail:,,