Problem Domain, Taxonomy, and Comparativity in Histories of Science — With a Case Study in the Comparative History of ‘Optics’

  • Daiwie Fu
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 141)


Comparisons of histories of science in cultures that have no apparent lineages to each other have, to say the least, been very problematic activities in the past. Take the outstanding example of comparing the Western history of science with that of China. The usual procedure of comparison is first to divide the modern Western sciences into many small, atomized bits of knowledge, and then to take these atomized bits of western knowledge as the criterion of comparison. Every bit of modern knowledge could then serve as a unique ruler to measure, in terms of the year of ‘discovery’, which culture approaches it closer, or got it first. By virtue of this procedure, it was happily found that, though Western culture got the modern scientific revolution first, Chinese ancient sciences ‘led’ their Western counterparts on many scores, and usually by many centuries. In the early twentieth century China, when the national fate was in a critical state, some well-intentioned Chinese scientists/historians of science understandably, it seems, constructed this very procedure,1 and colossal efforts in the Chinese history of science and its comparisons have followed in the East and West ever since.


Problem Domain Taxonomic Condition Geometrical Optic Domain Space Chinese History 
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  1. 17.
    Cf: Gerard Simon, ‘Experiment and Theory in Ptolemy’s Optics’, in D. Batens and J. P. van Bendegem (eds.), Theory and Experiment ,1988, D. Reidel, pp. 177–188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 22.
    Cf: John Pecham John Pecham and the Science of Optics ,Univ. of Wisconsin Press, pp. 19, 25, 33, ed. by D. Lindberg (1970).Google Scholar
  3. 23.
    Cf: D. Lindberg, Theories of Vision from Al-Kindi to Kepler ,Univ. of Chicago Press, 1976, Ch. 6. Also cf: G. A. Russell’s Dibner Institute Optics conference paper, The Emergence of Physiological Optics’.Google Scholar
  4. 29.
    Cf: Graham and Sivin (1973), ‘A Systematic Approach to the Mohist Optics’, ibid.,esp. pp. 113–115.Google Scholar

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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1993

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  • Daiwie Fu

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