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Jacqueline Feke's new book 'Ptolemy's Philosophy'

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Jacqueline FekeDr. Jacqueline Feke's new book, Ptolemy's Philosophy: Mathematics as a Way of Life published by Princeton University Press, has just been released. 

For more information about the publication, please see the publisher's website.

Please read the full Q and A session with Dr. Feke from the University of Waterloo's Department of Philosophy newsletter from Fall 2017 included below.

Q and A with Dr. Jacqueline Feke

Professor Jacqueline Feke is a newer member of the Philosophy Department, and is cross-appointed with Classical Studies. We caught up with her on her latest, and future, work.

Q1: Congratulations on your new forthcoming book! Coming out with Princeton UP, it’s about Ptolemy’s contributions to philosophy. What’s Ptolemy’s message to, and relevance for, us today?

A: “Ptolemy lived at a time when, unlike today and especially at Waterloo, there were very few mathematicians.  At any one time in the ancient Mediterranean, there were at most a few dozen people working on high-level mathematics.  Through his philosophical program, Ptolemy carves out a space for math and justifies why he dedicated most of his life to it.  Ptolemy’s philosophy challenges us to articulate what the benefits of studying STEM disciplines are today for the individual.  Ptolemy’s texts indicate that he thought he was living the best life possible through his dedication to mathematics.  Can we say the same for scientists, engineers, and mathematicians today?”

Q2: Can you tell us a bit about how you came to the interesting intersection between classical philosophy and ancient science and math? What has been your journey in that regard?

A: “In the ancient Greek tradition science and math are philosophy, in the broadest sense; they are types of philosophy.  I came to their study precisely because the boundaries between fields of inquiry were articulated differently in the ancient Greek world than they are today.  When I was writing my undergraduate thesis way back when, I was particularly interested in the relationship between religion and science, and I learned during my graduate studies that ancient Greek mathematicians and philosophers were grappling with the relationship between theology and the sciences, because the sciences were branches of philosophy.  Eventually I focused my research on the philosophical systems of ancient Greek mathematicians.”

Q3: You’ve also had a fascinating personal journey, from your doctorate down the road at the University of Toronto to positions at Stanford, Chicago, and the Max Planck Institute. How have those experiences fed into your research and placement here at Waterloo, where you’re mainly in Philosophy but are also cross-appointed in Classical Studies?

A: “At these various institutions, I worked in interdisciplinary environments.  I had colleagues from across the humanities and social sciences, and so I learned to communicate my research to people outside my field, and those conversations led me to ask new questions in ancient science and math.  Here I teach a range of courses, especially at the intro level and in ancient philosophy, and I’m eager to teach courses in ancient science as well as the history and philosophy of science more generally.” 

Q4: Congratulations as well on your new SSHRC Insight Development Grant! What is this latest research project, moving forward?

A: “The project is called “Law and Nature in Ancient Greek Mathematics” and with it I am investigating the roots of the concept ‘law of nature’—which is generally thought to have originated in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries—in ancient Greek mathematicians’ deliberations on what law and nature are and what their relationship is.”

Q5: What’s the best thing you’ve experienced thus far in the Dept here at Waterloo?

A: “I’m particularly proud of the projects my students designed for my course “Philosophy in Literature: Philosophy in Utopian Literature.”  The course started with the analysis of early utopian texts and then turned to dystopian fiction: novels, short stories, and film.  My students constructed their own utopian and dystopian worlds and presented them in class.  I’m teaching this course again in Winter 2018, and I’m looking forward to seeing what my students come up with!”