Workshop 'Senses in Ancient Philosophy and Science'

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For several decades, the Humanities and Social Sciences have been witnessing a ‘sensual revolution’ (Howes 2005; Bull et al. 2006). In a nutshell, this turn consists of a sustained emphasis on the cultural and historical embeddedness of the senses, making sensory perception as much the domain of Humanities scholars as that of scientists. Within the study of Greek and Roman antiquity, the recent Routledge series on The Senses in Antiquity is proof of the growing influence of the sensory turn (Bradley & Butler 2014–2019). In addition, the senses have flourished in the study of ancient science (e.g., Ioannidi 1992; Gunter 2000; King & Toner 2014; Lo Presti 2007 and 2015; Bodiou 2015; Kazantzidis 2017), as well as in the study of ancient philosophy of nature where sense perception is considered as mediating between the material and the intelligible (e.g., Martijn 2010; Magrin 2010; Herzberg 2011; Longo & Taormina 2016). Furthermore, in recent years, cognitive theories have exerted a great influence on the Classics (Anderson et al. 2018), rethinking the relationship between body and mind. By turning the spotlight on the senses, these studies focus on the interplay between mind, body, and culture in antiquity.

For this workshop (7 October 2022, Ravensteynzaal, Utrecht, NL), the organizers would like to bring together scholars working on ancient (archaic to late antique) scientific and philosophicaltexts to add to this growing body of work on the senses, following on a visit to Utrecht University by Dr Sean Coughlin ( We here adopt a broad definition of ‘scientific’ texts, “…on the basis of shared goals, namely the comprehending, explaining, and sometimes even predicting the phenomena of the natural world” (Keyser 2013:18).

Approaches from the perspective of ‘anchoring innovation’, taken as the process through which relevant social groups “…can connect what is perceived as new to what they consider familiar, known, already accepted” (Sluiter 2016) will be particularly welcomed. Anchoring processes are pertinent to students of ancient philosophy and science, marked as these fields are by notions such as competition (e.g., ancient medicine) and the importance of philosophical tradition. Anchoring can include, for example, diachronic notions of scientific progress (e.g., Asper 2013) and tradition—e.g. how do authors relate their own views on the senses and sense perception to those of their predecessors? Why (not)?—or synchronic ideas of cultural embedding—e.g. the anchoring of specific sensory data such as smell or tastes in specific cultural contexts. The workshop is an opportunity to bring together the bustling field of sensory studies and the current research project ‘Anchoring Innovation’ (, as well as fresh ideas from the participants’ own areas of expertise

Possible topics for papers include, but are not limited to:

− How senses are employed in science in antiquity

− The relationship between sense-perception and intelligence (‘soul’) and the role of the sense-organs

− The topography of the senses in the body

− The hierarchy between the senses

− The (un)importance of new linguistic and/or material/technical aspects in ancient discourse on the senses

− The author’s relation (e.g., anchoring, rejection, etc.) to older and/or contemporary accounts on the senses

− Cognitive approaches to the senses in antiquity, e.g., ‘the 4E’s’ (embodied, embedded, extended, enactive cognition, see Anderson et al. 2018) or ‘embodied heuristics’(Gigerenzer 2021)

We envision a one-day workshop in which participants can discuss their work in progress. The day will start with a keynote speech by Dr Sean Coughlin, followed by individual presentations of15-20 min to leave ample time for discussion. We will close the academic part of the day with a plenary discussion. Lunch, as well as coffee/tea during the breaks and drinks at the end of the workshop, will be provided by us. We work on the assumption that it will be possible to meet in real life in Utrecht, but this will largely depend on the developments of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are unfortunately unable to reimburse costs for travel and accommodation.

PhD candidates and early career scholars are explicitly invited to participate: the workshop is an opportunity to learn from one another and receive constructive feedback. If you would like to contribute, please send a brief abstract (250 words max., reference excluded) to before Monday the 20th of June 2022. Notification of acceptance will be sent by the end of July 2022.

We hope to hear from many of you!

Chiara Cecconi (
Glyn Muitjens (
Carolina Welslau (