Hermeneutic studies of science locate a circle at the heart of scientific practice: scientists only gain knowledge of what they, in some sense, already know. This may seem to threaten the rational validity of science, but one can argue that this circle is a virtuous rather than a vicious one. A virtuous circle is one in which research conclusions are already present in the premises, but only in an indeterminate and underdeveloped way. In order to defend the validity of science, the hermeneuticist must describe a method by which a vague and confused initial knowledge of nature gets transformed into a clear and determinate knowledge of nature. I consider three such methods. The first is regressus demonstrativa, favoured by the physicians of Padua during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The second is mathēsis, introduced by Martin Heidegger in his discussion of seventeenth-century science. The third is Denkstil, a key concept in Ludwik Fleck’s history of syphilology. I conclude by listing three desiderata for a hermeneutic science studies: that it be anti-metaphysical, historical, and sociological.
Reprinted in: Erich Otto Graf, Martin Schmid & Johannes Fehr (eds.), Fleck and the Hermeneutics of Science (Collegium Helveticum Heft 14) (Zürich, 2016), pp. 85-93.