Philosophy of Science and History of Science: A Productive Engagement

Dissertation, University of California, San Diego (1991)
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Philosophy of science and history of science both have a significant relation to science itself; but what is their relation to each other? That question has been a focal point of philosophical and historical work throughout the second half of this century. An analysis and review of the progress made in dealing with this question, and especially that made in philosophy, is the focus of this thesis. Chapter one concerns logical positivist and empiricist approaches to philosophy of science, and the significance of the criticisms levelled at them by analytic epistemologists such as Willard Quine and 'historicist' philosophers, especially Thomas Kuhn. Chapter two details the attempts by Kuhn and Lakatos to integrate these historicist criticisms with historically oriented philosophy of science, in their separate attempts at providing rational explanations of historical developments. Kuhn's latest work seeks to mend fences with philosophy, but his efforts remain too closely tied to the epistemological approaches strongly criticized in his earlier work. Lakatos' treatment of history is much more subtle than most have understood it to be, but the conception of scientific rationality that arises out of it is transformed into an abstract cultural product, more reminiscent of Hegel's geist than of individual human rationality. Chapters three and four discuss the recommendations of Lakatos and Laudan to historians with regard to historiography, and the actual historiographies and philosophy of history of practicing historians and historians of science. The philosophers' contributions indicate little concern for the historians' own methods, materials, and purposes; and the historians' writings present methodologies for history of science that are independent of the normative demarcations of philosophy of science, pace Lakatos and Laudan. Chapter five develops a philosophical position that fosters a more productive engagement between philosophy and history of science, a 'methodological historicism' that embraces the possibility of an important role for social and political factors in a philosophical study of scientific development. The epistemological relativism that might accompany such a historicist position need not be the radical epistemological anarchism of Feyerabend, though it will allow for a significant underdetermination of scientific development by reason nonetheless.

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Eric Palmer
Allegheny College


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