Freedom in a Scientific Society: Reading the Context of Reichenbach's Contexts

In Jutta Schickore & Friedrich Steinle (eds.), Revisiting Discovery and Justification. Springer. pp. 41--54 (2006)
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The distinction between the contexts of discovery and justification, this distinction dear to the projects of logical empiricism, was, as is well known, introduced in precisely those terms by Hans Reichenbach in his Experience and Prediction (Reichenbach 1938). Thus, while the idea behind the distinction has a long history before Reichenbach, this text from 1938 plays a salient role in how the distinction became canonical in the work of philosophers of science in the mid twentieth century. The new contextualist history of philosophy that has arisen in recent years invites us into an investigation of the nuances of philosophical distinctions and their roles in shaping the development of disciplines. Logical empiricism played a key role in the historical development of philosophy of science and this contextualist history has revealed a much richer set of projects in logical empiricism than the potted histories had allowed. Many stories have been told about the contexts of justification and discovery; few of those stories have paid more than passing attention to the larger projects in epistemology and meta-epistemology that Reichenbach was pursuing when he drew the distinction. This brief essay will seek partially to rectify that lack in, I hope, a somewhat surprising way. I shall stress the connection between this canonical distinction and some other epistemological and social terms that loom large in Reichenbach’s text, arguing that the social relevance of scientific philosophy for Reichenbach cannot be set aside in understanding his use of the DJ distinction. My point is, therefore, historical and reflexive. If we attend to the larger significance of the project in scientific philosophy that Reichenbach was advancing, we can see more clearly why the DJ distinction was introduced and rethink the significance of questioning the distinction.

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Alan Richardson
University of British Columbia


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