Criticizing a Difference of Contexts: On Reichenbach’s Distincition Between “Context of Discovery” and “Context of Justification”

In Schickore J. & Steinle F. (eds.), Vienna Circle Institute Yearbook. Max-Planck-Institut. pp. 237-251 (2002)
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With his distinction between the "context of discovery" and the "context of justification", Hans Reichenbach gave the traditional difference between genesis and validity a modern standard formulation. Reichenbach's distinction is one of the well-known ways in which the expression "context" is used in the theory of science. My argument is that Reichenbach's concept is unsuitable and leads to contradictions in the semantic fields of genesis and validity. I would like to demonstrate this by examining the different meanings of Reichenbach's context distinction. My investigation also shows how the difference between genesis and validity precedes Reichenbach's context distinction and indicates approaches for meaningful applications of the concept of context to the phenomena designated by Reichenbach. I will begin by reconstructing the way in which Reichenbach introduces the distinction between discovery and justification as a difference of contexts (I). Drawing on the numerous meanings of the term "context", I will then emphasize some chief characteristics and review, through exemplification, the usage of this term. First of all, I turn to the context of discovery as the nonrational part of all scientific knowledge and show that this meaning cannot be defined consistently (la). For the context of justification, one can distinguish two main cases: the context of justification is either contrasted with the context of discovery, or it forms a unit there with. In the first case, the use of the context term becomes paradoxical, insofar as justification separated from scientific practice does not represent a field of reference which could be specifically contrasted with another field of reference (I b). In the second case, the unifying definitions contradict the contextual meaning of discovery and justification (1 c). In the last section, I point to a useful application of the concept of context which can be found in Reichenbach's argumentation and which refers to the practical conditions of justification(2).
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