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The Relationship between History and Philosophy of Science


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#1 Rusty Shackleford

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Posted 20 November 2006 - 01:15 AM

I've been thinking a lot lately about the subject of the title of this post.  The most common view is that there is some way that science works - science has some sort of essence.  This group of people is split into two.  The first think that what science is can be determined by reasoning from philosophical principles.  This group has no need for the history of science.  The other group thinks that in order to find out what science is, one needs to look at historical case studies of people like Newton, Galileo, Einstein, etc - those scientists that are held up by everybody as the epitome of good science.  There is another group of people who don't think there is any real essence to science and think that only the history of science is important.  

The two questions that all these positions seem to be wanting to answer are: 1) What, if anything, is the history of science supposed to tell us about the philosophy of science? and 2) What, if anything, is the philosophy of science supposed to tell us about the history of science?  They want to know how we can use the history or philosophy of science to tell us about the other.  

One question I've rarely seen addressed is: What is the historical nature of science?  This, I think, shifts the question from what is the relationship between history of science and philosophy of science to what is the relationship between philosophy of history and philosophy of science.

Anybody have any thoughts on this?

#2 The Heretic

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Posted 20 November 2006 - 07:04 AM

I am reminded of the synchrony/diachrony opposition in linguistics. Before Fernindad Saussure, the traditional approach to linguistics was the tracing of the historical evolution of a language through time by recording the changes that have taken place in it, similar to that of philology. After Saussure, the discipline of linguistics shifted to the synchronic approach that studied the state of a language at a given stage of its evolution, and facilitating the analysis of the entire system of internal relations that constitutes it as a language.

The trick is, for Saussure, the knowledge of the historical development of a language is no longer necessary to examine its present system. This radical viewpoint depends on the conviction that linguistic research must concentrate on the structure of language.

I recommend Louis Althusser, who has proposed an interesting theory of science that does not scrounge about for evidence among objects of the external world, but is actually constituted out of a pure process of thought. A Science for the philosophers!  :twisted:

#3 Hugo Holbling

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Posted 20 November 2006 - 11:30 AM

Rusty Shackleford said:

One question I've rarely seen addressed is: What is the historical nature of science?  This, I think, shifts the question from what is the relationship between history of science and philosophy of science to what is the relationship between philosophy of history and philosophy of science.

I'm not really sure what you're asking, Rusty. I don't agree that the "most common view" is that science has an essence, at least among historians of science, but in any case i think historians realise that science is a concept and/or practice with a historical pedigree like any other. What do you mean about the role of the philosophy of history?
"In everything that he'd ever thought about the world and about his life in it he'd been wrong." - Cities of the Plain

#4 g arago

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Posted 21 November 2006 - 05:41 PM

Don't know if I can add much to this broad topic, and only have moments to try to express myself now, but since I've been reading Feyerabend and Latour this week, the topic jumped out as worthwhile to put in my two cents and see what reactions may come of it.

As with the linguistic approach of Campanella, I have my own prioritized vocabulary. Anytime I hear a question using 'the nature of' (tno), I wonder what the person is really asking (i.e. perceiving that they are asking) and what relation their question has to naturalism, an ideology which has penetrated deeply into much of scientific thought in the modern period, and even before. Rusty asks about 'the historical nature of' (thno) science, and I wonder if he's actually asking about science's character, principles, methods, e.g. playing the demarcation game and/or equivocating. ("Naturalism cannot solve the problem of scientific rationality." - P. Feyerabend, 1978). But I've learned its best to give the benefit of doubt to a person and to learn from how they respond to the possibility that they are naturalistically expressing (the framing of) a question and thus biasing any potential answers.

When I ask 'what science is,' it would seem I am taking an ontological approach. Also I could ask, 'how do I know what science is?' Latour followed around scientists while they were 'doing' science and thus wrote about 'science in action,' which unveils some of the myths of what science is (or may be) all about and how to interpret its meaning in a wider scheme of things. Science is not a new religion, and should not be elevated as such; nor are scientists the new priests of the (post-)modern age.

When speaking about the 'case studies' of individual inventors or discovers, etc. this seems to me as a social scientific (human factor) approach. Thus perhaps the dimension of a 'sociology of science' or 'anthropology of science' would seem worthy of addition into Rusty's conversation about history and philosophy of science. As with a certain Dutch legal-philosophical approach, one can't easily separate the aspects of 'history and/or philosophy of science' from 'sociology and/or anthropology of science' without being reductionistic or unholistic.  

So as to offer a positive answer to Rusty's first question, it seems to me that (the) history of science tells us that there are and have been many different philosophies of science. There is no such thing as a universalistic philosophy of science in the same way that science was elevated into (universalistic) Science of the Euro-Enlightenment kind. Likewise, (the)philosophy of science tells us that (the) history of science is interpreted through the eyes of the victorious, through the texts of the paradigm shifters, through the beliefs of those who claim power or correctness (being closest to truth) or even simply a hegemony over what counts as socially important knowledge...in the name of science.

Kudos to Rusty for involving philosophy of history with philosophy of science - it seems to me this would help to (re-)arrange philosophers of science into their rightful place and give legitimacy back to macro studies of history, which in the case of my research, are something that evolutionary theory (c.f. evolutionism) has dominated without challenge for too long.

G. Arago


p.s. Camp - you used (the concepts) 'historical evolution' ('of a language') and 'historical development' ('of a language') seemingly interchangeably. Was this intentional?

#5 Nereid

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Posted 11 July 2007 - 01:44 PM

Without wishing to get into rather too many (meta) iterative, (partially) self-referential loops, maybe some attempt at some definitions may be in order?

For example, 'science', 'history', and 'philosophy' all surely have synchrony/diachrony components?

We can study the writings (and, more recently, the recordings) of various people, over time, on tno science, history, philosophy (and any combo thereof).  We can make some operational definitions, such as 'science is whatever the relevant contemporary community said it was' (just as the meaning of 'red' is whatever the speech community which uses it means when the word is used).  We could then use our marvelous pattern recognition brains to distill some 'essence' of any one or more ... or conclude that there is, indeed, no such 'essence'.

One thing to look for, as many modern scientists do, is 'invariants' - those (common) characteristics which seem to remain the same, no matter when or where the science, history, or philosophy was being done.  I guess this could also be done in a progressive manner - look at how what might be reasonably concluded as invariants have changed, over time.  This may be complementary to the 'standard textbook' approach of sieving through the historical record to find factoids and nuggets that fit nicely into the textbook story we construct of 'how science developed'; complementary in the sense that this 'how invariants changed' approach will find dropouts (invariants that later weren't) as well as 'true' invariants.

And so to an attempt to answer Rusty's questions:

1) Q: What, if anything, is the history of science supposed to tell us about the philosophy of science?
A: The history of science tells us that the philosophy of science is just as much a creature of its time and place as the language in which it is written; specifically, the past is not a reliable guide to future performance.

2) Q: What, if anything, is the philosophy of science supposed to tell us about the history of science?
A: The philosophy of science can provide some insights into the history of science, some pointers to what sorts of things to look at (and for).  It should also, ideally, arm students with sage words of caution and lessons in humility.

#6 Harry Costas

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Posted 25 July 2007 - 02:15 PM

Hello


Neried you write well.

THe problem with History is that "History repeats itself".

Why? Because man is MAN. Evolved as an animal with all its traits.

#7 Hugo Holbling

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Posted 25 July 2007 - 02:31 PM

Welcome to TGL, HC. Can you explain why man being "[e]volved as an animal with all its traits" means that history must repeat itself?
"In everything that he'd ever thought about the world and about his life in it he'd been wrong." - Cities of the Plain

#8 Harry Costas

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Posted 26 July 2007 - 10:33 AM

Hello Hugo

Man (both male and female) evolved like any other living cell.

It does not matter how great a man becomes. He cannot pass it on to his kids.

Man's traits, love,hate,terretorial,right, wrong, humble,kill and so on form part of the EGO habit forces. It does not matter how great the nation is, history will repeat itself. War, control, win, lose, hunger, rape and so on.

The subconscious mind cannot tell the difference between

TIME,,,,,,,,,past,,,,,,,,,,,now,,,,,,,,,,or future.

Wrong or right

Hate or love

It is indifferent.

Thank God we have a conscious that allows us to choose and act on what we want to DO.

So why does history repeats itself.

Man repeats history.




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