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Roundtable & Open Debate


Roundtable & Open Debate


Exploring Changes in How the Histories and Philosophies of Sciences Have Been Written: Interpreting the Dynamics of Change in these Sciences and Interrelations Amongst Them—Past Problems, Future Cures?


June 26th, 2015 | MESHS, Lille, France

 Hosted by IDTC and MESHS for ISSHPSE–2015 


An Outline

    A large body of research has now been produced about the history and philosophy of the sciences during both the early modern and modern periods. Historians and philosophers of science—sometime with high levels of training in the exact sciences and sometime without such technical expertise—have deployed a wide variety of approaches and interpretive frameworks. The subjects dealt with have been as various as the historiographical and philosophical approaches using internal and external categories of investigations. These have included the study of particular disciplines; the history of foundations; epistemological aspects; the construction and negotiation of theories; the details of experimental practices; the structure and consequences of networks, organizations and research sites; and on through to relations with the histories of technologies and wider cultures.

    The point has been reached at which historians and philosophers of the exact sciences can benefit from critically assessing feedback from the history of their own historical, epistemological and philosophical research. In other words, the community of historians and philosophers of the exact sciences can now undergo a learning process, grounded in their own collective experience. But, how to do this? In addition, where is an adequate audience among international book-publishers and journals? How can we compare and assess historiographical and philosophical approaches and perhaps choose or design one type in preference to others? Such questions would exist in any area of historical, epistemological and philosophical research, but they become very pointed when thinking about the practice of the history and philosophy of exact sciences.

    It is granted that rigour and fruitfulness characterise the theoretical and experimental dimensions of the exact sciences, as well as their organization and modes of quality control. Is anything similar to this possible in historical inquiry; in particular how constrained are historical propositions and theses by what counts as their internal evidential bases? The production of historical narratives and explanations are generally thought to be quite different epistemic animals than the results of the exact sciences. Many points can be made in favour of such a claim. Moreover, these attitudes are grounded in wide spread scepticism about the possibility, scope and reliability of historical and philosophical findings. Even attenuated versions of such scepticism limit historiographical results to narrative discourses, or more or less plausible interpretations inextricable from the style and subjective framework of their authors. However, despite all this, it still seems relevant to seriously question if we now know enough about the actual dynamics of research in the exact sciences; and as a result of historical and philosophical investigations, can we begin to think in terms of the similarities and analogies between such research and the activities? Furthermore, what about the output of historians and philosophers, especially historians of science? Certainly those involved in the micro-politics of scientific work have suggested as much: in fact, scientific work does not conform to the traditional grandiose images of method, and much less to that of humankind, judgemental critics, rhetoric and the disciplinary interactions which seem woven into the production of scientific results. This raises the possibility that reflection on what has been found out about science dynamics through work in the history of the exact sciences may be translated to further improve the practice of that historiography. There is, of course, a problem in that the kinds of historical and philosophical work that have humanized the dynamics of the sciences are, for many scholars, a source of scepticism concerning the possibilities of human knowledge and inquiry. Even so, it seems quite feasible that common ground can be found to redeem the rationality, fruitfulness and progress of both the exact sciences and at least certain forms of historiography, especially of these sciences. Therefore, such attempts, in so far as they have been organized and well known, have been located in strongly competing historico-philosophical research programs, for example those of Mach, Koyré, Kuhn and even Popper-Lakatos, etc. These have all stressed the importance of the use of historical/epistemological categories for inquiry about, and interpretation of, the history and philosophy of the exact sciences. This Roundtable therefore asks, what does the history of these attempts, and the history and philosophy of the wider historiography of the sciences, suggest about surpassing the clash of these programs and the merely piecemeal accretion of individual studies of the of the exact sciences?

    Keywords: Paradigms, History and Historical Epistemology of Sciences, Philosophy of Sciences, Relationships, Foundations, Emergences Contingencies, External and internal categories of investigations, Relativism, Progress, Rationality.


               [Powered by Raffaele Pisano (Lille 1 University, France) and John Schuster (Sydney University, Australia]