History of science has had a niche in many history departments since the 1950s and philosophy of science has for a longer time been a core area of philosophy departments. There have been History and Philosophy of Science Departments, but, especially with the arrival of sociology of science and then science studies, holding together an integrated department has not been easy: philosophers of science have been put off by what they have seen as relativism in their colleagues, and their colleagues have been put off by the abstract de-contextualized idealizations with which philosophers often work. The HPS department at Leeds, as Jon Hodge mentions in an introductory interview, was staffed by historians of science for a number of years before a specialist philosopher of science was appointed, but it has always had an eye to integration. Deriving from a conference there in 2016 to celebrate the sixtieth birthday of the department, a number of its graduate students and early career researchers put together a collection of papers reflecting on the issue of integration of history of science and philosophy of science from various perspectives.
The first part of the collection deals with general problems of integration. In the opening chapter, Gregory Rupik explores the lack of integration of history and philosophy of science and proposes a solution in terms of Hakob Barseghyan’s general descriptive theory of scientific change: ‘scientonomy’. There are certainly difficulties in adapting off-the-shelf philosophies of science to the needs of historians of science, but whether the solution lies in another grand metatheory is debatable. Caterina Schürch by contrast does not look for an overarching framework but identifies a number of cases that, she argues, require both historical and philosophical consideration. This ‘bottom-up’ approach yields dividends in the case that she explores, the overlap in physico-chemistry and biology in the early twentieth century. As she notes, neither mainstream history of science nor mainstream philosophy of science in their own right are able to proceed sufficiently far in this case.
The question of the legitimacy of narrative as a form of history has been much debated since the nineteenth century. The history of science lends itself to narrative insofar as it usually traces a progressive development. Claudia Cristalli focuses on recent work in the philosophy of science as it bears on narrative-based explanations in historical sciences such as palaeontology and geology. Drawing on Peirce’s work in particular, she sets out to establish a common framework for the Hempel/Oppenheim law-based model and Carol Cleland’s more recent advocacy of ‘common cause’ narrative explanations. Eugenio Petrovich offers a Hegelian reading of the integration of the history and philosophy of science: Kuhn as the thesis, neo-positivism the antithesis, and Popper the synthesis. But, he argues, the Popperian synthesis cannot offer a solution to the integration problem itself. Rather, it must be combined with a science policy approach. The project looks pretty eclectic but there is an interesting discussion of Vannevar Bush’s ‘Endless Frontier’ for post-war America and the European Research Council Science Policy.
In the two final chapters in Part 1, by Matteo Vagelli and Massimiliano Simons, the focus is on how French historical epistemology, particularly in the work of Bachelard, might provide a means of integration. Bachelard’s work, which I explored myself as a graduate student in the 1970s—when it was of interest in the UK, due to the influence of Althusser on English left political culture—does indeed offer a model for integration, but with a number of dangerous pitfalls, the most significant of which is the tendency to treat science as a form of materialized epistemology, so that the history of science ultimately becomes a form of history of philosophy.
Part 2 of the collection looks at various examples and case-studies of integrated HPS. It begins with an unexpected foray by Mark Thomas Young into how Heidegger helps us understand the relations between craft knowledge and early-modern experimental research. There is certainly some interesting material here, but Heidegger comes with a lot of metaphysical baggage and the reader may wonder just how much he is needed to investigate the issues. Andrea Gambarotto explores the philosophy of science as a purely descriptive—as opposed to a normative—understanding of the history of science, looking at the notion of teleology. Joe Dewhurst follows up this understanding through an investigation of the formation of cybernetics. Klodian Coko argues for the merits of a historicist–hermeneutic approach to Perrin’s establishment of the reality of atoms, focusing on Perrin’s use of multiple, independent procedures to establish the same result. The two final chapters in Part 2 deal with an issue that has traditionally been in dispute between historians and philosophers of science: pluralism. Alex Aylward looks at the case of the Royal College of Surgeons, drawing on perspectival philosophies of science. Finally, Wongyong Park and Jinwoong Song look at the dissatisfaction with the teaching of ‘the scientific method’ in the US educational system.
The contributions to this collection—contributions at times underdeveloped, while at others showing genuine insights, but always with an appealing enthusiasm and a sense of purpose—provide an indispensable view of the directions in which the history and philosophy of science is currently moving.
University of Sydney