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Emily Herring, Kevin Matthew Jones, Konstantin S. Kiprijanov and Laura M. Sellers (eds), The Past, Present, and Future of Integrated History and Philosophy of Science

Jack Wright
p. 727-730
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Emily Herring, Kevin Matthew Jones, Konstantin S. Kiprijanov and Laura M. Sellers (eds), The Past, Present, and Future of Integrated History and Philosophy of Science, London: Routledge, 2019, 268 pages, 978-135121482-7

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Crédits : Routledge

1Despite being institutionalised as a discipline in the mid-twentieth century, the history and philosophy components of history and philosophy of science (HPS) have not always been comfortably wed. Some philosophers have questioned the importance of historical particulars and some historians have dismissed the search for philosophical universals as naive. Such disagreements tend to turn on how history of science (HS) and philosophy of science (PS) are conceived—must philosophy be normative? must it look for idealised or ideal theories? must history be neutral? etc. The Past, Present, and Future of Integrated History and Philosophy of Science suggests multiple ways in which HS and PS might be conceived so as to complement one another. Through its chapters—all of which are contributed by young scholars—the book aims to describe the rich heritage an integrated history and philosophy of science (iHPS) can draw on, as well as to dispel some criticisms and chart the potential future of the enterprise.

2The book has two main parts: six chapters on the methodological issues that combining HS and PS throws up, followed by six chapters offering an iHPS perspective on specific historical episodes or contemporary debates. In addition, the book opens with a brief interview with Jon Hodge, which gives a snapshot of the history of HPS and the conditions in which iHPS now finds itself. Hodge's is just one perspective, but it corroborates (albeit anecdotally) a sense in which the past fractious nature of HPS has waned. This makes Hodge optimistic about the future iHPS, and if the work of the young scholars showcased in this book are anything to go by, he has some reason to be so.

3The six chapters that make up the first part of the book each offer accounts of what HS and PS can offer one another and what an integrated approach should look like. A key theme in four of these chapters is normativity—can the normative ambitions of PS be squared with the goals of HS? should they be?

4In chapter one, Gregory Rupik argues that the normativity that is often central to PS—what counts as science/pseudo-science and how should science be practiced?—is the key obstacle to a fully integrated HPS. The problem is that the methods of science change. This means it is going to be very hard to develop a historically accurate account of theory choice in science that can also serve as a normative benchmark for how science should be practiced. But, if the normative ambitions of PS are dropped, the goal of developing a descriptive theory of how the methods and theories of science change may be achievable. This leads Rupik to advocate for iHPS as scientonomy—HS forming the observational part and PS the theoretical part of an ‘empirical science of science’.

5Eugenio Petrovich disagrees with Rupik. In chapter four, Petrovich argues that rather than trying to build a theory of science and scientific change that matches history without judgment, as scientonomy seeks to do, we should do as Karl Popper did: identify examples of good science from history and distil a normative theory of scientific methodology from those examples. Via a discussion of Vannevar Bush, Henry Etzkowitz, and the selection criteria used in the European Research Council’s Starting and Consolidator grants, Petrovich also claims that this ‘normatively historically orientated iHPS’ by exemplars is a central component of science policy discourse.

6Matteo Vagelli and Massimiliano Simons offer alternative inspiration for normative iHPS by drawing on the ideas of French historical epistemologists Gaston Bachelard and Georges Canguilhem. In chapter six, Simons notes two key principles in Bachelard: that philosophy should not impose its categories on history, but that epistemology (read broadly as a mix of history and philosophy) should judge past science through the lens of the present. This does not mean that epistemologists should see the past as necessary steps to the present, rather than the present must always rewrite its history, drawing attention to obstacles and missteps of the past in light of the present. Through a discussion of Isabelle Stengers, Simons then notes how the political project of historical epistemology has shifted. Whereas Bachelard’s project seemed to endorse the claim that science is epistemologically superior to non-science, Stengers seeks to critically evaluate components of that assumed superiority while retaining the idea that philosophy should not impose its categories on science. Vagelli’s chapter (five) centres on Canguilhem’s idea of epistemology (again understood broadly) as a tribunal. Rather than examining past science to test theories about science or accounts of how science should be (the laboratory view), epistemology as a tribunal helps to discriminate between lapsed and sanctioned scientific theories. In doing so, epistemology does not discount lapsed ideas, rather is seeks to understand the ways in which they were successful. The overall point of both these chapters is that historical epistemology offers resources for iHPS on how to combine faithfulness to historical concepts with normative reasoning about science.

7In addition to these four chapters, the first section of the book also contains an argument from Caterina Schürch that the value of iHPS is in helping us fully understand past research practices (chapter one) and an argument from Claudia Cristalli for narrative as a general account of explanation (chapter three). Both of these chapters offer yet more ideas for how HS, PS, and science can and should relate. A key point in Schürch’s chapter is dispelling the claim that both historical cases in philosophy and philosophical frameworks in history tend to be cherry-picked. Whereas Cristalli marshals ideas from the history of philosophy and the philosophy of history to question the idea that there is a privileged model of scientific explanation.

8The second part of the book offers six chapters that give fresh iHPS insight into existing debates. Collectively these chapters cover even more ground than the first half of the book. We are treated to an application of phenomenology to the distinction between craft and experimental practice (chapter seven), a discussion of different conceptions of teleology (eight), an argument that enactivism and computationalism about the mind can be made compatible (nine), an argument for a historical-hermeneutical approach to iHPS through a revaluation of the historiography around Jean Perrin (ten), an argument for historiographical pluralism (eleven), and a discussion of how pluralism might be applied to science education (twelve). All these chapters make arguments that speak to their central topic, but also make points about how iHPS should be practiced. Reading these chapters back-to-back is dizzying both because of the many different subjects that are discussed, but also because of notable differences in their approaches and influences. Joe Dewhurst’s fascinating chapter on enactivism and computationalism (nine), for example, draws heavily on contemporary work in the philosophy of mind, while the chapters on craft, teleology, and Jean Perrin draw on different aspects of the hermeneutical tradition.

9As the above highlights, this volume packs a lot in. The chapters are rich in detail but short, meaning that reading one after another is like rushing through an iHPS fair. The reader is consequently able to garner much about iHPS in just two hundred and fifty pages. A drawback of this, however, is that the book sometimes reads a little like a series of literature reviews with short arguments attached. As a rough estimate, more than half of each chapter is given over to explaining existing work and ideas. This can make the book a little deferential in places. While it offers a number of nice perspectives on previous and contemporary figures in the history and/or philosophy of science, the volume does not offer many substantial new perspectives. It rather tends towards the application of the ideas of big figures to particular cases or debates. This is probably to be expected from a volume of young scholars still finding their voice and it does have a helpful upside: it provides a snapshot of the ideas and thinkers the next generation of integrated historians and philosophers of science will build on. This is probably the main reason to read The Past, Present, and Future of Integrated History and Philosophy of Science. The book works well as an overview of the different perspectives available in iHPS, and offers an idea of where the field will go. The book would, consequently, be of interest to anyone wanting to think about how they might combine historical and philosophical perspectives in their work, or anyone interested in the future of the project of integrating HS and PS.

10Given that the book covers so much ground, there is one conspicuous absence. There is very little discussion of the social organisation of science, HPS, or academia in general. There is a brief mention of institutional reasons for the primacy of science over philosophy in the French historical epistemology tradition (115), and there is much criticism of Ronald Geire’s claim that HPS is purely an (institutional) marriage of convenience. But we don’t hear much more about the social organisation of HPS or science. The social turn in epistemology and the philosophy of science has in part been informed by acknowledging the history of science and other parts of science studies. Discussions in history about the sociology of science and debates in philosophy about the social organisation of science already speak substantially to one another, and could be seen as one of the successes of HS and PS interaction (if not integration). It would, thus, have been nice to read more about how PS and HS can and do combine in analysing the social determinants of science in a volume like this. This is an especially pertinent topic given that one of the editors of the volume, Emily Herring, recently announced her exit from academia in part because of the social conditions of the enterprise. To temper the optimism of Hodge’s opening interview, this leads me to a note of worry. Herring's exit is a loss to iHPS, and while I hope that all young scholars in this volume find stable positions from which to do more interesting work, the current conditions in the field make it hard to say that will certainly be the case. Whether or not Giere was right that HPS is just a marriage of convenience, it is likely the case that the marriage of HS and PS in the various departments and institutions of HPS had an impact on the development of iHPS. That is, much like in its object of study, the social conditions of HPS have likely played a role in the development of iHPS. One significant worry is that the current social conditions may hinder its further development. If more of the scholars in this volume follow Herring out of the field, then that worry may be realised.

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Jack Wright, « Emily Herring, Kevin Matthew Jones, Konstantin S. Kiprijanov and Laura M. Sellers (eds), The Past, Present, and Future of Integrated History and Philosophy of Science  »Œconomia, 11-4 | 2021, 727-730.

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Jack Wright, « Emily Herring, Kevin Matthew Jones, Konstantin S. Kiprijanov and Laura M. Sellers (eds), The Past, Present, and Future of Integrated History and Philosophy of Science  »Œconomia [En ligne], 11-4 | 2021, mis en ligne le 01 décembre 2021, consulté le 23 mai 2022. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/oeconomia/11897 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/oeconomia.11897

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Jack Wright

University of Cambridge, CRASSH. jw675@cam.ac.uk

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