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Experiment in natural sciences/Experiment in social and human sciences

Special issue of Philosophia Scientiæ 23-2 (2019)

Guest editors: Catherine Allamel-Raffin (Université de Strasbourg), Stéphanie Dupouy (Université de Strasbourg), Jean-Luc Gangloff (Université de Strasbourg)

Submission deadline: April 1st, 2018

Acceptance notification: July 1st, 2018

Final version due: November 1st, 2018

Even though it does not constitute a blind spot within science studies (philosophy, history and sociology of science), the question of experiment social and human sciences has clearly not been the focal point of many collective investigations. How much progress has been achieved, generally speaking, with regards to our reflection on the topic of experiment?

The contribution of philosophers, along the 20th century, has been substantial: during the first half of this century, experiment has been given a central epistemological function. It has both been conceived as a norm for scientificity and as a methodological ideal, not always fulfilled but always desirable. Despite the towering role given to experiment (and observation) in the processes of verification or corroboration-refutation of hypotheses in the logical positivist and Popperian tradition, a deeper reflection on actual experimental practices has not been developed by these philosophers.

The redefinition of the role of experiment in research in philosophy of science can schematically be separated in two stages. The first stage, now characterized as the “historical turn”, has been initiated by Thomas S. Kuhn’s work (Kuhn, 1962) and recommends to shift from normative methodologies to the study of scientific communities and the identification of the paradigms with which they develop their research. In the 1980s, the “turn to practice”, pioneered by Ian Hacking’s works, allowed to clarify, from multiple case studies, the ways in which “experiments have a life of their own” (Hacking, 1983). These works, however, have so far been mostly restricted to natural sciences. The question of experiment in social and human sciences has been largely neglected. This neglect is what this research project aims to address.

The idea behind this special issue is to make a comparative study of experiment as it appears in natural sciences and human and social sciences. Contributed papers can deal with the following issues (non exhaustive list):

  • Similarities and differences in forms of experiment and observation in natural sciences and human and social sciences.

  • Can normative considerations emerge from this comparative analysis of experiment between natural sciences and human and social sciences?

  • Philosophers of science participating to the “practice turn” (Ian Hacking, Allan Franklin, Giora Hon) have often generated more or less descriptive lists to characterize the multiple facets of forms of experimentat in natural sciences. Would it be useful to proceed in a similar way to account for the forms of experiment in human and social sciences? Would such a list be intrinsically descriptive or would it keep a normative dimension?

This call for contributions does not impose any restrictions on the scientific fields concerned: the propositions can deal with “fundamental” sciences (mathematics, physics), life sciences (natural and medical sciences), and human and social sciences (psychology, economics, management, history, etc.).

The manuscript sent for submission must:

Guidelines for authors are to be found on the journal’s website:


Franklin Allan, The Neglect of Experiment, Cambridge University Press, 1986

Franklin Allan, Experiment Right or Wrong, Cambridge University Press, 1990

Franklin Allan, “Experiment in Physics”, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, downloaded on 21/01/2015.

Hacking Ian, Representing and Intervening, Cambridge University Press, 1983

Kuhn S. Thomas, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, University of Chicago Press, 1962

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