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About this Item: Paperback Mar 28, Seller Inventory Z Published by Editions L'Harmattan About this Item: Editions L'Harmattan, Published by P. About this Item: P. Published by Paris Vrin I can only guess that a rather vague respect for Science as such, without much immersion in the details of any scientific practice, could happily accept the over-generalizing approach charact eristic of logical empiricism. But I have to leave this puzzle to specialists in Dewey and his followers.
Profes sor Creath also points out that by Carnap would not have said this, since by then he had become interested in semantics, while the Africa remark belongs to a purely syntact ic conception of language. Foucault, , 4. If the term sens figures here, it is in a different context from its place in Can guilhem's usage. In philosophies of the existentialist type, one is supposed to begin with meanings detached from any concrete, historical milieu.
The same contrast holds for exp rience in the two enterprises. Yet to our philosophers of science of that period he would have appeared, if they had noticed him, to be just another of those wild continental irrationalists, who, as my collea guesliked still like? Note, this is not just a case of Kuhnian incommensurability. I think I can offer a diagnosis, which my present concern with comp arative philosophy of science forbids me to pursue at any length. But let me try to put it very briefly. Descartes left us all with a divi ded universe : there were, excepting God, only res cogitons and res extensa.
By now or by then, given that I am thinking of a time half a century ago , not only had God vanished for most of us, but substance, too, was no longer the evident support of an ontology that it still appeared to be in the first decades of the seventeenth century. What happens in this situation to the cogitating mind?
Either it turns in on itself and becomes pure isolated willing, or it plays mathematical games in the hope of controlling the bits of sensory data that are all that remain of extended substance in the wake of empiricist criticism. Both existentialism and its contempor ary, logical positivism or logical empiricism, were positions taken by last-ditch Cartesians. Against both of these, it seems to me, Canguilhem was motivated in part, from early on, by a deep-seated distrust of the cogito and all its consequences.
What he offers us instead is an original, hence unfamiliar, sometimes almost impenet rable, concept of thought, knowledge and rationality. After those hasty generalizations, let me turn to some particular comparisons. When I say our , I mean, of course Anglo-American. I had no belief in this project after , but it is what our community prescribed and its influence can still be found in many places. The idea was that there must be something called the scientific method, a single tech nique that was in essence the same everywhere and forever and this was what philosophers of science had reverentially to examine and analyze.
If there was a history of science, it consisted in a revolu tion that initiated science and then a linear progression toward what we now know , a process that would continue in the same linear way indefinitely. In any case, what mattered was not what. For Canguilhem, on the contrary, phi losophy of science was a support for the history of science, an indispensable support, but meaningless apart from history. And history of science, as he put it in the concluding chapter of his work on the formation of the reflex concept, doit tre crite comme une histoire et non comme une science, comme une aventure et non comme un droulement 6.
Our philosophy of science aimed at substituting a formalization of science for adventure ; Canguilhem's was intended to clarify that adventure. To put it another way, the ideal of logical empiricism was to approach science scientifically. Canguilhem's ideal was to unders tand science as a complex family of disciplined human efforts to approach the truth about something in the real world.
Thus for him the object of the history of science was utterly different from the object of science itself. He put this very clearly in the introduc tion to the tudes d'histoire et de philosophie des sciences : L'objet en histoire des sciences n'a rien de commun avec l'objet de la science. L'objet scientifique, constitu par le discours mthodique, est second, bien que non driv, par rapport l'objet naturel, initial [ L'objet du discours historique est, en effet, l'historicit du discours scientifique, en tant que cette historicit reprsente l'effectuation d'un projet intrieurement norme, mais traverse d'accidents, retarde ou dtourne par des obstacles, interrompue de crises, c'est--dire de moments de jugements et de vrit 7.
Moreover, philosophy of science, which concerns this history, will be at a still further remove from the objects of science itself. L'histoire des sciences, Canguilhem writes in the introduction just quoted, concerne une activit axiologique, la recherche de la vrit 8. Thus the scientist is already exercising an axiological activity , which the historian in turn studies by his her norms, while the philosopher reflects, at yet another axiological level, on the activities that are the historian's objects, and presumably also on the norms in the light of which the historian studies his her 6 Canguilhem, , This is a far cry from the pristine scientific method tou ted by supporters of the received view.
It may be objected that Kuhn's revolutionary theory of scienti fic revolutions did after all introduce an historical dimension into the philosophy of science. But this is history without history, and certainly history inadequate as subject for, or as subject to, philo sophical reflection.
Quite apart from the failure of Kuhn's simple schema to fit much in the history of science 9 , there is the oddity pointed out by Canguilhem in the first chapter of his Idologie et rationalit dans l'histoire des sciences de la vie, that, while Kuhn uses terms like paradigm and normal science , which suggest philosophical criticism, his account remains on the level of social psychology.
It's just one paradigm after another, with no adequate philosophical or historical account of the transition. Indeed, Kuhn himself acknowledged this in his preface, although his followers did not, I think, in general, notice this qualification Discovery had allegedly no bearing on the scientific import of its results.
Clearly, Kekul daydreaming by the fire has no scient ific connection with the structure of the benzene ring. What we need to study is the logical relation between the observations on which generalizations, laws and theories somehow rest and the further observations that somehow flow from them. The famous tag that all observation is already theory-laden came to qualify a little the original positivist navet of the program, but did not, it seems to me, in any way alter its essentials.
There were also from time to time defenders of discovery, and hence of research, as pro per material for philosophical reflection, but they were relatively outlying figures To a historian of science as subtle and sensitive as Canguilhem, clearly, such a separation of contexts is nonsense. It is discovery that constitutes justification and justification solidifies discovery. As Canguilhem remarks of the reflex, what had been a concept 9 See Mayr, Mayr's critique of Kuhn seems to be excellent; however, his sketch of what he considers the only alternative Darwinian evolutionary epistemology is another question!
Kuhn, , XL 11 See below, note Nor is there any one formula for this comp licated, often devious, chancy development. Neither justifica tion nor discovery is one unambiguous process : justification is not just logical, discovery is not just whimsical and irrational. And the two are intimately interwoven from start to finish - if there is a finish. Come to think of it, what was justification in this program? Justification is a normative term, it suggests an evaluation.
But our program was one that allegedly excluded values. Values are subjective, science is objective, or so it seemed.
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For Canguilhem, on the contrary, norms were essential, first, to the activity of scientists themselves, and then, reflectively, to the historian as well as the philosopher of science. Specifically, the scientist is engaged in value-bound activity insofar as s he 13 is seeking the truth. Not that, for Canguilhem, there is the truth to be found : this search is always subject to failure, to distraction, to error. Canguilhem has even been characterized as a philosopher of error And it is true that he stresses the fallibility of scientists' beliefs, the strange delays and obstacles that characterize the history of concepts like the reflex arc or of doctrines like the cell theory Nevertheless, it is the search for truth that is in question.
And that is something neither the proponents of the received view nor Kuhn and Kuhnians could comfortably admit. Science was supposed to float happ ily above the phenomena ; truth was allowed, if at all, only in Tarski's austere formula Sir Karl Popper is the paradigm case here : all we can ever know is that we are mistaken Maybe so ; but we can sometimes hope we are right : that was the upshot of Michael Polanyi's program of personal knowledge , which was almost entirely ignored by the reigning party in philosophy of science The same aversion to truth as a norm also haunted Kuhn's work.
In the passage I quoted above, Canguilhem refers to I'em 12 Canguilhem, , Carl Hempel's The theoretician's dilemma appears to me to sug gest a similar hesitancy about admitting the scientist's search for truth Hempel, A recent, very detailed account of Kuhn's life-long reflections decidedly confirms this judgment : he was never able to assimilate either to normal or to revolutionary science the conception of active persons or active communities engaged in trying to answer the question how some thing in the real world really works : in other words, in the search for truth.
His final position, like the original one, is at bottom relativistic : there can be truth only within the confinement of what is still in effect a particular paradigm, or conceptual world They proudly inscribed on their banner the theme of the unity of science, whether in terms of the reduction of concepts or of theories. I remember a long and heated debate at one of C. Waddington's theoretical biology conferenc es, about the sad fact that the Volterra-Lotka equations could not be stated in terms of quantum mechanics. Indeed, oddly enough, Kuhn's Structure, which challenged this ideal with its vision of incommensurability, was first published as a volume in the Interna tional Encyclopedia of unified science To this vision of a scientific Utopia - literally a Utopia, since it would indeed be nowhere -, Canguilhem was of course radically opposed.
In discussing the work of Claude Bernard, he twice quot esa statement of Bachelard : Les concepts et les mthodes, tout est fonction du domaine d'exprience ; toute la pense scientifique doit changer devant une exp rience nouvelle ; un discours sur la mthode scientifique sera toujours un dis cours de circonstance, il ne dcrira pas une constitution dfinitive de l'esprit scientifique Now of course our philosophers of science would also have insisted they were founding everything ultimately on experience : one had to start with data.
But this was experience in the abstract and 19 Canguilhem, Canguilhem remarks that Kuhn was still too much under the influence of logical empiricism Canguilhem, The cover of this first edition reads : International Encyclopedia of uni fied sciences, vol. I-II : Foundations of the unity of science, vol. II, no. Kuhn, The Structure of scientific revolutions. Even theory-laden observation was combined from two abstractions : high-flown theories and lowly data. The concept of experience entailed in Canguilhem's reflections is very different.
He introduces Bachelard's pronouncement in an account of Claude Bernard's approach to physiology. He writes : Qui veut expliquer une fonction doit d'abord en explorer l'allure l mme o elle trouve la fois son sige et son sens, dans l'organisme That is why, he continues, Claude Bernard's words, je me suis dlivr des rgles en me jetant travers champs , [ So we are back with the practice of science as an intel lectual adventure ; but there is no unifying formula for an advent ure, nor, except in the most global and superficial sense, is the his tory of science a single adventure.
For each adventurer, or team of adventurers, it is rooted in circumstance : in the particular interests, concepts, hopes of the investigator and his contemporaries, in the culture of institutions and of nations. All of Canguilhem's work testifies to this truth - especially the work on the reflex or on the development of the cell theory, but also the essays on Auguste Comte, on Claude Bernard, or, for example the essay on the biolo gical sciences since Darwin The history of science is therefore always in flux.
It must correct itself constantly. The relation between Archimedes' method of exhaustion and modern calculus is not the same lor today's mathematician as it was for Jean Etienne Montucla, the first great historian of mathematics. This is because no definition of mathematics was possible before there was mathematics, that is, before mathematics had been constituted through a series of discoveries and decisions.
The historian of mathematics must take his provisional definition of what mathematics is from contemporary mathematicians. Many works once relevant to mathematics in an earlier period may therefore cease to be relevant in historical perspective; from a newly rigorous standpoint, previously important works may become trivial applications.
Among them are the notions of new scientific spirit, epistemologica obstacle, epistemologica! Truth is simply what science speaks. How, then, do we recognize that a statement is scientific? By the fact that scientific truth never springs fully blown from the head of its creator. A science is a discourse governed by critical correction.
If this discourse has a history whose course the historian believes he can reconstruct, it is because it is a history whose meaning the cpistemologist must reactivate. The events of science are linked together in a steadily growing truth At various moments in the history of thought, the past of thought and experience can be seen in a new light" 8 Guided by this new light, the historian should not make the error of thinking that persistent use of a particular term indicates an invariant underlying concept, or that persistent allusion to similar experimental observations connotes affinities of method or 3?
By observing these rules he will avoid the error of, for instance, seeing Pierre Louis Moreau de Maupertuis as a premature trans form ist or geneticist. His rationalism is built on a framework of m a t h e m a t i s m. In m a t h e m a t i c s one speaks not of the " n o r m a l " but of the "normed " In contrast to orthodox logical positivists, Bachelard holds that mathematics has epistemological c o n t e n t , w h e t h e r actual or potential, and that progress in mathematics adds to that content.
On this point he agrees with Jean Cavailles, whose critique of logical positivism has lost nothing of its vigor or rigor. Cavailles refutes Rudolph Catnap by showing that "mathematical reasoning is internally coherent in a way that cannot be rushed. As to the nature of this progress, he concludes, One of the fundamental problems with the doctrine ol science is precisely that progress is in no way comparable to increasing a given volume bv adding a small additional amount to what is already there, the old subsisting with the new.
Rather, it is perpetual revision, in which some things are eliminated and others elaborated. What comes after is greater than what went before, not because the present contains or supersedes the past but because the one necessarily emerges from the other and in its content carries the mark of its superiority, which is in each case unique.
It best fits the disciplines for the study of which it was originally developed: mathematical physics and nuclear chemistry. In this sense, the method cannot be generalized so much as it can be broadened. Yet it cannot be extended to other areas of the history of science without a good deal of reflection about the specific nature of the area to be studied. Consider, for example, eighteenth-century natural history. Before applying Bachelardian norms and procedures to the study of this subject, one must ask when a conceptual cleavage12 occurred whose effects were as revolutionary as were those of the introduction of relativity and quantum mechanics into physics.
Such a cleavage is barely perceptible in the early Darwinian years,13 and, to the extent that it is visible at all, it is only as a result of subsequent cataclysms: the rise of genetics and molecular biology. Hence, the recurrence method must be used judiciously, and we must learn more about the nature of epistemological breaks.
Often, the historian in search of a major watershed is tempted to follow Kant in assuming that science begins with a flash of insight, a work of genius. Frequently the effects of that flash are said to be all-embracing, affecting the whole of a scientist's wrork. But the reality is different. Even within one man's work we often find a series of fundamental or partial insights rather than a single dramatic break. A theory is woven of many strands, some of which may be quite new while others are borrowed from older fabrics.
The Copernican and Galilean revolutions did not sweep away tradition in one fell swoop. Alexandre Koyre has located what he considers to be the decisive "mutation" in Galileo's work, the decisive change in thinking that made him unable to accept medieval mechanics and astronomy. But in painting a quite accurate picture of Galileo as an Archimedean as much as a Platonist, is not Koyre abusing the freedom of the recurrence method? Is not Ludovico Geymonat right to point out that Koyre's interpretation neglects all that Galileo preserved from Aristotelian tradition even as he was proposing that mathematics be used to bolster logic?
No matter how well the groundwork has been laid, a revolution is still a revolution. Nor is it false science. The essence of false science is that it never encounters falsehood, never renounces anything, and never has to change its language. For a false science there is no prescientif ic state. The assertions of a false science can never be falsified. Hence, false science has no history. By contrast, a scientific ideology does have a history. A scientific ideology comes to an end when the place that it occupied in the encyclopedia of knowledge is taken over by a discipline that operationally demonstrates the validity of its own claim to scientific status, its own "norms of scientificity.
T h e existence ol scientific ideologies implies the parallel and prior existence of scientific discourses. Hence, it also presupposes that a distinction has already been made between science and religion. Consider the case of a t o m i s m.
D e m o c r i t u s , Epicurus and Lucretius claimed scientific status for their physics and psychology. To the antiscience of religion they opposed the antireligion of science. Scientific ideology neglects the methodological requirements and operational possibilities of science in that realm of experience it chooses to explore; but it is not thereby ignorance, and it does not scorn or repudiate the function of science.
Hence, scientific ideology is by no means the same thing as superstition, for ideology has its place, possibly usurped, in the realm of knowledge, not in the realm of religious belief. Nor is it superstition in the strict etymological sense. A superstition is a belief from an old religion that persists despite its prohibition by a new religion. Scientific ideology docs indeed stand over [superstore] a site that will eventually be occupied by science.
But science is not merely overlain; it is pushed aside [deportare] by ideology. Theretore, when science eventually supplants ideology, it is not in the site expected. Most historians of biology believe that Maupertuis was the forerunner of modern genetics because in his Venus physique he considered the mechanisms by which normal and abnormal traits are transmitted.
But it is enough to compare the writings of Maupertuis and Mendel to see the magnitude of the gap between a science and the ideology that it replaces. The facts that Mendel studies are not those gleaned by a casual observer; they are obtained through systematic research — research dictated by the nature of Mendel's problem, for which there is no precedent in the pre-Mendelian literature.
Mendel invented the idea of a character, by which he meant not the elementary agent of hereditary transmission but the element of heredity itself.
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A Mendel ian character could enter into combination with n other characters, and one could measure the frequency of its appearance in successive generations. Mendel was not interested in structure, fertilization or development. For him, hybridization was not a way of establishing the constancy or inconstancy of a global type; it was a way of decomposing a tvpe, an instrument of analysis, a tool for separating characters that made it necessary to work with large samples.
Hence, Mendel was interested in hybrids despite his repudiation of an ageold tradition of hybrid research. He was not interested in sexuality or in the controversy over innate versus acquired traits or over preformation versus epigenesis. He was interested only in verifying his hypothesis via the calculation of combinations.
The seven tee nth-century ideology of hereditary transmission is replete with observations of animal and plant hybrids and monsters. Such curiosity served several purposes. It supported one side or the other in the debates between preformationists and epigenesists, ovists and antmalculists. The technology of hybridization was perfected by agronomists in search of advantageous varieties, as well as by botanists interested in the relations between species.
Only by isolating Maupertuis's Venus physique from its context can that work be compared with the Versuche uber Pflanzenhybriden. Mendel's science is not the end point of a trail that can be traced back to the ideology it replaced, for the simple reason that that ideology followed not one but several trails, and none was a course set by science itself. All were, rather, legacies of various traditions, some old, others more recent. Ovism and animalculism were not of the same age as the empirical and mythological arguments advanced in favor of aristocracy.
The ideology of heredity 19 was excessively and naively ambitious. It sought to resolve a number of important theoretical and practical legal problems without having examined their foundations. Mere the ideology simply withered away by attrition. But the elimination of its scientific underpinnings brought it into focus as an ideology. The characterization of a certain set of observations and deductions as an ideology came after the disqualification of its claim to be a science.
This was accomplished by the development of a new discourse, which circumscribed its field of validity and proved itself through the consistency of its results. Consider briefly the genesis of a nineteenth-century scientific ideology, evolutionism. The work of Herbert Spencer makes an interesting case study. Spencer believed that he could state a universally valid law of progress in terms of evolution from the simple to the complex through successive differentiations.
Spencer explicitly states that he derived this law of evolution by generalizing the principles of embryology contained in Karl-Ernst von Baer's Uber Entwickelungsgeschichtc der Thiere The publication of the Origin of Species in confirmed Spencer's conviction that his generalized theory of evolution shared the scientific validity of Darwin's biology.
But he also claimed for his law of evolution the support of a science more firmly established than the new biology: he claimed to have deduced the phenomenon of evolution from the law of conservation of energy, which he maintained could be used to prove that homogeneous states are unstable. If one follows the development of Spencer's work, it seems clear that he used von Baer's and, later, Darwin's biology to lend scientific support to his views on social engineering in nineteenth-century English industrial society, in particular, his advocacy of free enterprise, political individualism and competition.
From the law ol differentiation, he deduced that the individual must be supported against the state. But perhaps this "deduction" was contained in the principles of the Spencerian system from the very beginning. The laws of mechanics, embryology and evolution cannot validly be extended beyond the domain proper to each of these sciences.
To what end are specific theoretical conclusions severed from their premises and applied out of context to human experience in general, particularly social experience? To a practical end. Evolutionist ideology was used to justify industrial society as against traditional society, on the one hand, and the demands of workers, on the other. It was in part antitheological, in part antisocialist.
Of course, evolutionism was far broader than Spencer's ideology. But Spencer's views had a lasting influence on linguists and anthropologists. His ideology gave meaning to the word primitive and salved the conscience of colonialists. A remnant of its legacy can still be found in the behavior of advanced societies toward so-called underdeveloped countries, even though anthropology has long since recognized the plurality of cultures, presumably making it illegitimate for any one culture to set itself up as the yardstick by which all others are measured.
In freeing themselves from their evolutionist origins, contemporary linguistics, ethnology and sociology have shown that an ideology disappears when historical conditions cease to be compatible with its existence. The theory of evolution has changed since Darwin, but Darwinism is an integral part of the history of the science of evolution. By contrast, evolutionist ideology is merely an inoperative residue in the history of the human sciences.
This would be surprising only if there were no distinction between science and the history of science. In that case, a biologist could write a history of his work in exactly the same way as he would write a scientific paper, relying on exactly the same criteria he would use in evaluating the truth of a hypothesis or the potential of a particular line of research.
But to proceed in this way is to treat hypotheses and research programs not as projects but as objects. When a scientific proposition is judged to be true, it takes on a retroactive validity. It ceases to be part of the endless stream of forgotten dreams, discarded projects, failed procedures and erroneous conclusions - things, in short, for which someone must shoulder the responsibility. The elimination of the false by the true — that is, the verified - appears, once it is accomplished, to be the quasimechanical effect of ineluctable, impersonal necessity.
Importing such norms of judgment into the historical domain is, therefore, an inevitable source of misunderstanding. But if truth is eternal, if it never changes, then there is no history: the historical content of science is reduced to zero. It should come as no surprise that it was positivism, a philosophy of history based on a generalization of the notion that theory ineluctably succeeds theory as the true supplants the false, that led to science's contempt for history.
Over time, a research laboratory's library tends to divide into two parts: a museum and a working reference library. The museum section contains books whose pages one turns as one might examine a flint ax, whereas the reference section contains books that one explores in minute detail, as with a microtome. This phrase has been quoted frequently. The idea, which has been accepted by numerous specialists, has a less well known antecedent.
Pierre Flourens, referring in his eulogy of Georges Cuvier to the Histoire des sciences naturelies published by Magdelaine de Saint-Agy, states that the history of science "subjects the human mind to experiment.. But experimentation is only one of the ways in which science relates to objects, and it is not self-evident that this is the relevant analogy for understanding history's relation to its object.
In some periods this method remains dormant, while in others it is vigorous and active. Gerd Buchdahl has characterized this corollary as naive,20 and one would be inclined to agree if he were willing to apply the same description to the empiricism or positivism underlying his own view. It is no accident that I attack positivism at this point in the argument: for after Flour ens but before Dijksterhuis, Pierre Lafitte, a confirmed disciple of Auguste Comte, compared the history of science to a "mental microscope"21 The use of such an instrument, Lafitte suggests, reveals hidden truths: the understanding of science is deepened through discussion of the difficulties scientists faced in making their discoveries and propagating their results.
The image of the microscope defines the context as the laboratory, and there is, I think, a positivist bias in the idea that history is simply an injection of duration into the exposition of scientific results. A microscope merely magnifies otherwise invisible objects; the objects exist whether or not one uses the instrument to look for them.
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The implicit assumption is that the historian's object is lying there waiting for him. Ail he has to do is look for it, just as a scientist might look for something with a microscope. But if judgment is to be passed, a judge is essential. Epistemol- ' ogy provides a principle on which judgment can be based: it j teaches the historian the language spoken at some point in the evolution of a particular scientific discipline, say, chemistry.
I Ience, the language spoken by chemists after Lavoisier points up semantic: gaps in the language of earlier practitioners. There are in fact two versions of the history of science: the history of obsolete knowledge and the history of sanctioned knowledge, by which I mean knowledge that plays an active [agissant] role in its own time. Without epistemology it is impossible to distinguish between the two.
Gaston Bachelard was the first to make this distinction. Alexandre Koyre's idea of the history of science was basically similar to Bachelarcrs. True, Koyre's epistemology was closer to Emile Meyerson's than to Bachelard's, and more keenly attuned to the continuity of the rational function than to the dialectics of rationalist activity. Yet it was because he recognized the role of epistemology in doing history of science that he cast his Etudes galile'ennes and The Astronomical Revolution in the form that he did.
Furthermore, these periods were nor equally equipped to deal mathematically with the problems of physics. Kovre began with Copernicus and ended with Newton, where Bachelard began. Key re's e pi stemo logical observations tend to confirm Bachelard's view that a "continuist" history of science is the history of a vounu science. Kovre believed, for instance, that science is theory and that theory is fundamentally m a t h e m a t i z a t i o n. Galileo, for e x a m p l e , is m o r e Archimedean than Platonist. He also held that error is inevitable in the pursuit of scientific truth.
To study the history of a theory is to study the history of the theorist's doubts. By "judgment," however, I do not mean purge or execution. History is not an inverted image of scientific progress. It is not a portrait in perspective, with transcended doctrines in the foreground and today's truth way off at the "vanishing point. It is as important to understand what the past taught as It is to find out why we no longer believe in its lessons.
Both stress the discontinuous nature of progress. Nevertheless, while the fundamental concepts share a family resemblance, they do not really belong to the same branch. These concepts presuppose intentionality and regulation, and as such they imply the possibility of a break with established rules and procedures. Kuhn would have them play this role without granting them the means to do so, for he regards them as simple cultural facts. For him, a paradigm is the result of a choice by its users.
Normal science is defined by the practice in a given period of a group of specialists in a university research setting. Instead of concepts of philosophical critique, we are dealing with mere social psychology. This accounts for the embarrassment evident in the appendix to the second edition of the Structure of Scientific Revolutions when it comes to answering the question of how the truth of a theory is to be understood.
This question raises another: what is the history of science a history of? Many authors apparently take the answer to this second question for granted, to judge by the fact that they never explicitly ask it. Take, for example, the debates between what English-speaking writers call internalists and externalists.
In this perspective, the historian of science is supposed to adopt a theoretical attitude toward his specimen theories; he there fore has as much right to formulate models and hypotheses as scientists themselves. Clearly, both the internalist and externalist positions conflate the object of the history of science with the object of a science. The externalist sees the history of science as a matter of explaining cultural phenomena in terms of the cultural milieu; he therefore confuses the history of science with the naturalist sociology of institutions and fails to interpret the truth claims intrinsic to scientific discourse.
The internalist sees the facts of the history of science, such as instances of simultaneous discovery of modern calculus, for example, or the law of conservation of energy , as facts whose historv cannot be written without a theorv. Thus, a fact in the history of science is treated as a fact of science, a procedure perfectly compatible with an epistemology according to which theory rightfully takes priority over empirical data.
What, then, is the practical effect for the historian of science of a theory whose effect is to make his discipline the place where the theoretical questions raised by scientific practice are studied in an essentially autonomous manner? One important practical effect is the elimination of what J. Clark has called "the precursor virus. Koyre contrasted, on epistemological grounds, the "closed world 1 ' of antiquity with the "infinite universe" of modern times, if it had been possible lor some ancient precursor to have conceived of "the infinite universe" before its time, then Koyre's whole approach to the history of science and ideas would make no sense.
Two itineraries cannot be compared unless the paths followed are truly the same. In a coherent system of thought, every concept is related to every other concept. Just because Aristarchus of Samos advanced the hypothesis of a heliocentric universe, it does not follow that he was a precursor of Copernicus, even if Copernicus invoked his authority. But Copernicus criticized all astronomical theories prior to his own on the grounds that they were not rational systems. A precursor, therefore, is a thinker whom the historian believes can be extracted from his cultural milieu and inserted into others.
This procedure assumes that concepts, discourses, speculations and experiments can be shifted from one intellectual environment to another. Such adaptability, of course, is o b W n e d at the cost of neglecting the "historicity 1 1 ol the object under study. How many historians, for example, have looked for precursors of Darwinian transform ism among eighteenth-century naturalists, philosophers and even journalists?
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W h e n Dutens wTites that Hippocrates knew about the circulation of the blood, and that the Ancients possessed the system of Copernicus, we smile: he has forgotten all that William Harvey owed to Renaissance anatomy and mechanical models, and he fails to credit Copernicus's originality in exploring the mathematical possibility of the earth's movement. By substituting the logical time of truth relations for the historical time of these relations' invention, one treats the history of science as though it were a copy of science and its object a copy of the object of science.
The result is the creation of an artifact, a counterfeit historical object - the precursor. In Koyre's words: The notion of a "forerunner" is a very dangerous one for the historian. It is no doubt true that ideas have a quasi independent development, that is to say, they are born in one mind, and reach maturity to bear fruit in another; consequently, the history of problems and their solutions can be traced. It is equally true that the historical importance of a doctrine is measured by its fruitfulness, and that later generations are not concerned with those that precede them except in so far as they see in them their "ancestors" or "forerunners.
In making this c r i t i q u e of a false historical o b j e c t , 1 have sought to justify by counterexample the concept 1 have proposed according to which the history of science defines its object in its own intrinsic terms. The occasion was an article by A. His answer, which seems judicious to me, is that Albrecht von Haller's authority is a sufficient explanation. The theory of irritability, of a strength inherent in the muscle, diverted attention from the intrinsic functions of the spinal cord.
This only makes Prochaska's merit all the more apparent: rather than rehearse the ideas of the period, his work contradicted them. The final lines of the article are an appeal to some generous historian to revive the great Prochaska as a model for future generations. Jeitteles thought that the man to do this was the current occupant of Prochaska's chair at the venerable and celebrated University of Prague, the "illustrious forerunner of all German universities.
The impetuosity of this plea, which naturally and pathetically combines a claim for the originality of a scholar with an affirmation of the cultural values of an oppressed nationality, is equaled only by the brutality and insolence of the reply it received from an official representative, not to say high priest, of German physiology. Emile Du Bois-Reymond , Muller's student and successor in the chair of physiology at the University of Berlin — who became a member of the Berlin Academy of Sciences in and who was already celebrated not only for his work in neuromuscular electrophysiology but also for his numerous professions of philosophical faith in the universal validity of mechanistic n MET HODOLOGv determinism and the inanity of metaphysical questions 35 - summarily dismissed Prochaska and gave Descartes credit for having had the genius to anticipate both the word and the idea of "reflex.
If Prochaska was not the father of the notion of reflex, then he himself fell under the shadow of the judgment proposed in his name against his successors. Furthermore, Descartes was, according to Du BoisReymond, a self-conscious mechanist physiologist, a theorist of the animal-machine, and therefore deserving of the same admiration extended to julien Offray de La Mettrie, the theorist of the man-machine. As for Muller's contemporaries, the only author who might justly be credited with priority over Mtiller was Hall, and that was a priority of two months.
Du Bois-Reymond1s text was published in in the second volume of his Reden along with explanatory notes. The notes concerning the passages of Descartes on which Du BoisReymond based his comments are particularly valuable for our purposes;41 some of the relevant passages are from Article 13 of The Passions of the Soul, where the palpebral reflex is described. I must point out that Du Bois-Reymond makes no distinction between a description and a definition, and that it is rather disingenuous of him to reproach Prochaska, as he does in one note, for having used the same example as Descartes.
It would be laughable to maintain that Charles Scott Sherrington should not have studied the "scratch reflex" because it meant borrowing from Thomas Willis. In any case, Prochaska was an ophthalmologist and, strictly speaking, had no need of Descartes to know that there is such a thing as involuntary occlusion of the eyelids. Although it does contain the expression "esprits rejle'chis" reflected spirits , this expression, unique in Descartes's work, is used to explain the mechanism of a form of behavior that is not a reflex in the strict sense of the word.
Grene, M. - The Philosophy of Science of George Canguilhem. a Transatlantic View (2000)
If, in fact, Du Bois-Reymond is right to contend that Prochaska did not know what he was doing when he devoted page after page of his Commentation of to the "reflection11 of sensory into motor impressions, what are we to say, applying the same criterion of judgment, about an author who uses a pair ofWords only once? As for the circumstances, Du Bois-Reymond's address was meant as a rebuke to a Czech professor insufficiently persuaded of the superiority of German civilization. But as far as its scientific implications are concerned, this address can be attributed to a concern - a concern, that is, on the part of a physiologist for whom "scientism" did duty for philosophy - to discover, in Descartes's alleged anticipation of a discovery that was beginning to justify a mechanistic interpretation of a whole range of psychophysiological phenomena, a guarantee and, in a sense, an authentication of the use that people now proposed to make of it.
It was not so much for reasons of pure physiology as for reasons of philosophy that Descartes was anointed a great physiologist and illustrious precursor. Prochaska's name came up in the course of a polemic between Marshall Hall and certain of his contemporaries, a polemic that gradually turned into what is commonly called a settling of scores.
The story belongs, along with countless other tales of rivalry between scientific coteries, to the anecdotal history of science. Descartes's name came up in the course of a diatribe against one dead man for the apparent purpose of honoring another. In fact, it was a matter of liquidating an opposition, or even — when one looks at it closely — two oppositions.