Origins, trends, methodologies and divisions - reflections on the past, present and future of iHPS: A keynote interview with Jon Hodge

Before the iHPS forum the editors sat down to chat with Emeritus Fellow Dr Jon Hodge who has been based in the Division, later Centre, for HPS since 1974. Jon still offers insights to many students passing through Leeds and offered his thoughts on the past, present and future of iHPS for the forum. This interview was presented as a keynote at the forum and what follows below are revised excerpts from the conversation he had with the editors of this volume.

The origins of IHPS

Prefatory warnings

Four comments in advance: first, I am often drawing on unreliable memories here, memories sometimes tracing to rumours and gossip; second, while 1 have some credentials as a professional historian of science, my philosophical and social studies credentials are amateurish; third, I have long been aware that the relation between history and philosophy of science has been a disputed topic discussed by such people as Larry Laudan and Ron Giere: but I have only very recently learned about the current issues associated with the labels "hyphenated HPS’ and ‘integrated HPS’. and addressed in publications by Hasok Chang and others and taken up at our conference. Finally, let me take this chance to thank the conference team for giving me this interview opportunity and for valued help in revising the original transcript.

What were the origins of the field, when and why did it come about as a field, and could you then discuss some of the reasons why this occurred specifically in Leeds?

Those are challenging questions. You used the word ‘field’, and 1 think that that is appropriately vague. If we ask when did hyphenated HPS become a profession, then we'd be talking really about the last fifty or sixty years; that is when there were first standard ways to get trained in hyphenated HPS, that is when there have been programmes officially devoted to its studies and hirings in it; and you might say that another word comes into play here, the word

‘discipline’; for yes, we’ve had a discipline of hyphenated HPS for the last fifty, sixty, seventy years; but in a broad sense, as a topic rather than a field or a discipline, hyphenated HPS goes a long way back; you can make a good case for Aristotle doing hyphenated HPS, for when he gets into a number of questions about science, he asks what are the opinions of the many and the wise, and how long have various beliefs been held and by whom and for what reasons and so how much credence to give them and so on.

When people became self-conscious about modernity, around the time of Isaac Newton, a famous controversy broke out between the ancients and modems, that ushered in another way of integrating the history and philosophy of science; because people had theories about how progress takes place in the sciences, and they wanted to say that there had been progress in the modern age, progress beyond where the ancients left things.

Then you fast forward again to the 1830s and you have Auguste Comte in France and William Whewell in this country [the UK], who were really developing general theories of change and progress and reinforcing those by drawing upon philosophical resources. Very strikingly, Comte seems to draw upon English and Scottish resources, John Locke, Francis Bacon and David Hume; while Whewell. although he certainly draws upon Bacon, draws more than anyone else upon Immanuel Kant.

In so far as Whewell has been a father for HPS in the English-speaking world, he's been a German father; whereas Comte, the father of a lot of epistemologie de la vie in France, was more English and Scottish. So, the nationalistic issues surrounding the origins and boundaries of iHPS (integrated or hyphenated HPS) are complicated.

So, it’s probably generally agreed that hyphenated HPS was not recognised as an academic specialty, discipline and professional category, in the English-speaking world at least, until the 1950s. And it was mostly understood as drawing on Germanic philosophical inspiration, especially Hegel and Kant (and the later Wittgenstein) and in its Hegelian and Kantian alignment it was seen to be in opposition to the dominant analytic philosophy of science, logical positivism.

Whut were the origins of iHPS in Leeds?

It helps here to focus on four people: Mary Hesse, a Protestant Christian mathematician - she was in our maths department in the 1950s; Ted Caldin - a Roman Catholic chemist; and Stephen Toulmin, a boy wonder, who had studied at the feet of Ludwig Wittgenstein during Wittgenstein’s later years. (Wittgenstein, rumour has it, only had a chair for himself in his room; his students had to sit on the floor at his feet.) At Leeds too, there was Peter Alexander who was a historian of philosophy, particularly of Locke, and who was fascinated by Locke’s debts to Robert Boyle and the new mechanical philosophy of the seventeenth century. Lately I have been reading a marvellous book on the history of atomism from Democritus to Newton by his protege Andrew Pyle

Together, these four people lobbied to get HPS going, and it was given a home right here in this department in Leeds presumably because Toulmin was head of the department at that time ...

On first arriving at Leeds HPS...

Geoffrey Cantor and I came just after the ‘Golden Age’, and the Golden Age people were really a hard collective act to follow: especially Charles Webster, Ted Maguire, Maurice Crosland, Charles Schmitt, Piyo Rattansi; they were all at Leeds in the years before 1974 - which is about when Geoffrey and I arrived. And they had gone off to various prominent positions around the world; but, notoriously, there was one not so good thing about those golden years: there had been factions. I’m sorry to report; there was a polarisation and the gossip was that if the Leeds group were in the pub, then there were two tables (I won’t name names), such were the divisions.

But peace had broken out when Geoffrey and I arrived, not because we were peacemakers, but because some of the more divisive folk had gone. There was a real ideological issue in their divisions. One cluster was very much for historical scholarship, and the other cluster wanted to be politically engaged, and take up green issues and issues about freedom and oppression in scientific life and so on. But, as I say, that division did lessen, and peace is still with us, I am glad to report. The other point I would make is that the operation was in the mid-seventies very small; there were only very few students and a handful of postgraduates at any one time. As for teachers there were Jerry Ravetz, Geoffrey Cantor, Bob Olby, John Christie and me: just a team of five, whereas the number today would be twelve or fifteen - there has been a huge increase. Then when Jerry retired, we were down to four people and were so when we collaborated in producing what we called the ‘Leeds Companion’ to the history of modern science. So, this expansion, in the last twenty years, is hugely welcomed by people like myself who can remember those pinched and struggling years.

Can you tell us about the balance between History of Science and Philosophy of Science in Leeds HPS?

The programme at Leeds got off to a rather lop-sided start. It’s probably true to say that Steven French was the first fully qualified philosopher of science to teach HPS at Leeds: prior to that, philosophy of science was taught to undergraduates, but it was taught by historians like myself who were amateurs and self-taught and were not doing research in philosophy of science. And it is good to see that the balance is better now, even Stevens - sorry for the joke; and it’s been made even more even, now that Ellen Clarke has arrived, a specialist philosopher of biology whose first encounter with her special field was probably as an undergraduate at Leeds in an amateurish course of mine.

Тrends in iHPS

Do you think there are trends in iHPS?

Trend is a good word, because it has a serious meaning, and we know that there are trends. But it also has a slightly derogatory meaning, where to say that someone is being trendy is a bit of a put down. 1 was once told that trends in HPS last around eight years, but of course, some, not always the best ones, last quite a lot longer than that.

I'll give you an example of a trend: twenty or thirty years ago, people started talking about the body, and there was a volume of essays put out on science incarnate, a volume all to do about how the bodies of scientists influenced their practices, and obvious examples. Dalton was red-green colour blind, and maybe this makes a difference to the way that he did science. I think that body-language trend burned itself out in around eight years, and now it sounds rather old fashioned to talk about the body. The language came much more from history of science than philosophy of science: people talked a lot about the body politic in the 1970s and body talk became fashionable in a number of areas, and 1 think that this is a fashion or a trend that has gone; it was useful in its day.

1 would say the biggest long-run trend that I have witnessed, is the decline and fall of positivism in the English-speaking world. Of course, the foremost form of positivism that was dominant in the English-speaking world was logical positivism, Vienna circle positivism, that really was very dominant in the 1950s: it dominated in the philosophy of science and was influential in the history of science. Logical positivism was analytic philosophy of science and had arisen partly as part of the Gottlob Frege-inspired analytic swing away from late nineteenth century Hegel-dominated idealist philosophy.

A leading logical positivist was Rudolph Carnap, one-time student of Frege. He once spent some time at Harvard; and, legend has it, when he arrived, Bernard Cohen did the decent thing as the main man there in the history of science and invited Carnap to give a talk in one of their History of Science seminars; and Carnap, who was one of the nicest guys ever, said spontaneously that he would be very happy to do that. Also, one of the most honest guys ever, a few days later he got in touch with Cohen and said that he should not have accepted the invitation because he had no interest in the history of science. And that was probably around the mid-50s. Now, fast forward ten or fifteen years only, and almost no young philosopher of science would say that he or she had no interest in the history of science; and it is well known which Anglophone people were responsible for that shift: Stephen Toulmin, Thomas Kuhn, Russell Hanson, Paul Feyerabend, Imre Lakatos, and several others who intrigued and provoked logical positivist philosophers, and gave them something new to think about. Most of these historicist HPS pioneers had of course done important historical case studies and had theories about the long run of progress and change in science, and it quite quickly became widely thought that it was a weakness of logical positivism as a philosophy of science, and of analytic philosophy itself, that neither had much to say about progress and change, and those historical issues.

Even now, I find myself waging war against, if not logical positivist, but definitely broadly positivist views about Darwin, for example; and it was well said by Hilary Putnam that positivism is science’s philosophy in that it is the philosophy that scientists love best. And that’s no coincidence: it was designed in the nineteenth century to legitimate the new profession of science, and it does it in a very self-congratulatory way by holding that science has more authority and more scope than anything else. To put it crudely, as a positivist you could really claim that there is science and there is rubbish, and you are either doing one or the other. Only scientists should be judging and planning science, and that’s music to scientists’ ears and often leads to a very triumphalist, internalist and Whiggish history of science. 1 won't name names, but 1 would be prepared to say that there are a number of people of good reputation who are Darwin buffs and who are still listening if not dancing to that tune.

But of course, among professional philosophers of science, positivism in all its forms, including logical positivism, has simply not been a career option for decades now. There was reputedly a famous moment 1 think in the early seventies, when someone, Clark Glymour I believe, was accused at a philosophy of science meeting in the USA of being a logical positivist, and he stood up and announced that he was happy to be labelled a logical positivist, and the whole room rose and applauded, not because they thought it was a good thing, but because it was a gutsy move to make at the time.

So, yes, I would say that this movement away from logical positivism has been a very big trend and consequential change, as is evident from the attention now given by historians of the philosophy of science to the rise and fall of that whole way of thought.

Do you think there are geographic and linguistic influences upon trends within iHPS?

There’s a way of looking at this question which is geographic and historical. I am prepared to say that after about 1800, all Western philosophy has been predominantly Germanic, and that includes Austrian. And so, what are the great divides? Well we are often told that there is a great divide between continental philosophy and analytic philosophy. In fact, insofar as that is a division, it really is one that exists within Germanic traditions. To put it in a nutshell, what we call continental philosophy looks more to Hegel and Friedrich Nietzsche than it does to Gottlob Frege and to Moritz Schlick. What we call analytic philosophy looks to this latter pair of figures. All those are Germanic names, and I’m sorry to say things which dent Anglophone self- respect and indeed French self-respect, but if you look at the big names of French philosophy, then they are all drawing massively on Hegel, Nietzsche, Husserl and Heidegger and so on. and throughout the last century in Paris they have almost all agreed that they don’t want to know about Frege and Schlick and Carnap, whereas in the Anglo world, Frege and Wittgenstein, another Germanic name, they are the fathers; and 1 would say that a big shift in the English speaking work is that it no longer costs you career points to have a copy of Nietzsche sticking out of your briefcase, as it would forty years ago, when 1 first started working in this department.

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