Is a normative historically oriented Philosophy of Science possible? A new horizon for integrated History and Philosophy of Science (iHPS)


In 1973, Ronald Giere famously framed the question of the relation between History and Philosophy of Science under the metaphor of marriage. ‘History and Philosophy of Science: Intimate Relationship or Marriage of Convenience?’ (Giere 1973), he asked in an important review of the debates taking place in the 1960s around the so-called historical turn in Philosophy of Science. As it is well known, the publication of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn, as well as other influential works by Norwood Hanson (1965), Mary Hesse (2005), and Paul Feyerabend (1962) fuelled the discussion between historians and philosophers of science. Was it possible to integrate History and Philosophy of Science? And if so, how?

Perhaps these questions are even more crucial today than in the 1960s, since the intellectual landscape around the integrated History and Philosophy of Science (iHPS) is nowadays filled with strong competitors. From esoteric formal epistemology to post-modernist Science and Technology Studies (STS), the disciplines studying science have considerably thrived in the last decades. In this context, iHPS cannot postpone the crucial question about its identity, mission and theoretical foundations. The aim of this chapter is to deal with one of the core theoretical problems within iHPS. namely how History and Philosophy of science should be integrated into iHPS. After introducing three key and distinct positions in the debates surrounding the Structure, I will propose a new horizon where the integration between the two could take place today: the arena of Science Policy. With this chapter, I claim that the Philosophy of Science Policy would allow a new iHPS to stand out today, both as a research programme, and as a call for action.

The first section of the chapter sums up three different views on the relationship between History and Philosophy of Science: the Kuhnian, the neo-positivist and the Popperian. I argue that these approaches form a Hegelian triad where Kuhn represents the thesis, neo-positivism the anti-thesis, and Popper the synthesis. I then focus on Popper's position, which I call a 'normative historically oriented iHPS', and I explain its distinctive logic, which I dub ‘exemplary logic’. In the second section. I show how the same logic shapes the Science Policy

discourse by analysing three different examples of Science Policy production: Vannevar Bush’s report Science, the Endless Frontier, the so-called Triple Helix model proposed by Henry Etzkowitz and, lastly, a Science Policy document by the European Research Council. In the third and final section, I outline the research agenda of the Philosophy of Science Policy (PSP), a research programme that I propose as a new synthesis between History and Philosophy of Science, where the Popperian approach to iHPS is combined with a focus on Science Policy issues.

Three ways of conceiving the relation between History and Philosophy of Science

In this section I introduce three different views concerning the relationship between History of Science and Philosophy of Science: the Kuhnian, the neo-positivist and the Popperian. These positions were proposed during the discussion about the historical turn in Philosophy of Science in the 1960s and 1970s. 1 focus on the theoretical tenets of each of the positions, and the logical relations between them. I claim that all the arguments can be aligned with the classic Hegelian logic of thesis-antithesis-synthesis.1

Kuhn’s empiricist model

The first position I introduce is the one developed by Kuhn in the first chapter of The Structure, which was tellingly entitled ‘A Role for History’. The chapter ends with a statement where Kuhn (1970b, p. 9) clearly describes the optimal relation between historical reconstruction and philosophical theory: 'How could history of science fail to be a source of phenomena to which theories about knowledge may legitimately be asked to apply?’

The key words in the quote above are ‘phenomena’ and ‘theories’. Kuhn’s core idea is that History of Science provides the phenomena that theories of science (read Philosophy of Science) should account for. Hence, History of Science and Philosophy of Science stand in the same relationship as evidence and theory do. There is a clear division of duties between the historian and the philosopher of science, and their burden of proof is clearly separated. The historian of science collects and recounts a specific class of phenomena (phenomena that specifically regard the development of science), whereas the philosopher of science should explain them via a theory of scientific change. Historical facts represent the test of philosophical theories, which are therefore meant to be empirical theories about a specific class of phenomena. Within the Kuhnian model of the relationship between History and Philosophy of Science, the testing function of historical facts is guaranteed by their independence from philosophical theory, so that the direction of testing goes from Philosophy of Science to History of Science and not the other way around.2 Here we can define a Hegelian triad where the Kuhnian empiricist model is the thesis. The thesis can be stated as follows: the relation between History and Philosophy of Science on the one hand, and evidence and theory, on the other, is the same. Specifically, the function of History of Science is to provide the evidence that Philosophy of Science aims at explaining by a theory.

The neo-positivist dualistie model and the nonnativity issue

In the context of neo-positivist philosophy of the 1960s, Kuhn's Philosophy of Science was highly contested. A detailed reconstruction of all the objections raised against The Structure lies outside the scope of the present chapter.3 What is of interest here is how neo-positivists criticised the Kuhnian model of the relationship between History and Philosophy of Science, proposing their own view, according to which History and Philosophy of Science are and should he two distinct and different entities. Thus, the neo-positivist model represents the second phase of the dialectical logic: the anti-thesis.

In the writings of Israel Scheffer, Carl Kordig, and Ronald Giere we can recognise a distinctive pattern of arguments aiming to reject Kuhn’s model. Their main concern is that in Kuhn’s picture. Philosophy of Science loses its normative power, which they claim to be its defining feature. According to Scheffier (1967) and Kordig (1971), Philosophy of Science is intrinsically a prescriptive discourse on science, which aims to set methodological norms for the scientific inquiry. As much as Philosophy of Science is concerned with the scientific method, there is no interest in the actual practices of scientists but in the standard of rationality that makes certain theories scientific. For the discussion around the standard of rationality, the temporal development of science is useless, since standards are conceived as logical entities that are constitutively ahistorical. Consequently, Carl Kordig (1971, ch. 4) writes that even if all scientists in all ages were fundamentally irrational and broke every normative rule of the scientific methodology, this would not affect the scientific method itself.

To support their argument, both Kordig and Scheffier refer to a distinction that was first drawn by Hans Reichenbach and later on became a renowned model among philosophers of science: the distinction between the context of discovery and the context of justification? This distinction was originally put forth by Reichenbach as a means to distinguish epistemology from psychology. According to Reichenbach. psychology deals with the actual processes of thinking taking place in the mind of scientists at work, inquiring the psychological genesis and conditions of scientific discovery (the ‘context of discovery’). Epistemology, on the other hand, does not study a real process, but a logical substitute consisting of all the logical steps, which are ideally needed to fully justify a scientific assertion. This logical object was called by Reichenbach ‘rational reconstruction’, and it is intrinsically both ideal and normative: ideal because it does not happen in any specific space and time, and normative because it corresponds to the steps that a fully-fledged rationality would take in order to justify any scientific claim. Logical reconstruction constitutes the ‘context of justification’ of science, and it is the only object of epistemology.’’

In the neo-positivist reading of Reichenbach, the context of discovery is stretched to include not only the psychology of science but all the conditions involved in the genesis of scientific theories, from social to economic and political context. History of Science is thus pointed out as the pur excellence discipline dealing with the context of discovery, whereas Philosophy of Science is conceived as the study of the context of justification.

Once the distinction between the two contexts and, hence, between the two disciplines is drawn, the final step of the neo-positivist argumentation is to invoke the so-called Hume’s law (no ‘ought’ from an ‘is’) to rule their relationship. According to Hume’s law, normative claims (ought) and descriptive statements (is) are logically independent, that is to say, the latter does not entail the former. Therefore, we cannot derive from stated facts (descriptions) what we ought to do (prescriptions).6 In the case of science, the application of Hume’s law shows that we cannot infer from the mere description of scientists’ behaviour how science ought to be conducted. This means that evidence from the context of discovery (History of Science) cannot affect the context of justification (Philosophy of Science). Thus, the relationship between History and Philosophy of Science is severed from the beginning: the gulf between them is the gap between description and prescription, reality and normativity. A dualist model, where Philosophy of Science and History of Science lie on the opposite side of the ought/is dichotomy, opposes the Kuhnian empiricist model (History of Science provides evidence, Philosophy of Science theory). In this new model, the scope of History of Science is limited to a neutral description, whereas prescription is an exclusive domain of Philosophy of Science.

As previously mentioned, in the dialectics that I am presenting, the neopositivist model plays the role of the anti-thesis. According to Hegelian logic, the anti-thesis negates the thesis by exposing an essential fault within it. I argue that the neo-positivist argument unveils a real issue that we find not only in Kuhn's Philosophy of Science, but also in any other research project that aims to describe a scientific activity in the absence of a normative standpoint.7 Ronald Giere (1973, p. 290) has clearly highlighted this issue: ‘If one grants that epistemology is normative, it follows that one cannot get an epistemology out of the history of science - unless one provides a philosophical account which explains how norms are based on facts’.

Neo-positivist criticism shows how the Kuhnian empiricist model structurally lacks the theoretical machinery that is needed to support a normative dimension in Philosophy of Science because any attempt to bridge the distance between the descriptive and the prescriptive level will result in a violation of Hume's law. The production of norms of science (epistemological prescription) from the description of scientists’ behaviour (historical reconstructions) is indeed a special case of the derivation of normative statements from facts - that is precisely what Hume’s law prevents. On the other hand, neo-positivism provides theoretical room for normativity by discerning the context of discovery from the context of justification, as it acknowledges that there is a difference between what science is and what science ought to be.

However, the price for normativity in the neo-positivist model is too high. The normative dimension of the context of justification is achieved by completely separating the philosophical discourse from the actual scientific practice. Because of the very distance between the context of discovery and context of justification, the object of Philosophy of Science is downgraded to a mere logical surrogate. Historically, the fate of the neo-positivist project of a ‘logic of science’ has indeed failed mainly because of this criticism. Abstract models of scientific rationality were proved to be incapable of explaining existing scientific practice, as demonstrated by thorough sociological studies. Moreover, the methodological norms appeared to be too abstract to provide any useful guidance to scientists.8 In 1984, Dudley Shapere declared the end of the neo-positivist normative programme, and acknowledged that an a priori, normative definition of scientific methodology could not be provided.9

The negation of the thesis (anti-thesis) is thus negated in turn. Should we then return to the thesis, the Kuhnian model, and give up the very possibility of a normative Philosophy of Science? Is Philosophy of Science just a theory accounting for historical facts? If so, iHPS does not have any distinctive features, and it should be considered just as another province within the galaxy of STS. However, in the next paragraphs 1 demonstrate that this is not the case. Indeed, during the debate of the 1960s and 1970s, we find a third position that can be considered as a Hegelian synthesis of the Kuhnian and neo-positivist models: the Popperian model of the relation between History of Science and Philosophy of Science.

Popperian normative historically oriented iHPS and exemplary logic

In order to introduce the Popperian model, it is useful to consider the doubts that it raised in Kuhn. In his talk at the well-known conference Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge, Kuhn acknowledged that Popper and his school made large use of historical examples in their writings of Philosophy of Science. However, Kuhn (1970a) was puzzled by the fact that Popper strongly rejected his notion of‘normal science’, which Popper (1970) even defined as a ‘danger’ in his paper ‘Normal science and its Dangers’. How could this happen as both contenders relied upon History of Science? Was it only because of a different interpretation of the same empirical evidence? I believe the answer can be found by digging deeper into their theories. In particular, Kuhn and Popper differ in the status they assign to the History of Science. As explained before, History of Science is for Kuhn a class of phenomena that the historian arranges in narratives and the philosopher tries to explain via a theory. From this point of view, however, historical facts are to be regarded as mere empirical facts. They lack any intrinsic normative value, they are neutral as regards epistemological values. History of Science has no internal axiology for Kuhn. Lakatos (1978, p. 135, note 4) perfectly summed up Kuhn’s position by dubbing it ‘historiographical positivism’, since both Kuhn and the nineteenth-century Positivists share the idea that facts and values belong to different realms. According to them, historical facts are indeed a normative- free set of phenomena.

Significantly, the neutral view of History of Science underlies both Kuhn and his neo-positivist critics. The only difference between the two is that the former lacks theoretical means to formulate a normative discourse, whereas the latter has such tools. Nevertheless, both share a neutral attitude towards the past of science: the History of Science as such is neither good nor bad. On the other hand, Popper considers at least some episodes in History of Science intrinsic examples of good science. The role of the Popperian philosopher of science is to distil the scientific methodology from these very cases. Popper does not conceive the method of ‘conjectures and refutations’, as explained in Conjectures and Refutations (Popper 1963), as a prescriptive norm that is detached from scientific practice (the neo-positivist model), but as a distillation of the real methodology implemented by good scientists. It is pivotal to highlight the role that the notions of ‘good science’ and 'good scientist' play in the Popperian view of History of Science. Importantly, these structurally evaluative terms define the class of historical events that, according to Popper, should be the target of the philosopher of science.

Unlike the Kuhnian philosopher of science, who is supposed to explain most of the historical facts, the Popperian philosopher of science should derive scientific methodology only from those events that are recognized as good science. Popper underlines that good science is not a quantifiable matter: good science may be the minority of actual scientific practices. Although he acknowledges that scientists may spend most of their time in a condition of Kuhnian normal science, he claims that the philosopher of science should be interested only in the examples of good scientific practices, no matter how sporadic they might be.10

From the Popperian’s perspective, the examples of good scientific practice take on the role of exemplars. History of Science is not thought of as a set of neutral historical facts, but as a repertoire of instances of good - and bad - science. If Kuhn’s model for History of Science is political history,11 Popper’s model for History of Science is sacred history. In sacred history, certain facts and figures have an intrinsic normative value. In Christian hagiographies, for instance, episodes in the lives of saints (exempla) are provided as such with axiological import. Christians are supposed to find in these episodes exemplars of how to live in accordance with Christian moral principles. They represent exemplars of a good life.12 In the same way, for Popper the examples of good science have applied the right scientific methodology that should guide the philosopher of science. Popper elaborates on the ancient Latin motto historia magistra vitae est (history is life’s teacher): the philosopher of science can learn from the History of Science, as it provides examples of good science that have a normative value. Both from a Kuhnian and a neo-positivist point of view, it is difficult to support an educative role of the History of Science, because of the neutral notion of history they both share.13

The exemplary view of History of Science closes the Hegelian triad with a synthesis of both the thesis and the anti-thesis. It shares with the thesis (Kuhn's empiricist model) the idea that History of Science is important for Philosophy of Science, but it refuses the Kuhnian neutral notion of History of Science. From the anti-thesis (the neo-positivist dualistic model), it retains the importance of a normative dimension for Philosophy of Science, but rejects the concept of an ahistorical normative standard. Thus, the exemplary model is a synthesis that unifies (in the Hegelian sense of aufheben) the previous positions and integrates History and Philosophy of Science in a new way. This integration can be named a ‘normative historically oriented iHPS'.

However, the Popperian synthesis may be judged unstable and, perhaps even question-begging. From a Kuhnian point of view, the idea that philosophers of science should distil scientific methodology only from a few historical episodes, idiosyncratically chosen as good science, could be rejected as a mere ad hoc strategy to avoid empirical testing of philosophical theory. On the other hand, from a neo-positivist point of view, the notion of good science may be challenged because of the lack of bases, in case an independent and ahistorical normative framework is not able to justify it, or can be even considered as a violation of the ought/is divide, since methodological prescriptions would be inferred from mere descriptions of scientific episodes.

Indeed, from a strictly logical point of view, the integration of History and Philosophy of Science in Popperian normative historically oriented iHPS is circular. Methodology (read Philosophy of Science) is meant to be distilled from examples of good science (exemplars, read History of Science). At the same time, examples of scientific practice are regarded as exemplars because of their conformity to methodology. This seems to be a logical loop, where the premises of the argument are based on the conclusions of the argument itself - a kind of logical fallacy that is termed circulus in probanda or petitio principii.

However, the Popperian normative historically oriented iHPS remains an innovative approach to the integration of History and Philosophy of Science. Even if its results are inconsistent from a strictly logical point of view, it is worth considering because its core structure can be extensively found today in a specific discourse concerning science: the discourse of Science Policy. The following section explains in detail how the circular logic of normative historical oriented iHPS is real (in the Hegelian sense of wirk/ich, ‘active’, ‘actual’) in the domain of Science Policy. In doing this, I show that Science Policy represents an area where the integration of History of Science and Philosophy of Science has been achieved in practice.

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