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Table of contents

Human inconceivability is not an adequate criterion of either logical or historical possibility. Our historical boundedness: anti-whiggism and the principle of no privilege. We inquirers are also historically situated. While we are not slaves to our cultural context, we can escape it only partially and with difficulty. Our horizons sometimes prevent us from recognizing our own presuppositions, not to mention future possibilities.

Although we have good reason to hold that our science is superior to that of the past, this does not confer an absolute, ahistorical privilege on our science. Rather than succumb to this perspectival illusion, we must imagine that our successors may look at us as we see our predecessors. We, too, are just a transitional stage into a future that is likely to include much that is beyond our present horizon of imagination. We must avoid the flat future illusion that sees the future a tame continuation of the present Nickles forthcoming.

History as endlessly creative, thus an endless frontier. Strong historicists think an endless frontier is likely, history as open, and productive of perpetual novelty no agency intended.

The Science Wars: Introduction

Historical content of theory of justification: The complexity of history. Logical and probabilistic systems alone are crude tools for capturing the reasoning of real people, scientists included. This challenge strikes at the heart of traditional accounts of context of justification, hence at the heart of traditional philosophy of science. Thinkers from Kuhn to van Fraassen have taken a dim view of confirmation theory, although Bayesians have made valiant attempts to capture historicist insights.

Consequentialism and history as a judge. Frontier epistemology teaches that we can often only learn which modes of action are successful via historical experience of the consequences. Non-historicists can reply that the eventual judgment is not itself historical but only delayed, because based on evidence gathered over time. Of course, this view is itself anti-historicist in its conception of finality. Genetic, genealogical understanding. Since nearly everything is the product of historical development or disintegration, studying its historical genesis and dissolution is key to understanding it.

2. Rationality and History: Some Basic Questions

Genetic fallacies are avoidable by including development and maintenance as part of the narrative, since development can be transformative. Today many writers are exploring the biological and socio-cultural evolutionary origins of human rationality, going far deeper, historically, than to recent historical developments such as the so-called Scientific Revolution.

Historical skepticism, incommensurability, and relativism. One role of historiography is to debunk myths. As such, it can be liberating, as when we see that institutions and conceptual frameworks are, to a large degree, human constructions with a historical origin, not things irremediably fixed in the foundation of the universe. For that very reason it produces a degree of skepticism toward all human things. Although the natural world shapes human cultures, including scientific ones, it far from dictates a single, fixed culture. Historiography discloses that human enterprises, including the sciences, are imbedded in deep cultures with their distinctive norms.

Thus it is difficult or impossible to evaluate all science with a single standard. Here lurks the problems of cultural incommensurability and relativism. Methodological pluralism is a natural consequence of historicist approaches. Historical study discloses that the various sciences employ quite different methods and often harbor competing research programs. The emergence of philosophy of biology as a specialty area in the wake of the Darwin centennial added substance to this claim. Science as a model of rationality.

On this theme, historicists are divided. Some strong historicists, especially Feyerabend, Hull, and thoroughgoing social constructivists, deny that science is rationally or methodologically special among human enterprises. Science as a model of progress. This, too, is practically axiomatic among philosophers of science. Historicism as half-naturalistic. Historicist accounts do not appeal to supernatural factors or to factors beyond the possibility of human cognition such as clairvoyance or the metaphysical truth about reality.

Historicists usually take a second step toward naturalism in considering humans as biologically limited beings, but they resist reduction to the natural science brand of naturalism. Philosophical historicists also reject the reduction of norms to facts. But, late in life, R. Collingwood may have come to hold a strong version of historicism according to which philosophy reduces to history: see the entry on Collingwood.

Some new-wave sociologists may have held a parallel reductionist view about philosophy and sociology, insofar as philosophy was worth saving. Major historical change as emergent—against intelligent design and the conscious model. Many historical developments are not deliberately chosen or designed but emerge from numbers of people carrying out their individual and collective activities.

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The rise of the nation-state and of the international capitalist economic system were not the products of centralized, rational planning, nor were modern science and technology, although there were, of course, many micro-instances of such planning. This point applies to the idea of scientific method, which tradition often depicted as clairvoyantly, intelligently guiding scientific innovation. But as Hume already anticipated, no method is guaranteed in advance to work in a novel domain. Methodological innovation typically follows rather than precedes innovative work Hull ; Dennett ; Nickles , forthcoming.

This is a broadly Hegelian idea.

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Strong historical determinism is mistaken. Popper vehemently rejected this version of historicism, as do virtually all historicist philosophers of science today. For them, history is non-teleological and highly contingent. Hermeneutic interpretation. The received, covering-law model of explanation is inadequate to explain historical action, including that of scientists and communities of scientists. Kuhn described his method as hermeneutic, but few historicist philosophers of science are full-blown hermeneuticists or as fully committed to empathic understanding as were some of the classic German historicists.

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Most or all historicists are somewhat partial to narrative forms of explanation. See the entry on scientific explanation. The battle of the big systems seems to be over, and likewise for the heyday of interdisciplinary departments and programs of history and philosophy of science but see below. So are historicist conceptions of rationality dead? Most philosophers of science are more historically sensitive than before, whether or not they identify as historicists.

Moreover, in parallel developments, the classical conception of rationality is under attack on many fronts. Herbert Simon introduced the ideas of bounded rationality and satisficing. Various flavors of artificial intelligence then led the way in the methodology of problem solving, with heuristics as a central topic and no longer the temporary scaffolding of positivism and Popper. In other directions, some computer scientists are challenging the anthropocentrism of received conceptions of rational inference by asking why artificial intelligence, including deep learning, should be restricted to human forms of reasoning.

Nonetheless, there is wide agreement that historicist accounts of scientific rationality cannot fully supplant traditional views. One finds a wide variety of decision contexts there, and some of these decisions will be uncontroversially warranted at that time and in that context, while others will not be. In any case it is fallacious to generalize from a few, highly contextualized case studies to conclusions about all science at all times.