The Split of Rationality
By the middle of the twentieth century, the relation between philosophy and history of science may be characterized as amounting to a split of rationality. Whereas philosophy of science was dominated by a focus on the analysis of language and methodology, taking them as embodiments of an ahistorical scientific rationality, history of science paid attention to ideas, events and their more or less contingent circumstances without critically examining this normative rationality, let alone substituting it with its own form of historical rationality. Thomas Kuhn, with the publication of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in 1962, is often seen as having closed this divide, in one sense or another, by integrating the different perspectives on science, the normative and the historical one, into one unifying framework.
By the mid-1930s, philosophers of science such as Rudolf Carnap
From a modern perspective, this encounter strikingly anticipates the far-reaching conflicts between different perspectives on science, as they would come to determine the discourse throughout the following decades up until the present day. And yet, at the same time, what becomes evident in this encounter is the willingness to continue the dialogue and, in the situation of a political crisis rapidly coming to a head, the eagerness not to abandon the common battle for scientific rationality, even in the face of widely diverging criteria for science.
A Letter from Fleck
In March of 1934, shortly after the end of the winter semester at the University of Vienna, Schlick
At the same time, however, Fleck
Already the choice of data, being almost exclusively physics, astronomy or chemistry, seems to me to be mostly misleading, since the origin of elementary insights into physics dates back so far that we can only investigate it under great difficulties—and the more recent insights are to such a degree, as it were, ‘systematically biased’, so greatly suggested to all of us through our educational background and scientific tradition, that I must find them inappropriate as well as a principal target for investigation. The statement that all knowledge originates in sensations is misleading—because the plurality of all human knowledge stems quite simply from textbooks. [...] Finally, the historical development of knowledge shows some remarkable common aspects as well, such as for instance the particular stylistic closeness of the respective systems of knowledge, which demands an epistemological investigation.
These considerations prompted me to treat a scientific fact from my area of expertise epistemologically, whereupon the aforementioned manuscript emerged.2
The Challenging Manuscript
In his manuscript, Fleck
Against this background, Fleck
For the emergence and constitution of the fact in question, the ideas that informed the understanding of syphilis over centuries were as equally important as the socially transmitted familiarity with the material under investigation. The idea of syphilis, widespread through different social strata, as the “carnal scourge” and the “foul syphilitic blood,” was indeed deeply ingrained in the collective memory. And the familiarity with the material under investigation was only achievable for the scientific practitioner after long years in the bacteriological laboratory as a member of a community steeped in tradition. Thus the cooperative nature of human knowledge was obvious to Fleck
Experience gained over several years of working in the venereal disease section of a large city hospital convinced me that it would never occur even to a modern research worker, equipped with a complete intellectual and material armory, to isolate all these multifarious aspects and sequelae of the disease form the totality of the cases he deals with or to segregate them from complications and lump them together. Only through organized cooperative research, supported by popular knowledge and continuing over several generations, might a unified picture emerge, for the development of the disease phenomena requires decades. Here, however, training, technical resources and the very nature of collaboration would repeatedly lead research workers back to the historical development of knowledge, since the bonds of history can never be cut.3
The Missed Opportunity
It was certainly not simply the case that the realm of bacteriology and serology was unfamiliar to Schlick, but the historicization of scientific knowledge, as it was inherent in Fleck’s
We may assume that Schlick
In the end, Springer-Verlag decided not to publish the book, presumably for “external” reasons, that is, when viewed alongside the previous publications in the series, the publisher likely missed the austerity of form and the stringency of argumentation in Fleck’s
I have in the meantime had a look at the work by Dr. Fleck, analysis of a scientific fact, which you were kind enough to relay to me. It does not seem to me to be suitable for publication in book form. I would advise the author to perhaps publish it in a journal in abridged form.5
Even though Fleck’s
However, both Schlick
A Second Encounter
But from our point of view, this is not the end of the story. Is it, at least in principle, possible, from Schlick’s
The resilience of these questions becomes evident from a second, almost symbolic encounter between an analytic and a historical perspective on science, between Rudolf Carnap
This perspective aligns him with
I don’t think I learned much from reading that book, I might have learned more if the Polish German hadn’t been so very difficult. But I certainly got a lot of important reinforcement. There was somebody who was, in a number of respects, thinking about things the way I was, thinking about the historical material the way I was. I never felt at all comfortable and still don’t with [Fleck’s] »thought collective.« (Kuhn 2000, 283)
Simultaneously I am returning your manuscript »The Structure of Scientific Revolution«. [...] I am convinced that your ideas will be very stimulating for all those who are interested in the nature of scientific theories and especially the causes and forms of their changes. I found very illuminating the parallel you draw with Darwinian evolution: just as Darwin
gave up the earlier idea that the evolution was directed towards a predetermined goal, men as the perfect organism, and saw it as a process of improvement by natural selection, you emphasize that the development of theories is not directed toward the perfect true theory, but is a process of improvement of an instrument.7
Looking back at this exchange 50 years after the publication of Structure, it is evident that this apparent reconciliation between historical and the philosophical points of view was premature, also in view of what Kuhn did not take over from Fleck
Even 50 years after the publication of Structure, the split of rationality has thus not been overcome. We are still confronted with the split between the view, if not the vision of science as the best model of rationality available to us, generalizable to other spheres of human activity as well, and the view of science as a deeply contingent, historically shaped human enterprise as any other, an enterprise that we can only practice, administer or describe.
Therefore, it is worthwhile to revisit the instances where this split became visible in the past, such as in the exchanges between Schlick
We would like to acknowledge Jendrik Stelling for contributing to the translation.
Fleck, L. (1979). Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Kuhn, T. S. (2000). The Road Since Structure: Philosophical Essays, 1970–1993, with an Autobiographical Interview. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
“Ich konnte mich nie des Eindruckes erwehren, in der Erkenntnistheorie werde zumeist nicht die Erkenntnis, wie sie faktisch sich darbietet, untersucht, sondern ihr imaginiertes Idealbild, das der realen Eigenschaften entbehrt.” Ludwik Fleck to Moritz Schlick, 5 September 1933, Moritz Schlick estate, Noord-Holland Archief, inv. no. 100/Fleck-1.
“Schon die Wahl des Materials fast ausschliesslich Physik, Astronomie oder Chemie scheint mir meist irreführend zu sein, denn das Entstehen der elementaren Erkenntnisse der Physik liegt so weit zurück, dass wir es nur schwer untersuchen können – und die neuern Erkenntnisse sind so sehr sozusagen »systembefangen«, so sehr durch die schulmässige Vorbildung und die wissenschaftliche Tradition uns allen suggeriert worden, dass ich sie als prinzipielles Untersuchungsmaterial ebenfalls für ungeeignet halten muss. Der Satz, alle Erkenntnis entspringe den Sinneseindrücken, ist irreführend, – denn die Mehrzahl der Kenntnisse aller Menschen stammt einfach aus den Lehrbüchern. [...] Endlich finden sich auch in der historischen Entwicklung des Wissens einige merkwürdige allgemeine Erscheinungen, wie z.B. die besondere stilmässige Geschlossenheit jeweiliger Wissenssysteme, die eine erkenntnistheoretische Untersuchung fordern. Diese Betrachtungen veranlassten mich, eine wissenschaftliche Tatsache aus meinem Fachgebiet erkenntnistheoretisch zu bearbeiten, worauf das erwähnte Manuskript entstand.” Ludwik Fleck to Moritz Schlick, 5 September 1933.
“Infolge mehrjähriger Erfahrung in einer großstädtischen, venerischen Spitalsabteilung bin ich überzeugt, es könne auch ein mit allem Denk- und Sachrüstzeug bewaffneter, moderner Forscher nie darauf kommen, alle diese mannigfaltigen Krankheitsbilder und Krankheitsfolgen aus der Gesamtheit der vorkommenden Fälle auszuscheiden, abzusondern von Komplikationen und zu einer Einheit zu verbinden. Erst organisierte Forschungsgemeinschaft, unterstützt vom Volkswillen, und über einige Generationen dauernd, vermöchte das Ziel erreichen – schon deshalb, weil die Entwicklung der Krankheitsphänomene Jahrzehnte braucht. In diesem Falle aber würden Vorbildung, technische Mittel und die Art der Zusammenarbeit die Forscher immer wieder auf den alten Pfad der geschichtlichen Erkenntnisentwicklung leiten. Also ist Auflösung historischer Bindung keinesfalls möglich” Fleck (1979, 22).
“eine wissenschaftliche Leistung hohen Ranges.” Moritz Schlick to Ludwik Fleck, 16 March 1934, Moritz Schlick estate, Noord-Holland Archief, inv. no. 100/Fleck-2.
“Die Arbeit Herrn Dr. Flecks, Analyse einer wissenschaftlichen Tatsache, die Sie mir freundlichst übermittelt haben, habe ich mir inzwischen angesehen. Sie scheint mir für die Ausgabe als Buch nicht in Betracht zu kommen. Ich würde dem Autor empfehlen, sie vielleicht in gekürzter Form in einer Zeitschrift zu veröffentlichen.” Otto Lange (Springer-Verlag, Vienna) to Moritz Schlick, 14 April 1934.
Reprinted in a second edition in 1925.
Rudolf Carnap to Thomas Kuhn, 28 April 1962.