1986 – 9(2)

The impasse evident in the exchange between Hesse and Rattansi exhibits the tension currently existing in the field. And yet, the role of the so-called pseudo-sciences is hardly the only source for this. Perhaps the sharpest debate at the moment concerns the relation of science and society. Only a few years ago this seemed to be relatively unimportant. When Thomas S. Kuhn prepared a history of science for the Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (1968) he compared « internalist » with « externalist » histories of science. The former dealt with technical questions related to the growth of science; the latter were « attempts to set science in a cultural context which might enhance understanding both of its development and its effects … » [[T.S. Kuhn, 1968; 1979. – History of Science, in International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, I-XVIII, ed. D.L Sills. New York: XVI, 75-83. ]]. Of special interest was the debate over the thesis proposed by Thomas K. Merton (1938) which sought to explain the success of seventeenth century science in England by pointing to (a) the Baconian emphasis on practical arts and trade processes and (b) the stimulus of Puritanism in religion [[Ibid. 79-81. ]]. But if Kuhn argued that internal and external histories of science are complementary, it is also clear that he thought that external history of science was for the most part passé – proposed for the most part by scholars who had not made their point. The « new generation of historians », and here Kuhn was referring primarily to the Koyré inspired historians, claimed

to have shown that the radical sixteenth- and seventeenth-century revisions of astronomy, mathematics, mechanics, and even optics owed very little to new instruments, experiments, or observations. Galileo’s primary method, they argue, was the traditional thought experiment of scholastic science brought to a new perfection [[Ibid. 80. ]].

This was far removed from the craft tradition or the new methodology of Bacon which failed consistently. As far as the seventeenth century is concerned, Kuhn suggested that only the « new » sciences such as electricity and magnetism, chemistry, and thermal phenomena borrowed from the craft tradition [[Ibid.]]. The mathematical sciences should continue to be studied by internal methods.

Kuhn’s much discussed Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1952) is an internalist study seeking to explain scientific revolutions in terms of the replacement of one scientific paradigm with another [[T.S. Kuhn, 1962. – The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago. This book was alo issued as vol. II, number 2 of the International Encyclopedia of Allfied Science published by the University of Chicago Press. ]]. With ever increasing interest in non-scientific factors in the growth of science it is little wonder that this work has not strongly affected historians of science. Rather, it has appealed most to social scientists, philosophers and historians who have used it less as a model for the history of science than they have to examine the internal development of their own fields [[As exemples of this literature see the following : B. Barnes, 1982. – T.S. Kuhn and Social Science, New York; S. Seiler, 1980. – Wissenschaftstheorie in der Ethnologie: zur Kritik u. Weiterführung d. Theorie von Thomas S. Kuhn anhand etnograph. Berlin; G. Gutting, ed. c. 1980. – Paradigms and Revolutions: Appraisals and Applications of Thomas Kuhn’s Philosophy of Science. Notre Dame. ]].

For Thomas Kuhn the « new » history of science was to be primarily internalist. However, the late sixties and the early seventies were to see an ever growing interest in the interrelation of science with society. For this reason the history of science has become a field far more attractive to historians, philosophers and social scientists – many of whom have had little training in either the sciences or the history of science. These authors argue that significant aspects of scientific history may now be grasped without the technical scientific knowledge that earlier seemed to be essential. There have been mixed results from this since, in fact, technical knowledge does remain important even in some of the most esoteric areas of the history of science. Still, a number of important studies have appeared. For example, Keith Thomas’ Religion and the Decline of Magic (1971) is a monumental contribution to our understanding of the early modern intellectual scene in England [[K. Thomas, 1971; 1973. – Religion and the Decline of Magic: Studies in Popular Beliefs in Sixteenth – and Seventeenth-Century England. Harmondsworth. ]]. No less important is the work of Christopher Hill who has used the recent studies of alchemy and the Paracelsians as an integral key to his understanding of the Civil War in England in his The World Turned Upside Down (1972) [[C. Hill, 1972; 1973. – The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution. New York: especially 231-246.]].

In The Newtonians and the English Revolution, 1689-1720 (1976), Margaret Jacob has argued that the triumph of Newtonian physics may have been due less to the internal worth of Newton’s science than it was to the fact that English theologians in the period of the « Glorious Revolution » (1688) sought a powerful ally through their espousal of the Newtonian synthesis. She sees the new science as an explicit rejection of the older mechanical philosophies of Hobbes and Descartes as well as the Aristotelianism of the universities and the radical cosmologies of the mid-century which had too often been associated with those who rose in rebellion against the Church and State. For Jacob, the explanation of the triumph of Newtonianism is to be found in « its usefulness to the intellectual leaders of the Anglican Church… for their vision of… the ordered, providentially guided, mathematically regulated universe » [[ M.C. Jacob, 1976. – The Newtonians and the English Revolution 1689-1720. Ithaca: 16- 17.]]. This is what they saw in Newton’s work.
Here we are provided with an explanation of the Newtonian triumph on grounds totally divorced from the fact that Newton’s work represents the culmination of nearly a century and a half of scientific discussions and research going back to Copernicus.

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