Thesis ID: CBB001567586

A New Machine For Thinking: Historical Epistemology in Twentieth Century France (2014)


Cauvin, Jean-Paul (Author)

Emory University
Corrigan, Kevin
Corrigan, Kevin
Johnston, John H
Goodstein, Elizabeth S
Johnston, John H

Publication Date: 2014
Edition Details: Advisor: Goodstein, Elizabeth S; Committee Members: Corrigan, Kevin, Johnston, John H.
Physical Details: 503 pp.
Language: English

The dissertation is an historical and philosophical examination of the epistemology of science in France between 1905 (the year Einstein [1879-1955] published the quartet of papers including the germinal formulation of the special theory of relativity) and 1971 (the year Georges Canguilhem [1901-1995] retired as the director of the Institut d'Histoire des Sciences et des Techniques), dates which I argue bookend the emergence of an epistemological tradition which Dominique Lecourt (1944 -) has dubbed "historical epistemology." I argue that, within this time frame (1905-1971), a methodological consensus emerges within French philosophy according to which the epistemological norms used to evaluate the validity of scientific knowledge must be continually revised in order to account for the historical transformation of scientific concepts and methods. I argue that two consequences proceed from this basic methodological program which have largely escaped critical notice in the Anglo-American and Francophone scholarship devoted to the subject. The first concerns a transformation of the implicit norms guiding epistemological critique. Unlike the Positivist or Neo-Kantian projects of the nineteenth century, the tradition of historical epistemology systematically rejects predetermined theories of the developmental logic of science, on the one hand, (Positivist historiography of science), and the transcendental determination of epistemic normativity on the other (Neo-Kantian Wissenschaftslehre ). The second concerns a transformation of the epistemological status of the history of science itself. The tradition rejects the history of science as a stable configuration, indeed, I argue that a sophisticated historiographical method unites the historical epistemologists in a common project whereby the writing of the history of science becomes a task that must be perpetually renewed. The dissertation has two primary aims. 1) To demonstrate the theoretical consistency of the tradition by determining the nature and function of the normative epistemological commitments which organize its concepts and methodologies, and, in so doing, to contribute to the history of philosophy in twentieth century France and to the history of the philosophy of science. 2) To reconstruct the variable histories of philosophy and of science which the historical epistemologists produce as the result of the epistemological determination of the nature of scientific rationality.


Description Cited in Dissertation Abstracts International-A 75/11(E), May 2015. Proquest Document ID: 1560897124.

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Authors & Contributors
Loison, Laurent
Fortino, Mirella
Vagelli, Matteo
Erdur, Onur
David M. Peña-Guzmán
Calemi, Francesco
Revue d'Histoire des Sciences
Transversal: International Journal for the Historiography of Science
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science
Physis: Rivista Internazionale di Storia della Scienza
Edinburgh University Press
Duke University Press
Chronos Verlag
Philosophy of science
Philosophy of biology
Philosophers of science, modern
Canguilhem, Georges
Bachelard, Gaston
Duhem, Pierre
Foucault, Michel
Ruyer, Raymond
Wolff, Étienne
Time Periods
20th century
19th century
20th century, late
21st century

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