Article ID: CBB069064814

Forms of Presentism in the History of Science. Rethinking the Project of Historical Epistemology (2016)


Since the late 1980s, presentism has seen a resurgence among some historians of science. Most of them draw a line between a good form of presentism and typical anachronism, but where the line should be drawn remains an open question. The present article aims at resolving this problem. In the first part I define the four main distinct forms of presentism at work in the history of science and the different purposes they serve. Based on this typology, the second part reconsiders what counts as anachronism, Whiggism and positivist history. This clarification is used as a basis to rethink the research program of historical epistemology in the third section. Throughout this article, I examine the conceptual core of historical epistemology more than its actual history, from Bachelard to Foucault or others. Its project should be defined – as Canguilhem suggested – as an attempt to account for both the contingency and the rationality of science. As such, historical epistemology is based on a complex fifth form of presentism, which I call critical presentism. The critical relation at stake not only works from the present to the past, because of the acknowledged rationality of science, but also from the past to the present because of the contingency and historicity of scientific knowledge.

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Authors & Contributors
McEvoy, John G.
Henry, John
Stump, David J.
Edgar, Scott
Nakajima, Hideto
Drees, Williem B.
Isis: International Review Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences
Science and Education
Studium: Tijdschrift voor Wetenschaps- en Universiteitgeschiedenis
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences
Social Epistemology
Editora UFPR
History of science, as a discipline
Philosophy of science
Historians of science, modern
Social construction; constructivism
Reisch, George A.
Hook, Sidney
Barbour, Ian G.
Gillispie, Charles Coulston
Bocks, Paul
Sarton, George
Time Periods
20th century, late
21st century
20th century, early
17th century
20th century
United States
Annales school
History of Science Society

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