Michael Friedman and the “marriage” of history and philosophy of science (and history of philosophy)

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<ul><li><p>ESSAY REVI EW</p><p>Michael Friedman and the marriage of historyand philosophy of science (and history of philosophy)</p><p>Mary Domski and Michael Dickson (eds): Discourse on a newmethod:Reinvigorating the marriage of history and philosophy ofscience; with a concluding essay by Michael Friedman. Chicago:Open Court, 2010, viii+852pp, $89.95 HB</p><p>Thomas Sturm</p><p> Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013</p><p>The marriage of history and philosophy of science (HPS) that developed</p><p>especially after Kuhns Structure of Scientific Revolutions has been called</p><p>intimate but also a mere matter of convenience. Both of these characterizations</p><p>have their problems. For instance, it is hard to see that philosophers and historians of</p><p>science would always or necessarily need each other, given the wide range of issues</p><p>and problems they are dealing with. But we also know topics where close</p><p>interaction seems possible and fruitful, occasionally up to the point that it may</p><p>become unclear whether a specific project or product is historical or philosophical in</p><p>nature. So the marriage of HPS is not merely forced by the existence of academic</p><p>arrangements. How to best capture the relation implied by the notion of HPS has led</p><p>to repeated debates, with no end in sight (see, e.g., Schickore 2011; Arabatzis and</p><p>Schickore 2012). Right now, HPS has become a sequence of several marriages and</p><p>remarriages, partly because of the partners having developed their own new interests</p><p>and agendas. Like Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, historians and philosophers were</p><p>first happily engaged, produced things that were welcomed by society (films and</p><p>theories of scientific progress, respectively), and then got fed up with one another</p><p>(e.g., because one side fell in love with certain kinds of sociology of knowledge,</p><p>while the other side flirted with cognitive science or met its old love, formal</p><p>methods, again). Unlike T &amp; B, however, historians and philosophers did not</p><p>become exhausted after merely two marriages. Time and again, we revive our</p><p>relationship, and it is always a new and quite confusing experience. Today, many</p><p>different ways of doing HPS exist, as evidenced, for instance, by the new history of</p><p>philosophy of science (HOPOS) field, the international project on &amp;HPS, or the</p><p>various approaches of historical epistemology.</p><p>T. Sturm (&amp;)Department of Philosophy and Center for the History of Science (CEHIC), Autonomous University</p><p>of Barcelona, 08193 Bellaterra, Barcelona, Spain</p><p>e-mail: tsturm@mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de</p><p>123</p><p>Metascience</p><p>DOI 10.1007/s11016-013-9845-8</p></li><li><p>A new version is presented by Mary Domski and Michael Dickson. While their</p><p>edited volume is a Festschrift to honor Michael Friedmans work, it is also more</p><p>than that. Domski and Dickson aim at a new method for HPS, called synthetic</p><p>history. The volume provides a wide-ranging, and often impressive, snapshot of</p><p>current interactions between philosophy of science, history of science, andthis is</p><p>important herehistory of philosophy. Following the interlocking themes of</p><p>Friedmans oeuvre, the 24 chapters are grouped into five main sections:</p><p>(I) The Newtonian Era (with papers by Domenico Bertoloni Meli, William R.</p><p>Newman, Mary Domski, Andrew Janiak)</p><p>(II) Kant (Alison Laywine, Charles Parsons, Donald Sutherland, Daniel Warren,</p><p>Frederic Beiser)</p><p>(III) Logical Positivism and Neo-Kantianism (John M. Krois, Alan Richardson,</p><p>Paul Pojman, Thomas Ricketts, Don Howard)</p><p>(IV) History and Philosophy of Physics (John Norton, James Mattingly, Michael</p><p>Dickson, Scott Tanona, Thomas Ryckman)</p><p>(V) Post-Kuhnian Philosophy of Science (William Demopoulos, Richard Creath,</p><p>Noretta Koertge, Robert DiSalle, Mark Wilson)</p><p>Finally, as part VI of the volume, Friedman adds an extensive and detailed reply.</p><p>On roughly 240 pages, he updates his own account and reactsin varying</p><p>degreesto many of the contributions. (Buy one book, get two! the publisher</p><p>might have advertised.) There are wonderful and thought-provoking pieces in this</p><p>volume. To mention but three entries from this rich and tasty menu, I was</p><p>particularly impressed by Laywines illuminating chapter on how Kant might have</p><p>taken over the idea of a geometrical postulate from the brilliant philosopher</p><p>scientist Johann Heinrich Lambert and used it in his critical metaphysics, perhaps</p><p>even in the deduction of the categories; by Nortons clear presentation of how non-</p><p>or even anti-Kantian thinkers such as Hume or Mach, through their view that</p><p>scientific concepts must be grounded in experience, inspired Einsteins new idea of</p><p>the relativity of simultaneity; and by Creaths succinct and witty discussion of how</p><p>far Friedman has helped us to keep irrationalism or relativism away from our</p><p>door (508). This selection reflects my personal preferences; others will prefer other</p><p>chapters. Since I cannot possibly explain all that is in the volume, I shall try to give</p><p>a comprehensive overview by looking at its structure and guiding ideas, adding</p><p>more information about other chapters and critical considerations as we go along.</p><p>Unfortunately, the introduction by Domski and Dickson does not explain the</p><p>contents and connections of the contributions. One might also have grouped the</p><p>individual chapters differently: by how they relate to Friedmans particular</p><p>approach, or how they help to revive the marriage of HPS. The grouping according</p><p>to the first criterion, for instance, would bring together critical discussions of</p><p>Friedmans claim that developments such as the Newtonian and Einsteinian</p><p>revolutions cannot be understood apart from the relativized a priori (Tanona,</p><p>Ryckman, Creath, Koertge, DiSalle, and Wilson; about that topic, more below).</p><p>Other papers criticize Friedman by providing alternative readings of the classical</p><p>authors discussed by him. Thus, Parsons develops further his own reading of Kants</p><p>philosophy of mathematics; Krois and Richardson describe what Friedman has</p><p>Metascience</p><p>123</p></li><li><p>missed in Ernst Cassirer (the notion of symbolic pregnance, and that Cassirer was</p><p>more a Hegelian than a Kantian, respectively); Howard presents Einstein as</p><p>espousing a holistic epistemology rather than as a defender of a relativized a priori.</p><p>The remaining articles complement or only indirectly address Friedmans views</p><p>(Bertoloni Meli, Newman, Domski, Janiak, Laywine, Warren, Beiser, Pojman,</p><p>Ricketts, Norton, Dickson, Demopoulos).</p><p>What the editors instead provide in their introduction is, firstly, a brief overview</p><p>of the previous debate over HPSs marital status, focusing especially on Ronald</p><p>Gieres (1973) skeptical position according to which the marriage is merely one of</p><p>convenience. Secondly, they succinctly summarize Friedmans core ideas as</p><p>presented most especially in Dynamics of Reason (2001). Thirdly, they characterize</p><p>their new idea of synthetic history. The first two aspects of the introduction I have</p><p>no quibbles with. Other chapters in the volume, for instance, by Howard, Tanona,</p><p>Creath, or DiSalle, also explain Friedmans views clearlyas evidenced by the fact</p><p>that some of them bring him to revise certain of his ideas, even a quite central one.</p><p>Before I can get to these changes, a few remarks about Friedmans views are in</p><p>place. Also, we need to grasp the idea of synthetic history, which is not</p><p>unproblematic.</p><p>Three points are central for understanding how Friedmans approach attempts to</p><p>strengthen the connection of HPS. Firstly, as the editors show, he has argued</p><p>(Friedman 1993) that scientific developments were frequently connected to changes</p><p>in philosophical reflections on science. Stated differently, the history of philosophy</p><p>can be told better if one notices how philosophers responded to the emergence of</p><p>new theories by providing a deeper understanding of, as Domski and Dickson say,</p><p>the status and possibility of our knowledge of the natural world (4). This is</p><p>opposed to those who, say, see early modern philosophy merely or primarily as an</p><p>attempt to refute Cartesian skepticism (a task that the editors also dubitably ascribe</p><p>to Kant8). Friedman was right to claim that the history of philosophy should be</p><p>related closer to past science. (However, he was not the first to do so; cf., e.g.,</p><p>Kruger 1986.)</p><p>Friedmans second core idea is that we can understand scientific change best (if</p><p>not only) if we reconstruct the historically changing, relativized a priori</p><p>frameworks of science or the dynamics of reason. Scientific theories are not</p><p>composed of knowledge-claims that are all revisable in the same way (although they</p><p>might all be revisable). Rather, some play a constitutive role: They are necessary</p><p>conditions for proper empirical claims. Because science changes over time,</p><p>philosophers have repeatedly tried to spell out these a priori frameworks in new</p><p>ways. Friedman has applied these notions especially to the Newtonian revolution</p><p>(for which a framework was provided by Kant in his Metaphysical Foundations of</p><p>Natural Science (1786)) and to the Einsteinian revolution (which Logical</p><p>Empiricists such as Carnap and Reichenbach and Neo-Kantians such as Cassirer</p><p>reflected on in different ways). These were, in Kuhns view at least, central</p><p>instances of the notorious incommensurability between successive paradigms of</p><p>natural science, and this thesis is one that Friedman rejects through his work. In his</p><p>concluding essay, he enriches his account: For instance, he relates it to his previous</p><p>work on Helmholtz, Poincare, or Mach and expands on his account of how Kant</p><p>Metascience</p><p>123</p></li><li><p>thought that matter fills space (603f.). There are also stimulating discussions of how</p><p>the Absolute Idealism of Schelling constituted an interesting response to new</p><p>developments in electricity, magnetism, or chemistry, or of how Husserls</p><p>understanding of geometry provided a response to the thorny question of how the</p><p>mathematical structure of general relativity successively acquires its empirical</p><p>meaning and application (693). Friedman thereby thickens his narrative of the</p><p>joined history of philosophy and the sciences from Newton to Einstein. One</p><p>question still emerges: Why is there so much focus on the Germans-plus-Poincare?</p><p>What about the philosophies of Whewell, Peirce, or Russell, who also tried to</p><p>understand the natural sciences of their time?</p><p>Leaving this question aside, it is clear that the first two main points of Friedmans</p><p>approach would only show that past science and past philosophy have interacted in</p><p>certain ways. But, as Domski and Dickson note, Friedman makes a third and</p><p>stronger claim: Science and philosophy should interactthe interaction is not a</p><p>quirk of history, but an essential fact about the two disciplines (7f.). But why</p><p>accept that? The editors note that perhaps Friedman went too far here. Not all of</p><p>philosophy is or should be driven by science and its problems. This is not merely</p><p>true for ethics, esthetics, or political philosophy. Like it or not, many areas and</p><p>topics in theoretical philosophy as well are pursued at more than arms length from</p><p>the history of science. Also, Friedmans account provides no clear understanding of</p><p>cooperations between philosophy and, say, current cognitive science, economics, or</p><p>biology. Domski and Dickson defend Friedmans historicism by claiming that he</p><p>wishes to draw attention to an interaction between philosophy and science that has,</p><p>until very recently, attracted inadequate scholarly attention and tries to give old</p><p>questions new flavor (8). True; but irrelevant for the issue at stake. Giere could</p><p>insist that while Friedman has provided a distinct approach to the history of</p><p>philosophy (more precisely, to the history of philosophy of science), that does not</p><p>tell us why philosophers of science today should depend upon history, much less</p><p>why historians are dependent upon philosophers.</p><p>At points, Friedman does not even seem to take up this daunting task.</p><p>Responding to an objection by Noretta Koertge, he says that his work primarily</p><p>provides a very rich historical narrative about how Kant and other philosophers</p><p>reacted to certain scientific developments from Newton to Einstein. In that sense,</p><p>characterizing it as a history of sciencephilosophy relations is quite in place. It is</p><p>not intended to be a general theory of scientific change (715; cf. 792 n. 317). Two</p><p>comments on this: On the one hand, Friedman is perhaps too modest here. The idea</p><p>of the relativized a priori developed by Reichenbach, or very similar ideas, come up</p><p>in other authors in the first decades of the twentieth century as well: for instance, in</p><p>philosopherpsychologists such as Karl Buhler (Poppers teacher) or Kurt Lewin. I</p><p>bet that one can find still more. It might therefore have played a role in scientific</p><p>developments, or reflections thereof, beyond the cases that interest Friedman and the</p><p>contributors to this volume.</p><p>On the other hand, Friedman is clearly more ambitious about the potential of a</p><p>historicized philosophy of science. As he explicitly claims (573), history of</p><p>philosophy is not possible without history of science, and such an integrated history</p><p>in turn is required by philosophy of science. Hence, HPS or synthetic history is a</p><p>Metascience</p><p>123</p></li><li><p>must. Other contributors in the volume follow him here, if in somewhat different</p><p>ways. For instance, Domski studies Newtons view that, pace Descartes, ancient</p><p>mathematicians were right about the distinction between algebra and geometry, and</p><p>that therefore Newton, much like Friedman, tried to bring history to bear on our</p><p>contemporary philosophical problems (82). But it is hard to see how reference to</p><p>(and reverence of) ancient authors constitutes a historical justification of a certain</p><p>philosophy. Again, several contributors view Kants transcendental philosophy as</p><p>being primarily or even exclusively concerned with providing a new foundation for</p><p>natural science and mathematics, think that he failed in this (e.g., Janiak on 94;</p><p>DiSalle on 529, 544), andthis is especially Friedmans contentionthat therefore</p><p>his transcendental project must be replaced by an integrated intellectual history of</p><p>both the exact sciences and scientific philosophy (Friedman on 702; cf. 599, 679,</p><p>697, 708, 713). I disagree with this reading of Kants first Critique, but there is a</p><p>stronger point behind Friedmans claim to be discussed here. With such a history, he</p><p>aims at a reconciliation of the necessity and a priority demanded by transcendental</p><p>philosophy with the unavoidable contingency of history (698). Friedman here</p><p>employs two assumptions: First, the reconciliation concerns especially develop-</p><p>ments of mathematics, since that is a (relatively uncontroversial) locus of apriority</p><p>and necessity; second, it deals with the historical extension or continuation of</p><p>Kants original attempt to comprehend the application of mathematics to our</p><p>sensible experience (699). Friedman then illustrates how this allows for an</p><p>integration of necessity/a priority and historical contingency. For instance, while it</p><p>is contingent when Kant was born and died, and even when he developed his</p><p>account, the account itself is not contingent insofar as it responds to the problems</p><p>K...</p></li></ul>

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