A New Machine for Thinking: Historical Epistemology in Twentieth Century France Open Access

Cauvin, Jean-Paul (2014)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/bc386j70j?locale=en


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.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Introduction - What is Historical Epistemology? On the Normative Force of the Historicity of Science 1

Chapter One - Emile Meyerson: The Philosophy of the Intellect 26

Chapter Two - The Immanence of the Intelligence: Léon Brunschvicg and the Progressive Intelligibility of the Real 101

Chapter Three - Mathematics as Experience: Jean Cavaillès and the Dialectical Philosophy of the Concept 221

Chapter Four - Gaston Bachelard's Normative Epistemological Program and the History of Science 387

Conclusion - The Uses of the History of Science for Philosophy 463

Bibliography 485

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