Turning the mirror: from scientific pluralism to pluralism in HPS

January 8, 2020 - January 9, 2020
Egenis, University of Exeter

United Kingdom

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Turning the mirror: from scientific pluralism to pluralism in HPS

Dates: 8th-9th January 2020

Venue: Egenis, the University of Exeter, UK

Co-organisers: Alex Aylward (University of Leeds) and Adrian Currie (University of Exeter)

Various forms of scientific pluralism are widely accepted by historians and philosophers of science, but what lessons might pluralism about science have for the methods and practice of HPS itself?

We are seeking contributions from three to four postgraduate/early-career participants. As the workshop includes diverse formats, contributions may take any form, from a traditional conference paper, to a roundtable discussion, to some other format entirely. We aim to make some funds available to support participants’ travel to Exeter, but will not be able to confirm funding until later in the year. . Please send proposals (max. 500 words) to both Alex (a.m.aylward@leeds.ac.uk) and Adrian (a.currie@exeter.ac.uk) by 30th September 2019.


Agnes Bolinska (University of Cambridge, UK)

John Dupre (University of Exeter, UK)

Robin Hendry (University of Durham, UK)

Ian James Kidd (University of Nottingham, UK)

Katherina Kinzel (University of Vienna, Austria)

Jouni-Matti Kuukkanen (University of Oulu, Finland)

Sabina Leonelli (University of Exeter, UK)

Joseph D. Martin (University of Durham, UK)

Michela Massimi (University of Edinburgh, UK)

Staffan Müller-Wille (University of Exeter, UK)

Raphael Scholl (University of Cambridge, UK)

Kirsten Walsh (University of Exeter, UK)

Description of workshop themes:

Scientific pluralism (of various forms) is increasingly the received view in the history and philosophy of science: it is accepted that monist accounts of scientific kinds, scientific methods, scientific explanation and scientific values are insufficient. Coming to this view has involved philosophical analysis of pluralism itself. What are the varieties of scientific pluralism, and how are they related? Is scientific pluralism laudable, regrettable, or neither? Must pluralism be a form of anti-realism or is it amenable to realist perspectives? Is the existence of scientific pluralism a reflection of our scientific methodologies, the nature of the world, or both, or neither? Though little in the way of consensus has been achieved regarding these

questions, the respectability of scientific pluralism as both a descriptive and prescriptive stance has been on the increase. And, at the very least, a set of conceptual tools regarding the nature of pluralism and how it might be understood in science has been the result.

Could the conceptual tools developed within these conversations about the nature of science be turned upon HPS itself? In our field it is common to encounter many differing reconstructions of the same episode in the history of science, utilising different historiographical frameworks, and thus emphasising different aspects of the target phenomenon. Sometimes – as with Geoffrey Cantor and Steven Shapin’s disagreements about the development of phrenology in nineteenth-century Edinburgh, and the more recent discourse between Hasok Chang, Ursula Klein and Martin Kusch regarding the ‘chemical revolution’ – differing accounts are often explicitly presented as competing with one another. But their being in competition seems to imply that there is a single, true account regarding the domain at hand, or at least that pluralism regarding our accounts of science’s history and philosophy is importantly restricted.

In other words, whilst we are increasingly recognizing that the scientific study of nature might inevitably result in a plurality of theories, explanations, perspectives and methods, our attempts to understand science itself (HPS) are often implicitly guided by a monist ideal.

Whilst it is clear that HPS enjoys a healthy pluralism of methodologies and approaches, it is less obvious what our attitudes should be towards pluralism in accounts of particular episodes from the scientific past. We hope in this workshop to tackle the above issues head-on. Questions addressed might include (but aren’t limited to):

- What is the nature of historiographical/philosophical pluralism in HPS? How does it come about?

- Is it a good thing? Should we cultivate pluralism? How?

- Is it a bad thing? Should we strive for monism? How?

- What are the lessons from the conversation on scientific pluralism for pluralism in studies of science?

- What lessons might be drawn from scientific perspectivism?

- How might insights from the philosophy of history inform the conversation?

We look forward to receiving submissions. In the meantime, please don’t hesitate to contact us (a.m.aylward@leeds.ac.uk; a.currie@exeter.ac.uk) with any questions.

Best wishes,

Alex and Adrian

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November 30, 2019, 5:00pm BST

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Elis Jones
David J. Stump
University of San Francisco
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