CFP: Historical Epistemology and Epistemology of History
Submission deadline: March 15, 2020
June 4, 2020 - June 6, 2020
Dept. of Philosophy, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne
Study of the relationship between historical epistemology and history immediately reveals a paradox: on the one hand, the very idea of historical epistemology assigns a central role to history, proposing to connect philosophical reflection on the sciences with acknowledgement of their historicity. Yet, on the other hand, one cannot fail to notice that historical epistemology as a field has concerned itself very little with the discipline of history as such. As a result, it has not yet developed an epistemology of history.
We can locate the origin of this paradox in the texts of Gaston Bachelard, which laid out the basic notions about history still characterizing historical epistemology. Recognizing the history of science as distinct from traditional history, Bachelard conceived history of science to oppose point-by-point the needs of traditional historiography – including its emphasis on rigorous description and concern for avoiding anachronism. The resulting history of scientific progress he presented was resolutely retrospective and normative.
Bachelard did not acknowledge any form of historicity other than the one made possible by overcoming the threshold of scientificity. He thus asked whether the discipline of history should be understood to have a history comparable to that of physics or mathematics or if it should be understood as closer to the ahistoricity of the pre-scientific. The plural heritages of Bachelardian epistemology that gathered around this question are characterized by their different ways of responding to or reformulating this question. Some authors have tried to apply the concepts and methods of historical epistemology to history itself. That is the case for Louis Althusser, who presents the emergence of historical materialism as the overcoming of an ideological notion of history and ascension of a science of history. Historical epistemology would therefore be interested in history to the extent that the latter is capable of accessing a level of scientificity comparable to that of the natural sciences. A somewhat different attempt to reinforce the links between historical epistemology and general history is put forward by Foucault’s Archaeology of Knowledge, which is inspired by Bachelard’s epistemology and by the history of the Annales and aims to elaborate a new historiographic manifesto. Foucault invites us to modify the initial categories of historical epistemology in order to ask a more general question about the emergence of discursive formations –a question which applies to the sciences as well as to other discursive phenomena. This Foucauldian precedent notwithstanding, one may ask whether the presuppositions underwriting Bachelardian historiography are not among the main factors explaining the weak relationship between the history of science and the history of mentality.
Authors like Gilles-Gaston Granger, whose influence on Paul Veyne is well known, have tried to justify the fact that historical epistemology has not taken the discipline of history as an object by putting forward different claims that history is not a science. Examining the status given to history in various arguments allows us to analyse the degree to which the move to deny history a form of scientificity marginalizes or renders precarious forms of historical epistemology that rely on the history of science. It also enables us to analyse the arguments of authors that, despite questioning whether history is a science in the same sense as the natural sciences, nonetheless refuse to consider it as closer to common knowledge: this is the case for Jean-Claude Passeron, who, while drawing on historical epistemology, sees a radical difference between the regime of scientificity of the historical sciences and that of the experimental sciences and argues that this difference affects the types of progress and of discontinuity these sciences instantiate. Exploring such arguments will make it possible for us to return to Bachelard’s distinction between the history of science and general history by remarking on differences between the histories of the different scientific disciplines. These questions are relevant not only for the discipline of history itself but also for other sciences that claim to be “historical” to the extent that they bear on events that have taken place in the past – from the human and social sciences to geology or the biology of evolution, just to mention some examples. Are all these sciences “historical” in the same sense? In what sense can a discipline consider itself “historical”? In what way is the historicity of a science linked to the historicity of its objects and its methods?
There are three axes we would like to analyse for this year’s workshop:
- Axe 1: What is specific about the history of science in relation to other historical methodologies?
- Axe 2: What would it mean to move towards an historical epistemology of history?
- Axe 3: How can we characterize and distinguish the historicity of scientific objects in formal knowledge, the life sciences, the sciences of matter, and the human and the social sciences?
As in previous years, we would like this theme to represent an occasion for encounter among philosophers and historians of science with different methodological approaches. In other terms, we would like to receive proposals adopting a range of historical and/or analytical approaches to critical clarification of the central concepts of the “historical sciences,” understood in the widest sense as spanning from history as such to the social and life sciences.
Proposals (500 words plus a short presentation of the candidate) must be sent by 15 March 2020 (notification of acceptance or refusal by 1 April) in Word or .pdf formats to firstname.lastname@example.org. Proposals by graduate students and early career researchers will be prioritized. The languages of the workshop will be French and English.