CFP: Arts and Sciences, Historicizing Boundaries (Venice, 9-10 June 2022)

Submission deadline: March 15, 2022

Conference date(s):
June 9, 2022 - June 10, 2022

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Conference Venue:

Department of Philosophy and Cultural Heritage, Ca' Foscari University (Venice, Italy)
Venice, Italy

Topic areas


CFP – 7th International Workshop on Historical Epistemology: Arts and Sciences, Historicizing Boundaries (Venice, 9-10 June 2022)

9–10 June 2022;

Confirmed keynote speakers:

Peter Galison (Harvard)
Caroline A. Jones (MIT)


The 7th International Workshop on Historical Epistemology is dedicated to exploring new ways of approaching the historical, conceptual, methodological, and technical relations between the arts and the sciences. Rather than looking for logical criteria for demarcating these domains, the workshop aims to question the arts/sciences dyad from the vantage point of its history.

Such a history should be at least twofold, unearthing both moments where science and art were perceived as different and kept separated and moments in which the two were considered kindred or unifiable. There is consensus among scholars (Collini, Introduction to C.P. Snow, The Two Cultures, 2012) that the divide emerged as an object of reflection during the 19th century—in the period characterized by the fading of Romanticism and the ascendance of the Industrial Revolution—with a controversy arising in several European countries regarding the definition of the respective goals and concerns of the arts and sciences. As the idea gained ground between the end of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th that the arts corresponded to intervening, creative minds while the scientific persona was shaped by attempts to repress precisely these aspects (Daston & Galison, Objectivity, 2010), philosophers like Wilhelm Dilthey and Karl Popper proliferated attempts to conceptually refine the distinction between the two fields of inquiry and sets of activities. Science was entrusted with the values of objective, stable, and progressive knowledge and was clearly distinguished in this respect from what was non-scientific. The “two cultures” debate took center stage between the 1950s and the 1960s and came to epitomize polar oppositions: on the one hand, art was considered an activity that was individual and ‘soft’, relying on intuition and induction and involving visualization and mostly spontaneous processes. These traits were considered “feminine”. On the other hand, science was conceived as a “hard” collaborative endeavor that was analytical, deductive, logical and systematic: all “masculine” features. Science was not only conceived as a stable and progressive form of knowledge, it was also thought of as the gatekeeper of humankind and its hope for a peaceful future on earth—and placed in contrast with the elitist and decadent spirit of the artistic-literary tradition (Snow, The Two Cultures, 1998). As this debate raged over the following decades, it took distinctive turns. During the 1980s, one particular flaw of its central dichotomy emerged: the absence of the social sciences, which could be described as a sort of third “culture” positioned between literature and science (Lepenies, Die Drei Kulturen, 1985). The 1990s saw explicit attempts to break the “binary economy” opposing science and the arts and to replace it with discussion of their “boundary conditions”. Instead of the “vexed” question of whether “science and art are incommensurable realms of knowledge”, the problem was reframed in terms of recognition and study of “the conditions under which objects become visible in culture, and in what manner are such visibilities characterized as ‘science’ or ‘art’” (Galison & Jones, Picturing Science, Producing Art, 1998). Since at least the turn of the 21st century, pressure on boundary questions has decreased, and it might even seem that what were previously viewed as hard boundaries have been blurred to the point that the existence of two separate domains should be questioned. However, echoes of the earlier “culture clash” still circulate in current scholarly and everyday discussions. Furthermore, the “artistic” and “scientific” disciplines are still largely treated as separate at the institutional level, and collaboration between the two seems to be local and occasional at best. One of the leading questions animating our workshop is thus: do such questions make sense today and to what extent?

In other words, if the armchair philosopher recognizes demarcations among cognitive, perceptual, or operational domains, what can historical epistemology teach us about the boundary lines or relationship between the arts and the sciences? What might a historicized approach to the epistemological question of the different ways of accessing reality, of capturing or intervening in the world, add to our discussion? Can the distinction between scientific discovery and artistic creation be tackled from the point of view of historical epistemology? At the methodological level, can the history of the sciences fruitfully mesh with art history? Can art historians, historians of science, philosophers and cultural historians learn from each other’s methods? These transversal questions—cutting across the human, social, and natural sciences—have bearing on the “boundary questions” situated at the borders of the arts and sciences. While this workshop aims to move beyond the idea of a “binary economy,” it also aims to keep the specificity of each in sight. 

The history of philosophy of science can be of help here too. Although it does not appear at the forefront of French epistemology, the careful observer will notice that this topic was taken up by a number of historical epistemologists. Gaston Bachelard, for instance, identified an irremovable divide between epistemology and the poetic imagination but he also considered it possible for the latter to underpin or contribute to the former (Chimisso, Bachelard, Critic of Science and the Imagination, 2001). This aspect of Bachelard’s work could be put fruitfully in dialogue with later analogous attempts to make similar connections in the Anglophone domain (Holton, The Scientific Imagination, 1978). Bachelard moreover insisted on the creative dimension of scientific thinking and its technological inventiveness (Bachelard, The New Scientific Spirit), claiming that science can, to some extent, be regarded as an artistic creation belonging to both the human mind and the material world. Georges Canguilhem, on the one hand, maintained that knowledge and truth pertain only to science, which in this respect is “incommensurable” with other forms of cultural expression (e.g., the arts) underpinned and motivated by different values such as beauty. However, in his early writings, Canguilhem also reflected at length on the problem of artistic and technical creation and later came to consider medicine an “art”: a set of techniques situated at the crossroads of different scientific disciplines and aimed at the production of new norms of existence for organisms. Canguilhem’s work thus rested on a philosophy which appealed to a multiplicity of irreducible values and mobilized a Nietzschean perspective according to which the task of philosophy is to compare and contrast scientific, religious, ethical, and aesthetic values. In a similar vein, Michel Foucault suggested that the tools he deployed in his archeology of scientific knowledge could also be applied to art history (Foucault, The Archeology of Knowledge). His famous comment on Las Meninas in The Order of Things suggests that analysis of artistic productions is a means of investigating the structure of knowledge. Despite inheriting Bachelard’s divide between art and science, Gilles-Gaston Granger instead wondered whether the artistic notion of style could be applied to the analysis of scientific knowledge (Granger, Essai d’une philosophie du style). Finally, Jean-Claude Passeron’s work—premised upon the sociology of art and culture, on the one hand, and upon the epistemology of the social sciences on the other—raises questions about the extent to which these two origins of his work are completely separate or constantly in dialogue (Passeron, Sociological Reasoning).

These themes will be at the center of the 7th Workshop on Historical Epistemology. We hope the discussion will be a moment for philosophers, historians of philosophy, historians, philosophers of science, and art historians to encounter scholars with different methodological approaches. In particular, we expect contributions falling along the following three axes:

  1. Historical epistemology: Can the arts/science dyad be an object of inquiry for historical epistemology? What are the larger epistemological and sociological goals that the dyad underpins or tries to respond to? Can we still talk of there being “two cultures”? Are there more than two? Or is there only one undifferentiated culture? To what extent is the term “culture” even appropriate? We welcome contributions tracing the trajectories of debates that have drawn the two poles of this dyad together or pushed them apart.
  2. Philosophy/methodology: What can an historicized approach to epistemology teach us about the boundary lines or relationship between the arts and the sciences? What do the concepts of “style” and “method” have in common and what distinguishes them from each other? Contributions should propose ways of rethinking topics at the intersection of the two activities, such as representation, progress, perception, theory change, analogies, the role of “method”, the affordances of techniques and technologies, and differences between scientific invention/discovery and artistic creation.
  3. History of historical epistemology: Bachelard, Canguilhem, Foucault or Granger are only examples: how have historical epistemologists writ large taken up this issue? Contributions might address thinkers coming from the French tradition or who employ the later historical epistemological approach that emerged from research groups at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science or from other strands of epistemology that reflected on the divide between the arts and the sciences.

Proposals (500 words plus a short presentation of the candidate) must be sent by March 15, 2022 (notification of acceptance or refusal by March 31), in .doc format, to [email protected] The workshop will be conducted in English. Applicants should be ready for possible online participation in case the event should move to online-only.

This workshop is organized by:

Épistémologie Historique. Research Network on the History and the Methods of Historical Epistemology

With the support of:

  • Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, Department of Philosophy and Cultural Heritage;
  • European Commission (This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 101030646, “EPISTYLE”);
  • IHPST (UMR 8590, Paris 1/CNRS);
  • République des Savoirs (USR 3608, ENS/ Collège de France/CNRS);
  • École doctorale Lettres, Arts, Sciences humaines et sociales (ED 540, ENS – EUR Translitteræ, PSL);
  • Centre Gilles Gaston Granger (UMR 7304).

Organizing committee:

Caroline Angleraux (Labex Who Am I?, Associate member of the IHPST)
Thomas Embleton (IHPST)
Lucie Fabry (ENS-PSL, République des savoirs / Aix Marseille Université, Centre Gilles- Gaston Granger)
Iván Moya-Diez (Universidad Alberto Hurtado)
Matteo Vagelli (Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia)

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