Hein van den Berg (UvA) and Lukas Verburgt (UU) will present their ongoing research at the first seminar of The Philosophical Tradition in Context Seminar series of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam. The seminar aims to bring scholars from philosophy of science, history of science and humanities, history of philosophy, metaphysics and comparative philosophy together to reflect on the interaction of philosophy and science with society and politics, and the methodology of philosophy, science and humanities.
N.B. unfortunately this symposium is cancelled
The Spread of the Mathematical Method in Eighteenth-Century Germany: A Quantitative Investigation
Paper together with: Maria Chiara Parisi (UvA), Yvette Oortwijn (UvA), Shenghui Wang (OCLC research), Rob Koopman (OCLC research), Arianna Betti (UvA).
In the eighteenth century, the German mathematician and philosopher Christian Wolff famously claimed that all sciences should apply the so-called mathematical method. Interpreters (e.g. Frängsmyr 1975; Friedman 1992; Zammito 2002) typically identify Wolff's mathematical method with the traditional axiomatic ideal of science, i.e. the tenet that a proper science should have an axiomatic structure. In this paper we argue against this identification. We show that several eighteenth-century authors who did reject the mathematical method in science did so while retaining the axiomatic ideal of science - which suggests that the two should not be identified. We argue that in the eighteenth century the expression 'the mathematical method' designated a specific take on the traditional axiomatic ideal of science, and that it is this specific take that was targeted by critics, not the axiomatic ideal of science tout court. In order to substantiate our claims, we rely on information from a corpus of approximately 700 eighteenth-century books on logic and philosophy in German and Latin, processed using a novel method building upon the mixed one (qualitative, quantitative and computational) introduced by Betti et al (2019). In keeping with the latter, we claim that historical-interpretive claims should rely on a corpus which is as large as possible, and employ precisely defined annotation schemes to capture differences and similarities between various conceptions in a way which is as accountable as possible. We supplement the method with a new explicitly defined procedure of book-centered corpus building for historians of philosophy which is as objective and accountable as possible. Our results should be understood as part of a longer-term ambition of making historico-interpretive investigations more scientific, i.e., controlled, explicit, and as objective as possible.
Unknowability: A Historiographical Inquiry
Looking back at the twentieth century, it is possible to recognize a close link between epistemology, philosophy of science and history of science. All three disciplines were concerned, in one way or another, with allegedly essential aspects of scientific knowledge: its formal conditions, its demarcation, and its growth. Alongside this traditional corpus (TC), two other developments took place over the course of the twentieth century, which have been referred to as the so-called ‘historicization of philosophy of science’ (HoPS) and the ‘epistemologization of history of science’ (EoHS). Both showed that the core assumption that drove TC could be questioned: that there are such partially self-explanatory and partially mutually justifying things as ‘science’ and the ‘scientific method’. These developments have recently been combined under the header of historical epistemology (HE), which today is the dominant way of approaching history and philosophy of science, with epicenters in Berlin, Cambridge and Harvard. One of HE’s central merits as compared to TC is that scientific knowledge is studied on par with other kinds of knowledge (indigenous, artisanal, etc.), such that science becomes one specific way of knowing among others. At the same time, what has been rather uncritically accepted so far is the traditional view that positive knowledge, in whatever form, is the only epistemic attitude truly worthy of study.
An attempt to bridge the gap between the burgeoning field of HE and recent work in epistemology, this talk maps out the landscape of negative epistemic attitudes and explores their historiographical potential through examples. The argument will be that not-knowing or unknowability holds a key for an understanding of the historical development of (scientific) knowledge.
Department of Philosophy UvA, Oude Turfmarkt 141 Amsterdam, Faculty room