The reconstruction of episodes in the history of science is always informed – whether explicitly or not – by philosophical positions about the character of science. But what happens when different philosophical positions lead to different historical narratives? How do we assess competing accounts of the same historical case study?
The problem looms large for many major and minor questions in the history of science: Why did Darwin discuss natural selection first and common descent second in On the Origin of Species? Philosophical positions about confirmation and explanation shape the answers given by different authors. How did Mitchell develop his pathbreaking chemiosmotic theory of ATP synthesis in mitochondria? Both a tacit commitment to the ancient philosopher Heraclitus and a combinatorial approach to previous biochemical theories have been suggested as possible answers. Why did it take Einstein several years to find the correct relativistic field equations of gravitation, even though he was contemplating the correct mathematical expressions very early in his search? Competing positions concerning heuristics and mathematical representation have led to different accounts of the genesis of the theory of general relativity. When it comes to Planck’s introduction of discrete energy quanta, the dispute turns on an issue of theory dynamics: How and when exactly are new concepts introduced into a theory, and in what sense if at all does this constitute a discontinuity? As a final example, how did Semmelweis demonstrate the effectiveness of antiseptic procedures for the prevention of childbed fever? Whether the answer is “inference to the best explanation” or “causal inference” may not be uniquely determined by historical facts alone.
Our workshop will bring together historians and philosophers of the physical and the life sciences to pursue two broad goals: First, to improve our understanding of this type of challenge for an integrated history and philosophy of science; and, second, to develop a framework for meeting the challenge.