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The Normative Turn: Counterfactuals and a Philosophical Historiography of Science
Vol. 99, No. 3 (September 2008), pp. 576-584
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/591716
Page Count: 9
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ABSTRACT Counterfactual reasoning is broadly implicated in causal claims made by historians. However, this point is more generally recognized and accepted by economic historians than historians of science. A good site for examining alternative appeals to counterfactuals is to consider “what if” the Scientific Revolution had not occurred in seventeenth-century Europe. Two alternative interpretations are analyzed: that the revolution would eventually have happened somewhere else (“overdeterminism”) or that the revolution would not have happened at all (“underdeterminism”). Broadly speaking, these two interpretations correspond to the respective attitudes of philosophers and historians to the development of science. However, a case is presented for synthesizing the two interpretations into a normative historiography of science that would allow past and present concerns to interrogate each other. This exercise in counterfactual reasoning can be imagined in the spirit of a time traveler who aims to persuade, rather than simply understand, the natives he or she encounters.
© 2008 by The History of Science Society. All rights reserved.