Integrating History and Philosophy of Science: Problems and Prospects

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One reason is that generalizations about how the scientific enterprise operates would be empty without concrete examples. Such episodes certainly include Galileo's role in changing our perception of our place in the universe'. They recognise the centrality of philosophical and historical knowledge in the teaching of science, maintaining for instance that students should learn how:. Technology and science are closely related. A single problem has both scientific and technological aspects NRC , p. These aspirations for science classrooms cannot be achieved without teachers who care about HPS and have some competence in it.

A position paper of the US Association for the Education of Teachers in Science, the professional association of those who prepare science teachers, has recognised this in its own recommendation that:. Standard 1d : The beginning science teacher educator should possess levels of understanding of the philosophy, sociology, and history of science exceeding that specified in the [US] reform documents. Lederman et al. Copernicus and Galileo and the Solar System ;. As well as curricula and pedagogy, the field of science education research clearly manifests this engagement of HPS with science teaching.

The projected downloads for are 70, Particularly in contemporary philosophy of science, there is a manifest tendency to refer to examples and concepts from art to illustrate or support arguments concerning scientific representation. One of them relates to the emergence of studies of models in contemporary philosophy of science.

The shift towards the study of models, moving away from the idea that scientific theories were the most fundamental units of science, began in the s and gained momentum in the s and s. Philosophers of science usually agree that, despite the great variety of models there are — material, graphical, mathematical — something they have in common is that they are not linguistic entities, at least not in the same way scientific theories were taken to be in the syntactic view. Thus, by emphasizing the non-linguistic character of models, commonalities with artistic products such as paintings, photographs or sculptures emerged.

Moreover, these commonalities became particularly useful when philosophers of science investigated the nature of particular manifestations of models such as scientific images, diagrams, scale models or computer simulations. Another motivation for the reference to pictorial arts in accounts of scientific representation seems to be the more general acknowledgment of the limitations that philosophy of science has when addressing particularly complex problems like representation. Recognizing the strengths of other traditions of thought in dealing with analogous problems can be taken as an act of academic humility, linked to a positive view of what interdisciplinary work can do for contemporary research.

However, the potential benefits of integrating aesthetics and philosophy of science to address the problem of representation are diminished when references to art in this literature happen to be too contingent, sporadic or even misleading. Connections between science and art are occasionally advocated, but without openly questioning how they are justified in epistemological terms and what the gain of doing so is. In this paper, I will mainly discuss how philosophers of science incorporate examples and concepts from pictorial arts, and will not specifically refer to the use of literary fiction to address the problem of scientific representation.

How do photographs stand for particular targets in the world? What is the role of similarity in depiction? That tradition has to be carefully and systematically considered if the aim is to establish fruitful links with debates on scientific representation. One of the goals of this paper is to show some problematic consequences of not taking explicitly into consideration important methodological issues concerning how and to what purpose elements from art are incorporated into the debate of scientific representation.

The other goal is to vindicate the potential epistemological benefit of bringing aesthetics and philosophy of science together, once the previous methodological issues are adequately considered. In section 2 of the paper, I identify three different ways of incorporating elements from art into contemporary debates of scientific representation and point out some of the limitations they respectively present. In section 3, I present some methodological reflections about the integration of philosophy of science and aesthetics, and interdisciplinary work more broadly.

The Past, Present, and Future of Integrated History and Philosophy of Science - CRC Press Book

Three constraints on the relation between scientific and artistic representation It is possible to observe philosophers of science including elements from art in their accounts of scientific representation in at least three different ways. Each of these ways can help bring into light important commonalities between scientific and artistic products, but can also convey some methodological difficulties.

The first one is the use of artworks to illustrate certain features of scientific representations. The difficulty in this case can arise when there is no explicit consideration to the aesthetical and historical background in which those artworks were produced. The second one is the use of concepts from theories of modern art to make claims about representation in science.

The difficulty here appears when the original meaning of those concepts is partially misleading. In this case, the potential of the strategy can be substantially diminished if there is not enough consideration of the underlying worries that philosophers in each field have. The first situation refers to the occasional allusion to particular artworks to highlight or uncover a feature of scientific representations.

How is it plausible that Guernica strengthens each of these accounts of representation? Following Ambrosio , we should probably admit that none of these accounts does complete justice to the representational relations governing Guernica. References to the painting appear rather in isolation in these works, maybe accompanied by some historical information around the piece, but not taking into consideration some of its defining aspects. Among those aspects, we should include the material decisions made by Picasso during the creation of the work, the specific place of the painting in the history of art for instance, how it follows the principles of Cubism and how Cubism fits in the panorama of the Avant-gardes and central aesthetic issues related to the piece more or less directly, such as what abstraction meant for traditional styles of depiction.

The status of a painting as an artwork and, more importantly here, as a representational vehicle cannot be accurately discussed without considering these central aspects. Fortunately, in the case of Guernica, the painting is well documented and has been extensively studied by historians of art see Arnheim, ; Chipp, ; Oppler, Ambrosio specifically suggests that a closer inspection of the process culminating in the final version of Guernica — through its over 40 preparatory sketches — can reveal a different and far more interesting story about the practices of representing that underpin it Ambrosio, And it is in the pictorial arts where he finds particularly suitable examples to argue against these approaches.

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For instance, he shows that there are probably some figurative elements in Guernica that look like, or are similar to, certain things in the world, such as a weeping woman, a bull or a horse, that we would recognize in the composition. Even if the former analysis is undeniably correct, I argue that it is only a small part of the story that explains the representational relations governing Guernica. A more complete story would have not permitted the claim that similarity is not necessary for representation without further characterization of how, nevertheless, similarities of appearance are present and play a role in pictorial representations like this one.

And this more complete story can only be given by taking into consideration the preparatory sketches of the painting and the aesthetic discussions surrounding its creation and reception, instead of only the piece as an analysable final product. Thanks to the historical record of successive sketches, we know that the aim of the painting was not realistic or figurative representation, as, for instance, Picasso decided to transform a quite realistic drawing of a horse in an early sketch into a more geometricized and abstract version of it Ambrosio, At the same time — and this is the key — we also observe that an important means of the continual practice of depicting was the search for relevant similarities that allow the composition to access its more intangible target: the rise of fascism as well as a universal statement against war.

This is why the painting progressively gains in pictorial details of some of its components. The mouths and the eyes of the characters in the scene the woman, the horse, the bull became more figurative and detailed in later sketches, resembling the expressions of people in great pain Ambrosio, — In short, using cases from pictorial arts in an argument about the general conditions for scientific representation might not be in every case as effective as it might initially have seemed. Introducing an artwork as example, especially if we consider the story of the practices that culminate in it, could result in the challenge of some of the general claims at stake instead of in their plain validation.

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In this case, paying attention to the different components of Guernica might have the effect of triggering new questions about the relations between the means and the constituents of a representation, or about the goals that define the means used in practice. The second way of introducing elements from art in the debate on scientific representation refers to the appropriation of concepts from art to make claims about representation in science.

As part of the volume Beyond Mimesis and Convention. There he uses terminology originating from theories of modern art and also incorporates examples from abstract and performance arts including Guernica [ 45] as heuristic tools to argue for an approximate truth conception of representation. This implies that there is a correspondence between realistic styles, depiction in art and truth in science. Since Chakravartty sees these notions as degrees in a spectrum, the closer to realistic styles we are, the closer to perfect depiction and truth, and the further from non-realistic styles, denotation and reference.

But why assimilate degrees of depiction in art with approximation to truth in science? That would only make complete sense if the main goal of art was perfect depiction, since Chakravartty assumes that truth is the main goal of science. But this is clearly not the case for art. Otherwise, any pictorial style that is intentionally departing from figurative modes of depiction has to be understood as a failure in principle.

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Even if we accept that approximating truth is the goal of science, having a look to the history of modern arts shows that perfect depiction is not the goal of art. That being said, it is hard to believe that Chakravartty is trying to claim exactly that about depiction, although the analogy invites us to think in this direction. Even in these terms, the analogy that results is ambiguous. For Chakravartty, the greater the number of relevant properties of a target system a representation describes regardless of abstractions and the more accurately it describes them regardless of idealizations , the closer to truth that representation is If this is right, idealizations and abstractions are understood as limiting or constraining aspects of representations that should be corrected or improved upon to approximate truth in science.

This claim has had several detractors in contemporary philosophy of science see Elgin, ; Elliott-Graves and Weisberg, It seems that the analogy with art Chakravartty uses could be supporting the opposite view to the one he is defending: the parallel with art reinforces the idea that abstractions and idealizations can be responsible for the success of representations, instead of being elements that need to be improved upon to reach higher levels of approximation to truth. Guernica would not be an improved representation of its target by pictorially describing more properties of its target, nor by figuratively yielding more information about those specific properties.

Integrating History and Philosophy of Science

Languages of Art is probably the work in aesthetics most quoted by contemporary philosophers of science working on the topic of representation. It is mostly cited for its logical argument against similarity3, while other important contributions in it, such as those concerning the common aims of science and art, are frequently overlooked. Chakravartty does bring some of these matters to the fore of the debate, but it is open to question whether the concept of approximate truth that he ascribes to Goodman is actually equivalent to the one he is defending.

However, Goodman made quite clear that truth was neither the ultimate goal of art nor of science and that this was a crucial commonality between the two domains. We have to exercise our judgment not on grounds of truth but on the basis of the simplicity or strength of the hypotheses we have.


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In a quite different spirit, the concept of approximate truth that Chakravartty proposes is an objective one that can be measured on grounds of the number of properties that a representation shares with its target and the degree of accuracy of those shared properties Chakravartty, A third possible way of introducing elements from art in the debate on scientific representation is the combination of specific philosophical accounts in aesthetics and philosophy of science. The explanatory potential this strategy has can be reduced if the different underlying concerns that philosophers in each of the fields have are not explicitly considered.

In doing so, French is engaging with an account in contemporary aesthetics that in principle embraces a very similar challenge to his own: explaining representation in virtue of a relation of structural similarity or isomorphism. And an adequate answer to this question, he argues, could be given in terms of an isomorphism relation between the target and the source of a representation French, In other words, isomorphism is a good candidate to be a necessary — and even sufficient — condition for representation.

Greenberg points out different ways in which these two different questions about representation have been phrased in contemporary aesthetics. Consequently, the first key difference between the two accounts is that Budd is concerned with pictorial content while French is trying to define conditions for representation. Even in that case, the notions of isomorphism they are invoking are originated in different frameworks and respond to dissimilar opponent views in their fields. In contemporary debates in aesthetics, more refined resemblance theories of depiction can be divided up according to two general conceptions, one that assumes that the similarity in question is real, and the other one that assumes that it is merely experienced see Greenberg, 47n; Abell, Particularly for Budd, experiences of resemblance occur between the design of a picture and the visual field of the viewer Budd, And in the subjective accounts our experiences of pictures are experiences of resemblances between designs and the visual field representations of the depicted scenes Lopes, 20; and Lopes, The role of the subjects in this equation is limited to the identification of the existing shared structures, and to fill in, if possible, the partial elements of the mapping, for instance, the relationships that have not yet been established to hold French, That is, the partial sharing of structures of a vehicle and a target is all that is needed to have a representation.

Subjective similarity accounts postulate inner pictures with properties of the visual experience that they aim to explain. So these accounts fail to pass the independence challenge the challenge of explaining how we experience pictures as like their subjects independently of knowledge of what they depict Downes, ; following Lopes, I believe we do not need to accept 7French tries to highlight divergences between scientific and artistic representations at this point. In the example of the Lorentz transformations, French only needs isomorphism to claim that the marks in the sand represent the natural phenomenon, while in a supposed case of marks looking like a face, he would not say that they represent a face unless there is also a clear intention causing it French, Then, it is not completely clear why French decides to refer to this account in aesthetics in his argument once he recognizes significant difference between representation in art and science.