History and Philosophy of Science Essay Prize Awarded


The International Union of History and Philosophy of Science and Technology (IUHPST) has announced the winning essay in its History and Philosophy of Science essay contest.

It is  “Negotiating History: Contingency, Canonicity, and Case Studies” by Agnes Bolinska and Joseph D. Martin, both of the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge.

According to a press release from IUHPST, the winning essay

begins with an insightful and systematic typology of the many difficulties faced by the case-study method in the history and philosophy of science. In discussing remedies to these difficulties, Bolinska and Martin focus on the “metaphysical” type of worry: “what if history itself is just inherently unsuited to providing evidential support for philosophical claims?” The core of their response is a consideration of “canonicity”: a case study can be philosophically informative if it is canonical with respect to a particular philosophical aim. A historical case is canonical when its philosophically salient features provide a good causal account of the scientific process in question. And the appreciation of relevant historical contingencies is crucial for the identification of a canonical case. Bolinska and Martin offer an illuminating analysis of the concept of contingency, disambiguating it from the notion of chance and showing how it is crucially implicated in the historical-cum-philosophical explanation of past scientific episodes. Their essay addresses the prize question directly: what can the history of science do for the philosophy of science? Bolinska and Martin offer a subtle and original answer: working through a canonical case helps philosophers reach a clearer understanding of the philosophical issues in question and provide evidence for or against particular epistemological claims about science. The adeptness with which both historical and philosophical concerns are handled in this essay is a clear sign of a productive collaboration between the co-authors across the philosophy/history boundary.

You can see a preprint of the article here.

The contest’s runner-up the essay is “History and Philosophy of Science after the Practice-Turn: From Inherent Tension to Local Integration” by Max W. Dresow of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Minnesota.

This essay

conveys an excellent sense of the history of the methodological debates, demonstrating a firm command of the relevant literature and providing an insightful overall perspective on the problem of history-philosophy interaction. Dresow goes beyond the delightful diagnosis of the problem that he provides, by articulating how history is used in three distinct modes of practice-based philosophy of science: the functional-analytic approach, the integrative history of the recent, and the phylogenetic approach. All three approaches are characterized in a way that is suggestive and instructive for both historians and philosophers. An important general message emerges from Dresow’s discussion: the history-philosophy relation looks inherently problematic only if we are trying to discern an overall relationship at the level of whole disciplines; these worries largely dissipate when we consider how historical sources and facts are used “locally” in pursuit of specific philosophical aims.

Dr. Bolinska and Dr. Martin will receive their prize and present the content of their essay in a special session at the 16th International Congress of Logic, Methodology and Philosophy of Science and Technology (CLMPST) in Prague this August. Mr. Dresow will also be invited to present his work in the same session.

Agnes Bolinska, Joseph Martin, and Max Dresow

(Via Isaac Record)

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