The Discipline of History and the History of Disciplines: “The Left Vienna Circle” Scholarship and Disciplinary History

Alan Richardson

University of British Columbia

Abstract: 
Sarah Richardson (2009a, 2009b) offered both historical counter-evidence to and historiographical criticism of what she terms “Left Vienna Circle scholarship” (henceforth, LVCS), which she associates with the work of Don Howard, Thomas Uebel, and Alan Richardson. Uebel (2010) rebutted much of the historical case, but left the historiographical issues largely untouched. Speaking from the magisterial perspective of the trained professional historian, S. Richardson finds LVCS to be typical amateur disciplinary history as done by practitioners and, specifically, that LVCS scholarship offers a longer-term view of “political philosophy of science” in order further to marginalize feminist voices in philosophy of science: good old-fashioned logical empiricists had a political philosophy of science and, thus, feminist philosophy of science has not introduced any new elements into the field. This paper offers a different view of LVCS from that found in S Richardson. Far from marginalizing feminist philosophy of science, LVCS, to the limited degree to which it has found any uptake within philosophy of science more generally, offers a powerful counter-argument to those who wish to say that in either revealing a political element of science or in insisting on a political element in philosophy of science, feminist philosophers of science are introducing something new and in principle false or idiosyncratic into a well-established and politically neutral field. While agreeing with S. Richardson that HOPOS scholarship has much to learn from the work of professional historians, especially historians of science, the paper argues that S. Richardson’s mobilization of the discourse of “disciplinary history” is itself a discourse of marginalization, effectively insulating the work of professional historians from genuine insights in the HOPOS literature. This can be seen in, for example, her own importation of the language of “analytic” philosophy into the LVCS she discusses, when precisely the assimilation of the history of philosophy of science into the history of analytic philosophy is one thing resisted by LVCS itself. We need a better argument than found in S. Richardson that professional historians are better able than are philosophers to understand the relations of logical empiricist and feminist philosophy of science.