Forming the historical approach in philosophy of science in the Western and USSR scholarly communities

Igor Kaufman

St. Petersburg State University

In my paper I aim to to study various scholarly approaches, which were developed in the USSR and in the West, to establish historical approaches in philosophy or methodology of science as a specific discipline. My special topic is Western and Soviet attitudes to both the “Classical” approaches to the philosophy of science and to the projects that we tend now to label as the Social Studies of Science broadly conceived. I start with the famous Boris Hessen’s paper on the social and economical roots of Newton's mechanics, read in the Second International Congress of the History of Science (London, 1931) and the Western scholars' reactions and receptions of the conception. Hessen paper was read on the Second International Congress on the History of Science held in London in 1931 , June 29 – July 4. Hessen's paper, being actually a small book in a published form, is the classical form of an exclusively social and economical explanation of a scientific theory in ”grand” terms of social forces and class conflicts. His paper can likewise be understood as a concentrated research program against a “sterile” logicist philosophy of science. The negative reactions of the “western” Congress participants, including such outstanding historians of science as Ch. Singer and R. Westfall, are also well-known. The result of the case of an scholarly and social controversy was rise of the well-known “Internalism vs Externalism” debate in philosophy of science. It's oftenly pointed out that, surprisingly, the “Externalist” versions of the philosophy of science were mainly neglected in Soviet studies and the “Externalist” science studies were rather marginal in USSR. On contrary, the Western philosophers of science developed the vast variety of quite detailed externalist explanations of scientific changes. The prevailing position among the Soviet scholars was the labeling the philosophy and methodology of science as an introduction to the scientific learning (primarily for natural science and mathematics) and research. The «introductory» view on the philosophy of science had been hold until 1970s-1980s and still may be observed in many Russian handbooks and textbooks on the “Philosophy and History of Science”. The Western researchers made significant efforts to supplement and reshape the “introductory” interpretation through constructing the complex and interdisciplinary program for the philosophy of science and than for the Science Studies. The difference between USSR and West clearly reflects in a “textual” side of historical and philosophical science studies – the Western scholars have been producing much more rich and nuanced tradition of translations and editions of both the “Classical” and “Newly discovered” scientific texts and sources, which rarely found its way in Soviet works. The clear example of a certain conservatism (or, better, preferring the single-line explanation) of the Soviet / Russian history and philosophy of science is the debates concerning the explanation of the early modern Scientific Revolution. Here the question to discuss is why did the Soviet researchers apply the quite limited social explanation and prefer the “introductory” view on the philosophy of science? The core point was the institutional, educational and communication issues in promoting the history and philosophy of science in USSR and the West. There were the definite cases of some successful projects in the Soviet history and philosophy of science – the "Institute of the History of Science and Technology" (founded in 1932, active until 1938) was one of first (if not the first) special institutions to promote science studies. The «Archive of the History of Science and Technology» was equally the one of first special journals devoted to the history of science, the post-war «Studies in the History of Mathematics» was the first series (in the yearbook format) for the history of mathematics. The Soviet project for institutional introducing of the history and philosophy of science was threefold – research in the history and philosophy of science must serve as an introduction th the proper science, as a tool for building of new social order, and as a tool for more "rational and controlled management" of the scientific and technical progress. In the first post-war decade the tasks were strongly dominated by state-patriotic claims about Russian priority or originality in many scientific disciplines (the «Studies in the History of Mathematics» included many examples of the claims). In the West it can be compared with receptions and applications of the Merton thesis about the primary influence of Puritanism's specific moral values and the positive view towards economical wealth on the rise of the early modern science. Being provocative to start discussions, the Merton thesis provide no institutional effect. The other cases to compare are George Sarton's project to create the history of science program in the Harvard, Charles Singer's activity to found the BSHS, etc. – in the cases we observe traditional aspiration to acquire historically adequate knowledge about past knowledge combined with program to form or reformulate both disciplinary and institutional space. But the rise of university programs for the history and philosophy of science since 1960es was completely concentrated in the Western universities and nearly ignored in the USSR. Here the question to discuss is why did the Soviet researchers and academic managers miss the Western rise of the HPS and related science studies programs? The hypothesis to explain is that USSR scholarly community of science students didn't come through disciplinary conflicts and revisionist debates that so strongly influenced the European and North American programs of the history and philosophy of science.