Another Visit to Epistemography

Peter Dear

in The One Culture?

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print June 2001 | ISBN: 9780226467221
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226467245 | DOI:
Another Visit to Epistemography

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An observation of David Mermin's provides us with the occasion to clarify a little more the idea of “epistemography.” Mermin writes: “Peter Dear's remark that ‘modern scientific beliefs are in fact irrelevant to an epistemographical account’ can be too limiting when those beliefs can give clues about the objective circumstances of historic events.” There is, among other things, an important point about theory and practice here. As regards the practice of the historian of science, there is no doubt that knowledge of present-day scientific ideas often comes in very handy in wrestling with the (sometimes very alien) beliefs of the past—the more so the more recent the historical episode. That usefulness is, however, fundamentally heuristic. In orienting oneself with respect to a historical episode, it can happen that a more modern idea can cast an otherwise perhaps unexpected light on the material under investigation.

Keywords: epistemography; David Mermin; modern beliefs; scientific beliefs; scientific ideas; historic events

Chapter.  929 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Science

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