Arts and Sciences, Historicizing Boundaries. 7th International Workshop on Historical Epistemology (Ca’ Foscari, 9-10 June)

Arts and Sciences, Historicizing Boundaries
7th International Workshop on Historical Epistemology

Thursday 9- Friday 10 June

Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia (Aula Baratto – Dorsoduro 3246 – 30123 VE – Second floor)


Registration is mandatory


Further information:

Thursday JUNE 9, 2022

10:30 Welcome & Introduction Marco Sgarbi, Ca’ Foscari

Chair Roberta Dreon, Ca’ Foscari

Polemics and epistemes: symbiontics in contemporary bio-arts

Chair Eleonora Montuschi, Ca’ Foscari

14:00 Francesco Nappo, Politecnico di Milano
How Maxwell discovered the Maxwell equations

14:40 Stefano Furlan, MPIWG Berlin/Université de Genève
The smile of mnemosyne: John Wheeler between history of science and arts

15:20 Ladislav Kvasz, Institute of philosophy of the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague
On epistemological reconstruction of the development of the concept of space in geometry and in painting

Cultural politics of historical epistemology

17:20 PETER GALISON, Harvard University
Wastewilderness: nuclear lands

Friday JUNE 10, 2022

Chair Matteo Vagelli, Ca’ Foscari/Harvard University

9:30 Gwenda-lin Grewal, New School for Social Research
Fashion and academic divisiveness

10:10 Maria Teresa Costa, MPIWG Berlin
A transcultural history of art history from the 19th century and beyond. Art and science in a dialogue

11:20 Lucie Fabry, AMU/CGGG
Is there a science of interpretation? Sociology of art and epistemology of social sciences in the work of Jean-Claude Passeron

Chair Caroline Angleraux, Labex Who am I?/IHPST

14:00 Matteo Vagelli, Ca’ Foscari/Harvard University
Theories of “scientific styles” across the arts/sciences divide

14:40 Daniel Rodriguez-Navas, New School for Social Research
Art and science, method and style: the function of the concept of style in French historical epistemology

15:20 Rémi Mermet, Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne
Between art and science: Ernst Cassirer’s concept of style

16:20 Agnese Ghezzi, IMT School for Advanced Studies Lucca
The entangled histories of anthropology and photography, between art and science

17:00 ELENA CANADELLI, Università degli Studi di Padova
Art, science, and nature: museums as entangled spaces

This workshop is organized by:

Épistémologie Historique. Research Network on the History and the Methods of Historical Epistemology

With the support of

Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, Department of Philosophy and Cultural Heritage;
European Commission (This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 101030646, “EPISTYLE”);
IHPST (UMR 8590, Paris 1/CNRS);
Centre Gilles Gaston Granger (UMR 7304);

Center for Renaissance and Early Modern Thought (CREMT).

Organizing committee

Matteo Vagelli (Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia/Harvard University);
Caroline Angleraux (Labex Who Am I?/IHPST);
Lucie Fabry (Aix Marseille Université, Centre Gilles-Gaston Granger);
Iván Moya-Diez (Universidad Alberto Hurtado);
Thomas Embleton (IHPST).


Art, Science, and Nature: Museums as Entangled Spaces

Elena Canadelli, Università degli Studi di Padova

Natural history museums and science and technology museums are currently facing many challenges in terms of change of narratives and curatorial trends. Today, many Western scientific museums are wondering how to cope with their history and their historical collections, and how to rethink their identities and exhibitions, which are deeply rooted in the nineteenth-century ideas of science, nature, civilization, progress, production, and development–whether we like it or not. Exhibiting scientific objects traditionally means adopting a specific narrative and selection of artefacts not only in connection to scientific theories and ideas, but also to political or ideological agendas. This talk will show how complex and entangled are the narratives behind the public display of natural history and scientific artefacts in museums during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, selecting some European cases as relevant examples. Today, one of the ways in which scientific museums are changing their narratives is the introduction of contemporary art in their research projects and strategies of engaging different kinds of audiences. Thus, many contemporary artists are developing projects in collaboration with scientific museums worldwide, from the National Museum of Science and Technology Leonardo da Vinci in Milan to the Natural History Museum in Berlin. This presentation will explore this general topic, on the one hand addressing examples of recent collaborations between artists and scientific museums, and on the other hand focusing on some relevant moments of this collaboration in the history of this seminal Western institution.

A Transcultural History of Art History from the 19th Century and beyond. Art and Science in a Dialogue

Maria Teresa Costa, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (Berlin)

As art history emerged as scientific discipline in the second half of the 19th century, first in the German speaking context and then in other countries, two opposite tendencies were developing. On one side the connoisseurship, approaching the work of art in its singularity and studying its material and technical aspects with an attributionist aim, and following an evolutionary idea of art history. On the other side, different approaches were unified by the analysis of the work of art within its broader cultural context, in reconstructing its social, cultural and political dimensions, in the dialogue with other disciplines. Both groups wanted to legitimate their methodologies on a “scientific” basis, the first grounded on the direct observation of the work of art, the latter developing a series of general concepts (Grundbegriffe), valid for interpreting works coming from different cultural contexts. This second tendency, born in German speaking countries as “Kunstwissenschaft”, and later translated in France as “science de l’art”, emerged in taking distance exactly from the direct study of techniques and material aspects, working on a more abstract level and aiming to pinpoint affinities and similarities between artifacts. Alois Riegl’s Kunstwollen, Heinrich Wölfflin’s Formgefühl, Aby Warburg’s Pathosformel and Henri Focillon’s Vie des formes are only a few examples. In this paper, I want to discuss this methodological gap between different approaches to art history in the epoch in which it was more intensively aiming to build its disciplinary identity, and to follow its development in the actual art historical practice.

Is there a science of interpretation? Sociology of art and epistemology of social sciences in the work of Jean-Claude Passeron

Lucie Fabry, Aix-Marseille Université/Centre Gilles Gaston Granger

In Sociological reasoning (1st ed. 1991), Jean-Claude Passeron brings together chapters on the epistemology of the social sciences and chapters on the sociology of art and culture. I will question the relationships between these two dimensions of his work, going beyond the observation that Passeron is a sociologist with an interest in the epistemology of his discipline. I will show that these two dimensions of his work have in common that they grant a central role to the notion of interpretation: Passeron claims, in his epistemological work, that the social sciences are interpretative sciences, and his sociology analyses the interpretations of works of art. By comparing what Passeron writes, as a sociologist, on aesthetic interpretations as social practices, and what he writes, as an epistemologist, on interpretations as scientific practices, I will question of the relation between art and science, but also between epistemology and sociology of science. I will wonder, in particular, whether Passeron defines demarcation criteria between scientific and non-scientific interpretations, and in what sense these scientific norms may differ from the social norms of interpretation.

The Smile of Mnemosyne: John Wheeler between History of Science and Arts

Stefano Furlan, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (Berlin)

John A. Wheeler (1911-2008) is a leading figure of 20th-century physics, well-known even to a larger public for his evocative expressions such as “black hole” or “it from bit”. Much less-known – actually, almost entirely unexplored – is his active engagement with the arts and their history, as well as with the history of science. This paper intends to offer some insights on Wheeler’s related activities from the 1950s to the early 1960s. A first aspect concerns his reflections on a meta-level, viz. how he conceived his own physical researches within a historical dimension, what uses of the past he resorted to, which features had to be emphasized in the large historical projects he was starting to plan and organize (such as the famous “Sources for History of Quantum Physics”, then led by T. Kuhn, J.Heilbron and others). Interestingly enough, Wheeler was inspired by interviews that he happened to read in some art journals, where e.g. young writers were interviewing distinguished colleagues about their creative processes. Likewise, Wheeler intended to preserve the legacy of the founders of 20th-century physics not just by gathering documents or “factual” pieces of information, but having competent people interviewing them and trying to shed light on their heuristic strategies, inspirations, and so on. This methodological analogy clearly aimed at offering a different picture of physics and of its actors, a task particularly urgent after the recent appearance of an ambivalence towards its role in creating the terrifying weapons that appeared at the end of World War II. However, that was not simply a captivating move: in Wheeler’s mind it synergistically interacted with his very peculiar way (at least among recent physicists) of looking at the past. Far from considering history as obsolete material for dusty archives, Wheeler always tried to look for inspiration from past ideas or theories, either by analogy or by identifying some untapped potential still waiting to be disclosed. If, to outsiders, this may sound as a noble but impractical attitude in science, it is worth underlining that it was such an operation that led Wheeler to dust off first (early 1950s-early 1970s) Einstein’s legacy, and later Bohr’s. His renewed meditations on the work of his two great mentors did bear fruit: what nowadays appears as Wheeler’s most “futuristic” or “visionary” proposals, black holes and quantum information as a basis for everything, started as a fully aware, even methodological operation of polishing and disclosing the potentialities of past ideas. He had a similar attitude also when it came to pictures, that he largely employed both in his heuristics (as a visual thinker) and in the popularization of his researches. In this sense, he developed a quasi-Warburgian conception of pictures and of their powers, which saw him re-exhuming and re-functionalizing diagrams or illustrations from previous centuries. All these aspects can be seen in action, also thanks to the working notes that Wheeler dutifully kept for posterity and for future “historical epistemologists”, in the long, complex path that led him to become the godfather of black holes.

Wastewilderness: Nuclear Lands 

Peter Galison, Harvard University

As they are usually understood, the designations “nuclear wasteland” and “pure wilderness” are opposites poles.  When the two kinds of lands converge into nature reserves on the sites of decommissioned nuclear weapons lands, storage facilities, or accident sites, we often describe this circumstance as “paradoxical” or “ironic.”  Taking stock of plans to manage lands (and build monuments to warn the very distant future), I argue that the categories of wastelands and wilderness are far from antipodes; that their relation is more intriguing (and disturbing) than a binary of purity against corruption or civilization against chaos.  Indeed, the most radioactive site in the U.S. weapons complex is also, astonishingly, one of the most bio-diverse in North America, with similar developments across the world.  Removing parts of the earth in perpetuity —for reasons of sanctification or despoilment–alters a central feature of the human self, presenting us in a different relation to the physical world, and raising irreducible ethical questions about who we are when land can be classified, forever, as not for us humans.  Confronting such territories sets us where historical epistemology crosses with the ethics of how we cultivate our relation with the self, others, and the non-human, now and for the long term.

The entangled histories of anthropology and photography, between art and science

Agnese Ghezzi, IMT School for Advanced Studies Lucca

The history of anthropology offers an interesting vantage point to analyse the connections as well as the demarcations between the “two cultures”. Looking at the institutionalisation of the anthropological discipline in Italy during the second half of the nineteenth century, the paper aims to analyse the different scholarly discourses around what anthropology should be. Such arguments moved primarily on the divide between a cultural and scientific orientation of the discipline’s object and methodology (Pogliano 1993, Stocking 1996).
The formation of anthropology happened in a phase of delineation of the natural and the human sciences and the new community of anthropologists  – made of “zoologists and travellers, paleethnologists and physicians, psychiatrists and physiologists, philologists and historians” (Mantegazza 1901) – entered into that crack and developed within it. While some scholars saw anthropology as a “natural history of man” and promoted the application of a rigid scientific method, others privileged the attention to historical, cultural, or psychological data. I will, therefore, analyse how the new community mediated between these two poles, looking at the intersection with other disciplines and especially at the contact with ideas of art and science.
Firmly rooted in medical knowledge, anthropology was moving on the line between what Ginzburg called an anatomical/naturalist model and a conjectural/semiotic model (Ginzburg 1980). On the one hand, anthropologists desired a highly disciplined representation of human varieties and tried to build a ‘human atlas’ where the biological features resulted isolated and comparable. On the other, they looked for a less staged and more lively description, not focused on bodily features but on attitudes, traditions and habits, with the attempt to build a system of “comparative psychology” (Mantegazza, Giglioli and Letourneau 1873).
I will particularly analyse the methods that were proposed in regards to observation and visualisation, that emerged as crucial practices to address (Daston and Lunbeck 2011, Edwards 2016). Photography was soon promoted as a fundamental ally in the classification of human groups and handbooks referenced to the correct employ of such visual technique (Puccini 1998). Next to the need for a “scientific photography” that follows the anthropometric standard – in line with the paradigm of ‘mechanical objectivity’ (Daston and Galison 1992, 2007) – there was the need for an “artistic photography” able to capture the attitude and the character of the portrayed subjects (Zannetti and Giglioli 1874).
Therefore, the paper crosses the 19th-century debate on the definition of photography as a technique at the intersection between art and science with the discourses around anthropology as a discipline in between the humanistic and the scientific domain. It will consider how fin-de-siecle Italian anthropology invoked both artistic and scientific concepts and it will explore if and how photography shaped and influenced the method of the discipline itself and, vice versa, how that branch of knowledge regulated and systematised the use of photography (Caraffa et al. 2019). Looking inward to how the tools made the discipline, this paper identifies the various discourses associated with photography, exploring the influence visual materials exerted on scientific theory.

Fashion and Academic Divisiveness

Gwen Grewal, The New School for Social Research

“Fashion” seems to be neither an art nor a science. At its most narrow, it might be argued to belong to the third culture of the “social sciences”; at its broadest, it might be cast as equivalent to the mode or style in which every art, science, or social science must participate by default. Yet the scorn fashion receives from the so-called arts and the indifference it receives from the so-called sciences suggest an interesting critique of their division.
In Anachronic Renaissance, Christopher Wood and Alexander Nagel have argued that the arrival of art history in the late medieval or early Renaissance period is simultaneous to the inclusion of fashion in art. During that period, a secular vision of art appears in which fashion is integral, for fashion seems to rear its head alongside a cultural awareness of time and in contrast to timeless iconography. Nagel and Wood’s view is one shared by fashion historians and philosophers alike. For example, in her recent book Social Appearances, Barbara Carnevali attributes fashion’s modernity to the expression of “individuality and originality” in clothing; while in Seeing Through Clothes, Anne Hollander distinguishes fashionable modernity from its fashionless past by the presence of “significant distortion and creative tailoring.”
I offer two points of criticism to these views: 1) Fashion is not modern. It may be as ancient as that old quarrel Plato speaks of in the Republic between philosophy and poetry—a quarrel that could easily be extended to the 20th century division between hard and soft intellectual modes. 2) Attributing any beginning to fashion is as impossible as positing a beginning for thinking. Yet the advantage to historicizing fashion may be summarized thus:  if there were to be a time before we wore time’s baggage on our persons—a time when our being in the world was stripped or at least unaware of its mode—we might be able to imagine a future in which epistemology could be, uncluttered by individual flair.
Fashion’s association with fluffy femininity is the specter of the perception of the “arts” in its most ill-starred form, and the widening gap between the arts and the sciences is traceable to that same longing to expiate ourselves of fashion’s influence. But, as Rousseau remarks in the First Discourse, the arts and sciences both amp up their specialized jargon to conceal ignorance; this enervates big questions in favor of small distinctions. The divisions in academia, ever finer, ever more querulous, display an “achievement” whose price is a removal from the indivisible world that inspired its inquiry. Within itself it becomes further removed from itself. Rousseau seems to have anticipated the lack of communication between literary intellectuals and scientists that C.P. Snow described. Travel between the two cultures becomes impossible, when the question of mode—of fashion—has been forgotten. The sidelining of fashion, understood both as a “lesser art” that deals with clothing and as way or manner, is not only a symptom of the division between the arts and sciences, but also an unsuspected route through which one might assess its current appearance.

Polemics and Epistemes:Symbiontics in Contemporary Bio-Arts

Caroline A. Jones, MIT

Can polemics shift epistemes? The artworld operates on this utopian premise. A century of symbiosis theory has quietly or explicitly challenged “Darwin’s bulldogs” and neo-Darwinism. Yet scientists working today on symbiosis in life systems still operate culturally within an episteme of Darwinian evolutionary theory and domestication metaphors: “harnessing” metabolisms by “cheaters” or “altruists,” the parasite and its host. Artists are crafting a frontal attack on the Darwinian episteme, informing an urgent polemic I dub “Symbiontics.”  This presentation will explore the collaborations between artists and science (if not scientists) that allow us to explore this portmanteau, which takes technical philosophy’s term “ontic” and adds it to symbiosis to support the claim that symbiosis is that-which-is. Indebted to the wordplay of biologists themselves (Ivan Wallin, Scott Gilbert) and cultural theorists (Beth Demster, Donna Haraway) “symbiontics” plies its craft literally in artworks that sprout mycelial blooms, plasmodium patterns, or HeLa cell patterns. The endosymbiotic and serial endosymbiosis theories of evolution that biologist Lynn Margulis put forward in the late ‘60s are now gaining impact in the shifting cultural frame of the contemporary art world. Their uptake by the visual arts will be discussed via a range of contemporary art works that attempt to sense the message of evolution: all creatures live on a microbial planet and do best when they proliferate genomic flexibility and welcome symbiotic partners. Survival favors the most interdependent.
As curator of the forthcoming exhibition Symbionts, I will argue that a new demographic of contemporary artists questions the “code dominance” of 2000.  Two decades into the new millennium, we might be able to resonate with the fact that our cells are cooperative amalgams of aerobic single-celled organisms merging into other archaeobacteria, that multicellular bodies carry around a swarm of bacteria that chemically modulate our moods, digest our food, and provide a constant stream of information to our immune system. Building on Margulis’s hunch that our sensory cells themselves derive from ancient partnerships formed with spirochetic bacteria, I ask after the (un)conscious wriggling chemical and electromagnetic sensitivities that give us our haptic, auditory, olfactory, and retinal access to the world — a strange universe of epistemic possibilities that entails using our equally strange tools of art (Noë) and entanglements (Barad) to open ourselves to the resonant frequencies of ancient collaborators within. I argue for a polemical shift in a dominant scientific episteme, following art toward a being-with our symbionts, calling upon viscera to confirm our interspecies dependence.

On Epistemological Reconstruction of the Development of the Concept of Space in Geometry and in Painting

Ladislav Kvasz, Institute of philosophy of the Czech Academy of Sciences (Prague)

In Ancient Greek mathematics we cannot find any systematic study of the concept of space. If we take Euclid, Archimedes or Apollonius, we see them study different geometrical objects, but never any study of space. It seems, that the notion of space entered mathematics after Renaissance from painting. After space was reified in geometry (i.e. turned into an object of study) by Desargues, an interesting and intricate development of the notion of space started. In my book Patterns of Change (Kvasz 2008, pp. 111 – 159) I proposed an epistemological reconstruction of the development of the notion of space in geometry using Wittgenstein´s picture theory of meaning.

The main idea of this approach is to apply Wittgenstein´s picture theory of meaning to pictures contained in groundbreaking text on geometry. It turns out, that the most natural way to reconstruct the development of geometric space from an epistemological point of view is to reconstruct it as the development of the pictorial form of the particular mathematical texts. According to Wittgenstein the pictorial form is the way how aspects of a (linguistic) representation are related to the world they represent. It is possible to discriminate several pictorial forms, i.e. different ways of how geometers organize the systems of lines, that constitute their pictures, into a geometric representation. It turns out, that the main breakthroughs in the development of geometry were accompanied with changes of the pictorial form.

Maybe even more interesting feature of the present approach is, that very similar innovations, than those used by Desargues, Lobachevski, Klein or Poincaré in geometry, were used by painters like Albrecht Dürer, Andrea Pozzo, Diego Velázquez, Claude Monet, Paul Cézanne or George Braque. In the paper I will introduce the concept of pictorial form of a representation, distinguish four different pictorial forms in the history of geometry and show paintings which use analogous pictorial forms.

This shows, that at least in the area of visual representation the boundaries between geometry and painting are blurred. The analysis indicates, that there is a fundamental level of understanding our spatial experience, that unites science with art.


Kvasz, Ladislav: Patterns of Change. Linguistic Innovations in the Development of Classical Mathematics. Birkhäuser, Basel 2008.

Between Art and Science: Ernst Cassirer’s Concept of Style

Remi Mermet, Centre d’histoire des philosophies modernes de la Sorbonne

In the Logic of the Cultural Sciences (1942), German philosopher and epistemologist Ernst Cassirer (1874-1945) used the concept of style (Stilbegriff) to legitimize the scientific nature of art history and, more generally, of the human sciences, but also to distinguish them (after Wilhelm Dilthey and Heinrich Rickert) from the natural sciences. According to him, style is indeed a formal or structural concept that prevents the Kunst- or Kulturwissenschaftler from falling into the triple pitfall of naturalism, historicism and psychologism, thus allowing them to develop a methodology that is irreducible to causality, i.e. to the methodology that is typical of the sciences of nature.

Yet, 20 years earlier, in “The Concept of Symbolic Form in the Construction of the Human Sciences” (1923), Cassirer had already borrowed Goethe’s concept of style to describe not the cultural sciences, but the natural sciences of his time, and more particularly Albert Einstein’s physics, which, he admitted, is not exclusively causal in nature, since it also uses formal or structural categories. In so doing, Cassirer did not seek to blur the differences between the sciences of nature and the sciences of culture. Rather, he tried to demonstrate that, if there indeed is a “science of art” (Kunstwissenschaft) that can produce some knowledge about artistic phenomena, there also exists what could be called an “art of science”, in that, as Goethe himself suggested, science as a whole is a symbolic process through which humanity shapes (and not simply imitates or explains a pre-given) reality.

This exemplarity of art for science raises the question of the very nature of the concept of style in Ernst Cassirer’s philosophy. Is it only meant to be an epistemological concept used to characterize a certain mode of scientific practice? Or is it meant to define, in a more profound way, symbolism as such? Drawing upon the Metaphysics of Symbolic Forms, I will show that for Cassirer, style is neither an “alter ego” of the symbolic form (Naumann), nor a conceptual tool limited to the analysis of artistic forms (Lauschke). It instead designates the specific manner in which the symbolic function of the human mind actually takes shape and diversifies throughout history. That is why Cassirer’s concept of style could be understood as a symbolism in action or in progress, i.e. as a historicized version of Goethe’s maxim, according to which “the particular is the general made manifest under different conditions.”

How Maxwell Discovered the Maxwell Equations

Francesco Nappo, Department of Mathematics, Politecnico di Milano

The official story – the one still taught in many university-level physics courses – of how J. C. Maxwell arrived at the Maxwell equations goes roughly as follows. Having collected the main experimental laws of the electromagnetic science of his time, namely Gauss’ law for electricity, Gauss’ law for magnetism, Faraday’s law for electrical induction, and Ampère’s law for electromagnetism, Maxwell noticed that they jointly violated the principle of conservation of charge. For this reason, and possibly motivated by a love for symmetries, he decided to add an additional term to the equations – the ‘displacement current’, understood as a rate of change of an electric field over time. By means of this bold postulation (which further experiments surprisingly confirmed), the principle of conservation of charge got restored.

As a matter of historical fact, things went very differently. In the first part of the presentation, I will sketch the main elements of Maxwell’s monumental scientific creation. It involved re-imagining electromagnetic forces in the mathematically more familiar terms of fluids flowing in tubes of variable section, exploiting analogies with hydrodynamics. Subsequently, Maxwell introduced an imaginary substratum of the electromagnetic forces consistent with the fluid model, exploiting an analogy with a mechanical system of molecular vortices. The introduction of the displacement current resulted from Maxwell’s insight that the system would need to be elastic in order to account for the phenomena of electrostatic charge and induction.

In the second part of the presentation, I will discuss some interesting similarities and differences of Maxwell’s scientific creation with artistic creation. Special attention will be paid to the description of Maxwell’s work as an exercise of a ‘constrained’ form of freedom. In this context, a connection will be drawn with the philosophical reflections of John Dewey and Benedetto Croce concerning the aesthetic aspects of scientific investigation and the thesis of the ‘primacy of the aesthetic’. The idea that the scientific investigator is, in the course of doing his or her research, aesthetically engaged sets the stage for a historically well-informed discussion of the aesthetics of science – the (severely underexplored) discipline concerned with the ‘intuitive’ and ‘non-conceptual’ elements inherent to the scientific practices of knowledge-production.

Cultural Politics of Historical Epistemology

Pietro Daniel Omodeo, Ca’ Foscari University of Venice

This communication addresses the political question of historical epistemology, at three levels. As I consider historical epistemology to be an inquiry into the genesis, validity and goals of knowledge (especially, scientific knowledge) and politics as the realm of collective agency, the political question  of historical epistemology especially concerns the collective character of the goals that inform science. First, the political question relates to the function of science at the level of ideas, that is, as ideology. In this respect, science can be understood as a historically given intellectual means to justify and guide collective decisions by acting at a psychological and, as it were, a spiritual level. Secondly, science as a force of transformation also acts as a material means of change of nature and of society. This second level is directly connected with the Baconian nexus of knowledge and domination, but re-read through praxeological lenses as a problem of objective change of environmental conditions. Thirdly, at the meta-level, historical epistemology as a specific path to knowledge theory reverses abstract conceptions of science and nature as they were both given in absolute terms. By contrast, it investigates the concrete conditions for the emergence, development and directness of all knowledge. In this sense, historical epistemology can be seen as the knowledge theory of historical materialism. It favours a critical but not skeptical attitude toward science and its potential. In this perspective, historical epistemology is a matter of cultural politics.

Art and Science, Method and Style: The Function of the Concept of Style in French Historical Epistemology

Daniel Rodriguez-Navas, The New School for Social Research

The goal of this presentation is to elucidate the relationship between two pairs of concepts: the concepts of method and style within French historical epistemology (FHE), and the concepts of scientific and of artistic style.

After an introductory discussion of the idea of FHE, understood, through the Wittgenstenian model of family resemblance, as a family of views about and ways of engaging in the history and philosophy of science, I will argue, in a first part of the presentation, that a concept ‘like’ the concept of style is ‘called for’ by the FHE approach to the history and philosophy of science. The starting point of the argument will be the observation that one of the typical traits of FHE is the idea that the history of science is irreducible to the chronology of discoveries within each scientific discipline (Canguilhem). For one of the tasks of the FHEpistemologist—with apologies for the barbaric abbreviation—is to identify patterns in the discourse and practices of scientists (in a capacious sense of the term that includes, as Canguilhem notes, those who grant themselves that honorific title without being quite entitled to it).

This irreducibility of the history of science to the chronology of scientific discovery, however, imposes an important restriction on how FHEpistemologists may go about identifying those patterns: they cannot rely on references to the scientific methods explicitly and self-consciously adopted by past scientists, as this would amount to adopting the latter’s perspectives, ensuring that the resulting history would be mere chronology. Hence the usefulness of a concept ‘like’ the concept of style for FHEpistemologists and the sense in which FHE ‘calls for’ such a concept. The notion of style enables FHEpistemologists to identify types of unity and coherence in scientific discourse and practices other than the unity conferred upon them by consciously adopted scientific methodologies. It enables them to see past scientific practice and discourse from a perspective other than that internal to the disciplines that constitute their object of enquiry. Borrowing Bachelard’s understating of the épistemologie as the psychoanalysis of the scientific mind, we might simply say that style is unconscious counterpart of conscious scientific method. More precisely, if less simply, we will say is that if the mark of scientific reason is that it consciously regulates itself through explicitly and self-consciously adopted and methodological principles, each ‘style of scientific thought’ (a variant of Hacking’s “styles of scientific reasoning”) is the concrete manifestation of the unconscious counterpart of scientific reason.

This insight, that the concept of scientific style is, within FHE, the functional analogue of the concept of method in alternative approaches to the history and philosophy of science, provides a useful entry-point for the second part of the presentation, the discussion of the relationship between the concepts of scientific and artistic style. I will argue that strictly speaking, the concept of method finds no application in the case of aesthetic production (while insisting that the concept of technique plays an analogous role), and offer the rudiments of an account of this difference between artistic and scientific production, and of the corresponding difference between the notions of scientific and artistic style, in terms of a difference between the teleological constraints that guide and govern scientific and artistic practice: while in the case of the sciences ‘the facts’ function as ‘hard external constraints’, the arts meet no such external constraints. Instead, they are ‘dialectically regulated’ by the aesthetic standards dominant within their respective cultural-historical settings, ‘soft’ standards which they aim to reconfigure and subvert without altogether forsaking.

Varieties of pluralism. Granger’s, Feyerabend’s and Hacking’s theories of scientific styles compared

Matteo Vagelli, Ca’ Foscari University of Venice / Harvard University

One of the “pluralisms” that proliferated in Anglophone philosophy of science during the second half of the twentieth century involves conceiving of the history of science as a history of “scientific styles”. A growing number of historians and philosophers of science have touted the concept of style as more flexible than method in conceiving of the historicity and plurality of the ways of thinking, discovering, and experimenting that constitute the sciences. Conflicting interpretations of “styles” in science mainly concern whether the term implies abandonment of the realism, objectivity, and progressiveness commonly understood to distinguish science from the arts. My aim is to give an overview of the different ways the concept of “scientific styles” has been understood in the history of philosophy of science. I will moreover try to show how some versions of this concept allows for a form of pluralism that avoids relativism.

In the first part of my talk, I will discuss how P.K. Feyerabend mobilized art historian Alois Riegl’s idea of self-standing cultural units (Kunstwollen, “will to art”) to show that different scientific theories, like different artistic styles, cannot be compared against a common background and are therefore “incommensurable”. From this perspective, expounded in Feyerabend’s Wissenschaft Als Kunst (1984), science is analogous to the arts in that neither shows objectivity or progress. I will then contrast Feyerabend’s view with the one put forward by Hacking, whose style-project, which spanned over 30 years, elaborates a notion of “styles of scientific reasoning” aiming to account for the objective and progressive nature of scientific knowledge and practice. By conceiving scientific styles as a relatively closed set of ways of finding out about the world and intervening in it, Hacking’s styles tend to accumulate-both reasoning strategies and ontological entities.

In the second part of my talk, I will analyse Gilles-Gaston Granger’s theory of scientific styles as developed in his Essai d’une philosophie du style (1968), a deeply original and yet scarcely studied epistemological analysis of style. Granger’s Essai, not available in English, has so far aroused interest only in French scholarship. In this work, Granger reworks the notion of style from the ground up, advancing an idea of “generalized stylistics” to theorize the dynamics mutually shaping objects and methods of production. Far from being merely ornamental, style for Granger becomes a category of formal thought through which one can reconsider the dialectics among theory and practice, abstraction, and individualization. I will highlight Granger’s Essai as an example of “comparative epistemology” that attempts to interrogate the boundaries of the natural, formal, human, and social sciences in terms of both objects and methods.

All three theories endorse a form of scientific pluralism. Yet whereas Feyerabend’s styles invite epistemic relativism and constructivism, Hacking’s and Granger’s theories show that style can support objectivity, realism, and progressiveness. Taking this comparative analysis as my point of departure, I will argue, against Feyerabend’s stylistic anarchism or epistemic “Dadaism”, that the historicity and plurality of scientific styles do not imply epistemic relativism.

CFP – Arts and Sciences, Historicizing Boundaries / 7th International Workshop on Historical Epistemology (Venice, 9-10 June 2022)

910 June 2022;

Confirmed keynote speakers:

Elena Canadelli (Padova)
Peter Galison (Harvard)
Caroline A. Jones (MIT)
Pietro Daniel Omodeo (Ca’ Foscari)


The 7th International Workshop on Historical Epistemology is dedicated to exploring new ways of approaching the historical, conceptual, methodological, and technical relations between the arts and the sciences. Rather than looking for logical criteria for demarcating these domains, the workshop aims to question the arts/sciences dyad from the vantage point of its history.

Such a history should be at least twofold, unearthing both moments where science and art were perceived as different and kept separated and moments in which the two were considered kindred or unifiable. There is consensus among scholars (Collini, Introduction to C.P. Snow, The Two Cultures, 2012) that the divide emerged as an object of reflection during the 19th century—in the period characterized by the fading of Romanticism and the ascendance of the Industrial Revolution—with a controversy arising in several European countries regarding the definition of the respective goals and concerns of the arts and sciences. As the idea gained ground between the end of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th that the arts corresponded to intervening, creative minds while the scientific persona was shaped by attempts to repress precisely these aspects (Daston & Galison, Objectivity, 2010), philosophers like Wilhelm Dilthey and Karl Popper proliferated attempts to conceptually refine the distinction between the two fields of inquiry and sets of activities. Science was entrusted with the values of objective, stable, and progressive knowledge and was clearly distinguished in this respect from what was non-scientific. The “two cultures” debate took center stage between the 1950s and the 1960s and came to epitomize polar oppositions: on the one hand, art was considered an activity that was individual and ‘soft’, relying on intuition and induction and involving visualization and mostly spontaneous processes. These traits were considered “feminine”. On the other hand, science was conceived as a “hard” collaborative endeavor that was analytical, deductive, logical and systematic: all “masculine” features. Science was not only conceived as a stable and progressive form of knowledge, it was also thought of as the gatekeeper of humankind and its hope for a peaceful future on earth—and placed in contrast with the elitist and decadent spirit of the artistic-literary tradition (Snow, The Two Cultures, 1998). As this debate raged over the following decades, it took distinctive turns. During the 1980s, one particular flaw of its central dichotomy emerged: the absence of the social sciences, which could be described as a sort of third “culture” positioned between literature and science (Lepenies, Die Drei Kulturen, 1985). The 1990s saw explicit attempts to break the “binary economy” opposing science and the arts and to replace it with discussion of their “boundary conditions”. Instead of the “vexed” question of whether “science and art are incommensurable realms of knowledge”, the problem was reframed in terms of recognition and study of “the conditions under which objects become visible in culture, and in what manner are such visibilities characterized as ‘science’ or ‘art’” (Galison & Jones, Picturing Science, Producing Art, 1998). Since at least the turn of the 21st century, pressure on boundary questions has decreased, and it might even seem that what were previously viewed as hard boundaries have been blurred to the point that the existence of two separate domains should be questioned. However, echoes of the earlier “culture clash” still circulate in current scholarly and everyday discussions. Furthermore, the “artistic” and “scientific” disciplines are still largely treated as separate at the institutional level, and collaboration between the two seems to be local and occasional at best. One of the leading questions animating our workshop is thus: do such questions make sense today and to what extent?

In other words, if the armchair philosopher recognizes demarcations among cognitive, perceptual, or operational domains, what can historical epistemology teach us about the boundary lines or relationship between the arts and the sciences? What might a historicized approach to the epistemological question of the different ways of accessing reality, of capturing or intervening in the world, add to our discussion? Can the distinction between scientific discovery and artistic creation be tackled from the point of view of historical epistemology? At the methodological level, can the history of the sciences fruitfully mesh with art history? Can art historians, historians of science, philosophers and cultural historians learn from each other’s methods? These transversal questions—cutting across the human, social, and natural sciences—have bearing on the “boundary questions” situated at the borders of the arts and sciences. While this workshop aims to move beyond the idea of a “binary economy,” it also aims to keep the specificity of each in sight. 

The history of philosophy of science can be of help here too. Although it does not appear at the forefront of French epistemology, the careful observer will notice that this topic was taken up by a number of historical epistemologists. Gaston Bachelard, for instance, identified an irremovable divide between epistemology and the poetic imagination but he also considered it possible for the latter to underpin or contribute to the former (Chimisso, Bachelard, Critic of Science and the Imagination, 2001). This aspect of Bachelard’s work could be put fruitfully in dialogue with later analogous attempts to make similar connections in the Anglophone domain (Holton, The Scientific Imagination, 1978). Bachelard moreover insisted on the creative dimension of scientific thinking and its technological inventiveness (Bachelard, The New Scientific Spirit), claiming that science can, to some extent, be regarded as an artistic creation belonging to both the human mind and the material world. Georges Canguilhem, on the one hand, maintained that knowledge and truth pertain only to science, which in this respect is “incommensurable” with other forms of cultural expression (e.g., the arts) underpinned and motivated by different values such as beauty. However, in his early writings, Canguilhem also reflected at length on the problem of artistic and technical creation and later came to consider medicine an “art”: a set of techniques situated at the crossroads of different scientific disciplines and aimed at the production of new norms of existence for organisms. Canguilhem’s work thus rested on a philosophy which appealed to a multiplicity of irreducible values and mobilized a Nietzschean perspective according to which the task of philosophy is to compare and contrast scientific, religious, ethical, and aesthetic values. In a similar vein, Michel Foucault suggested that the tools he deployed in his archeology of scientific knowledge could also be applied to art history (Foucault, The Archeology of Knowledge). His famous comment on Las Meninas in The Order of Things suggests that analysis of artistic productions is a means of investigating the structure of knowledge. Despite inheriting Bachelard’s divide between art and science, Gilles-Gaston Granger instead wondered whether the artistic notion of style could be applied to the analysis of scientific knowledge (Granger, Essai d’une philosophie du style). Finally, Jean-Claude Passeron’s work—premised upon the sociology of art and culture, on the one hand, and upon the epistemology of the social sciences on the other—raises questions about the extent to which these two origins of his work are completely separate or constantly in dialogue (Passeron, Sociological Reasoning).

These themes will be at the center of the 7th Workshop on Historical Epistemology. We hope the discussion will be a moment for philosophers, historians of philosophy, historians, philosophers of science, and art historians to encounter scholars with different methodological approaches. In particular, we expect contributions falling along the following three axes:

  1. Historical epistemology Can the arts/science dyad be an object of inquiry for historical epistemology? What are the larger epistemological and sociological goals that the dyad underpins or tries to respond to? Can we still talk of there being “two cultures”? Are there more than two? Or is there only one undifferentiated culture? To what extent is the term “culture” even appropriate? We welcome contributions tracing the trajectories of debates that have drawn the two poles of this dyad together or pushed them apart.
  2. Philosophy/methodology What can an historicized approach to epistemology teach us about the boundary lines or relationship between the arts and the sciences? What do the concepts of “style” and “method” have in common and what distinguishes them from each other? Contributions should propose ways of rethinking topics at the intersection of the two activities, such as representation, progress, perception, theory change, analogies, the role of “method”, the affordances of techniques and technologies, and differences between scientific invention/discovery and artistic creation.
  3. History of historical epistemology Bachelard, Canguilhem, Foucault or Granger are only examples: how have historical epistemologists writ large taken up this issue? Contributions might address thinkers coming from the French tradition or who employ the later historical epistemological approach that emerged from research groups at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science or from other strands of epistemology that reflected on the divide between the arts and the sciences.

Proposals (500 words plus a short presentation of the candidate) must be sent by March 15, 2022 (notification of acceptance or refusal by March 31), in .doc format, to The workshop will be conducted in English. Applicants should be ready for possible online participation in case the event should move to online-only.

This workshop is organized by:

Épistémologie Historique. Research Network on the History and the Methods of Historical Epistemology

With the support of:

  • Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, Department of Philosophy and Cultural Heritage;
  • European Commission (This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 101030646, “EPISTYLE”);
  • IHPST (UMR 8590, Paris 1/CNRS);
  • République des Savoirs (USR 3608, ENS/ Collège de France/CNRS);
  • École doctorale Lettres, Arts, Sciences humaines et sociales (ED 540, ENS – EUR Translitteræ, PSL);
  • Centre Gilles Gaston Granger (UMR 7304).

Organizing committee:

Caroline Angleraux (Labex Who Am I?, Associate member of the IHPST)
Thomas Embleton (IHPST)
Lucie Fabry (ENS-PSL, République des savoirs / Aix Marseille Université, Centre Gilles- Gaston Granger)
Iván Moya-Diez (Universidad Alberto Hurtado)
Matteo Vagelli (Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia)

2ème Mois de l’Épistémologie Historique – Novembre 2021

2nd Month of Historical Epistemology

November 3, 10, 17, 24 / 2021
17h-19h (Paris time GMT+1)

Link Zoom:

Organizing Committee

Caroline Angleraux
Lucie Fabry
Ivan Moya Diez
Matteo Vagelli

Épistémologie Historique. Research Network
on the History and the Methods of Historical Epistemology

avec le soutien de 

IHPST (UMR 8590, Paris 1/CNRS)
République des Savoirs (USR 3608, ENS/ Collège de France/CNRS)
École doctorale Lettres, Arts, Sciences humaines et sociales (ED 540, ENS – EUR Translitteræ, PSL)
Centre Gilles Gaston Granger (UMR 7304)
Universidad Alberto Hurtado
Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia

European Commission

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 101030646, “EPISTYLE”

(PDF / abstracts below)

Wednesday, November 3, 17h-19h (GMT +1)

“Biology and Medecine”, Chair Matteo Vagelli

Samuel Talcott, University of the Sciences (Philadelphia)
“Methods and Events: François Delaporte on the 1832 Parisian Cholera and its Role in the Birth of Biosocieties”

Silvia De Cesare, Université de Genève
“L’idée de progrès entre organismes et artefacts techniques”

Wednesday, November 10, 17h-19h (GMT +1)

“Economics”, Chair Iván Moya-Diez

Emmanuel Picavet, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne

Sina Badiei & Matteo Vagelli, Lausanne / Ca’Foscari
“Étudier la pensée économique par le prisme de l’épistémologie historique”

Clémence Thébaut, Université de Limoges
“L’évaluation économique en santé au prisme de la typologie des épistémès de Foucault”

Wednesday, November 17, 17h-19h (GMT+1)

“Social sciences and ecology”, Chair Caroline Angleraux

Martín Bernales-Odino, Iván Moya-Diez, Mauricio Canals & Valentina Riberi, Universidad Alberto Hurtado
“The poor as a kind of people and epistemic objects. 1778-1854”

Andrea Angelini, Centre Cavaillès
“Canguilhem dans le Capitalocène. L’épistémologie historique à l’épreuve de l’écologie”

Wednesday, November 24, 17h-19h (GMT+1)

“History of epistemology”, Chair Lucie Fabry

Massimiliano Simons, Ghent University
“We Have Never Been Historical Epistemologists”

Gerardo Ienna, ERC EarlyModernCosmology
“Italian Science Wars: une controverse dans l’épistémologie historique italienne”




Samuel Talcott, University of the Sciences (Philadelphia)
“Methods and Events: François Delaporte on the 1832 Parisian Cholera and its Role in the Birth of Biosocieties”

Despite differences between the 1832 Parisian cholera and the current SARS-COV-2 pandemic, despite its first publication nearly forty years ago, reading Delaporte’s history today helps illuminate and situate our moment. This paper argues that Delaporte’s study remains critical for thinking about health, sickness, and care in modern societies, in both its account of the events of the 1832 cholera and the methods it deploys to describe and make sense of them. First, he shows how modern public health was imbricated in class and colonial domination from its birth out of the Parisian cholera. But he also investigates how the epidemic contributed to important, albeit ambivalent, epistemological progress in medical science. I examine his methodology and argue that he had to critically appropriate and deploy various methods, drawing especially on Canguilhem’s histories of concepts and Foucaultian archeology and genealogy, in order to describe the complex transformations produced by the cholera. Understanding and responses to the current pandemic, I conclude, need to be informed by such a complex and layered epistemographical approach.


Silvia De Cesare, Université de Genève
“L’idée de progrès entre organismes et artefacts techniques”

L’idée de progrès, faisant référence à un changement vers le mieux, peut s’appliquer à l’histoire des êtres vivants (progrès organique) aussi bien qu’à l’histoire des artefacts techniques (progrès technique). L’idée de progrès organique – ayant de relations complexes avec la théorie de l’évolution – est souvent pensée en analogie avec l’idée de progrès technique. Mais comment définir exactement ces deux idées et comment rendre explicite l’analogie qui les relie ? Dans cette communication j’essaierai de répondre à cette question, en particulier en faisant référence à la pensée de Gilbert Simondon.


Emmanuel Picavet, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne

La philosophie contemporaine – y compris la philosophie des sciences – reconnaît l’influence durable (à ce jour) des grandes tendances philosophiques et scientifiques dans lesquelles la science empirique et la philosophie sont mêlées (cartésianisme, empirisme, conventionnalisme…). De plus, prêter attention à la complexité du développement des connaissances s’avère gratifiant lorsque nous essayons de comprendre les défis présents de la recherche philosophique.
Ces raisons (et d’autres) expliquent l’interaction de l’épistémologie historique et de la philosophie contemporaine. En partant d’exemples du domaine de la philosophie économique, on montrera que cette relation continue peut éclairer l’association acceptable de la rationalité et de la tradition dans le développement de théories scientifiques partagées par des sous-disciplines à l’intérieur et à l’extérieur de la philosophie.

Contemporary philosophy – incl. philosophy of science – acknowledges the lasting influence (to this day) of major philosophical/ scientific trends in which empirical science and philosophy are intermingled (cartesianism, empiricism, conventionalism…). Moreover, paying attention to the complexity of knowledge development proves rewarding when we try and understand the current challenges of philosophical research.
These reasons (and others) account for the interplay of historical epistemology and contemporary philosophy. Using examples from the field of economic philosophy, it will be argued that this continuing relationship may bring light onto the acceptable association of rationality and tradition in the development of scientific theories which are shared by subdisciplines within and without philosophy.


Sina Badiei & Matteo Vagelli, Lausanne / Ca’Foscari
“Étudier la pensée économique par le prisme de l’épistémologie historique”

Comment mettre en relief, au-delà des possibles malentendus, la fécondité du dialogue entre la pensée économique et ses critiques ? Notre hypothèse de départ est la suivante : étant donné qu’un certain nombre de débats contemporains dans la pensée économique s’enracinent dans des questionnements anciens, et étant entendu qu’un certain nombre de critiques adressées à la pensée économique mobilisent elles aussi des objections ancrées dans une histoire spécifique, ne pourrait-on pas mettre en relief la fécondité de ce dialogue en mobilisant une approche historique et épistémologique de la pensée économique ?


Clémence Thébaut, Université de Limoges
“L’évaluation économique en santé au prisme de la typologie des épistémès de Foucault”

Le travail présenté dans le cadre de ce séminaire s’inscrit dans le cadre d’un projet de recherche visant à mobiliser les méthodes et outils proposés par Michel Foucault pour apporter un éclairage sur un ensemble de discussions que soulève l’évaluation économique en santé. Nous nous intéressons ici à l’ancrage épistémologique des méthodes de révélation des préférences individuelles issues de l’économie du bien-être, qui sont aujourd’hui utilisées pour valoriser les bénéfices en santé, en nous appuyant sur la typologie des épistémès de Foucault dans les Mots et les choses. Plus précisément, nous envisageons que le rejet des comparaisons interpersonnelles, que préfigure la révolution marginaliste et la transition vers une mesure ordinale des utilités, s’explique par le passage d’une épistémè classique à une épistémè moderne. La question du caractère cardinal ou ordinal de la mesure de l’utilité reste centrale pour l’évaluation économique en santé. En effet, les méthodes d’évaluation des bénéfices en santé, notamment au moyen des QALY, se rapprochent d’une mesure cardinale, contrairement au paradigme de la nouvelle économie du bien-être dans lequel elle est censée s’inscrire.


Martín Bernales-Odino, Iván Moya-Diez, Mauricio Canals & Valentina Riberi, Universidad Alberto Hurtado
“The poor as a kind of people and epistemic objects. 1778-1854”

Our presentation explores the emergence of the poor as a kind of people. We do not assume that the category of poor is a mere description of reality (i.e., an object which already exists as something given) or a term that only exists in the common language (i.e., prior to its location in any scientific language). Instead, we investigate the moment when the millenary category of the poor transformed into an epistemic object during the establishment of a new Spanish American relief system. A salient aspect of such a new relief system consisted in changing the focus of the old doctrine of charity from the figure of the giver to the figure of the poor, in order to carefully differentiate the true and the false poor. Such an attempt not only allowed, but at times demanded the use of certain old and new epistemic techniques such as counting, observing, normalizing, and bureaucratizing. Our thesis argues that the deployment of such institutional techniques creates the poor as a specific kind of people and epistemic objects. These epistemic techniques, likely developed at the same time in different European states (ie. the visitor of the poor by Dégerando in France and Concepción Arenal in Spain), will facilitate the emergence of the poverty line elaborated around the works led by Charles Booth. If this is the case, then they would constitute an epistemic condition of our current problematization of poverty and the poor.


Andrea Angelini, Centre Cavaillès
“Canguilhem dans le Capitalocène. L’épistémologie historique à l’épreuve de l’écologie”

L’épistémologie historique a connu plusieurs applications dans différents domaines scientifiques : la physique-mathématique, la chimie, la biologie, la médecine, la technologie, les sciences sociales. Cette intervention se propose d’argumenter la pertinence de l’épistémologie historique de Georges Canguilhem pour interroger le débat contemporain (scientifique et politique) sur l’écologie. Bien que Canguilhem ait parfois émis des réserves sur certaines visées des premiers mouvements écologistes des années 1960-70, sa perspective théorique demeure néanmoins très féconde pour élaborer une « épistémologie politique de l’écologie ». Même si Canguilhem partageait l’urgence d’aborder la question écologique, il rejetait pourtant toute solution exclusivement scientifique ou technocratique : les défis environnementaux (pollution, biodiversité, limite des ressources, contraintes de la reproduction sociale) engagent à la fois une réflexion philosophique et un questionnement politique. Les recherches de Canguilhem se révèlent encore aujourd’hui d’une grande actualité par rapport aux interrogations posées par la crise écologique : la « philosophie biologique de la technique » et son lien avec une « philosophie politique de la technologie » ; la formulation d’une « théorie générale du milieu » et la réflexion sur la pluralité des formes éthologiques de relation à l’environnement ; l’enchevêtrement (sans coïncidence) entre le social et le vital, voire le rapport entre formes d’organisations sociales et contraintes bio-environnementales ; la question de la spécificité des sciences biologiques et de leurs implications politiques ; le problème des conditions de validité du discours scientifique, des transferts conceptuels entre différents domaines disciplinaires et de leurs effets idéologiques ; et encore, l’étude de l’histoire et des transformations du concept de régulation et de ses applications dans les technologies gouvernementales. Ces thèmes présentent nombre de points en commun avec les débats des dernières décennies qui ont touché les sciences environnementales et l’écologie politique, notamment ceux autour de l’Anthropocène et du Capitalocène. On verra alors de quelle manière l’approche à la fois épistémologique et politique de Canguilhem nous donne plusieurs instruments conceptuels face à la crise écologique et peut contribuer à une compréhension critique de notre actualité.


Massimiliano Simons, Ghent University
“We Have Never Been Historical Epistemologists”

Historical epistemology has seemingly gained momentum in the last few decades. This has led some to argue that historical epistemology is finally getting the international attention it deserves, exemplified by the work of, among other, Ian Hacking, Lorraine Daston and Hans-Jörg Rheinberger. However, I want to problematize this type of history of historical epistemology, that stresses historical epistemology as a continuous and well-defined project that slowly gains recognition. I want to contest this, not merely for historical reasons (‘to get the facts right’), but also because the historical narrative one tells about one’s own field matters of how one defines the field and its objectives. Instead, therefore, I want to provoke the possibility of another genealogy of historical epistemology, centered around three claims: (1) historical epistemology is a relic: not the discovery of something new, but a remnant of something old; (2) historical epistemology is weird: not just something we should cherish, but also problematize and question certain aspects of; and (3) historical epistemology is not just history of science, but has had and could have alternative ambitions, reaching well beyond philosophy and history of science.


Gerardo Ienna, ERC EarlyModernCosmology
“Italian Science Wars: une controverse dans l’épistémologie historique italienne”

L’objectif de cette intervention est de reconstruire le débat sur la non-neutralité de la science que l’on a appelé les “Italian Science Wars”. Par ce nom, j’entends un affrontement épistémologique et politique entre les positions de Ludovico Geymonat (et son école milanaise), les positions du philosophe et historien des sciences Paolo Rossi (et son école) contre un groupe large et varié de scientifiques et de militants d’extrême gauche. Ces trois positions intellectuelles se fondent sur une affirmation convaincue de l’inséparabilité de l’histoire et de l’épistémologie mais sont marquées par des orientations politiques différentes. Pour cette raison, elles représentent une partie essentielle du canon largement inexploré de l’épistémologie historique italienne.
Le conflit et le débat sur la neutralité/non-neutralité entre Geymonat, Rossi et les scientifiques militants ont été développés dans les journaux, les magazines à large diffusion, les lieux de conférences universitaires et dans certaines revues telles que : Sapere, Textes et Contextes, Médecine démocratique, etc. 
Ce débat a été animé par des scientifiques/militants tels que : Marcello Cini, Giovanni Jona-Laisino, Giovanni Ciccotti et Michelangelo DeMaria Angelo Baracca, Arcangelo Rossi, Tito Tonietti, Franco Selleri, Silvio Bergia, Elisabetta Donnini, Giulio Maccacaro, etc. L’ape e l’architetto [traduit en français comme L’araignée et le tisserand] -publié par le groupe de physiciens de Rome composé de Cini, Jona-Laisino, Ciccotti et DeMaria- est largement considéré comme le manifeste italien de ce mouvement.  La thèse principale de ce livre est d’intégrer la théorie marxiste du matérialisme historique avec la thèse de Thomas Kuhn sur la structure des révolutions scientifiques. L’objectif des auteurs était en fait de libérer la réflexion sur la science de l’influence épistémologique du matérialisme dialectique engelsien qui pose une séparation nette entre nature et histoire. L’analyse de ce débat nous permet d’élargir le débat contemporain en épistémologie historique sur au moins deux fronts : 1) la construction d’un canon de l’épistémologie historique italienne et 2) l’exploration des positions controversées en épistémologie historique sur le thème neutralité/non-neutralité de la science.

(parution) La biologie au défi de l’histoire. Mélanges offerts à Michel Morange

Sous la direction de Laurent Loison & Thomas Pradeu 

Collection: Histoire des sciences et des techniques



Depuis trois décennies au moins, Michel Morange a été et demeure un acteur essentiel dans le champ de l’histoire et de la philosophie des sciences de la vie. Ses ouvrages, ses articles, et son activité académique ont laissé une marque durable, non seulement en France, mais dans l’ensemble de la communauté internationale. Au moment de son départ à la retraite, d’anciens élèves, amis et collègues ont souhaité lui rendre hommage en organisant des journées en son honneur à la Sorbonne (Paris 1) en février 2020.

Les textes issus de ces journées abordent le versant historique et philosophique de son œuvre selon des perspectives diverses, en fonction de la manière dont Michel Morange a été important pour tel ou tel contributeur. Beaucoup soulignent à quel point le souci de l’histoire et celui de rationalité ont été des aspects centraux de ses réflexions. Au fil de onze chapitres, organisés en trois parties («Parcours», «Style et engagement théorique», «Prolongements et inspirations»), ce livre dessine la façon dont Michel Morange, homme de laboratoire formé à l’enzymologie, a posé à la biologie la plus contemporaine la question de son histoire et de ses engagements conceptuels et philosophiques.


Special Section: Thinking Crossroads: From Scientific Pluralism to Pluralist History of Science

We are very glad to announce the release of a new special section of the Journal for General Philosophy of Science (52/1, March 2021). 

The special section aims to emphasize the pivotal role of the history of science for pluralism. Instead of reverting to abstract speculation about an idealized conception of science and of scientific knowledge, the papers presented here draw decisive insights from the ways in which science was actually conducted. These insights open up new ways not only of seeing the past of these sciences but also, and more fundamentally, of shaping present and future science. 

The special section is edited by Matteo Vagelli, Laurent Loison and Ivan Moya-Diez. 
[Special section]

Thinking Crossroads: From Scientific Pluralism to Pluralist History of Science
Matteo Vagelli, Laurent Loison & Ivan Moya-Diez

Hasok Chang
Presentist History for Pluralist History of Science

Thierry Hoquet
Pluralizing Darwin: Making Counter-Factual History of Science Significant

Thomas Bonnin
Monist and Pluralist Approaches on Underdetermination: A Case Study in Evolutionary Microbiology
This is the web page of the issue

Reseña: L’épistémologie historique. Histoire et méthodes, de Jean-François Braunstein, Iván Moya Diez y Matteo Vagelli (Dir.)

Marcela Renée Becerra Batán (Universidad Nacional de San Luis, Facultad de Ciencias Humanas)


Reseña: L’épistémologie historique. Histoire et méthodes,  de Jean-François Braunstein, Iván Moya Diez y Matteo Vagelli (Dir.)

Braunstein, Jean-François ; Moya Diez, Iván y Vagelli, Matteo (Dir.) (2019)L’épistémologie historique. Histoire et méthodes. Paris, Éditions de la Sorbonne, 270 páginas.

Biografía del autor/a

Marcela Renée Becerra Batán, Universidad Nacional de San Luis, Facultad de Ciencias Humanas

Doctora en Filosofìa (UNC, 2010). 

Docente-investigadora de la Facultad de Ciencias Humanas (FCH), Universidad Nacional de San Luis (UNSL).

Profesora Titular Exclusiva Interina de “Epistemología de las Ciencias Sociales”, Departamento de Educación, FCH, UNSL. Con extensión de tareas docentes a otros cursos de Espistemología.

Categoría de Investigación: 2 (dos) en “Filosofía.

Directora del Proyecto de Investigacion Consolidado: “Epistemología, Psicoanálisis y Ciencias Humanas. Normalización, Clasificación y Subjetividad II”, SeCyT, FCH, UNSL.

Docente de posgrado en la UNSL y la UNRC, en cursos de Epistemología para doctorandos y maestrandos de distintas carreras.

Directora de tesis de posgrado y grado.

Mois de l’épistémologie historique – Novembre 2020

6èmes Journées d’études sur l’Épistémologie Historique
Épistémologie historique et épistémologie de l’histoire

4, 12, 18, 25 Novembre 2020
17h-19h (Paris time)

Plateforme Zoom



Les journées d’études sont organisées par

Épistémologie Historique. Research Network on the History and the Methods of Historical Epistemology

avec le soutien de 

École doctorale de Philosophie – ED 280 (Paris 1)
IHPST (UMR 8590, Paris 1/CNRS)
PhiCO/ISJPS (UMR 8103, Paris 1)

République des Savoirs (USR 3608, ENS/ Collège de France/CNRS)
École doctorale Lettres, Arts, Sciences humaines et sociales –
ED 540 (ENS) – EUR Translitteræ (PSL)

Maison d’Auguste Comte



Mercredi 4 Novembre                  17h-19h (Paris time)

Paul Roth (University of California, Santa Cruz), Hacking’s Historiography?

Matteo Vagelli (Université Paris 1 Pantheon-Sorbonne), Does historical epistemology need a theory of history?

Lucie Fabry (École normale supérieure & Centre Marc Bloch), Epistemologies of history with a Bachelardian background: Granger, Althusser and Foucault.

Jeudi 12 Novembre                       17h-19h (Paris time)

Stefanos Geroulanos (New York University), Concepts, Metaphors, and Historical Epistemology.

Annagiulia Canesso (Università degli Studi di Padova, Istituto Italiano per gli Studi Filosofici di Napoli), L’histoire errante de la vérité entre Gaston Bachelard et Georges Canguilhem.

Alberto Vianelli (Università degli Studi dell’Insubria), Marc Bloch, un historien entre métier et démarche scientifique.

Mercredi 18 Novembre                17h-19h (Paris time)

Perrine Simon-Nahum (CNRS, École normale supérieure), Le jeune Aron : de la biologie à la philosophie de l’histoire.

Massimiliano Simons (Ghent University), History as engagement: The Historical Epistemology of Raymond Aron.

Iván Moya Diez (Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne), De l’universalité à la contingence des valeurs. La problématisation du jugement historique chez Canguilhem.

Mercredi 25 Novembre                17h-19h (Paris time)

Sophie Roux (École normale supérieure), La question de l’historicité des sciences chez les bachelardiens.

Silvia De Cesare (Université de Genève), L’idée de « progrès » entre histoire des sciences et histoire de la vie : analyse d’une analogie proposée par Thomas Kuhn.

Masahito Hirai (University of Tokyo), Le principe des conditions d’existence et son application en sociologie comtienne.


Comité d’organisation

Matteo Vagelli
Ivan Moya Diez
Lucie Fabry
Caroline Angleraux
Marcos Camolezi
Victor Lefèvre

Comité Scientifique

Christian Bonnet, CHSPM Paris 1
Jean-François Braunstein, PhiCo Paris 1
Hasok Chang, Cambridge University
Cristina Chimisso, Open University, UK
Arnold I. Davidson, Université de Chicago
Moritz Epple, Université de Francfort
Pierre Wagner, IHPST Paris 1

CFP – HPLS Journal: Normativity and the Life Sciences

Call for papers: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences. 2021 Special Issue.

Topic of the Special Issue: “Normativity and the Life Sciences: Analytical and Continental Perspectives”

Guest editors: 

Luca Corti
Ivan Moya Diez
Matteo Vagelli

We are inviting submissions for a Special Issue of History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences. This special issue will be devoted to the topic of ‘Normativity and the Life Sciences: Analytical and Continental Perspective’. Below you can find the rationale of the Issue. 

Submission instructions:

All submissions, as well as inquiries about submissions to the special  issue, should be sent by e-mail to the guest editors:

Submissions must not be submitted to or be under review at other journals, books, etc.

Submissions should not be longer than 9000 words, they should be sent as .doc files and they should include an abstract of 150 to 250 words. The abstract should not contain any undefined abbreviations or unspecified references.

Submissions should be prepared for blind review: All identifying information about the author(s) such as names or institutional affiliations, have to be removed. Self-citations have to be anonymized.

Submission deadline:  October 15th, 2020 


In recent years, normativity and the status of norms have been at the center of several key debates in both the Continental and analytical traditions.. The question of normativity encompasses contentious issues touching various areas, including philosophy of biology, philosophy of mind and cognition, as well as metaethics. The development of disciplines tied to evolution (such as evolutionary biology, evolutionary psychology, etc.) as well as to the organisation of living beings (such as system biology) has driven a new interest and led to the introduction of crucial new perspectives into the philosophical conversation on norms.

Within this framework, the relation between norms and the phenomenon of life has become central: various thinkers coming from different philosophical traditions have analysed the problem of normativity from the premise that norms originate within life or the living organism and are tied to functions, or located norms in an evolutionary framework. Arguments from the life sciences have powerfully entered the debate not only in philosophy of medicine but also in metaethics..

We intend this special issue to open space for dialogue between philosophers and historians of science with different methodological approaches to normativity and its relation to the life sciences. By putting Continental, historical, and analytical approaches to vital normativity in conversation, the special issue aims to provide a synoptic view that sheds new light on individual topics, such as the origins and status of normativity in life or the strategies for naturalising norms offered by the theoretical framework of the life sciences. This dialogue will mobilize the work of Canguilhem, and, through him, the approach fostered by historical epistemology. It will engage analogous questions emerging from a classical German context. Literature on classical German philosophy and the problem of living normativity is abundant and scholarship on Canguilhem biology and vitalism is growing steadily, but no relevant connection between them has yet been drawn. This special issue will bring these two strands together and connect them with contemporary Anglo-American debates on the naturalisation of norms.

Topics for submitted papers might include, but are not limited to:

  • Normativity and explanation in the life sciences
  • Forms and accounts of biological normativity 
  • The notion of “function”: philosophical and historical perspectives
  • Norms and evolution
  • Historical reflection on normativity, life and cognition (in areas such as French Epistemology, Classical German Philosophy, etc.)
  • Vital normativity and the epistemology of the life sciences
  • Teleology and its normative import: philosophical and historical aspects
  • The relation between social and vital norms

Invited contributors:

Michael Ruse (Florida State University)
Dennis Walsh (Toronto)
Monica Greco (Goldsmith, University of London)
Silvia De Cesare (Université de Genève)

Journées Latino-Américaines d’Épistémologie Historique


16/07- Epistemologia histórica e história das ciências humanas
Marcela Renée Becerra Bátan (UNSL, Argentina), María Laura Martínez (UDELAR, Uruguai), Maurício de Carvalho Ramos (USP)

23/07 – Historiografia das Ciências
Marlon Salomon (UFG), Mauro Condé (UFMG), Francismary Alves da Silva (UFSB)

30/07 – História e epistemologia da Geografia
Larissa Lira (UFMG), Wolf-Dietrich Sahr (UFPR), Patrícia Aranha (USP)

06/08 – História e epistemologia da Psicologia
Iván Moya Diez (Université Paris 1, França), Marcio Luiz Miotto (UFF) Marcos Camolezi (Núcleo de Estudos Bergsonianos – NEB/UNIFESP),

13/08 – Ciências Humanas e Artes
Camila Gui Rosatti (USP), Paulo Knauss (UFF), Pedro Caldas (Unirio)

20/08 – Medicina e humanidades
Sandra Caponi (UFSC), José Ricardo de C. M. Ayres (USP), Kleverton Bacelar (UFBA)

27/08- Arquivos e big data

João Ohara (UFRJ), Miguel Palmeira (USP), Thiago Nicodemo (Unicamp)

03/09 – História do método

Fábio Ferreira de Almeida (UFG), Itamar Freitas de Oliveira (UFS), Tiago Santos Almeida (UFG),

10/09 – História da Historiografia

Felipe Brandi (EHESS), Rodrigo Turin (Unirio), Temístocles Cezar (UFRGS)

17/09- Para além do pensamento moderno
Federico Navarrete Linares (UNAM, México), Francine Iegelski (UFF), Marcos Lanna (UFSCar)

Disease and Civilization. The Cholera in Paris, 1832 (François Delaporte)


Disease and Civilization explores the scientific and political ramifications of the great cholera epidemic of 1832, showing how its course and its conceptualization were affected by the social power relations of the time. The epidemic which claimed the lives of 18,000 people in Paris alone, was a watershed in the history of medicine: In France, it shook the complacency of a medical establishment that thought it had the means to prevent any onslaught and led to a revolution in the concept of public health.


Delaporte’s learned and exhaustive readings of the medical texts brim with subtle observations and new insights, and his treatment of the cultural and political implications of medical thinking should prove useful to all European historians of this period. In Delaporte’s capable hands, Foucault’s methods come very close to fulfilling their considerable potential as history and criticism (Robert A. Nye – American Historical Review)

Che cos’è l’epistemologia storica?

Matteo Vagelli

Contrariamente alle altre correnti epistemologiche novecentesche, all’epistemologia storica non corrisponde né un metodo formalizzato, né una lista di autori ritenuti canonici. Si può però avere un’idea abbastanza precisa di che cosa sia l’epistemologia storica guardando con attenzione almeno a due dei contesti filosofici in cui l’utilizzo di quest’espressione ha giocato un ruolo importante.

Si ritiene che lo storico della scienza francese Abel Rey sia stato il primo ad utilizzare l’espressione “épistémologie historique” nel 1907, nella sua tesi di dottorato in storia della fisica. Occorre notare come già il termine “épistémologie” abbia una connotazione diversa rispetto all’inglese “epistemology”, spesso usato come sinonimo di gnoseologia o di teoria della conoscenza. Con “épistémologie” si intende invece la filosofia della scienza, compresa come “lo studio critico dei principi, delle ipotesi e dei risultati delle diverse scienze, finalizzato a determinare la loro origine logica (non psicologica), il loro valore e la loro portata obiettiva” (Lalande, Vocabulaire technique et critique de la philosophie, 1902-1923). Per Rey, quindi, se, da un lato, i filosofi anglo-americani, col termine “epistemology”, intendono delle “ricerche trascendentali sui principi e le condizioni generali della scienza”, un’epistemologia storica sarà invece “una ricerca storica sullo spirito generale di ogni scienza”, vale a dire, “una ricerca documentaria, l’insieme delle osservazioni storiche necessarie per fondare una visione d’insieme esatta sulle diverse scienze” (La théorie physique chez les physiciens contemporains, 1907). Per certi versi è possibile far risalire questa definizione, così come molti altri tratti salienti dell’epistemologia storica francese, ad Auguste Comte e a varie fasi successive di rielaborazione, anche critica, del suo positivismo originario. Una “preistoria” dell’epistemologia storica dovrebbe quindi includere i dibattiti attorno alla scienza, i suoi metodi e i suoi scopi animati da scienziati e filosofi come Antoine Augustine Cournot, Gaston Milhaud, Léon Brunschvicg, Pierre Duhem e Henri Poincaré, solo per citarne alcuni.

È senz’altro la Francia della prima metà del secolo scorso a rappresentare uno dei momenti più intensi di elaborazione dell’epistemologia storica, che si fa spazio tra le alternative teoriche dell’epoca, quali la fenomenologia, la psicanalisi e il marxismo. La diffusione del termine “epistemologia storica” si deve a Dominique Lecourt, che l’ha utilizzato per riferirsi ai lavori di Gaston Bachelard. L’epistemologia storica, secondo Lecourt, non deve essere compresa nel senso di una “storia dell’epistemologia” – una visione retrospettiva sulle epistemologie del passato o sulle teorie della conoscenza abbandonate. Per Lecourt, Bachelard, “aprendo il campo dell’epistemologia storica, ha messo a nudo […] le condizioni reali – storiche – della produzione delle conoscenze scientifiche” (L’épistémologie historique de Gaston Bachelard, 1969). L’epistemologia è allora storica perché non può fare a meno di considerare il suo oggetto, la conoscenza scientifica, come un oggetto storico. Lo stesso Lecourt ha poi articolato l’epistemologia bachelardiana sulla “storia epistemologica” di Georges Canguilhem e su quella “archeologica” di Michel Foucault (Pour une critique de l’épistémologie: Bachelard, Canguilhem, Foucault, 1972). Ciò ha contribuito a rafforzare l’idea che ai lavori di Bachelard, Canguilhem e Foucault corrisponda una fase fortemente caratterizzante dell’epistemologia francese. Anche se non si può parlare, a proposito di questi tre autori, di una vera e propria tradizione o di una scuola di pensiero, è possibile rimarcare una certa continuità tra di loro, e non solo a livello metodologico. Canguilhem, infatti, da un lato succede a Bachelard alla cattedra di storia e filosofia della scienza della Sorbona e alla direzione dell’Institut d’Histoire et de Philosophie des Sciences et des Techniques (fondato da Rey nel 1932), dall’altro dirige la tesi di dottorato di Foucault, col quale mantiene poi un rapporto intellettuale fino alla morte di quest’ultimo.

Coloro i quali riconoscono in questa fase uno tra i momenti più rappresentativi dell’epistemologia storica francese tendono anche a riconoscere nel tema della discontinuità epistemologica il tratto distintivo di quest’approccio allo studio della scienza e del sapere in generale. Bachelard ritiene che tra senso comune ed esperienza scientifica non vi sia un passaggio fluido o una continuità sostanziale, ma una rottura netta. Diversamente da quanto postulato, per esempio, da Émile Meyerson, secondo Bachelard il pensiero scientifico non procede in maniera continua e cumulativa, ma per mutazioni, spesso improvvise, che cambiano radicalmente i suoi quadri concettuali. Se Canguilhem e Foucault mutuano da Bachelard quest’attenzione per le “rotture” è anche vero che ne modulano l’applicazione in funzione dei rispettivi campi d’indagine. Se, fino a Bachelard, le scienze oggetto dell’epistemologia francese si limitano sostanzialmente alle scienze naturali, fisiche, chimiche e matematiche, con Canguilhem queste si ampliano alle scienze della vita quali fisiologia e biologia. Con Foucault il raggio d’azione si amplia ulteriormente fino ad includere la psicologia, la medicina e le scienze umane. In biologia, ad esempio, non è possibile reperire con facilità rotture nette e rivoluzionarie come quelle tra la fisica classica e quella quantistica. Inoltre, il terreno “archeologico” delle indagini foucaultiane si riferisce ad un insieme di eventi discorsivi più “profondi” di quello degli enunciati scientifici della fisica, della biologia e della psicologia, e ne costituisce piuttosto l’insieme delle condizioni storiche di possibilità. Ed è proprio in virtù della differenza tra le “regioni” o “strati” del sapere presi in esame che Bachelard, Canguilhem e Foucault fanno un appello diverso alla categoria della discontinuità.

A prima vista non c’è niente di più opposto ai principi dell’epistemologia storica che il programma del neopositivismo del Circolo di Vienna o di Berlino. Il neopositivismo o empirismo logico si caratterizza per un approccio astorico e per un programma che mira all’unificazione della scienza, così come per una attenzione quasi esclusiva per la teoria, a discapito della sperimentazione. Sembra quindi opporsi punto su punto alla corrente dell’epistemologia francese che è detta “storica” in ragione del suo approccio “regionale” e “pratico” alla conoscenza. In realtà, sia i primi rappresentanti dell’epistemologia storica, sia gli esponenti del neopositivismo intendono promuovere l’idea di una “filosofia scientifica” in contrasto con la filosofia tradizionale. In un certo senso questi due approcci si sono imposti come reazioni ed elaborazioni del positivismo originario di Comte: il convenzionalismo di Pierre Duhem, e, in un certo senso, di Abel Rey, così come il fenomenalismo di Ernst Mach e di Henri Poincaré sono altrettanti punti di riferimento comuni tra positivismo logico ed epistemologia storica. Gli incontri effettivi tra alcuni rappresentanti dell’una e dell’altra tradizione non sembrano però aver dato luogo né ad una comprensione reciproca, né allo scambio effettivo e duraturo di interessi e preoccupazioni. Questo mancato dialogo ha senz’altro contribuito a creare quello iato tra la filosofia della scienza “continentale” e quella anglosassone che ha caratterizzato i decenni successivi, fino ad oggi.

Se si può parlare di un dialogo mancato tra neopositivismo ed epistemologia storica, significativo è invece l’incrocio di quest’ultima con il marxismo althusseriano e con la sociologia bourdesiana. Sia Louis Althusser che Pierre Bourdieu si sono detti debitori nei confronti tanto della “scuola bachelardiana” quanto del “magistero intellettuale” di Canguilhem, e ritengono di aver proseguito l’epistemologia storica in direzioni diverse. È proprio nell’accezione marxista che si trovano, a partire dagli anni ’70, i primi riferimenti all’epistemologia storica in ambito anglosassone. Lo storico della scienza statunitense Marx Wartofsky usa il termine “historical epistemology” per riferirsi allo studio dell’influenza delle rappresentazioni o dei modelli sulla percezione umana, intesa come prassi cognitiva risultato non solo di un processo biologico, ma anche di una evoluzione storica e sociale (Models. Representation and the Scientific Understanding, 1979). Nello stesso solco sembra muoversi il filosofo della scienza polacco Jerzy Kmita (Problems in Historical Epistemology, 1980), il quale sostiene una sostanziale continuità, se non una vera e propria confusione, tra l’epistemologia storica e il materialismo storico.

Il secondo avvio dell’historical epistemology è indipendente non solo rispetto ai primi usi nel contesto dell’epistemologia marxista, ma anche alla tradizione epistemologica francese. Esso si deve ad un gruppo di storici e filosofi della scienza riunitisi nel 1982/1983 a Bielefeld per lavorare ad uno studio storico di un concetto epistemologico, quello di probabilità. Il gruppo, che comprende studiosi quali Lorraine Daston, Theodore Porter e Ian Hacking, è diretto da Lorenz Krüger, storico e filosofo della scienza tedesco e principale fautore della creazione del Max Planck Institute for the History of Science di Berlino. L’idea dell’istituto, che sarà poi effettivamente inaugurato solamente nel 1994, si consolida a Bielefeld, insieme all’idea che le sue ricerche debbano coniugare storia e filosofia della scienza sotto la bandiera dell’epistemologia storica.

Nei primi anni duemila, con il riacuirsi, in ambito anglosassone, del cosiddetto dibattito sul “matrimonio” tra storia e filosofia della scienza, si riaccende anche il dibattito sull’epistemologia storica e una serie di conferenze e pubblicazioni mette in luce la mancanza di una definizione univoca di questo tipo di epistemologia. In questo contesto, con “historical epistemology”, ci si riferisce generalmente a quelle ricerche che si propongono di storicizzare la forma delle dimostrazioni, gli standard di spiegazione o le categorie quali conoscenza, credenza, evidenza, oggettività o probabilità, che strutturano il pensiero scientifico. Riecheggiando il metodo archeologico foucaultiano, Hacking scrive che “la preistoria della probabilità è più importante della sua storia”, nella “misura in cui le precondizioni per l’emergenza del nostro concetto di probabilità hanno determinato la natura stessa di questo oggetto intellettuale” (The Emergence of Probability, 1975). Gli studi su concetti dalla portata apparentemente più circoscritta, quali ad esempio quelli di sessualità e di perversione (A. Davidson, The Emergence of Sexuality. Historical Epistemology and the Formation of Concepts, 2002), mettono in luce quell’intreccio tra storia dell’oggettività e storia della soggettività che costituisce un ulteriore elemento di continuità tra l’epistemologia storica contemporanea e la metodologia foucaultiana.

Le alternative teoriche tra cui si inserisce l’historical epistemology sono principalmente riconducibili alla storia culturale e alla storia sociale. Entrambe queste “storie” danno in un certo senso per scontato il loro oggetto d’indagine, l’una limitandosi all’analisi delle cause che lo producono, l’altra ai significati che esso genera per i membri di una data comunità. Anziché catene causali o reti di significati, l’epistemologia storica mette a fuoco la formazione di reti o sistemi concettuali governati da regole. L’historical epistemology intende rivedere, se non proprio abbandonare, alcune divisioni ancora operative in molta filosofia della scienza anglosassone, come la separazione netta tra fatti e valori, o tra contesto della scoperta e contesto della giustificazione. La nozione di metodo scientifico viene pluralizzata (si parla di “stili di ragionamento scientifici”) ed è il suo senso euristico, legato alla scoperta, più che quello logico, relativo alla validazione di un dato enunciato o teoria, ad essere considerato con maggiore attenzione. Ma mentre gli epistemologi storici francesi sembrano ritenere che la storia di un concetto serva non solo a comprenderne la traiettoria o il funzionamento, ma a fornire per così dire un test della sua validità, l’epistemologia storica contemporanea, più preoccupata di evitare le tendenze costruttivistiche e relativistiche di molta sociologia della conoscenza, intende generalmente storicizzare le categorie della scienza senza per questo rimetterne in questione la validità.

Da questa panoramica, senza dubbio parziale, si evince che non è possibile dare una risposta univoca alla domanda “che cos’è l’epistemologia storica?”, in quanto questa è stata intesa in sensi anche molto diversi tra loro, spesso in funzione degli specifici problemi posti da un determinato contesto filosofico. Sarebbe però sbagliato ritenere che i due quadri, quello francese e quello anglosassone, non avendo nessun legame storico forte, siano assolutamente “incommensurabili” anche a livello concettuale. In realtà, sia l’epistemologia storica francese che quella anglosassone assegnano alla storia della scienza il ruolo che nell’epistemologia tradizionale è affidato alla logica o alla teoria della scienza. In senso ampio, quindi, l’epistemologia storica può essere compresa come un’indagine sulle condizioni (sia concettuali che tecniche) tramite cui qualcosa può diventare un oggetto di sapere e di conoscenza scientifica più in particolare. Inoltre, con il termine “epistemologia storica”, ci si può riferire alla delimitazione di un insieme di problemi riguardanti le implicazioni delle diverse maniere di storicizzare l’epistemologia. Da questo punto di vista, le riflessioni, non solo di Bachelard, Canguilhem e Foucault, ma anche, tra gli altri, di Hélène Metzger e Alexandre Koyré, sul ruolo della storia della scienza nell’epistemologia possono portare un grande contributo ai dibattiti attuali sull’integrazione tra filosofia e storia della scienza.

CFP – 6èmes Journées d’études sur l’EH – Paris 2020



Appel à Communications 

6èmes Journées d’études sur l’Épistémologie Historique
Épistémologie historique et épistémologie de l’histoire

Paris, 4-5-6 juin 2020



Les journées d’études sont organisées par

Épistémologie Historique. Research Network on the History and the Methods of Historical Epistemology

avec le soutien de 

École doctorale de Philosophie – ED 280 (Paris 1)
IHPST (UMR 8590, Paris 1/CNRS)
PhiCO/ISJPS (UMR 8103, Paris 1)

République des Savoirs (USR 3608, ENS/ Collège de France/CNRS)
École doctorale Lettres, Arts, Sciences humaines et sociales –
ED 540 (ENS) – EUR Translitteræ (PSL)

Maison d’Auguste Comte


L’étude des rapports que l’épistémologie historique entretient avec l’histoire révèle un paradoxe : d’un côté, la notion même d’épistémologie historique confère à l’histoire un rôle essentiel, en proposant de lier entre elles la réflexion philosophique sur les sciences et la prise en compte de leur historicité. Mais, d’un autre côté, force est de constater que l’épistémologie historique s’est très peu intéressée à la discipline historienne en tant que telle. Ainsi l’épistémologie historique n’a-t-elle pas développé, du moins à l’origine, une épistémologie de l’histoire.

On peut trouver l’origine de ce paradoxe dans les textes de Gaston Bachelard qui ont posé les jalons de l’historiographie propre à l’épistémologie historique. En affirmant que l’histoire des sciences ne pouvait être une histoire comme les autres, Bachelard y opposait point par point les exigences de l’historiographie traditionnelle — la rigueur descriptive et le souci d’éviter les anachronismes — et celles de l’histoire des sciences qu’il souhaitait promouvoir, qu’il présentait comme une histoire du progrès scientifique, résolument rétrospective et normative.

Dans la perspective de Bachelard, qui ne reconnaît d’autre forme d’historicité que celle de l’accès à la scientificité, on peut ainsi poser la question de savoir si la discipline historienne possède elle-même une histoire comparable à celle de la physique ou des mathématiques, ou si elle se rapproche davantage de l’anhistoricité du préscientifique. Les héritages pluriels de l’épistémologie bachelardienne que l’on a pu rassembler sous la notion d’épistémologie historique se sont caractérisés par différentes manières de répondre à cette question ou de la reformuler. Certains auteurs ont tenté d’appliquer les concepts et les méthodes de l’épistémologie historique à l’histoire elle-même. C’est le cas de Louis Althusser, qui présente l’émergence du matérialisme historique comme le dépassement d’une histoire idéologique et l’accès à une science de l’histoire. L’épistémologie historique s’intéresserait alors à l’histoire dans la mesure où celle-ci est capable d’accéder à une scientificité comparable à celle des sciences de la nature. Une tentative un peu différente de resserrer les liens entre l’épistémologie historique et l’histoire générale est proposée par L’Archéologie du savoir, qui s’inspire de l’épistémologie bachelardienne et de l’histoire des Annales pour élaborer un nouveau manifeste historiographique. Foucault nous inviterait alors à modifier les catégories initiales de l’épistémologie historique, pour poser la question plus générale du découpage des formations discursives, question qui s’appliquerait aussi bien à la science qu’aux autres phénomènes discursifs. Malgré ce précédent foucaldien, on peut se demander si les présupposés de l’historiographie bachelardienne ne font pas partie des facteurs qui pourraient expliquer la faible intensité des relations entre l’histoire des sciences et l’histoire des mentalités, que l’on a régulièrement déplorée.

Des auteurs comme Gilles-Gaston Granger, dont on connaît l’influence sur Paul Veyne, ont plutôt cherché à justifier le fait que l’épistémologie historique n’ait pas pris pour objet la discipline historienne, en avançant différents arguments pour montrer que l’histoire n’est pas une science. On pourra interroger, dans cette perspective, le statut qui est alors conféré à la démarche historienne, et se demander si le fait de refuser à l’histoire la scientificité ne vient pas, en retour, fragiliser subrepticement une épistémologie historique qui s’appuie sur l’histoire des sciences. On pourra finalement étudier des auteurs qui, tout en remettant en cause l’idée que l’histoire puisse être une science au même titre que les sciences de la nature, ont cependant refusé de la rapprocher de la connaissance commune : c’est ainsi le cas de Jean-Claude Passeron qui, tout en s’inspirant de l’épistémologie historique, revendique l’existence d’une différence radicale entre le régime de scientificité des sciences historiques et celles des sciences expérimentales, et montre que cette différence affecte les types de progrès et de discontinuités dont ces sciences sont susceptibles. On pourra ainsi se demander s’il n’est pas utile de revenir sur la distinction bachelardienne entre histoire des sciences et histoire générale en remarquant les différences entre les histoires des différentes disciplines scientifiques. La question, en effet, ne concerne pas seulement la discipline historienne en tant que telle, mais toutes les sciences qui se veulent “historiques” dans la mesure où elles portent sur des événements ayant eu lieu dans le passé et qui vont des diverses sciences humaines et sociales à la géologie ou à la biologie de l’évolution, pour ne citer que des exemples. Ces sciences sont-elles toutes historiques dans le même sens ? Dans quel sens et dans quelle mesure une discipline peut-elle se dire “historique” ? De quelle manière l’historicité d’une science est-elle liée à l’historicité de son objet et de ses méthodes ? 

Trois sont donc les axes que nous voudrions analyser à l’occasion de ces journées :

  • Axe 1 : Quelle est la spécificité de l’histoire des sciences par rapport à d’autres démarches historiennes ? 
  • Axe 2 : Vers une épistémologie historique de l’histoire ?
  • Axe 3 : La pluralité des rapports entre historicité et objets scientifiques dans les savoirs formels, sciences de la vie, sciences de la matière, sciences humaines et sociales.

Comme les années précédentes, nous souhaitons que le sujet retenu soit l’occasion d’une rencontre entre des philosophes et historiens des sciences aux options méthodologiques variées. Nous désirons donc recevoir des propositions adoptant dans des proportions diverses une approche historique et/ou analytique appliquée à la clarification critique de certains des concepts les plus centraux des sciences “sciences historiques” au sens large, allant de l’histoire historienne aux sciences sociales et aux sciences de la vie. 

Les propositions d’interventions (max 500 mots, plus une courte présentation du candidat) sont à nous faire parvenir, avant le 15 mars 2020 (date de réponse le 1 avril), en format word ou pdf à Les deux langues des journées seront le français et l’anglais. 


Call for papers

6th International Workshop on Historical Epistemology
Historical Epistemology and Epistemology of History

Paris, 4-5-6 June 2020


The workshop is organized by

Épistémologie historique. Research Network on the History and the Methods of Historical Epistemology

With the support of

École doctorale de Philosophie – ED 280 (Paris 1)
IHPST (UMR 8590, Paris 1/CNRS)
PhiCO/ISJPS (UMR 8103, Paris 1)

République des Savoirs (USR 3608, ENS/ Collège de France/CNRS)
École doctorale Lettres, Arts, Sciences humaines et sociales –
ED 540 (ENS) – EUR Translitteræ (PSL)

Maison d’Auguste Comte


Study of the relationship between historical epistemology and history immediately reveals a paradox: on the one hand, the very idea of historical epistemology assigns a central role to history, proposing to connect philosophical reflection on the sciences with acknowledgement of their historicity. Yet, on the other hand, one cannot fail to notice that historical epistemology as a field has concerned itself very little with the discipline of history as such. As a result, it has not yet developed an epistemology of history.

We can locate the origin of this paradox in the texts of Gaston Bachelard, which laid out the basic notions about history still characterizing historical epistemology. Recognizing the history of science as distinct from traditional history, Bachelard conceived history of science to oppose point-by-point the needs of traditional historiography – including its emphasis on rigorous description and concern for avoiding anachronism. The resulting history of scientific progress he presented was resolutely retrospective and normative.

Bachelard did not acknowledge any form of historicity other than the one made possible by overcoming the threshold of scientificity. He thus asked whether the discipline of history should be understood to have a history comparable to that of physics or mathematics or if it should be understood as closer to the ahistoricity of the pre-scientific. The plural heritages of Bachelardian epistemology that gathered around this question are characterized by their different ways of responding to or reformulating this question. Some authors have tried to apply the concepts and methods of historical epistemology to history itself. That is the case for Louis Althusser, who presents the emergence of historical materialism as the overcoming of an ideological notion of history and ascension of a science of history. Historical epistemology would therefore be interested in history to the extent that the latter is capable of accessing a level of scientificity comparable to that of the natural sciences. A somewhat different attempt to reinforce the links between historical epistemology and general history is put forward by Foucault’s Archaeology of Knowledge, which is inspired by Bachelard’s epistemology and by the history of the Annales and aims to elaborate a new historiographic manifesto. Foucault invites us to modify the initial categories of historical epistemology in order to ask a more general question about the emergence of discursive formations –a question which applies to the sciences as well as to other discursive phenomena. This Foucauldian precedent notwithstanding, one may ask whether the presuppositions underwriting Bachelardian historiography are not among the main factors explaining the weak relationship between the history of science and the history of mentality.

Authors like Gilles-Gaston Granger, whose influence on Paul Veyne is well known, have tried to justify the fact that historical epistemology has not taken the discipline of history as an object by putting forward different claims that history is not a science. Examining the status given to history in various arguments allows us to analyse the degree to which the move to deny history a form of scientificity marginalizes or renders precarious forms of historical epistemology that rely on the history of science. It also enables us to analyse the arguments of authors that, despite questioning whether history is a science in the same sense as the natural sciences, nonetheless refuse to consider it as closer to common knowledge: this is the case for Jean-Claude Passeron, who, while drawing on historical epistemology, sees a radical difference between the regime of scientificity of the historical sciences and that of the experimental sciences and argues that this difference affects the types of progress and of discontinuity these sciences instantiate. Exploring such arguments will make it possible for us to return to Bachelard’s distinction between the history of science and general history by remarking on differences between the histories of the different scientific disciplines. These questions are relevant not only for the discipline of history itself but also for other sciences that claim to be “historical” to the extent that they bear on events that have taken place in the past – from the human and social sciences to geology or the biology of evolution, just to mention some examples. Are all these sciences “historical” in the same sense? In what sense can a discipline consider itself “historical”? In what way is the historicity of a science linked to the historicity of its objects and its methods?

There are three axes we would like to analyse for this year’s workshop:

  • Axe 1: What is specific about the history of science in relation to other historical methodologies?
  • Axe 2:   What would it mean to move towards an historical epistemology of history?
  • Axe 3: How can we characterize and distinguish the historicity of scientific objects in formal knowledge, the life sciences, the sciences of matter, and the human and the social sciences?

As in previous years, we would like this theme to represent an occasion for encounter among philosophers and historians of science with different methodological approaches. In other terms, we would like to receive proposals adopting a range of historical and/or analytical approaches to critical clarification of the central concepts of the “historical sciences,” understood in the widest sense as spanning from history as such to the social and life sciences.

Proposals (500 words plus a short presentation of the candidate) must be sent by 15 March 2020 (notification of acceptance or refusal by 1 April) in Word or .pdf formats to Proposals by graduate students and early career researchers will be prioritized. The languages of the workshop will be French and English.


Confirmed Keynotes

Sophie Roux (ENS)
Paul A. Roth (California)
Perrine Simon-Nahum (EHESS)


Comité d’organisation

Matteo Vagelli (coordinateur)
Ivan Moya Diez (coordinateur)
Caroline Angleraux
Marcos Camolezi
Lucie Fabry
Victor Lefèvre

Comité Scientifique

Christian Bonnet, CHSPM Paris 1
Jean-François Braunstein, PhiCo Paris 1
Hasok Chang, Cambridge University
Cristina Chimisso, Open University, UK
Arnold I. Davidson, Université de Chicago
Moritz Epple, Université de Francfort
Pierre Wagner, IHPST Paris 1



Global histories of the social survey in the long nineteenth century – February 18-19, 2020 – Centre Marc Bloch, Berlin

Global histories of the social survey in the long nineteenth century aims at analysing the co-production of the social and the colonial as related objects of scientific knowledge as well as fields of political and economic intervention in the long nineteenth century. The period under consideration connects the military-scientific expeditions to Egypt and the Terres Australes of the late Republic and early Napoleonic empire with the reconfiguration of the colonial world-order in
the wake of the First World War (ca. 1798-1918). As research in recent decades has focused mainly on the production of state-related social knowledge as tool of government and domination, our workshop wishes to explore administrative knowledge production along with less state-centred knowledge practices. While histories of classification in terms of gender, race and class as well as other social categories and their related juridical-economic consequences are an indispensable
background for studies on the history of early social sciences, it is our understanding that the focus on taxonomy and structure tends to overwrite the imaginative and intellectual agency of categorized subjects themselves. For related reasons the history of social inquiry has received large attention as an instrument of discipline but much less as an active means of epistemic resistance.
The perspective of a “history of inquiries” (Topalov 2015) in a global perspective might allow to disclose some of these untold stories at the intersection of state-related knowledge (Vogel/ Schilling 2019) and its appropriation and transformation by diverse groups of actors. At the same time the study of early techniques of social surveys, their development, reception and circulation through European and colonial spaces might contribute to a history of administrative knowledge in its social/national as well as colonial realm. Yet, the workshop does not aim to define the practice of the inquiry, its goal is rather a preliminary exploration of its different forms, materials and techniques. Leading questions of the workshop are: What were the representations of the “social” and the “colonial” embedded in and created by inquiries? How did they evolve and circulate throughout empires and social movements alike? How was epistemic resistance organized and how did social knowledge production from below look like? What are the methodological potentials and challenges of a global history of the social survey as an alternative path to write the history of the social/colonial sciences in the long nineteenth century?

Parution: Livre d’Audrey Benoit: Trouble dans la matière. Pour une épistémologie matérialiste du sexe.


Audrey Benoit est ancienne élève de l’ENS Ulm, agrégée et docteure en philosophie. Elle est chercheuse associée au Centre d’histoire des philosophies modernes de la Sorbonne (Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne). Ses recherches en philosophie politique et sociale portent sur les questions féministes et sur la philosophie française contemporaine.

Le livre

La différence sexuelle de l’homme et de la femme est-elle un simple fait physiologique, ou bien également un effet des normes sociales ? En 1990, dans Trouble dans le genre, Judith Butler soutient que la catégorie de « sexe » ne se contente pas de décrire une différence naturelle entre l’homme et la femme, mais contribue à la produire, par la répétition des normes du genre dans les discours et les pratiques sociales. Pour
déconstruire ces catégories naturalisantes (« homme » et « femme »), Butler inscrit sa critique du sexisme dans une critique plus globale de l’hétérosexisme, c’est-à-dire de l’injonction sociale à l’hétérosexualité.
Trouble dans la matière s’ouvre sur le contexte polémique de la réception de Judith Butler en France, dans les cercles où l’on reproche aux études de genre de semer le trouble dans la lutte des classes. En mettant au jour la dimension matérialiste de la thèse butlerienne de la construction discursive du sexe, l’ouvrage interroge en retour la fécondité de son analyse du pouvoir des mots pour la critique sociale d’inspiration marxiste. En explorant la postérité singulière de Marx, d’Althusser à Foucault, au prisme de l’épistémologie de Canguilhem, Audrey Benoit fait de la construction discursive du « sexe » le point de départ d’une réflexion générale sur la production de la réalité sociale par les discours qui prétendent la décrire. Elle propose ainsi des éléments pour une épistémologie matérialiste qui considère le pouvoir du discours de produire et de transformer la réalité sociale.


Sexe et genre : matière à critique
Enjeu matérialiste
Enjeu féministe
Les épistémologies matérialistes d’Althusser et de Foucault
Le milieu de l’épistémologie de Canguilhem

Chapitre 1 – La construction discursive du sexe : une question matérialiste ?
Trouble dans le genre : situation et enjeux de la déconstruction du sexe
Brouillages dans les réceptions
Convergence dans les résistances

Chapitre 2 – Le matérialisme d’Althusser : une épistémologie constructiviste ?
Althusser en 1965 : éléments de contexte
La coupure épistémologique
Science et idéologie : le statut de la philosophie
La lecture althussérienne de l’Introduction de 1857
Vers une matérialité conceptuelle et discursive

Chapitre 3 – Althusser, une pratique théorique de l’abstraction
Un virage autocritique dans l’œuvre d’Althusser ?
L’abstraction matérialiste : repenser les liens de la théorie et de la pratique
Science et philosophie : la présence matérielle de l’idéologie

Chapitre 4 – Foucault, une archéologie matérialiste des discours
L’événement, avènement de l’histoire ?
Le discours de l’archéologie
L’expérience livresque
L’ordre du discours, regard sur l’archéologie
L’archéologie du savoir : l’épistémologie foucaldienne
Les mots et les choses, archéologie matérialiste

Chapitre 5 – Par-delà la théorie et la pratique : la matérialité de l’idéologie
Althusser et Foucault : transformations et critiques de l’idéologie
Couper la tête du roi : une pratique théorique ?
Couper la tête du sujet : l’antihumanisme d’Althusser et de Foucault

Chapitre 6 – L’épistémologie historique, entre source et delta
L’invention canguilhemienne de l’épistémologie historique
Foucault, lecteur de Canguilhem
Althusser, ou la rencontre de l’épistémologie historique et du marxisme
Ricochets : Althusser et Foucault, dans la pensée de Canguilhem

Chapitre 7 – La matérialité discursive du sexe
Le pouvoir des mots : idéologie ou performativité ?
Les corps sont importants
Avec et au-delà de Judith Butler : pour une épistémologie matérialiste du sexe


Sources et bibliographie
Index des noms

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