Why the dilemma of case studies misses the point: Towards an explicit methodology for integrated history and philosophy of science

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2014

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Abstract

We respond to two kinds of skepticism about integrated history and philosophy of science: foundational and methodological. Foundational skeptics doubt that the history and the philosophy of science have much to gain from each other in principle. We therefore discuss some of the unique rewards of work at the intersection of the two disciplines. By contrast, methodological skeptics already believe that the two disciplines should be related to each other, but they doubt that this can be done successfully. Their worries are captured by the so-called dilemma of case studies: On one horn of the dilemma, we begin our integrative enterprise with philosophy and proceed from there to history, in which case we may well be selecting our historical cases so as to fit our preconceived philosophical theses. On the other horn, we begin with history and proceed to philosophical reflection, in which case we are prone to unwarranted generalization from particulars. Against worries about selection bias, we argue that we routinely need to make explicit the criteria for choosing particular historical cases to investigate particular philosophical theses. It then becomes possible to ask whether or not the selection criteria were biased. Against worries about unwarranted generalization, we stress the iterative nature of the process by which historical data and philosophical concepts are brought into alignment. The skeptics’ doubts are fueled by an outdated model of outright confirmation vs. outright falsification of philosophical concepts. A more appropriate model is one of stepwise and piecemeal improvement.

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modern, contemporary, case study, history, philosophy, general science, the opportunity of historical case studies facing the delimma of case studies

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Preprint, http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/12029/2/SchollRazTowardsApril2016.pdf
Downstream publication: Scholl, Raphael, Nickelsen, Kärin & Räz, Tim. (2016) Towards a Methodology for Integrated History and Philosophy of Science, The Philosophy of Historical Case Studies, 69-91.

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