Explication Work for Science and Philosophy

In: Journal of the Philosophy of History
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  • 1 Indiana University

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This article disentangles the various assumptions and expectations tied to case studies, to testing philosophy through cases, and to historical adequacy. Several notions of historical adequacy are distinguished: 1) adequacy to the standards of professional history of science, 2) historical accuracy, i.e. capturing the historical record, 3) relevance of historical episodes to the epistemic interests of philosophers of science, and 4) withstanding tests by historical cases. I argue that philosophers’ preoccupation with historical adequacy is misplaced if we understand “historical adequacy” as adequacy to professional history of science, capturing the historical record, a path to philosophical discovery, or as a test. In the last part of the article, I identify two important roles for philosophically informed studies of science: case studies of current issues can do explication work for the sciences. Tracing the history of philosophical reflections in past science can do explication work in the service of philosophy. Both kinds of endeavors are worthwhile but have very different goals and should not be conflated.