Scenes from a Marriage: On the Confrontation Model of History and Philosophy of Science

In: Journal of the Philosophy of History

Abstract

According to the “confrontation model,” integrated history and philosophy of science operates like an empirical science. It tests philosophical accounts of science against historical case studies much like other sciences test theory against data. However, the confrontation model’s critics object that historical facts can neither support generalizations nor genuinely test philosophical theories. Here I argue that most of the model’s defects trace to its usual framing in terms of two problematic accounts of empirical inference: the hypothetico-deductive method and enumerative induction. This framing can be taken to suggest an unprofitable one-off confrontation between particular historical facts and general philosophical theories. I outline more recent accounts of empirical inquiry, which describe an iterative back-and-forth movement between concrete (rather than particular) empirical exemplars to their abstract (rather than general) descriptions. Reframed along similar lines, the confrontation model continues to offer both conceptual insight and practical guidance for a naturalized philosophy of science.