Beyond the Whig history interpretation of history: lessons on 'presentism' from Hélène Metzger

During the second half of the twentieth century, historians of science have shown a considerable interest in ‘presentism’, a term first applied to the kind of history of science in which past knowledge is judged to celebrate and legitimize modern science. Taking Herbert Butterfield’s The Whig interpretation of history as a point of reference, ‘presentism’ has been usually associated with ‘Whig history’ or ‘Whiggish history’. Nevertheless, Butterfield’s essay is one of many approaches to this question. In this article, I examine Hélène Metzger’s La méthode philosophique dans l’histoire des sciences, a major theoretical contribution of ‘presentism’. I argue that the papers she published in the 1930s are among the most important critical reflections on ‘presentism’ written by a historian of science before 1950. Through this examination, I demonstrate that Hélène Metzger‘s ideas can provide historians of science with a useful set of tools to reflect upon ‘presentism’, beyond the narrow definition of the latter as ‘Whig history’.Keywords: Metzger; Presentism; Whig History; Hermeneutics
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DOI 10.1016/j.shpsa.2008.03.005
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Will Durant (2010). Lessons of History. Simon & Schuster Paperbacks.
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