The dilemma of case studies resolved: The virtues of using case studies in the history and philosophy of science

Perspectives on Science 9 (4):383-404 (2001)
Abstract
: Philosophers of science turned to historical case studies in part in response to Thomas Kuhn's insistence that such studies can transform the philosophy of science. In this issue Joseph Pitt argues that the power of case studies to instruct us about scientific methodology and epistemology depends on prior philosophical commitments, without which case studies are not philosophically useful. Here I reply to Pitt, demonstrating that case studies, properly deployed, illustrate styles of scientific work and modes of argumentation that are not well handled by currently standard philosophical analyses. I illustrate these claims with exemplary findings from case studies dealing with exploratory experimentation and with interdisciplinary cooperation across sciences to yield multiple independent means of access to theoretical entities. The latter cases provide examples of ways that scientists support claims about theoretical entities that are not available in work performed within a single discipline. They also illustrate means of correcting systematic biases that stem from the commitments of each discipline taken separately. These findings illustrate the transformative power of case study methods, allow us to escape from the horns of Pitt's "dilemma of case studies," and vindicate some of the post-Kuhn uses to which case studies have been put.
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