The tribunal of philosophy and its norms: History and philosophy in Georges Canguilhem's historical epistemology

In this article I assess Georges Canguilhem's historical epistemology with both theoretical and historical questions in mind. From a theoretical point of view, I am concerned with the relation between history and philosophy, and in particular with the philosophical assumptions and external norms that are involved in history writing. Moreover, I am concerned with the role that history can play in the understanding and evaluation of philosophical concepts. From a historical point of view, I regard historical epistemology, as developed by Gaston Bachelard and Georges Canguilhem, as a conception and practice which came out of the project, elaborated in France from the 1920s to the 1940s, of combining history of science and philosophy. I analyse in particular Canguilhem's epistemology in his theory and practice of history of science. What he called 'normative history' is the focus of my analysis. I evaluate the question of the nature and provenience of the norm employed in normative history, and I compare it with the norm as discussed by Canguilhem in Le normal et le pathologique. While I am critical of Canguilhem's treatment of history, I conclude that his philosophical suggestion to analyse the formation of scientific concepts 'from below' represents a useful model for history and philosophy of science, and that it can be very profitably extended to philosophical concepts.
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DOI 10.1016/S1369-8486(03)00027-X
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References found in this work BETA
Lorraine Daston (1994). Historical Epistemology. In James K. Chandler, Arnold Ira Davidson & Harry D. Harootunian (eds.), Questions of Evidence: Proof, Practice, and Persuasion Across the Disciplines. University of Chicago Press 282--289.
Michel Foucault (1985). La Vie : L'Expérience Et la Science. Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale 90 (1):3 - 14.
Georges Canguilhem (1988). Le Statut Épistémologique de la Médecine. History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 10:15 - 29.

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