Rational Reconstruction Reconsidered

The Monist 93 (4):598-617 (2010)
Here is a dilemma concerning the history of science. Can the history of scientific thought be reduced to the history of the beliefs, motives and actions of scientists? Or should we think of the history of scientific thought as in some sense independent from the history of scientists? The aim of this paper is to carve out an intermediate position between these two. I will argue that the history of scientific thought supervenes on, but not reducible to, the history of scientists. There is a legitimate level of description for analyzing the history of scientific thought that does not reduce to the individual level of scientists. Yet, every aspect of the history of scientific thought is determined by the actual motives and actions of individual scientists. Maybe surprisingly, I use Imre Lakatos’s controversial concept of the rational reconstruction of the history of science in order to argue for this intermediate position.
Keywords Lakatos  Rational reconstruction  History of science
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