Providing metaphysical sense and orientation: Nature-chemistry relationships in the popular historiography of chemistry
David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Historians of science, like all historians, know well that every account of the history of science is necessarily an interpretation of the history of science. It requires decisions on what is important and what not, it requires ordering, contextualizing, and interpreting the available material, and presenting the results in a final form that sounds plausible to readers. Because a majority of the readers of histories of science are scientists, the degree of plausibility and acceptability depends on what scientists expect from the historiography of science. As a rule, scientists expect much, too much than historians of science can fulfill without giving up their scholarly standards. Indeed, many scientist wish to read entertaining stories that make science, or their discipline, look particular attractive and interesting to a broader public. They may have their personal heroes, schools, or nations that they expect to be duly honored and celebrated. They want historians to focus on what they consider essential in order to carve socio-historical identities of disciplines or subdisciplines. They like to see progress in the historical development with one or the other revolution. They are yearning for meaning of the historical whole, such that individual scientific activities, including their own, make sense in the whole, and that one can draw extrapolations from the past to provide directions and goals for the future. In order to meet all these expectations, a meta-narrative is required that professional historians are reluctant to adopt. And so scientists are inclined to write their own histories of science for personal satisfaction. In chemistry, the most powerful meta-narrative that satisfies all the mentioned and other historiographic needs of chemists is a story about “chemistry versus nature”. It was invented and is still cultivated by chemists alone, without support and without objections thus far, from historians of chemistry. While the story has provided strong metaphysical orientation to chemists, it has caused rather alienation and hostility outside of chemistry. In this paper I will provide a brief history of the meta-narrative “chemistry versus nature”..
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