Tijdschrift Voor Filosofie 60 (1):33 - 82 (1998)

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In this expository article, a presentation is given of A.C. Crombie's life work in the history of science, Styles of Scientific Thinking in the European Tradition. The History of Argument and Explanation in the Mathematical and Biomedical Sciences and Arts (1994). The importance of this work for the philosophy of science and epistemology is comparable to the more renowned work of the 1960's and '70s, but threatens to be paradoxically overlooked because of its gigantic proportions. (No thorough study of the book appeared up to now.) Crombie's earlier work started from a provocative version of continuism in the debate about the rise of modern science, ascribing the origin of the experimental tradition to methodological forebears in the thirteenth century (Grosseteste). Rather than revivifying this quarrel now, Crombie has offered us an emergentist picture of the rise of six subsequent major styles of science (using grand units of analysis) from the Greeks up to Darwin. These styles of thinking are superimposed upon another in that the definite breakthrough of each next style is consequent upon the recognition of the proper limits of the full grown previous style. In a first group, Crombie assembles three major styles for revealing regularities in individual phenomena, i.e. where the consideration of the collective to which the phenomenon belongs is not required for recognizing the regularity. Here we have (S1) the ancient style of postulating principles and entities according to a more or less apriorical evidence type or in axiomatic fashion; (S2) the experimental tradition from Alhazen up to Newton, and (S3) the style of hypothetical modelling, combining the former two in the vein of the rational artist as an (ultimately, also cognitive) engineer. In a second group the styles dealing with regularities discoverable only in a collectivity of phenomena are dealt with. Here we have the (S4) probabilistic style superimposed on the classical picture of rationality made up by the achieved styles in the first group. Then (S5) the taxonomic style is ready to be combined, finally, with S4, in order to discover the statistical economy of living nature in (S6), the 'genetic' style, culminating in Darwin's history of nature (which was to be expected). On the other hand, the latter style is traced back to the 16th and 17th century project of a history of languages and culture, of knowledge, and of mankind (which is a more surprising connection made by Crombie). In a final section some philosophical remarks are made regarding Crombie's project; mainly with respect to the larger perspective, in Crombie's terms, of an 'intellectual anthropology', or alternatively, in terms of a 'comparative epistemology'. Also the absence of a real analysis of the very concept of style is noted
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