How many sciences for one world? Contingency and the success of science

Contingentism is the claim that the history of a particular field of science could have taken a different route from the actual one, and that the resulting imaginary science could have been both as successful as the real one and, in a non-trivial way, incompatible with it. Inevitabilism consists in the denial of this claim. In this paper, I try both to give a clear content to contingentism, especially in the field of physics, and to argue for its plausibility, while acknowledging that it is extremely hard to give an argument that establishes its validity in a compelling way. By contrasting the history of science with that of geographic discoveries and the difficulties faced by any inevitabilist account of the former, I consider three different characterizations of the success of science, truth, adequacy to the phenomena, and robust fit, and analyze their consequences for the meaning and plausibility of contingentism. I retain the third characterization of scientific success and argue that the role played by creativity in scientific activities and the fact that there is a multiplicity of paths that researchers can legitimately follow in order to obtain a robust fit jointly support a qualified version of contingentism.Keywords: Inevitabilism; Contingentism; Success of science; Stability; Historical emergence; Robust fit
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1016/j.shpsa.2008.03.017
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history Request removal from index
Download options
PhilPapers Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy on self-archival     Papers currently archived: 24,479
External links
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library
References found in this work BETA
Ian Hacking (1992). The Self-Vindication of the Laboratory Sciences. In Andrew Pickering (ed.), Science as Practice and Culture. University of Chicago Press. pp. 29--64.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA
Ian James Kidd (2016). Inevitability, Contingency, and Epistemic Humility. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 55:12-19.
Ian James Kidd (2013). Historical Contingency and the Impact of Scientific Imperialism. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 27 (3):317–326.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Monthly downloads

Added to index


Total downloads

42 ( #115,433 of 1,925,764 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

6 ( #140,581 of 1,925,764 )

How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature

Start a new thread
There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.