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  • Pour une histoire des sciences à part entière
  • Wilda Anderson
Jacques Roger. Pour une histoire des sciences à part entière. Idées. Paris: Albin Michel, 1995. 476 pp. Fr. F. 160.00 (paperbound).

This book is a posthumous collection of essays published in various places between 1953 and 1990 by Jacques Roger, professor of the history of science at the University of Tours, then at the Sorbonne, and finally Directeur d’Etudes and director of the Centre Alexandre Koyré at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris. The book is complemented with a thorough bibliography of Roger’s work, a most useful tool given how widely spread were the journals in which he published. The very informative introduction, written by Claude Blanckaert, situates Roger in his intellectual environment in Paris during the upheavals of the structuralist and poststructuralist movements of the sixties and seventies.

Blanckaert makes very clear, as do many of the essays themselves, the extent to which Roger saw his work as being in opposition to that of philosophers of history like Canguilhem and (especially) Michel Foucault: “Jacques Roger n’était pas un théoricien des grandes discontinuités ou des ‘coupures’ épistémologiques, mais un analyste des déplacements subtils, inscrits dans la durée” [Jacques Roger was not a theoretician of great discontinuities nor of epistemological breaks, but an analyst of the subtle displacements inscribed within diachronic (developments)] (p. 20). And yet, Roger’s work still shared many methodological priorities with that of his contemporaries, especially those that would lead to discourse analysis: “L’étude lexicographique du vocabulaire scientifique lui apparaîtra une approche privilégiée de ces déterminismes de plus longue durée: ‘un vocabulaire n’est jamais innocent’” [The lexicographical study of scientific vocabulary seemed to him (to provide) a privileged approach to these long-duration determinisms: “a vocabulary is never innocent”] (p. 20). These interests result in part from the fact that Roger’s earliest studies were in literary history, and he only later became a historian of science.

The articles in the first third of the book are primarily programmatic, dealing with specific historical issues mostly in order to raise methodological points, and sometimes are openly polemical. While Roger rejected the comparative-epistemological bent of his French contemporaries and insisted on a more Anglo-American discipline-specific historical rigor within the history of science (p. 45), he nonetheless rejected the “two cultures” opposition and sought to uncover through the analysis of the functioning of scientific arguments the weight of the contemporary culture on a scientist’s reasoning. “En ce sens, il n’y a pas d’histoire ‘externaliste’ de la science, dans la mesure où les facteurs dits ‘externes’ s’intériorisent dans la pensée du savant et dans le discours scientifique” [In this sense, there is no “externalist” history of science, to the extent that the so-called “external” factors are interiorized within the thinking of the scientist and within scientific discourse] (p. 67). From this viewpoint, Roger’s work can be seen as a synthesis of the French study of cultural conceptual matrices with the detailed case studies of the anglophone tradition, resulting in a distinct intellectual voice.

The second third of the book presents more detailed and searching historical analyses of the thinkers who interested Roger the most: the geological and [End Page 120] biological thinkers of the French Enlightenment, especially Buffon. These are articles that complement the work for which he is best known, his analyses and critical editions of the life sciences in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. A postface by Jean Gayon analyzes the relationship between Roger’s own historical methodologies and the internal workings of the medical and biological fields he chose to study. For Gayon, the opposition referred to in the title of this collection is between history and philosophy. He sees the work of Roger as being less internalist than he would perhaps have been comfortable recognizing.

The rest of the book contains work in which this tendency is evident, and these articles are in some ways the most intriguing. Here Roger turns his attention back to his initial fields of study and discusses the...

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