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C H A P T E R 2 HOW HISTORY OF SCIENCE D I F F E R S FROM OTHER HISTORY THERE ARE differences of consequence, we contend, between history of science and other history, mainly general (that is, politico-social) history, but also history of literature , and even history of philosophy proper. The differences are differences of degree only, but they are significant . In detail, we will be mainly concerned with history of basic developments in mathematics and physics, but our observations will usually apply to larger areas of history, although the scope of the larger area may vary with the context. We assert as follows. (1) History of science is younger, considerably younger than general history, and in historiographic analyses these differences of evolutionary age and maturity have to be taken into account. (2) In history of science the relation of history to source material is an exacting one. The "Great Books" in science are at one and the same time events of science, source material for history of science, and frequently even themselves histories of science. (3) In a certain qualified sense, especially with regard to basic or general developments, which are of interest to the public at large and not only to specialists in particular areas, the subject matter of history of science is, in volume, relatively small and has a relative scarcity of expandable detail. Therefore, in history of science, books of general narrative and over-all interpretation are, through no fault of theirs, exposed to the danger of becoming monotonous by repetition, or inflated by invention; whereas in general [59] H I S T O R Y OF S C I E N C E & O T H E R H I S T O R Y history the need of broad-gauged narratives, and of intimate studies, is inexhaustible. (4) The phenomenon of medievalism is much more pronounced and even more vexing in history of science than in virtually any other history. The all-important "rehabilitation " of the Middle Ages, which has been in progress since the first decades of the 19th century, is at least as important and illuminating in history of science as in any other history. But because of a relative scarcity of expandable material the peculiar danger of overromanticizing the Middle Ages is, in history of science, even greater than in other history, and must be guarded against even more vigilantly. (5) Next, unidirectedness of developments, irreversibility of advancement, and unlikelihood of recurrence of identical historical situations play a more incisive role in history of science than in general history. Science does change, irreversibly, not only in its materia but in the very nature of its materia; and more than in any other history, the past discloses itself in the future. This leads to the following problem with which history of science, especially history of leading ideas in science, has constantly to contend . On the one hand, due to the irreversible changing of science, it is doubly important to "fix" past events within their own past settings and against their own past backgrounds . But on the other hand, due to a continuing revealing of the meaning of events of the past in their unfolding in the future, it is frequently tempting, and almost irresistible, to appraise a scientific event of the past by what has become of it in a textbook of the future, and even in an up-to-date textbook of our today, that is, of any "today" in which the appraising is being performed. This does not mean to say that there are no durable findings in history of science, whose durability is impervious to the dating of the textbook by which to judge them. But we do mean to say that frequently the aspect of durability of a [6o] HISTORY OF SCIENCE & OTHER HISTORY finding in history of science is tinged by the same shadow of non-finality by which findings in science per se generally are. And this makes it the harder to distinguish the durable from the ephemeral. (6) The most telling manifestation of unidirectedness and irreversibility of developments in science is the continuing and relentless systematization and mathematization of science. In consequence of this, the traditional feature of "spectacularity" and "wondrousness" of scientific phenomena will recede ever more. And it will become ever more difficult to uphold a substantive distinction between a history of science which likes phenomena of science to be unusual, and a philosophy of science which wants their attributes to be eternal...


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