Foucault, une pensée du discontinu (Essais) (French Edition)

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We have discussed his critique of the Newtonians; we now turn to that of the Cartesians. What energetics offered was a formal theory, with the character of logical system, which instead of reducing physical qualities in the manner of mechanistic theories, limited itself to marking by means of a numerical scale the various intensities of such qualities. According to Duhem, the founders of electrodynamics—Coulomb, Poisson, and Ampere—followed these principles, but Maxwell did not.

Pierre Duhem (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

He also praises the fact that Ampere abandoned the attempt only after experimental facts about the magneto-optical rotation, discovered by Faraday, showed clearly that Ampere could not succeed in the attempt. But, again, according to Duhem, Maxwell does not follow these principles. Duhem is well known for his attack on the use of models in physical science. At first, it seems that Duhem tries to link his attack on model building with his espousal of instrumentalism for the physical sciences.

For Duhem there is a crucial difference between representing and explaining. He divides theories into two large categories, explanatory and purely representative theories, and argues that physical theories should not be considered as explanatory, but as purely representative or classificatory. The argument, as we have seen, is that, in order for physical theory to be explanatory, it would have to be subordinate to metaphysics and not autonomous.

But Duhem broadens the critique of model building to include mathematical models along with mechanical models. The complaint is clear: model building has no real place in physical theory beyond a minor heuristic role ; it can neither be grounded in realism, in the thought that physical theories are explanatory structures, nor in instrumentalism, in the thought that physical theories are classificatory or representative structures. In fact, model building is not even connected to the higher intellectual faculty of reason but to the lower faculty of imagination.

Some model builders even find pleasure in building two or more models of the same law. The fact that the English physicist can accept disparate models, breaking up the historical continuity of science and even its present unification, is what shocks Duhem; it is what reconfirms for him that English physics is not the work of reason, but the work of imagination.


Duhem does not attempt to justify his criterion of historical continuity in his study of Maxwell, perhaps because he previously broached the question. In an early methodological article, he asserts:. For that reason, a coherent physical theory is more perfect than an incoherent set of incompatible theories. Elaborating upon this point and commenting upon the connection between cosmology—that is, metaphysics, natural classification, or the ideal form of physical theory—and physical theory itself, Duhem asserts:.

Duhem supports this statement using an analogy with the trajectory of a ball.

Cultural History, Sep 2016, vo. 5, No. 2 : pp. 153-168

We cannot guess its end point with an instant glance at the ball, but we can prolong its trajectory if we followed the ball from the moment it was struck. So we cannot guess the end point of physical theory, the natural classification, by looking at any particular theory. We must appeal to the trajectory of physical theory, to its history, to enable us to tell whether any particular theory is likely to contribute toward the ultimate natural classification. As presented so far, Duhem is a philosopher who weaves together two large patchworks of theses: i instrumentalism or fictionalism, anti-atomism or anti-Cartesianism, anti-modelism, and autonomy of physics from metaphysics and ii anti-inductivism or critique of Newtonian method, the Duhem thesis, that is, non-falsifiability and non-separability.

The first set of theses effectively demarcates physical theory as an autonomous domain apart from other domains, that is, rejects any external method, and the second set then operates on the internal workings of physical theory. Having set apart physical theory, Duhem asserts that no internal method leads inexorably to the truth. For Duhem, there are always at least two basic ways of proceeding in science. Some scientists prefer the clutter of concrete details and thus do not mind ad hoc explanations, complications, and corrected theories; others prefer abstract, simple, and uncomplicated theories, even if they are gotten at the price of conceptual novelty.

In fact, from the start, when he described the broad-shallow English mind, his archetype was Napoleon Bonaparte, a great genius of military details—not an Englishman.

Foucault - Faut-il se débarrasser de l’humanisme ?, Olivier Dekens

Thus, when Duhem accused Faraday and Maxwell of having English minds, he did so by trying to establish something about how they conducted their science, not by referring to their ancestry. In his last work, La science allemande , mostly a work of wartime propaganda, Duhem added a third kind of mind to his original two, namely, the German mind.

If there are two basic types, the French mind and the English mind, then what could the German mind possibly be? Citing Pascal, Duhem tells us that truth requires both reason and argument— raison and raisonnement. Logic, or our ability to link propositions with one another, allows us to deduce one truth from another; but that ability, by itself, merely gets us back to first principles or axioms. We also need a faculty that allows us to intuit the truth of the first principles or axioms, that is, bon sens good sense. The dual scheme can now be expanded.

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We need logic, the ability to systematize, but we also need intuition, the recognition of truth. As a result, we can talk about a continuum of sciences; at one extreme on the theoretical side is German science, or logicism, and at the other extreme on the experimental side is English science, or crude modelism. In the middle is French science, which allegedly tempers the logical bent with historicism.

Yet this very deviation from the norm of universalism actually presupposed the legitimacy of the norm. Such perfection for Duhem is an equilibrium of disparate elements, not itself a single ideal type. The strength of his analysis is that there is no single direction within science that each individual must follow. For that, one would need to ground physics in a particular metaphysics—which Duhem explicitly rejects with his instrumentalism—or rather, to be guided by what one projects metaphysics will look like over the long run.

But his philosophy of science itself contained the seeds of scientific pluralism, which are the foundations of the Duhem thesis, that is, the thought that there are many legitimate and disparate ways of proceeding in science. Duhem argues that crucial experiments resemble false dilemmas: hypotheses in physics do not come in pairs, so that crucial experiments cannot transform one of the two into a demonstrated truth.

For example, the Newtonian emission theory predicts that light travels faster in water than in air; according to the wave theory, light travels slower in water than in air. Arago and Foucault concluded for the wave theory, thinking that the experiment refuted the emission theory. It was only in , while writing Les origines de la statique that Duhem came across an unusual reference to a then-unknown medieval thinker, Jordanus de Nemore.

His pursuit of this reference, and the research to which it led, is widely acknowledged to have created the field of the history of medieval science. In the second volume, Duhem greatly extended his historical scope. As expected, he covered seventeenth-century statics, but he also returned to the middle ages, spending four chapters on geostatics, including the work of Albert of Saxony in the fourteenth century.

Much more than documents.

From to , Duhem delved deeply into his favorite guide for the recovery of the past, the scientific notebooks of Leonardo de Vinci. Duhem presented Galilean dynamics as a continuous development out of medieval dynamics. Duhem then sketched the extension of impetus theory from terrestrial dynamics to the motions of the heavens and earth:.

Since the studies of Buridan and Oresme had remained in large part in manuscript, Duhem suggested that Albert of Saxony, whose works were printed and reprinted during the sixteenth century, was the likely link to Galileo. Crombie, Adriano Carugo, and William Wallace. He intended it as a twelve-volume work on the history of cosmological doctrines, ending with Copernicus.

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He completed nine volumes, the first five being published from to , and the next four having to wait until the s; a tenth, incomplete volume was also published then. These tomes impart an enormous amount of information about medieval astronomy, astrology, tidal theory, and geostatics, again presenting many sources for the first time in the modern era. They also trace developments in doctrines associated with such concepts as infinity, place, time, void, and the plurality or unity of the world. As early as , Antonio Favaro, the editor of Le Opere di Galileo Galilei , rejected the continuity of medieval and early modern science.

It presents histories of science in which metaphysics plays a primary role in explaining scientific change and it espouses a historiography that gives a central place to the concept of revolution. Medieval thought and early modern science are judged to be different in kind as well as in content.

Still, the work of Kuhn and later historically oriented philosophers and sociologists of science did attempt to reintegrate the philosophical and historical studies that Duhem pursued together but that were separated for a good part of the twentieth century. Life and Works 2. Philosophy of Science 2.

The person who gave us this initiation, Jules Moutier, was an ingenious theorist; his critical sense, ever aware and extremely perspicacious, distinguished with sure accuracy the weak point of many a system that others accepted without dispute; proofs of his inquiring mind are not lacking, and physical chemistry owes him one of its most important laws. But speaking generally there are few who have a taste fixed and independent of that of their friends, they follow example and fashion which generally form the standard of taste.

In all the diversities of taste that we discern, it is very rare and almost impossible to meet with that sort of good taste that knows how to set a price on the particular, and yet understands the right value that should be placed on all. Our knowledge is too limited, and that correct discernment of good qualities which goes to form a correct judgment is too seldom to be met with except in regard to matters that do not concern us. As regards ourselves our taste has not this all-important discernment.

Preoccupation, trouble, all that concern us, present it to us in another aspect.

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  • We do not see with the same eyes what does and what does not relate to us. Our taste is guided by the bent of our self-love and temper, which supplies us with new views which we adapt to an infinite number of changes and uncertainties. Our taste is no longer our own, we cease to control it, without our consent it changes, and the same objects appear to us in such divers aspects that ultimately we fail to perceive what we have seen and heard.