(Humorous) Anecdote from within the Walls of a Department of History and Philosophy of Science

One of the fascinating things about the discipline of history and philosophy of science is that, while it is, in some respects, truly an integrated discipline, there are other respects in which it is not.  In fact, I would call the process of integrating history of science and philosophy of science a kind of “tension,” which bears the seeds of incredible fruit and creativity.  I love this aspect of the discipline.  It arises for a number of reasons, and one of the largest being that that there is a constant dialogue between history of science (via the historians) and philosophy of science (via the philosophers).  However, being that philosophy and science are also disciplines, in themselves, they have differing methodologies to their scholarly pursuits, as most do.  This difference induced the present anecdote.  One day, during Indiana University Bloomington’s professional development seminar in the History and Philosophy of Science Department, the graduate students were told, by a philosopher, “Don’t use footnotes; nobody reads them.  Work it into the body of your text of get rid of it.”  The following day, an historian said to us, “Sometimes I don’t even read the paper, or, at least, if I do, not at first; I read the footnotes.”  To anyone who knows the disciplines, or has some modicum of familiarity, these statements internally make quite a bit of sense.  Yet it leaves the student of HPS qua HPS in an interesting predicament, in terms of methodology.  This is one among many challenges facing someone studying the integrated discipline.[1]  At any rate, I felt this was humorous enough that I should share.

[1] This is not to say that there aren’t individual works or historian-philosophers who have achieved a high degree of integration in the field.  Julian Barbour’s The Discovery of Dynamics: A Study from a Machian Point of View of the Discovery and the Structure of Dynamical Theories is an example of the former, and the works of Jutta Schickore and Jordi Cat, the latter.  Additionally, I felt compelled to insert at least one footnote into this post.

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Filed under Education, History and Philosophy of Science, Personal

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