Henry C. Carey on Law and Civilization (Part 2) April 5, 2015Posted by Christopher Donohue in 20th-Century-Science Historiography, History of Economic Thought, History of the Human Sciences, Natural Philosophy/Anthropo-cosmology, Philosophy of Law.
Tags: Adam Smith, Alexander M. Carr-Saunders, Charles Darwin, David Ricardo, Henry Buckle, Henry C. Carey, James Mill, Robin Fox
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In my previous post on the 19th century political economist Henry C. Carey I underscored some of his methodological suppositions (his Newtonianism, his Baconianism and his dependence upon William Whewell). I made two further points: first, that Carey’s system-building and his emphasis on man and nature being under the rule of law was typically of social theory penned during the nineteenth century. One finds the same flavor of contention in the work of John William Draper and Henry Buckle, where both authors attempted to bring diverse sorts of information ranging from facts concerning the course of civilization to the laws and regularities of human psychology under one kind of generality, where facts and the laws which they illustrated were exemplars of a well-ordered universe. This is more or less the purpose too of later sociological reasoning.
Depending upon the writer involved, this mammoth reductionism and systems-building, with its consequent determinism, was to differing degrees rhetorical, heuristic, deadly serious, and inconsistent. As importantly, these efforts at system-building and reduction often obscures digressions and departures which form intriguing sub-arguments and sub-systems.
From Biosocial Anthropology to Social Biology: Some Thoughts on Intellectual Communities in the Post-war Sciences July 26, 2014Posted by Christopher Donohue in History of Economic Thought, History of the Human Sciences.
Tags: Alexander Carr-Saunders, Charles Darwin, Edward O. Wilson, Edward Westermark, Ernest Gellner, Franz Boas, Herbert Spencer, Karl Popper, Kingsley Davis, Lee Cronk, Mario Bunge, Napoleon Chagnon, Pitirim Sorokin, R. A. Fisher, Robert Merton, Robin Fox, William Mallock
This particular post focuses on biosocial anthropology, sociobiology, social biology and bio-social science. Biosocial anthropology is a very specific intellectual community which has self-ordered around the theoretical and evidentiary contributions of Napoleon Chagnon, William Irons, Lee Cronk, and my personal favorite for heterogeneity and provocation, Robin Fox. This community has always traveled in different circles than those of sociobiologists like E.O. Wilson. Biosocial anthropology is also distinct in emphasis from social biology.
I will also detail the bio-social perspective of Kingsley Davis, which in many ways anticipated the conceptual innovations of biosocial anthropology, but whose bio-social science is unknown. His work is an exercise in “anti-reductionism” (my term)—arguing instead for the distinctiveness of human social evolution as opposed to the development of beings in nature.
James M. Baldwin on Society and Social Heredity October 17, 2013Posted by Christopher Donohue in History of the Human Sciences.
Tags: Charles Darwin, Emile Durkheim, James Mark Baldwin, Leslie Stephen
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James M. Baldwin’s Social and Ethical Interpretations in Mental Development: A Study in Social Psychology (1897) was noteworthy for its Darwinian argumentative framework, its emphasis on the fundamentally social aspects of mankind, society as being constitutive of the individual, and the argument that the laws of social evolution were distinct from biological evolution.
Baldwin’s work was really motivated by a massive issue: the work of Charles Darwin, particularly that of the Descent of Man (1871) provided an exceptionally attractive explanatory framework for the growth (and sometimes) progress of society. For Baldwin, however, the laws of evolution could not explain the origin and development of either social action or the development or persistence of institutions.
As he noted in Darwin and the Humanities (1909), “various attempts have been made to state the different genetic stages in the concurrent progress of the individual and society.” However, “In these attempts, it is plain, the general questions of development and evolution arise again on a different plane, and require solution in view of the fact that in their nature the phenomena are not in a strict sense biological, but psychological and social” (39.) While it was true that human beings were subject to biological laws, “it does not follow that the psychological and social processes illustrate the same laws, nor even that the action of the biological laws may not be in some way modified with the entrance upon the field of the mental and social factors” (40).
While the work of Baldwin and his contemporaries have been critiqued for their reductionism of social life to biology, in fact, much of turn of the century social theory used Darwinian theory instead to argue for the irreducibility and distinctiveness of social phenomenon, in the same manner as Emile Durkheim and his discussion of “social facts.”
Modernity, the Cold War, and New Whig Histories of Ideas, Pt. 1 September 22, 2012Posted by Will Thomas in EWP Book Club, History of the Human Sciences.
Tags: Charles Darwin, Dorothy Ross, Ellen Semple, Ellsworth Huntington, Franz Boas, Herbert Butterfield, Herbert Spencer, Howard Brick, John Stuart Mill, Talcott Parsons, Ted Porter, William James
This post continues our examination of Cold War Social Science, edited by Mark Solovey and Hamilton Cravens.
One issue to look out for when addressing the history of the social sciences — and intellectual history more generally — is that scholars are apt to see themselves as in dialogue with the events about which they are writing. As with scientists writing about their own disciplinary past, there is a felt need either to credit the past as prologue, or to distance oneself from the folly of one’s predecessors. Such, of course, are the roots of whig history.
The implicit aim of a new whig history, which shapes much intellectual and social science historiography is, in broad strokes, to explain how anthropologists and their intellectual allies bested academic competitors, and can now lead society away from a myopic modernism toward a more harmonious, genuinely cosmopolitan future.
This narrative is fairly similar to the original Whig narrative diagnosed by Herbert Butterfield, which took history to progress away from authoritarianism to political, economic, and religious liberalism. However, the whiggishness of the present narrative can be difficult to acknowledge, because the phenomenon of whig history is actually incorporated within the narrative as an intellectual pathology arising from the same teleological modernism being cast as outdated. It is counterintuitive that the narrative could be whiggish, because whiggism is a declared enemy of the narrative.
Tags: Auguste Comte, Charles Babbage, Charles Darwin, Chris Renwick, Christopher Husbands, David Ricardo, Emile Durkheim, Francis Galton, Frédéric Le Play, Gregory Radick, Herbert Spencer, John Scott, L. T. Hobhouse, Maggie Studholme, Martin White, Max Weber, Patrick Geddes, Steve Fuller, Talcott Parsons, Victor Branford, Victoria Lady Welby, William Whewell
This blog has previously spotlighted one of Chris Renwick’s articles, and he has written a couple of guest posts* for us. With those interests declared, I’m happy to say that EWP has received a review copy of his new book, British Sociology’s Lost Biological Roots: A History of Futures Past (Macmillan: 2012).
A good way of thinking about this book is in terms of what Chris Donohue has referred to as the “nineteenth-century problem” in intellectual-scientific history. The nineteenth-century problem is partly interpretive, in that it deals with the practical problem of sorting out the undisciplinary tangle of intellectual projects and issues and notions to be found in works of that era.
However, the problem is also historiographical, in that it is a struggle against a tide of scholarship fixated on a few select questions (the reception of natural selection, the intellectual validation of racial hierarchies and imperialism, the ascendancy of liberalism and social reformism, etc…), and a few seemingly key thinkers. The scholarship also tends to divvy up the intellectual history arbitrarily, with historians of political philosophy studying certain thinkers, historians of economic thought others, and historians of science still others, even though a thorough and sensitive reading of texts — not to mention widely accepted historiographical wisdom — would indicate the folly in doing so.
By highlighting important historical relations between the projects of political economy, eugenics-biometrics, botany and zoology, Herbert Spencer’s social philosophy, social reformism and journalism, and the longstanding search for a science of sociology, Renwick’s book makes an important contribution to the interpretive aspect of the nineteenth-century problem. It does, perhaps, get somewhat hung up in the historiographical aspect of the nineteenth-century problem.
Rudwick and Newman & Principe and the Recovery of Meaning December 30, 2011Posted by Will Thomas in Chymistry, Tactile History.
Tags: Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton, James Joule, Lawrence Principe, Martin Rudwick, Otto Sibum, Robert Boyle, William Newman
One of the most pernicious obstacles to effective historical research is a phenomenon I like to call “glazing over” — a tendency to dismiss references encountered in documents as unimportant or incidental simply for a lack of familiarity with them, or interest in them. You just glaze over until you run across something you are already interested in.
I suspect glazing over is actually extremely common, but that people don’t like to discuss it, because the lack of familiarity it implies with basic facts still smacks of professional incompetence, or, more snobbishly, interest in overcoming the problem implies a banal interest in empirical history. This is too bad, because not only does systematic glazing over likely skew and limit our historiography in more radical ways than our awareness of our “inevitably subjective perspective” supposes; it prevents historians from taking steps as a profession to readmit factual dexterity back into our practices after a long period of privileging critical reflection.
In today’s post, I want to discuss tactile history that works to restore a familiar or palpable meaning to documentary descriptions of natural or experimental phenomena by actively revisiting or recreating what the text refers to.
Tags: A.C. Haddon, Alexis de Tocqueville, Ashley Montagu, Brooks Adams, Charles Darwin, David Livingston, Ellen Semple, Ellsworth Huntington, Georges Cuvier, James Prichard, Joseph Deniker, Josiah Nott, Julian Huxley, Madison Grant, Robert Redfield, Samuel Morton
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Joseph Deniker’s (1852-1915) human geography and ethnography illustrates the eternal persistence of old debates and the various uses of canonical authors, Cuvier and Darwin among them. There has been in my estimation no satisfactory narrative of the species problem from Cuvier through Prichard, Darwin, and turn of the century anthropologists, ethnologists, and human geographers. Nor has there been a consistent appraisal of the appropriation of the “canon” of naturalists and ethnologists by late nineteenth and early twentieth century naturalists, ethnologists, and anthropologists.
Historians have generally narrated turn of the century ethnological debates in France, Britain, Germany, and the United States solely in terms of their contributions to eugenics or the rise of statistics. David Livingston, among others, has written Whiggishly about the development of human geography as a discipline or inquiry. It is unclear whether any of the authors surveyed at the turn of the century considered themselves as contributing to any kind of discipline. I am certain that any division between a “racial” and “scientific” human geography, emerging in the inter-war period is terribly overdrawn. Deniker’s work illustrates the live nature of many nineteenth century debates at the turn of the century. His influence on as diverse figures as Madison Grant, A.C. Haddon, and Julian Huxley, each representative of eugenics, “becoming scientific,” and “post-Boasian” ethnology, respectively, points to the ambiguous uses of turn of the century ethnology and the astonishing breath and depth of the ethnographic canon.
Tags: Charles Darwin, Herbert Spencer, Isaac Newton, John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx, Patrick Geddes, Philip Mirowski, Simon Schaffer, Steven Shapin, Thomas Hobbes, Thomas Malthus
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Although historians of science have not traditionally shown a strong interest in the history of economic thought, developing such an interest would make good professional sense, in particular because epistemological issues in economics and the natural sciences have long been intertwined in less than obvious ways. Historians would do well to familiarize themselves with historical epistemological debates around economic thought, such as the Methodenstreit of the 1880s, because important ideas like “science”, “objectivity”, and “impersonality” have meanings that, in much of the historical commentary on them, were specifically associated with debates surrounding the validity of social scientific abstraction, and the important distinctions that were made between the goals of theorization and normative practice.
Aside from brushing up on the historical meanings of certain terms, historians of science also have an opportunity to lend additional clarity to the historical connections between thinking about science and thinking about politics, society, and economy. Intellectual historians and philosophers of economics, and of science more generally, have studied the more explicit historical debates surrounding political economy and its connections to the methods of science, say, in the thought of John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) or Karl Marx (1818-1883). Additionally, the transfer of metaphors between domains has received good attention, particularly in the area of evolutionary theory: from the economics of Thomas Malthus (1766-1834) to Charles Darwin (1809-1882), or from evolutionary theory back into Herbert Spencer’s (1820-1903) social theory (on this blog, also see Chris Renwick’s discussion of Patrick Geddes).
There is further important work to be done in straight-up intellectual history, but additional opportunities may be found in the history of intellectual practices that provide the context in which ideas make sense. (more…)
Toulmin on Cosmology and the “Theology of Nature” December 4, 2010Posted by Will Thomas in Natural Philosophy/Anthropo-cosmology.
Tags: Charles Darwin, Francis Bacon, Friedrich Hayek, Galileo Galilei, Geoffrey Cantor, Hannah Arendt, Immanuel Kant, Isaac Newton, Isaiah Berlin, Joseph Priestley, Karl Popper, Lorraine Daston, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Mary Douglas, Max Weber, Michael Faraday, Nicolaus Copernicus, Noam Chomsky, Peter Galison, Rene Descartes, Simon Schaffer, Stephen Toulmin, Steven Shapin, William Paley, William Whewell
In April I finished up a series of posts on the anthropological concept of “cosmology” (meaning a coherent system of thought), and the relationships historians of the 1980s were able to draw between it and the historical practice and fate of natural philosophy — including scientific cosmology — in the 18th and 19th centuries. (See especially Simon Schaffer’s clear 1980 argument on this point.)
In my last post in that series, I noted that in seeking to ground Michael Faraday’s (1791-1867) physical convictions in his Sandemanian religious beliefs, Geoffrey Cantor used the term “theology of nature” to distinguish ideas implicit in Faraday’s thought from a contemporaneous, but more explicitly reasoned “natural theology”. To quote the subtitle to William Paley’s (1743-1805) 1802 book, Natural Theology, natural theology sought “evidence of the existence and attributes of the deity” in the study of nature. For Faraday, though, only the certain revelation of the Bible could produce knowledge of God, making it necessary for historians to excavate his personal theology of nature.
Some time later, it occurred to me it might not be a bad idea to chase down this “theology of nature” term, which led me directly to Stephen Toulmin’s 1982 essay collection, The Return to Cosmology: Postmodern Science and the Theology of Nature. Aha. Since today marks the first anniversary of Toulmin’s death, I thought it might be a good time to try to type something up that helps put Toulmin, a student of Ludwig Wittgenstein, into our history of the history of science of the 1980s.
Anthropological Cosmology and Anti-Demarcationism, Pt. 2 March 18, 2010Posted by Will Thomas in Natural Philosophy/Anthropo-cosmology.
Tags: Barry Barnes, Bruno Latour, Charles Darwin, Christopher Hill, Clifford Truesdell, G. S. Rousseau, Geoffrey Cantor, Harry Collins, Henk Bos, Jacques Roger, Jonathan Miller, Margaret Jacob, Martin Rudwick, Mary Douglas, Paul Forman, Piyo Rattansi, Robert Young, Ruth Cowan, Steven Shapin
In the late-1970s, the applicability of anthropological notions of cosmology to issues in the historiography of science could be understood as evidence of the need for an epistemology that extended into the domain of social relations. This extension entailed the notion that scientific work existed in a cultural and intellectual continuum with the society around it, and thus that attempts to demarcate scientific work and ideas were ill-founded. Society was not simply something to be scrubbed from science; legitimate scientific work was made possible through its establishment in legitimate places within society, and through the selective borrowing from society of cultural and political means of establishing legitimate claims. This, I think, was a good idea, but was it methodologically revolutionary?
The test of the validity of any idea is whether it can change the outcome of a process in some specific way. A scientific idea can help create a successful experiment or an improved technology. The idea of social epistemology could be tested as could much sociology and philosophy of science by running it through the historical record and seeing if it rendered it more coherent. In other words (to use a Latourian formulation), the success of social epistemology was bound up with its ability to forge an alliance with historiography.
The socio-epistemology advocates took no chances on getting lost in the shuffle, and apparently decided to tie the success of their program to a beneficial historiographical sea change. In a 1983 article discussing possible implications for science education, Steven Shapin and Harry Collins even used the title “Experiment, Science Teaching, and the New History and Sociology of Science” (my emphasis; reprinted in Teaching the History of Science (1989), eds. Michael Shortland and Andrew Warwick). However, the existence of this shift as a coherent entity, and the placement of socio-epistemology within it, should not be taken for granted. The idea took years to successfully engineer. (more…)