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Schaffer busts out the hickory October 3, 2008

Posted by Will Thomas in Schaffer Oeuvre.
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Before heading on to Leviathan and the Air-Pump, I’m heading back to some earlier Schaffer articles that I missed in my initial run-through.  This includes a couple of pieces from the late-’70s, as well as what should be required methodological reading: “Natural Philosophy” in The Ferment of Knowledge: Studies in the Historiography of Eighteenth-Century Science (1980), edited by G. S. Rousseau and Roy Porter (one of the more disciplined and useful edited volumes I’ve seen).

What fun!  Schaffer takes out a baseball bat and goes ape on the then-extant historiography of natural philosophy, moving from specific to general critiques of it, before moving on to confirm my prior guess that he saw himself as expanding upon Foucault’s “archaeological” examination of the sciences.

Schaffer places an emphasis on the need for intellectual (indeed, epistemological) conflict to resolve historiographical flaws:

…there is an important need for alternative attitudes to natural philosophy as an historical category, not merely revisions of one or other of the unifying assertions which contemporary historiography has made.  This necessarily involves a genuine confrontation with the philosophical debates on the discursive place of history of science which, significantly enough, in the work of Bachelard, Kuhn, and Foucault, have all drawn on natural philosophy in the eighteenth century for much of their evidence.  Such a confrontation is overdue.

It is far more overdue today.  I’ll explain why…. (more…)