The Role of History in Science

In the latest issue of the Journal of the History of Biology philosopher of science Richard Creath (pictured at right) discusses “The role of history in science.” For those interested in the history of psychology, Creath’s article can easily be interpreted in terms of the role of history in psychology. In Creath’s view, “The study of history and the study of laws are not mutually exclusive but unavoidably linked. Neither can be pursued without the other.” The mutual interdependence of science and history is attributed to what Creath sees as the ubiquitity of historical knowledge in the sciences generally. It is historical knowledge that delimits the boundaries of the unknown, of the yet to be explored areas of a science. Related to this, are “historical judgements” that occur throughout scientific practice, as scientists seeks to ensure the originality and importance of their line of research.

The abstract for this piece reads:

The case often made by scientists (and philosophers) against history and the history of science in particular is clear. Insofar as a field of study is historical as opposed to law-based, it is trivial. Insofar as a field attends to the past of science as opposed to current scientific issues, its efforts are derivative and, by diverting attention from acquiring new knowledge, deplorable. This case would be devastating if true, but it has almost everything almost exactly wrong. The study of history and the study of laws are not mutually exclusive, but unavoidably linked. Neither can be pursued without the other. Much the same can be said of the history of science. The history of science is neither a distraction from ‘‘real’’ science nor even merely a help to science. Rather, the history of science is an essential part of each science. Seeing that this is so requires a broader understanding of both history and science.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.