Causal and Symbolic Understanding in Historical Epistemology

Erkenntnis 75 (3):467-482 (2011)
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The term “historical epistemology” can be read in two different ways: (1) as referring to a program of ‘historicizing’ epistemology, in the sense of a critique of traditional epistemology’s tendency to gloss over historical context, or (2) as a manifesto of ‘epistemologizing’ history, i.e. as a critique of radical historicist and relativist approaches. In this paper I will defend a position in this second sense. I show that one can account for the historical development and diversity of science without disavowing the relevance of a (normatively understood) epistemology and without denying the existence of human cognitive universals across historical and cultural differences. In support of my thesis, I draw on cognitive scientific research on causal and symbolic cognition, arguing that causal understanding constitutes a basic part of science, which, in the course of its development, becomes more and more superimposed by a culturally and historically variable symbolic superstructure



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Michael Heidelberger
University Tübingen

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