State of the field: Are the results of science contingent or inevitable?

Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 52:55-66 (2015)
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This paper presents a survey of the literature on the problem of contingency in science. The survey is structured around three challenges faced by current attempts at understanding the conflict between “contingentist” and “inevitabilist” interpretations of scientific knowledge and practice. First, the challenge of definition: it proves hard to define the positions that are at stake in a way that is both conceptually rigorous and does justice to the plethora of views on the issue. Second, the challenge of distinction: some features of the debate suggest that the contingency issue may not be sufficiently distinct from other philosophical debates to constitute a genuine, independent philosophical problem. And third, the challenge of decidability: it remains unclear whether and how the conflict could be settled on the basis of empirical evidence from the actual history of science. The paper argues that in order to make progress in the present debate, we need to distinguish more systematically between different expressions that claims about contingency and inevitability in science can take. To this end, it introduces a taxonomy of different contingency and inevitability claims. The taxonomy has the structure of an ordered quadruple. Each contingency and each inevitability claim contains an answer to the following four questions: (how) are alternatives to current science possible, what types of alternatives are we talking about, how should the alternatives be assessed, and how different are they from actual science?

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Katherina Kinzel
Utrecht University

Citations of this work

Morality as an Evolutionary Exaptation.Marcus Arvan - 2021 - In Johan De Smedt & Helen De Cruz (eds.), Empirically Engaged Evolutionary Ethics. Springer - Synthese Library. pp. 89-109.
Inevitability, contingency, and epistemic humility.Ian James Kidd - 2016 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 55:12-19.
Presidential address: Experimenting with the scientific past.Gregory Radick - 2016 - British Journal for the History of Science 49 (2):153-172.
Could Science be Interestingly Different?Veli Virmajoki - 2018 - Journal of the Philosophy of History 12 (2):303-324.

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References found in this work

The social construction of what?Ian Hacking - 1999 - Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.
Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity.Richard Rorty - 1989 - New York: Cambridge University Press.
Knowledge and social imagery.David Bloor - 1976 - Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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