How to Approach History of Science Objectively? Presentism in Historiography

See the paper discussing the ideas in this post.

In this post, I discuss some major conceptual and philosophical problems that the historiography of science faces. These problems are important for the estimating of the future of science since they question our ability to connect the past to the present and our ability to make sense of the history of science. Some of the problems also have an ethical dimension and point towards our tendency to select the important historical figures on standards that are not historically meaningful. Given that historical trajectories and their counterfactual alternatives are central conceptual tools in the estimating of futures of science, the problems associated with the historiography of science directly threaten our ability to get the estimating off the ground.

In what follows, I will formulate an approach to the historiography of science and then discuss the problems associated with the field as it stands today. At the same time, I will discuss how my approach solves or avoids the problems and allow us to write objective and conceptually clear historiography of science. For those who are interested in further detail, please check my dissertation on the topics.

The Presentist Approach

The approach I offer is the present-centered (or simply presentist) approach to the history of science. From the presentist point of view, the historiography of science is the study of the past practices that have led to the present science. In other words, the history of science is the study of practices and episodes that were causally relevant to the formation of what is now known as science. Nick Tosh (2003) is a notable defender of this approach. According to Tosh, the history of science is a study of past activities ancestral to modern science: “Modern science has a causal history, and [the historiography of science] could reasonably be structured around a causal backbone of past activities which helped to bring it into being.” (2003, 648.)

It is helpful to use Lorraine Daston’s words[1] as a guideline to the presentist approach: “[the historians of science] must explain how [the distinctive] character [of science] crystallized out of practices, both intellectual and manual, designed for other purposes”. (Daston 2009, 807). The past practices that the historians of science study do not have to be sciences themselves, and we should not force them under the concept of science. All that is required is that these practice are causally connected to the present science. The question whether or not some past activity was scientific itself does not arise. We can allow historical change without it making the notion of historiography of science anachronistic. Presentism does not define the history of science conceptually, i.e. as a study of science in the past, but ontologically, i.e. on the basis of causal relations between the past and the present.

Avoiding conceptual definition of the history of science is not the only motivation of the presentist approach. One of the main goals of science studies is (or at least should be) to understand the present scientific practices. The reason for this is that we can affect the world around us only at the present moment. Scientific practices can be evaluated and changed only at the present. Our present science is a wide collection of achievements that has been built through the history. Together with these achievements, a remarkable range of ethical, political, theoretical, methodological, and conceptual problems have emerged in science and in our science-related life.  We, in the present, live with the achievements and problems that the history of science has generated. These achievements and problems cannot be ignored as we are surrounded by them. Passages from Richard S. Westfall are worth quoting in length here:

“Recall the world about us. To me it appears that the existence of modern science is the precondition for most of the central features of our society. I think of such things as means of communication, from the mass media that bring the world to our homes each morning to individual devices such as the telephone and e-mail, which together have so expanded our lives in comparison with those of the people I know from the seventeenth century. Ease of transportation enabled scholars from all over the country and beyond to gather in New Mexico to hear Dobbs’s lecture; we have incorporated the various dimensions of ready transportation into our lives to the extent that we have forgotten it was not always there. The level of material plenty has lifted the burden of poverty from the great majority. Modern medicine has more than doubled the average life span and driven pain and disease, once familiar members of every circle, to the margins of our existence. These features of our life are not evenly spread around the globe. In general, they prevail where modern science flourishes and are in shorter supply elsewhere.

Most people think of these characteristics as benefits. Almost no one considers other features of our world that are also derivative from science as benefits, though they are no less central. Scientifically based technology has accelerated the consumption of nonrenewable resources until we stand already face to face with their exhaustion. It has produced products that nature cannot degrade, so that we are well on the way to choking on our own refuse. It has conjured up weapons of mass destruction more hideous than earlier ages were able even to imagine. I do not think that I have compiled a partisan list. Every item on it appears incontrovertably true, and I am convinced that I could go on indefinitely listing similar ways in which science impinges, both positively and negatively, on our lives until I had more than satisfied everyone who finds my list wanting in some respect.” (2000, 42–43).

That we are so intertwined with science should direct our historical reflections. There is nothing wrong with this. This point about the relationship between the historiography and the present state of the world is formulated eloquently by Naomi Oreskes in her paper “Why I Am a Presentist?” (2013). Oreskes calls herself a “motivational presentist” and writes:

“What matters to us about the past has everything to do with who we are, where we live, and what we think is important – to us, here and now, in the present. Our motivations are inescapably presentist. Thus, to qualify the deliberately provocative title of this paper, I am a motivational presentist, and I believe all historians are.” (2013, 603).

However, we should not only look the past through our present interests. Understanding the past is necessary for us to understand the present. The importance of understanding the history of the present science has been noted by philosophers of science. For example, Schickore argues that

“[–] a history of the present should remain part and parcel of our present efforts to understand the sciences. Fully to understand the concepts, practices, and methodological and epistemological goals and commitments of present science, we need to trace how they have come into being.” (2011, 477.)

Moreover, Psillos concludes that

“[–] what science tells us about the world, as well as the reasons to take what it tells us seriously, are issues that are determined historically, by looking at the patterns of convergence in the scientific image of the world”. (2012, 101).

In the presentist approach, the historiographical studies of science are seen as studies that provide understanding about our present situation. However, presentists do not build loose and questionable comparisons between the past and present. Instead, presentists show how the present situation depends on the past.

To both some flesh on this idea, consider the study ”Distrust and Discovery: The Case of the Heavy Bosons at CERN” by John Krige (2011). In this study, Krige describes “the microhistorical process whereby different groups of scientific actors [–] came to claim that a new fundamental particle (the W boson) had been discovered at CERN” (2001, 517). The study points out a complex set of factors that were relevant to the announcement of the discovery: the personal trust between the actors; the local technological environment; the methodological and theoretical complexity of the scientific work at hand; the limited possibilities that expensive science leaves open to the scientists especially under political pressures, and so on. Krige’s study shows that there is no way we can understand the science around the W boson and the announcement of the results without focusing on these factors. We need the historical perspective. Moreover, Krige’s study provides us very detailed understanding about the development of a particular piece of science. While more general works[2] about the experiments in the history of science deserve their place, studies that give detailed explanations of our present situation are crucial for our understanding of science. The presentist approach captures these insights. 

There is one final issue that needs to be noted in connection to presentism. Giving a definition of science is notoriously difficult as the age-old discussion on the problem of demarcation has proven (see Laudan (1983), and Boudry & Pigliucci (2013A)). Therefore, it would be bold if a presentist historian of science would begin her study by giving a definition of science and then study the causal histories of the practices that are scientific according to the definition. However, presentists have an escape route from this problem. One does not need to give necessary and sufficient conditions (or anything like that) for science in the presentist approach. We can simply take the practices of our society that have a scientific status and study the history of these practices. The ethical, political, methodological and conceptual problems of science which are significant to us are problems of those practices. It would be non-sense to suggest that we should consider some other existing practices as really scientific.[3] This would not solve our problems but change their name. Moreover, as philosophers working on the demarcation problem have noted, there exists widespread agreement about what practices count as science even if formulating the criteria to separate science from non-science is an extremely challenging task (e.g. Pigliucci & Boudry (2013B, 2); Hansson (2013, 61). Thus, telling which practices count as science in our society is not too difficult a task. This ability to bypass the demarcation problem is a clear advantage of presentism.

From problems to solutions

Next, I discuss a set of problems associated with the history of science and knowledge. This discussion shows that the problems are not a serious threat to presentism. On the contrary, in many cases presentism turns out to be the most promising way to avoid problems that are recognized in the philosophy of historiography of science.

Contingency: One could perhaps argue that if the history of science is only a study of causal histories of the present science, the history of science loses its grip on explaining how things were different in the past and how they could be different in the present. It is one of the main tasks of historians – the objection continues – to show that the present state of things is only contingent and that the ways societies have organized their epistemological practices have varied greatly. Rée writes:

“The contemplation of historicity – of the sheer singularity of places and times, situations and conjunctures, including all those you habitually take for granted – will help you see that there are different ways of looking at the world, and that what is obvious in one perspective may be ridiculous in another.” (1991, 991.)

I agree that there is some force in this objection – understanding how the past has been different gives us tools to imagine how things could be at present. Yet this kind of imagination does not give us any idea what should have happened in the past in order for things to be different at present. However, if we study the causal history of the present science, and if we understand causation as difference-making (e.g. Menzies 2004, Beebee et al. 2017), then a historiographical explanation automatically tells us when things would have been different (see Virmajoki [forthcoming]). Therefore, presentism with its causal explanation is a rather powerful tool for understanding the contingency of our own scientific practices. The presentist approach allows us to pinpoint on which conditions our present practices are based. (Virmajoki 2018).

In connection with this objection, one could also argue that how science became conceptualized (i.e. what practice fell under the concept “science”) is itself historical and thus a contingent fact (e.g. Dear 2005; 2012). It could have been the case that we took as scientific different practices than we actually do. This observation is not a problem for presentism. Presentists can accept that the line between science and non-science could have been drawn differently, but once the line has been drawn, historiography of science studies the history of practices that are conceptualized as scientific as a result of this contingent process. We need to separate the history of scientific practices and the history of our conceptualization of science. Even if it is contingent which practices we conceptualize as scientific and which not, the only practices in which we are interested when we analyze and evaluate science are those that fall under our actual conception of science.

An analogy: Our conceptualization of different species of animals has developed historically. However, the evolution of those species is a completely different matter. These things need to be studied separately– in fact, only because this is separation is possible, have we been able to revise our conceptions of species (taking into account their evolutionary histories). Now, without a doubt, the history of our conceptualization of science is an interesting process that must be studied. However, this is a different project from the study of the history of scientific practices. Moreover, we need to make a further distinction between conceptualization of science (i.e. which practices fall under the concept of “science”) and our explicit beliefs (or “ideology”, as Dear [2012, 38] puts it) about the nature of science, as there might be a mismatch between our conception and the ideas we associate with science. For example, one may think (after reading Popper) that science must be falsifiable and still think that science exists, even though nothing, strictly speaking, is falsifiable. Such a person would have a false belief concerning science. It would be an interesting project to study the history of beliefs associated with science. However, this is a project different from the study of the history of how certain fields came to be considered as sciences. To continue the analogy, we can have a false belief about a species of animals and still know which animals belong to a given species. I may have the false belief that a particular snake is poisonous and still classify it as an Emerald tree boa. Why I had the belief and why I included the individual into the species can require different explanations. To assume that the history of explicit beliefs concerning science reveals why certain activities fall under the concept of science is clearly a mistake based on exaggeration of the power of abstract ideas to unambiguously impose order on the social world. Moreover, the distinction between the conception and explicit beliefs grounds the possibility of there being false beliefs concerning science. If our explicit beliefs determined what counts as science then those beliefs could not be wrong. This clearly is not the case.

What is argued above also means that, even if the conception of science changes or is revised and if the historians of science begin to study the history of activities that fall under this new conception, this has no implications whatsoever to the question of which activities are reasonable to study as a part of the history of science in our society. Of course, one could worry that if our conception of science changes, then different practices might count as part of the history of science according to presentism. This is true, but there is no mystery here. The past remains the same but different parts of that past become explanatory due to the change in the explanandum. That different explananda require different explanations is nothing to be worried about. Moreover, nothing forbids historians from studying other parts of the past than those which have led to present science. Of course, such a study would not be a historiography of science according to presentism but my claim is not that only historiography of science is valuable.

Finally, presentism admits that the way in which the boundaries of science are drawn can affect science. We can say, for example, that “had the people P not been excluded from what is seen as science, the discussions concerning theory T would have been different and so would the results”. However, here we are not explaining when we would have had a different conception of science but when we would have had an alternative to some feature of present science (e.g. different results). In the example, a different conceptualization would have led to an alternative to the present science (the conceptualization is an explanans, not an explanandum) and the way in which science has been conceptualized belongs, therefore, to the same historical plane as the rest of the history of science: it is part of the causal history of present science. Moreover, the beliefs that some scientists have about science can be a significant feature of science and therefore require an explanation. Therefore, beliefs about science can sometimes be an explanandum in historiography of science according to the presentist approach. However, in such cases the explanandum is derived from our interest in the history of present science, not from an interest in the history of beliefs concerning science.

A boring list of causes: Someone might worry that the presentist approach reduces historiography of science to the practice of listing the causally relevant factors in the development of the present science and thus the project of truly understanding the past is abandoned.

The worry can be mitigated: First, nothing in the presentist approach forbids the study of the working environment of Einstein, for example, for its own sake. It does not matter that such study might not have a direct explanatory motivation. Actually, this kind of “basic research” in historiography of science is highly valuable. The better we know and understand the past, the easier it is to find answers to explanation-seeking questions when asked. Secondly, it is not true that explanation-seeking questions can be answered easily, just by taking a quick look at the archives. Finding out relevant factors requires substantial study. What is more, to establish a causal connection between two factors in history requires argumentation that is based on detailed descriptions of the past.

However, it must be noted that not every aspect of the working environment of Einstein, for example, counts as a part of the history of science from the presentist point of view, even if studying them is necessary for historiography of science. Only those parts of the environment that are causally relevant to the present state of science can be considered and presented as a part of the history of science. The point can be put as follows: pinpointing causally relevant factors is the true task of the study of the historiography of the science, but these studies must also display more or less complicated argumentative structure and accurate description of the past to warrant the claims about causal dependencies.

The past in its own term. Presentism has a bad connotation for anyone who is committed to study the past on its own terms. The warnings from Ashplant and Wilson may enter someone’s mind. Among other unfortunate things, the presentist approach leads to the projection of present categories on the history of science and thus to the distorted use of the sources. It also makes us see only what is absent in the past and prevents us from finding anything concrete from the past. (1988, 255–266.)  Also Cunningham (1988) argues that we should not describe historical actors by using present concepts. In short, we should understand the past on its own terms and the presentist approach cannot do this as it looks at the past from our point of view.

The answer to these worries can be found in Tosh (2003, 656): “The selection of criteria we adopt when defining a discipline need not affect how the selected material is then investigated.” Furthermore, Loison (2016, 33) points out that these are problems for what he calls “descriptive presentism” not for causal-narrative presentism defended here. Loison defines “descriptive presentism” as “the comparison/transcription/translation of the structure of a past explanation in terms that are understandable in the present” (2016, 31). We can generalize descriptive presentism here – as we are not dealing solely with explanations but many different kinds of factors – to be the comparison/transcription/translation of the structure of some cognitive product or process of the past in terms that are understandable in the present. Tosh and Loison are right: no need for descriptive presentism is built into the causal-narrative presentism. We can do justice to a historical actor and see the world from her point of view even if we study her as a part of the developments that led to the present science. The claim that an agent was involved in non-scientific (or proto-scientific) activities does not demean these practices or the actor. It is not obvious why one should consider scientific practices to be the most valuable ones, and even if the scientific practices are the most valuable ones, we cannot do justice to a historical actor by changing the conception of science in such a way that it can be used to describe the actor. If science is valuable when understood in the present sense, it may not be valuable when understood in some other sense.

However, it must be noted that not everything studied in close relation to the historiography of science is relevant to the developments of the present science. Only certain parts of the actions of the past actors have turned out to be relevant to those developments and thus count as parts of the history of science. (Notice, however, that there is not a straightforward connection between the causal relevance and correctness, as we shall see below). Surely, the actors could not have known which aspects of their practices would turn out to be relevant to the development of science – they were not intentionally planting seeds for the future science. However, this is irrelevant to the actual influence they had. Thus, we must adjust Tosh’s point: Past practices can be studied on their own terms, but we must distinguish which aspects of these practices count as a part of the history of science and which aspects deserve to be described for some other reason. In other words, we can study every aspect of past actors and practices in their own terms but – from the presentist point of view – not every aspect should be studied and presented as a part of the history of science. To repeat the point made in connection with the objection of boring list of causes: pinpointing causally relevant factors is the true task of the study of the historiography of the science, but these studies must also display more or less complicated argumentative structures and accurate descriptions of the past that warrant the claims about causal dependencies.

Moreover, as historians are always products of their own historical context and as they always write to their contemporaries, it is impossible to write about the past completely on its own terms (e.g. Hull 1979). Thus, it is difficult to tell when a description of the past is adequate and when it is distorted by the present viewpoint of a historian. An advantage of the presentist approach is that it can answer this question: a description is distorted when it does not capture the causal structure of the given historical situation correctly. If someone claims that Darwin’s theory was accepted because its truth must have been obvious to the readers, we have not even begun to capture the complexities of the process leading to the acceptance of that theory. Debate about Darwin’s evidence and even his moral status were important factors in the process (see Bellon 2011). The claim, that Darwin’s theory was accepted because it was obviously true, would be unacceptable since it would not bring us a correct understanding about the causal structure of the history of science.  Thus, presentism is not only compatible with the idea that science of the past must be understood in its own terms but also explains why and when such descriptions are needed.

As a final note, descriptive presentism was defined as “the comparison/transcription/translation of the structure of some cognitive product or process of the past in terms that are understandable in the present”. We now see why. This follows from the criterion that a description is distorted when it does not capture the causal structure of the given historical situation correctly. Historiography of science makes history understandable for us in the present and therefore explanations must be based on our explanatory resources. We cannot go beyond our own conditions; neither can we turn back the clock. Historiography of science attempts to build a picture of the causal networks of the past on the basis of current knowledge. Almost all of the causal structure of the universe must be described in our own terms, not in terms of historical agents, since the only causal picture of universe we currently have is described in our own terms. However, this is not the end of the story. Historiography of science fits the historical actors into a causal nexus of the universe as we conceive it. That the historical actors had different ways of thinking is a component of our conception of the causal nexus of the universe and therefore we would distort our picture if we did not recognize how the historical actors were thinking (unlike us). The cognitive products and process are therefore a special case: they must be described in their own terms if we want to achieve a correct description of the causal structure of the history. Notice, however, that in the process the cognitive products and process of the past are incorporated as parts of our causal worldview. In the end of the process, there is no difference between “their own terms” and “our own terms”.

Blind alleys: It might be argued that we can learn many things about science by studying past developments that turned out to be blind alleys. The presentist approach ignores these blind alleys.

In order to answer this, we must separate two versions of this objection. The first one is that there have been research programs in the history that (seemingly) turned out to be on wrong tracks or fruitless and were then replaced by (seemingly) more progressive programs. This case is not a problem for presentism. The process of replacement surely is a causal process that contributes to the development of science. More generally, this also means that Kuhn’s worry that

“Scientific development becomes the piecemeal process by which these items have been added, singly and in combination, to the ever growing stockpile that constitutes scientific technique and knowledge.  And [historiography] of science becomes the discipline that chronicles both these successive increments and the obstacles that have inhibited their accumulation”. (1970, 1-2.)

does not arise in the presentist approach. The view that the history of science must be explained causally does not imply anything about progress, cumulativity, or linearity. Which turns have taken place and which kind of causes have been at work in the history of science is an empirical question and must be answered case-by-case. Replacements and steps backward (whatever that means) surely can be parts of the causal history of science.

The second version is that there have been research programs that ended for some reason and were never replaced but just faded away. There are two possible answers. The first is to say that these blind alleys can be causally relevant to the development of science in the sense that they may have informed people what they should not attempt to do. That a blind alley provides information is surely a causal connection. If this is the case, these blind alleys can be studied as a part of the history of science. The second answer is to bite the bullet: these blind alleys do not count as a part of the history of science. They can be studied, as I have argued, for their own sake – and we can even learn and find inspiration from them (Chang 2009, 256) – but they should not be studied or presented as a part of the history of science. They certainly are part of the history of epistemological practices, but we must remember that not every epistemological practice is a scientific one.

Notice that the distinctions between different types of blind alleys is based on their causal role in the history of science. Such distinctions are important to our historical understanding of those blind alleys and to our general views of science.[4] For example, both phrenology and the phlogiston theory seem like blind alleys. However, their respective roles in the development of science, the factors behind the abandonments of the theories, and our retrospective views on the theories differ. Equating phrenology and the phlogiston theory because they were blind alleys does not seem to serve any real historiographical insight. Therefore, causally structured historiography of science has an advantage in its ability to make those distinctions.

History of winners and triumphalism: It could be argued that presentism only finds the winners from the history and celebrates those who got things right and contributed to the present science. This point was made famous by Herbert Butterfield in his legendary work The Whig Interpretation of History (1931).

This is closely related to the two previous objections. In order to answer, we must notice that there are two ways of judging who was a winner at certain point of time. We can consider as a winner a person whose thoughts influenced the following generation the most. It is obvious that from the presentist point of view that these persons should capture our attention in the history of science. Yet these persons could have been completely wrong from our point of view and thus their scientific achievements are not worth celebration. Alternatively, we can consider as winners those who were right from our point of view. These persons could be celebrated if one wishes to do so (personally, I do not see any reason for that) but it is clearly possible that these persons were not very influential and thus do not deserve our attention as a part of the history of science. Thus, the set of people we might celebrate and the set of people who are important part of the history of science are not coextensive.[5]

To be sure, one of the main advantages of the presentist approach is that it gives objective criteria for which practices count as a part of history of science. Presentism makes sure that one cannot pick one’s subjects of study as one wishes and thus presentism restricts the possibility of celebrating the historical actors one happens to favor for some reason. If the choice of the subjects of study was purely a matter of convention, it would be possible to ignore some historical actors who deserve attention. This kind of ignorance that could be based on an ideology or a subjective bias is surely something that every respectable historian of science wants to get rid of. The presentist approach gives concrete tools to avoid these biases.

The problem of Big Pictures: One could argue that presentism is a form of big-picture thinking since it defines the history of science as a comprehensive account of the developments that have led to present science. This kind of big-picture should be rejected (Shapin 2005, 242).

It is true that the ideal goal of presentism is a comprehensive account of the causal history of present science. Yet it is not committed to the usual sins that make the big-picture thinking questionable. Shapin (2005, 242) writes: “Big pictures imply coherence [and] in old versions of scientific coherence [mean] the conceptual unity and universality of science, narratives of rational and linear progress, a specifiable and efficacious scientific method [–].” Presentism is not committed to the claims that the history of science has progressed linearly or that the development of science is driven by rational decision making and by use of clear methods. What kind of causes have been at work in the history of science is an empirical question and must be answered case-by-case.

We can say even more: Compare the presentist approach to some other framework in which a historian approaches the history of science by some (perhaps implicit or intuitive) definition of science. If we allow this kind of approach to the history of science, it is hard to say what prohibits a historian to define science as a rational practice that is driven by clear methods. Thus, the distortions of the big-picture reappear since it is possible for the historian to describe the history of science as consisting of activities driven by rationality and clear methodology. This description would follow directly from the definition the historian has chosen. Again, one of the main advantages of the presentist approach is that it gives objective criteria for which practices count as a part of history of science. Presentism makes sure that one cannot pick one’s subjects of study as one wishes and thus presentism can get rid of the biases of considering the history of science as a history of rational activities driven by clear methodology (and any other unjustified biases).

We have now seen what problems the historiography of science faces and how those problems can be solved or avoided. However, the mere possibility of avoiding problems does not guarantee that the problems do not arise in practice. Therefore, the use of historiographical materials in the estimating of futures of science requires careful analyses of the assumptions, values, methods and concepts involved in the creation of those materials. How such analysis can be done is a long story that cannot be told here.


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Chang, Hasok (2009). ”We Have Never Been Whiggish (about Phlogiston)”. Centaurus 51 (4). 239–264.

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Krige, John (2001). “Distrust and Discovery: The Case of the Heavy Bosons at CERN”. Isis 92 (3).

Kuhn, Thomas S. (1970). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions [2nd ed.]. The University of Chicago Press.

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Pigliucci, Massimo & Boudry, Maarten (2013B). “Introduction: Why the Demarcation Problem Matters”. In Boudry & Pigliucci (eds.) Philosophy of Pseudoscience: Reconsidering the Demarcation Problem. University of Chicago Press. 1-6

Psillos, Stathis (2009). Knowing the Structure of Nature: Essays on Realism and Explanation. Palgrave Macmillan

Psillos, Stathis (2012). ”What is General Philosophy of Science?”. Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 43 (1). 93–103.

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Renn, J. (2015). “From the History of Science to the History of Knowledge – and Back”. Centaurus, 57: 37–53

Schickore, Jutta (2011). ”More Thoughts on HPS: Another 20 Years Later”. Perspectives on Science 19 (4). 453–481.

Shapin, Steven & Schaffer, Simon (1985). Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life. Princeton University Press.

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Virmajoki, Veli (forthcoming). ”What Should We Require from an Account of Explanation in Historiography?”. Journal of the Philosophy of History.

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[1] Of course, I do not want to suggest that Daston is a presentist.

[2] Such the Leviathan and the Air-Pump by Simon and Schaffer (1985).

[3] Of course, we can ask whether science could be improved. This, however, does not affect which of our existing practices are the scientific ones. Moreover, we may even have wrong beliefs about the nature of scientific practices but this does not change the fact that these practices are the ones we want to understand in the science studies (and thus in the historiography of science). In fact, science studies would become a redundant field if we already knew the exact nature of those practices that we consider as science.

[4] For example, the theoretical continuity between successive theories is an important topic in the debates concerning scientific realism. See Psillos (2009).

[5] The formulation of the answer is based on the points made by Hasok Chang (2009).

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