Contingency and the Challenge of History: Discerning the Constructivist Structure of the Scientific Revolution

Citation:

Kara-Ali M. Contingency and the Challenge of History: Discerning the Constructivist Structure of the Scientific Revolution, in Evolution and Historical Explanation: Contingency, Convergence, and Teleology: CHED-IRC Conference. Oxford University ; 2014.
Contingency and the Challenge of History: Discerning the Constructivist Structure of the Scientific Revolution

Date Presented:

17-19 July

Abstract:

The paper tackles the challenge faced by studying the history of science as a practice of finding evidence for a contemporary hypothesis that is conceptually and temporally removed from the localized historical context. This challenge is especially apparent in research on the Scientific Revolution, whereby the continuity between the old and the new was broken with the rapid introduction of new conceptual and epistemic frames that the historian, commonly being a non-philosopher, does not incorporate into his or her scheme. This common approach in the History of Science impedes the unbiased understanding of the historical sciences within their own cultural context. The works of the fifteenth century astronomer `Ali Qushji, whose astronomy has been associated with the Copernican Revolution, epitomizes this historical dilemma, as his astronomical/philosophical works indicate the development of a new constructivist epistemology that challenges the old epistemology of Aristotelian realism. If the historian is, therefore, not conceptually studying Qushjian astronomy as a constructivist paradigm shift, then he or she might not understand Qushji's solution to the methodological problems that he identifies with Ptolemaic cosmology. Planetary prognosis, contrary to the judgment of a "realist" historian who applies contemporary epistemic frames to the historical sciences, would not be the measure of success between a Ptolemaic model, a Tusian/Copernican model and a Qushjian one - with all three exhibiting almost identical predictive planetary positions. Alternatively, by using a constructivist methodology one is able to learn that, with his model to resolve the Ptolemaic equant problem, Qushji resorts to a constructivist mathematical tool that opens ways for the discovery of Earth's motion. As historians of science, we thus cannot understand the origins of the Scientific Revolution, which was a break with the old philosophy of the Greeks and a birth of a new worldview, without understanding first what the historical epistemic quest of this new worldview was.

Last updated on 03/15/2018