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Instituting and Contesting Scientific Openness: Historical Investigations into the Preconditions of Counterfactual Thinking

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PI: Prof. Dr. Paul Ziche, Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, University of Utrecht

 

Counterfactual reasoning establishes, by definition, alternatives to the factual. Conceptually, this requires a framework that is characterized by openness: Minimally, we need to assume that it is not only possible with counterfactual alternatives to what is real, but that this even helps us to get better hold upon reality. This minimal condition becomes a very strong program indeed when we relate it to the sciences and the various forms of science: the question then rises how we can conceptualize a field of scientific openness within which alternative forms of science are not only conceivable, but even more: within which different sciences (naturally: in the broad sense of the German "Wissenschaft") can interact constructively, and can accept each other as partners in a larger enterprise.
Some examples: logic, epistemology and methodology of science, all prominently developing in this period, reflect on the knowledge claims raises by other fields; Cassirer’s structuralism and Husserl’s phenomenology propose radically new forms of philosophy that at the same time can lie at the foundation of all sciences; world-view related theories such as 'energeticism' or 'Ordnungslehre' claim a yet broader perspective on science. Also, the most prominent handbook of counterfactual thinking in this period, Hans Vaihinger’s Philosophie des Als-Ob, participates in this programme.

All the paradigmatic cases just stated share the conviction that we in fact need to clarify and strengthen our notion of "science" in order to account for this openness in a scientific manner. Consequently, the protagonists aimed at developing new concepts and new forms of science that should, at the same time, adhere to rigorous standards as regards their scientificity, and make possible a tolerant interaction between those sciences.
This project investigates the crucial period around 1900 under precisely this premise: that this period is characterized by a scientific attitude which is looking for a basis for integrating seemingly disparate forms of science. Within this context, particular attention will be paid to the conceptual basis and some of the implications of this form of scientific openness, and it also be asked why this form of openness came into disregard.