Saturday, July 21, 2007

Method and Revolt

Method takes possession of a science, then, precisely at the moment that this science comes under the sway of the mathematical mind. Insofar as the progress of a science depends on subtlety of mind alone, that science is in revolt against all method.

Pierre Duhem, German Science, John Lyon, tr. (La Salle, Illinois: Open Court, 1991) p. 45. Duhem is using 'science' very broadly here; the point is general, but he is making it in the context of talking about the work of the historian. Duhem denies that there can be any historical method in the strict and proper sense (which doesn't, of course, commit him to saying that there are no methods that a historian might not use, only that these are not what constitutes it as history). Even in a field like physics, though, Duhem is very clear that physics requires for its long-term progress both the mathematical mind and the subtle mind, the mind of finesse or intuition; thus one might say that in Duhem's view even the hard sciences involve an interplay between method and revolt against it (which, is not necessarily a revolt against method's results but against its constraints).

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