History and philosophy of science

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The history and philosophy of science (HPS) is an academic discipline that encompasses the philosophy of science and the history of science. Although many scholars in the field are trained primarily as either historians or as philosophers, there are degree-granting departments of HPS at several prominent universities (see below).

A unified discipline

The organization &HPS (Integrated History and Philosophy of Science) has set forth a program for a unified discipline: "Good history and philosophy of science is not just history of science into which some philosophy of science may enter, or philosophy of science into which some history of science may enter. It is work that is both historical and philosophical at the same time. The founding insight of the modern discipline of HPS is that history and philosophy have a special affinity and one can effectively advance both simultaneously".[1]

One origin of the unified discipline is the historical approach to the discipline of the philosophy of science. This hybrid approach is reflected in the career of Thomas Kuhn. His first permanent appointment, at the University of California, Berkeley,[2] was to a position advertised by the philosophy department, but he also taught courses from the history department. When he was promoted to full professor in the history department only, Kuhn was offended at the philosophers' rejection because "I sure as hell wanted to be there, and it was my philosophy students who were working with me, not on philosophy but on history, were nevertheless my more important students".[3] This attitude is also reflected in his historicist approach, as outlined in Kuhn's seminal Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962, 2nd ed. 1970), wherein philosophical questions about scientific theories and, especially, theory change are understood in historical terms, employing concepts such as paradigm shift.

However, Kuhn was also critical of attempts fully to unify the methods of history and philosophy of science: "Subversion is not, I think, too strong a term for the likely result of an attempt to make the two fields into one. They differ in a number of their central constitutive characteristics, of which the most general and apparent is their goals. The final product of most historical research is a narrative, a story, about particulars of the past. [...] The philosopher, on the other hand, aims principally at explicit generalizations and at those with universal scope. He is no teller of stories, true or false. His goal is to discover and state what is true at all times and places rather than to impart understanding of what occurred at a particular time and place."[4] More recent work questions whether these methodological and conceptual divisions are in fact barriers to a unified discipline.[5]

"History of science without philosophy of science is blind ... philosophy of science without history of science is empty"

Norwood Russell Hanson [6]

HPS university departments, interdisciplinary programs, and divisions





Czech Republic


University of Aarhus (History of Science)





Budapest University of Technology and Economics




  • Sapienza University of Rome [1]








United Kingdom

United States

See also


  1. "About &HPS," http://www3.nd.edu/~andhps/about.html
  2. "A Discussion with Thomas S. Kuhn" in The Road Since Structure, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000, p. 302.
  3. "A Discussion with Thomas S. Kuhn," p. 302.
  4. "The Relations Between the History and the Philosophy of Science," pp. 3–20 in The Essential Tension, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977.
  5. Lydia Patton, Philosophy, Science, and History, pp. 27–33, New York: Routledge 2014, http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9780415898317/.
  6. A recasting of Kant's quotation: "Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind." Norwood Russell Hanson, "The Irrelevance of History of Science to Philosophy of Science", The Journal of Philosophy, 59 (1962): 574–586, at p. 580.