Journal for General Philosophy of Science

, Volume 47, Issue 2, pp 307–329 | Cite as

Scientific Images as Circulating Ideas: An Application of Ludwik Fleck’s Theory of Thought Styles

  • Nicola MößnerEmail author


Without doubt, there is a great diversity of scientific images both with regard to their appearances and their functions. Diagrams, photographs, drawings, etc. serve as evidence in publications, as eye-catchers in presentations, as surrogates for the research object in scientific reasoning. This fact has been highlighted by Stephen M. Downes who takes this diversity as a reason to argue against a unifying representation-based account of how visualisations play their epistemic role in science. In the following paper, I will suggest an alternative explanation of the diversity of scientific images. This account refers to processes which are caused by the social setting of science. What exactly is meant by this, I will spell out with the aid of Ludwik Fleck’s theory of the social mechanisms of scientific communication.


Ludwik Fleck Scientific communication Scientific images Social mechanism Thought collective Visual representations 



This work was supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG) in the context of the project ‘‘Visualisierungen in den Wissenschaften—eine wissenschaftstheoretische Untersuchung’’ (MO 2343/1-1). For helpful comments on an earlier version of this paper I would like to thank the participants of the research colloquium at the RWTH Aachen University, two anonymous reviewers and the editors of the Journal for General Philosophy of Science.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Alfried Krupp Wissenschaftskolleg GreifswaldGreifswaldGermany

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