Journal for General Philosophy of Science

, Volume 48, Issue 4, pp 535–551 | Cite as

A Historical Perspective on the Distinction Between Basic and Applied Science



The traditional distinction between basic (“pure”) and applied science has been much criticized in recent decades. The criticism is based on a combination of historical and systematic epistemic argument. The present paper is mostly concerned with the historical aspect. I argue that the critics impose an understanding at odds with the way the distinction was understood by its supporters in debates on science education and science policy in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. And I show how a distinction that refers to difference on several epistemic and social dimensions makes good sense of representative historical cases. If this argument is tenable it suggests more continuity in the epistemology and politics of science than has been claimed by a new paradigm of science studies and politics during recent decades.


Pure science Basic/applied OECD research statistics “Ivory tower” 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.IFIKKUniversity of OsloBlindern, OsloNorway

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