Advertisement

Revisiting the Pouchet–Pasteur controversy over spontaneous generation: understanding experimental method

  • Nils Roll-Hansen
Original Paper
  • 49 Downloads

Abstract

Louis Pasteur’s defeat of belief in spontaneous generation has been a classical rationalist example of how the experimental approach of modern science can reveal superstition. Farley and Geison (Bull Hist Med 48:161–198, 1974) told a counter-story of how Pasteur’s success was due to political and ideological support rather than superior experimental science. They claimed that Pasteur violated proper norms of scientific method, and that the French Academy of Science did not see this, or did not want to. Farley and Geison argued that Pouchet’s experiments were as valid as those of Pasteur. In this paper I argue that the core of the scientific debate was not general theories for or against spontaneous generation but the outcome of specific experiments. It was on the conduct of these experiments that the Academy made judgements favorable to Pasteur. Claude Bernard was a colleague of Pasteur, supportive and sometimes critical. I argue that Bernard’s fact-oriented methodology of “experimental medicine” is a better guide to explaining the controversy than the hypothetic-deductive view of scientific method typical of logical empiricism.

Keywords

Spontaneous generation Experimental method Louis Pasteur F.A. Pouchet Claude Bernard 

Notes

Acknowledgements

I want in particular to thank editor Staffan Müller-Wille and anonymous referees of History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences for persistent and fruitful criticism of several earlier versions of this paper. Dagfinn Føllesdal and Alan Love have also given helpful comments.

References

  1. Alglave, E. (1865). La question des générations spontanées devant l’Académie des sciences. Revue des Cours Scientifique, 2(13), 205–207.Google Scholar
  2. Alhumbert, P. (1862). Prix Alhumbert pour l’anné 1862. Rapport sur ce concours fait dans le comité secret de la séance du 1er decembre. Comptes rendus des Séances de l’Académie des Sciences, 55, 977–979.Google Scholar
  3. Barnes, B., & Shapin, S. (Eds.). (1979). Natural order: Historical studies of scientific culture. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  4. Bastian, H. C. (1870). Facts and reasonings concerning the heterogenous evolution of living things. Nature, 2, 170–177, 193–228.Google Scholar
  5. Bastian, H. C. (1876a). Researches illustrative of the physico-chemical theory of fermentation, and the conditions favouring archebiosis in previously boiled fluids. Nature, 14, 220–222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bastian, H. C. (1876b). Influences des forces physico-chimiques sur les phénoménes de fermentations. Comptes rendus des Séances de l’Academie des Sciences, 83, 159–160.Google Scholar
  7. Bastian, H. C. (1876c). Note sur la fermentation de l’urine, à propos d’une Communication se M. Pasteur. Comptes rendus des Séances de l’Academie des Sciences, 83, 362–364.Google Scholar
  8. Bastian, H. C. (1876d). Sur la fermentation de l’urine. Réponse à M. Pasteur. Comptes rendus des Séances de l’Academie des Sciences, 83, 488–490.Google Scholar
  9. Bastian, H. C. (1877a). Sur la fermentation de l’urine. Réponse à M. Pasteur. Comptes rendus des Séances de l’Academie des Sciences, 84, 187–190.Google Scholar
  10. Bastian, H. C. (1877b). Sur la fermentation de l’urine. Réponse à M. Pasteur. Comptes rendus des Séances de l’Academie des Sciences, 84, 306–307.Google Scholar
  11. Bastian, H. C. (1877c). The commission of the French Academy and the Pasteur–Bastian experiments. Nature, 16, 276–279.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Bernard, C. (1865/1927). An introduction to the study of experimental medicine. New York: Dover Publications.Google Scholar
  13. Bernard, C. (1947). Principes de medicine experimentale. Introduction et notes par le Dr Léon Delhoume. Paris: Presses universitaire de France.Google Scholar
  14. Biddle, J. (2011). Putting pragmatism to work in the Cold War: Science, technology, and politics in the writings of Jams B. Conant. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 42(2011), 552–561.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Bloor, D. (1981). The strengths of the strong programme. Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 11, 199–213.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Cadeddu, A. (2005). Les vérités de la science. Pratique, récit, histoire; le cas de Pasteur. Firenze: Leo S. Olschki.Google Scholar
  17. Cedarbaum, D. G. (1983). Paradigms. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 14, 173–213.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Cerezo, J. A. L. (2015). Social objectivity under scrutiny in the Pasteur–Pouchet debate. Journal of General Philosophy of Science, 46, 301–318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Collins, H. M., & Pinch, T. (1993/2012). The Golem. What everyone should know about science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Second edition 2012.Google Scholar
  20. Conant, J. B. (1951/1961). Science and common sense. New Haven: Yale University Press (The reprint of 1961 left out one chapter “Science, invention, and the state).Google Scholar
  21. Conant, J. B. (1953). Modern science and modern man. New York: Doubleday & Company (Doubleday Anchor Books).Google Scholar
  22. Conant, J. B. (1957a). Pasteur’s study of fermentation. Conant and Nash, 1957, 439–485.Google Scholar
  23. Conant, J. B. (1957b). Pasteur’s and Tyndall’s study of spontaneous generation. Conant and Nash, 1957, 489–539.Google Scholar
  24. Conant, J. B., & Nash, L. (1957). Harvard case studies in experimental science, 2 volumes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Crellin, J. K. (1976). Pouchet, Felix-Archimede. In Dictionary of scientific biography (Vol. 11). New York: Charles Scribners.Google Scholar
  26. Dagognet, F. (1967). Méthodes et doctrine dans l’oevre de Pasteur. Paris: Galien.Google Scholar
  27. Debré, P. (1994/1998). Louis Pasteur. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press (Translation from French edition, Paris: Flammarion 1994).Google Scholar
  28. Deichmann, U. (2012). Origin of life: The role of experiments, basic beliefs, and social authorities in controversies about the spontaneous generation of life and the subsequent debates about synthesizing life in the laboratory. History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences, 34, 341–360.Google Scholar
  29. Diara, A. (1984). Un débat Francais vu par la presse, 1858–1869. L. Pasteur–F.A. Pouchet et la génération spontanée. Acte du Museum d’histoire naturelle, d’ethnografie and de préhistoire. Rouen, No. 6.Google Scholar
  30. Dubos, R. (1960). Louis Pasteur. Free lance of science. New York: Charles Scribner’s sons (Translation from French edition of 1950).Google Scholar
  31. Duclaux, E. (1896). Pasteur. Histoire d’un esprit. Paris: Sceaux.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Duhem, P. (1991) The aim and structure of physical theory. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press (Translation from second French edition of 1914, published first in 1954).Google Scholar
  33. Farley, J. (1977). The spontaneous generation controversy from descartes to oparin. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Farley, J., & Geison, G. L. (1974). Science, politics and spontaneous generation in nineteenth-century France: The Pasteur–Pouchet debate. Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 48, 161–198.Google Scholar
  35. Fox, R. (2012). The savant and the state: Science and cultural politics in nineteenth-century France (The Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science) Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Gálvez, A. (1988). The role of the French Academy of Sciences in the clarification of the issue of spontaneous generation in mid-nineteenth century. Annals of Science, 45, 345–365.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Geison, G. L. (1974). Louis Pasteur. In C. C. Gillespie (Ed.), The dictionary of scientific biography (Vol. 10, pp. 350–416). New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.Google Scholar
  38. Geison, G. L. (1995). The private science of Louis Pasteur. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  39. Grmek, M. D. (1970) Bernard, Claude. In C. C. Gillespie (Ed.), Dictionary of scientific biography (Vol. 2, pp. 24–34). New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.Google Scholar
  40. Hamlin, C. (2016). The pedagogical roots of the history of science: Revisiting the vision of James Bryant Conant. Isis, 107, 282–308.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Herschberg, J. G. (1993). James B. Conant. Harvard to Hiroshima and the making of a nuclear age. New York: Alfred A Knopf.Google Scholar
  42. Hesse, M. B. (1974). The structure of scientific inference. Berkley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  43. Hesse, M. (1980a). Revolutions and reconstructions in the philosophy of science (pp. 29–60). Brighton: The Harvester Press.Google Scholar
  44. Hesse, M. (1980b). The strong thesis of sociology of science. In Revolutions and reconstructions in the philosophy of science (pp. 29–60). Brighton: The Harvester Press.Google Scholar
  45. Joly, N. (1865). La génération spontanée. Revue des Cours Scientifique, 2(4 March 1865), 226–239.Google Scholar
  46. Joly, N., & Musset, Ch. (1863). Réponse aux observations critiques de M. Pasteur, relatives aux éxperiences exécutées dans les glaciers de la Maladetta. Comptes rendus de Séances de l’Academie des Sciences, Paris, 57, 845–846.Google Scholar
  47. Kuhn, T. (1962). The structure of scientific revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  48. Kuhn, T. (1978). Objectivity, value judgment, and theory choice. In T. S. Kuhn (Ed.), The essential tension (pp. 320–339). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  49. Lakatos, I. (1970). Falsification and the methodology of scientific research programmes. In I. Lakatos & A. Musgrave (Eds.), Criticism and the growth of knowledge (pp. 91–196). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Laudan, L. (1990). Demystifying underdetermination. In C. W. Savage (Ed.), Minnesota studies in the philosophy of science. Vol xiv. Scientific theories (pp. 267–297). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  51. Lawrence, C., & Dixey, R. (1992). Practicing on principle: Joseph Lister and the germ theories of disease. In C. Lawrence (Ed.), Medical theory, surgical practice. Studies in the history of surgery (pp. 153–207). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  52. Longino, H. (2002). The fate of knowledge. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  53. Longino, H. (2015). The social dimensions of scientific knowledge. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (First Published Friday April 12, 2001; substantive revision Monday Febrauary 9, 2015). Accessed 3 February, 2016.Google Scholar
  54. Lorch, M. P. (2013). Examining language functions: A reassessment of Bastian’s contribution to aphasia assessment. Brain, 136, 2629–2637.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. McMullin, E. (1987). Scientific controversy and its termination. In H. T. Engelhardt & A. L. Caplan (Eds.), Scientific controversie (pp. 49–91). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Mendelsohn, E. (1987). The political anatomy of controversy in the sciences. In H. T. Engelhardt & A. L. Caplan (Eds.), Scientific controversie (pp. 93–124). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Meunier, V. (1865a). Expérience relative à la question des générations spontanées. Comptes rendus des Séances de l’Académie des Sciences, 61, 377–378.Google Scholar
  58. Meunier, V. (1865b). Nouvelle expérience relative à la question des générations spontanées. Comptes rendus des Séances de l’Académie des Sciences, 61, 449–451.Google Scholar
  59. Meunier, V. (1865c). Mémoire sur la résistence vitale des Kolpodes enkystés. Comptes rendus des Séances de l’Académie des Sciences, 61, 991–992.Google Scholar
  60. Meunier, V. (1865d). Expériences sur le développement de la vie dans les ballons à cols recourbés. Comptes rendus des Séances de l’Académie des Sciences, 61, 1060–1063.Google Scholar
  61. Meunier, V. (1866). Réponse à une Note de m Pasteur insérée aux Comptes redus, séance du 18 décembre 1865. Comptes rendus des Séances de l’Académie des Sciences, 62, 168–172.Google Scholar
  62. Pasteur, L. (1858). Mémoire sur la fermentation appelée lactique. Œuvres, 2, 3–13.Google Scholar
  63. Pasteur, L. (1859). Lettre manuscrite de Pasteur a Pouchet. Æuvres, 2, 628–630.Google Scholar
  64. Pasteur, L. (1861). Mémoire sur les corpuscules organisés qui existent dans l’atmosphére. Examen de la doctrine des générations spontanées, Oevres, 2, 210–294.Google Scholar
  65. Pasteur, L. (1863). Note en réponse a des observations critiques presentées a l’Academie par MM. Pouchet, Joly et Musset, dans la séance du 21 septembre dernier. Oevres, 2, 321–323 (Comptes rendus des Séances de l’Academie des Sciences, 57, 724–726).Google Scholar
  66. Pasteur, L. (1864a). Note sur les generations spontanées. Comptes rendus des Séances de l’Academie des Sciences, 58, 21–22.Google Scholar
  67. Pasteur, L. (1864b). Des générations spontanées. Oeuvres, 2, 328–346.Google Scholar
  68. Pasteur, L. (1865). Observations verbales à desNotes communiquées a l’Académie dans les séances des 28 août, 11septembre et 11 décembre 1865. Comptes rendus des Séances de l’Académie des Sciences, 61, 1091–1093.Google Scholar
  69. Pasteur, L. (1876a). Note sur l’alteration de l’urine, à propos d’une Communication de Dr Bastian, de Londres. Comptes rendus des Séances de l’Academie des Sciences, 83, 176–180.Google Scholar
  70. Pasteur, L. (1876b). Sur l’alteration de l’urine. Réponse à M. le Dr Bastian. Comptes rendus des Séances de l’Academie des Sciences, 83, 377–378.Google Scholar
  71. Pasteur, L. (1877a). Réponse à M. le Dr Bastian. Comptes rendus des Séances de l’Academie des Sciences, 84, 206.Google Scholar
  72. Pasteur, L. (1877b). Note au sujet de l’experience du Dr Bastian relative a l’urine neutralisée par la potasse. Comptes rendus des Séances de l’Academie des Sciences, 85, 178–180.Google Scholar
  73. Pasteur, L. (1884). La dissymmetrie moléculaire. Œuvres, 1, 369–386.Google Scholar
  74. Pasteur, L. (1922–1939). Oevres de Pasteur, ed. Pasteur Vallery Radot, 7 volumes. Paris: Masson.Google Scholar
  75. Pasteur, L., & Joubert, J. F. (1877). Note sur l’alteration del’urine, à propos des Communications récentes du Dr Bastian. Comptes rendus des Séances de l’Academie des Sciences, 84, 64–66.Google Scholar
  76. Pouchet, F. A. (1858). Note sur des proto-organismes végétaux et animaux, nés spontanement dans de l’air artficiel et dans le gaz oxygéne. Comptes rendus des Séances de l’Academie des Sciences, 47, 979–982.Google Scholar
  77. Pouchet, F. A. (1859a). Héterogénie ou traité de la géneration spontanée. Paris: J.B. Bailliére et fils.Google Scholar
  78. Pouchet, F. A. (1859b). Remarques sur les objections relatives aux proto-organismes rencontrés dans l’oxygene et l’air artificiel. Comptes rendus des Séances de l’Academie des Sciences, 48, 148–158.Google Scholar
  79. Pouchet, F. A. (1863). Adhesion à la protestation contenue dans une Note recente de MM. Joly et Musset. Comptes rendus des Séances de l’Académie des Sciences, 57, 902–903.Google Scholar
  80. Pouchet, F. A. (1864a) Nouvelles expériences sur la génération spontanée et la résistence vitale. Paris: Victor Masson et fils.Google Scholar
  81. Pouchet, F. A. (1864b). Cours de M. Pouchet. Les générations spontanées. Revue des cours scientifiques, 1(23 April 1864), 265–270.Google Scholar
  82. Pouchet, F. A., Joly, N., & Musset, Ch. (1863). Experiénces sur l’héterogénie executes dans l’intérieure des glaciers de la Maladetta (Pyrénées d’Espagne)”. Comptes rendus des Séances de l’Académie des Sciences, 57, 558–561.Google Scholar
  83. Quine, W. O. (1961). Two dogmas of empiricism. In From a logical point of view (2nd edn.) (pp. 20–46). New York and Evanston: Harper & Row. First published in Philosophical Review 60 (1951): 20–42.Google Scholar
  84. Quine, W. O. (1969). Epistemology naturalized. In J. Kim & E. Sosa (Eds.), Ontological relativity & other essays (pp. 69–90). New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  85. Quine, W. O. (1975). On empirically equivalent systems of the world. Erkenntnis, 9, 313–328.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Rapport. (1865). Rapport sur les expériences relatives à la génération spontanée. Comptes rendus des Séances de l’Académie des Sciences, 60, 384–391 (A. Balard rapporteur).Google Scholar
  87. Raynaud, D. (1999). La correspondance de F.-A. Pouchet avec les membres de l’Académie des Sciences: une réévaluation de débat sur la génération spontanée. Archives européennes de sosiologie/European Journal of Sociology/Europäisches Archiv für Soziologie., 40, 257–276.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Reisch, G. A. (2012). The paranoid style in American history of science. Theoria: An International Journal for Theory, History and Foundations of Science, 27, 323–342.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Roll-Hansen, N. (1972). Louis Pasteur—A case against reductionist historiography. British Journal of the Philosophy of Science, 23, 347–361.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Roll-Hansen, N. (1979). Experimental method and spontaneous generation: The controversy between Pasteur and Pouchet, 1859–64. Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, 34, 273–292.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Roll-Hansen, N. (2008) Pasteur, Louis. New Dictionary of Scientific Biography, 6, 21–30. Thomson and Gale (Charles Scribner’s).Google Scholar
  92. Shapin, S. (1982). History of science and its sociological reconstructions. History of Science, 20(1982), 157–211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  93. Strick, J. (2000). Sparks of life. Darwinism and the Victorian debates over spontaneous generation. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  94. Strick, J. (2009). Spontaneous generation. In M. Schaechter (Ed.), Encyclopedia of microbiology. New York: Academic press.Google Scholar
  95. Thomson, A. (1877). Inaugural address to annual meeting of British Association for the Advancement of Science, August 1877. Nature, 16, 302–311.Google Scholar
  96. Tristram, E. H., & Caplan, A. L. (1987). Scientific controversies. Case studies in the resolution and closure of disputes in science and technology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  97. Vallery-Radot, P. (1918). La vie de Pasteur. Paris: Libraire hachette et Cie.Google Scholar
  98. Weber, M. (2005). Philosophy of experimental biology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  99. Worboys, M. (2000). Spreading Germs disease theories and medical practice in Britain, 1865–1900. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  100. Wray, K. B. (2016). The influence of James B. Conant on Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions. HOPOS: The Journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science, 6, 1–23.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy, Classics, History of Art and IdeasUniversity of OsloOsloNorway

Personalised recommendations