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On the ‘Very Idea of a Philosophy of Science’: On Chemistry and Cosmology in Nietzsche and Kant

Wie Schiffer sind wir, die ihr Schiff auf offener See umbauen müssen, ohne es jemals in einem Dock zerlegen und aus besten Bestandteilen neu erricheten zu können.

Otto Neurath


Beginning with a reflection on ‘conceptual schemes’ and ‘very’ ideas and proceeding to examine different approaches to thinking philosophy of science not only with Kant but also between traditional analytic and hermeneutico-phenomenological approaches, this essay features a review of Kant’s 1755 solar nebular hypothesis and a reading of Nietzsche and Kant on cosmology along with a reflection on chemistry and the properties of cinnabar. Overall it is argued that a philosophy of science must be critical rather than normative/prescriptive. Seeking to raise the question of science along with the question of truth (via Nietzsche and Kant), the essay also raises the question of esoteric historiography in science, including alchemy.

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  1. 1.

    See Derek J. de Solla Price’s “The Scientific Foundations of Science of Science,” Nature, CCVI, 4981 (1965): 233–238 in addition to A. L. Mackay and J. D. Bernal, “Towards a Science of Science,” Technologist, 2, 4 (1966): 319–328. For a Popperian approach, see Steve Fuller’s The Governance of Science (Buckingham: Open University Press, 2000).

  2. 2.

    See Thomas Mormann, “Husserl’s Philosophy of Science and the Semantic Approach,” Philosophy of Science, Vol. 58, No. 1 (1991): 61–83 and Robert Sokolowski, “Exact Science and The World in Which We Live” in Elisabeth Ströker, ed., Lebenswelt und Wissenschaft in der Philosophie Husserls (Frankfurt: Klostermann, 1979): 92–106 along with the contributions to Daniel O. Dahlstrom, Nature and Scientific Method (Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 1991).

  3. 3.

    See the contributors to David Hyder and Hans-Jörg Rheinberger (eds.) Science and the Life-World: Essays on Husserl's Crisis of European Sciences (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009).

  4. 4.

    Evandro Agazzi, “Rethinking Philosophy of Science Today,” Journal of Philosophical Research, Special Supplement 28 (2012): 85–101.

  5. 5.

    Agazzi, “Rethinking Philosophy of Science Today,” 99.

  6. 6.

    See Babette Babich, Günther Anders Philosophy of Technology: From Phenomenology to Critical Theory (London: Bloomsbury, 2021) for discussion.

  7. 7.

    See here the contributions to Irene Strasser and Martin Dege, eds., The Psychology of Global Crises and Crisis Politic—Intervention, Resistance, Decolonization. (London: Palgrave, 2021).

  8. 8.

    See John Ioannidis “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False,” PLoS Medicine, Vol 2, Issue 8 (August 2005): 0696–0701. Nor has the problem abated: see Monya Baker, “1,500 Scientists Lift the Lid on Reproducibility,” Nature, 533 (25 May 2016): 452–454. Cf. from the perspective of psychology, R. Barker Baussell, The Problem with Science: The Reproducibility Crisis and What to do About It (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021) as well as Aubrey Clayton, Bernoulli’s Fallacy: Statistical Illogic and the Crisis of Modern Science (New York: Columbia University Press, 2021) as well as Nicolas Chevassus-au-Louis, Fraud in the Lab: The High Stakes of Scientific Research (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2019), Gareth Leng and Rhodri Ivor Leng, The Matter of Facts: Skepticism, Persuasion, and Evidence in Science (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2020), Philip Mirowski, Science-Mart: Privatizing American Science (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011), and, beyond Naomi Oreskes, David Michaels, The Triumph of Doubt: Dark Money and the Science of Deception (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020).

  9. 9.

    Stathis Psillos, “What is General Philosophy of Science, Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie, Vol. 43, No. 1 (July 2012): 93–103.

  10. 10.

    Alasdair MacIntyre, “Epistemological Crises, Dramatic Narrative and the Philosophy of Science,” The Monist, Vol. 60, No. 4, Historicism and Epistemology (October, 1977): 453–472, here: 459.

  11. 11.

    See for a discussion in connection with laboratory technology, Babich, “Material Hermeneutics and Heelan’s Philosophy of Technoscience.” AI & Society, Vol. 35 (April 2020): 1–12.

  12. 12.

    MacIntyre, “Epistemological Crises, Dramatic Narrative and the Philosophy of Science,” 463.

  13. 13.

    Ibid., 463.

  14. 14.

    Ibid., 465.

  15. 15.

    MacIntyre, After Virtue (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984), 1f.

  16. 16.

    Ian Hacking, “Inaugural lecture: Chair of Philosophy and History of Scientific Concepts at the Collège de France, 16 January 2001,” Economy and Society, Vol. 31, No. 1 (20,012): 1–14.

  17. 17.

    MacIntyre, “Epistemological Crises, Dramatic Narrative and the Philosophy of Science,” 467.

  18. 18.

    Woolgar, The Very Idea of Science (London: Tavistock, 1998); Agassi, The Very Idea of Modern Science: Francis Bacon and Robert Boyle (Frankfurt/M: Springer, 2012).

  19. 19.

    Peter Caws, “A Reappraisal of the Conceptual Scheme of Science,” Philosophy of Science, Vol. 24, No. 3 (Jul., 1957): 221–234.

  20. 20.

    Davidson, “On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme,” Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association, Vol. 47 (1973–1974): 5–20; here: 18.

  21. 21.

    Ibid., 8.

  22. 22.

    This is according to the report issued under the rubric of ‘Ethnologue’: The focus is the bible, since Luther a driving focus of translation and see, extended over a thousand pages, Raymond G. Gordon, Jr., ed., Ethnologue: Languages of the World (Dallas: SIL International, 2005).

  23. 23.

    Davidson cites Alfred Tarski, ‘’The Concept of Truth in Formalized Languages,’ in Logic. Semantics. Metamathematics, Oxford, 1956.” Here: 17.

  24. 24.

    Citing Kant’s First Introduction to the Critique of Judgement in Howard Caygill, A Kant Dictionary (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000), 319. For Caygill, this provides “the schema or monogram of such a system” (here: 386).

  25. 25.

    Caygill, A Kant Dictionary, 319.

  26. 26.

    The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, ed. Lesley Brown, Vol. II, N-Z, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), 3569.

  27. 27.

    Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar, Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979).

  28. 28.

    Martin Eger, “Achievements of the Hermeneutic-Phenomenological Approach to Natural Science” in Science, Understanding, and Justice: The Philosophical Essays of Martin Eger (Open Court, 2006), 53–72.

  29. 29.

    Ibid., 65.

  30. 30.

    Caws, “A Reappraisal of the Conceptual Scheme of Science,” 221.

  31. 31.

    Friedrich Nietzsche, Die fröhliche Wissenschaft, §112, Kritische Studienausgabe, (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1980), Vol. 3, 473; cf. Babich, „Nietzsches Lebensontologie: Negative Ontologie“ in: Jan Urbich and Jörg Zimmer, eds., Handbuch Ontologie (Frankfurt/M: Metzler, 2020), 155–164.

  32. 32.

    [schon ein Blick in die Milchstrasse lässt kein Zweifel tauchen ob es dort nicht viel rohere und widersprechendere Bewegungen giebt, ebenfalls Sterne mit ewigen geradlinigen Fallbahnen und dergleichen (FW §109)].

  33. 33.

    See, informatively, Marco Buzzoni, “Zum Verhältnis zwischen Experiment und Gedankenexperiment in den Naturwissenschaften,” Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie, Vol. 38, No. 2 (2007): 219–237.

  34. 34.

    Immanuel Kant, Allgemeine Naturgeschichte und Theorie des Himmels oder Versuch von der Verfassung und dem mechanischen Ursprünge des ganzen Weltgebäudes, nach Newtonischen Grundsätzen abgehandelt (Königsberg/Leipzig: Johann Friederich Petersen, 1755). The book was republished during Kant’s lifetime in 1797 and 1798, with a reprint in 1808.

  35. 35.

    In the same year, Kant’s opusculum would be reviewed in Hamburg’s Freyen Urtheilen und Nachrichten.

  36. 36.

    Despite patent references to Kant, Nietzsche’s connection with Kant is typically disputed. See Babich, “Nietzsche’s Critique: Reading Kant’s Critical Philosophy” in: Mark Conard, ed., Nietzsche and the Philosophers (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017), 171–192.

  37. 37.

    “Ich sage euch: man muss noch Chaos in sich haben, um einen tanzenden Stern gebären zu können. Ich sage euch: ihr habt noch Chaos in euch.” Nietzsche, Also sprach Zarathustra, iv, KSA 4, 19.

  38. 38.

    Wolfram Groddeck, “‘Oh Himmel über mir’: Zur kosmischen Wendung in der Poetologie Nietzsches,” Nietzsche-Studien, 18 (1989): 490–508.

  39. 39.

    Nietzsche, KSA 1, 864–867. See for a discussion, Babich, Nietzsches Antike, 43f.

  40. 40.

    We interpose a series of assumptions and interpretations whereby, Nietzsche emphasizes in a note “Contra Scientific Prejudice,” the greatest fairy tale is that of “knowledge.” KSA 12, 141.

  41. 41.

    Cf. Pierre Duhem, “Quelques réflexions au sujet de la expérimentale,” Revue des Questions Scientifiques 36 (1894): 179–229. Cf. Stanley Jaki, Uneasy Genius: The Life and Work of Pierre Duhem (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1984).

  42. 42.

    Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer, Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985).

  43. 43.

    Cited above and cf. the book/research project in which Latour continues his ethnography of science as such (i.e., what would make us ‘modern,’ were it to be attained at any point), An Inquiry into Modes of Existence: An Anthropology of the Moderns (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2013).

  44. 44.

    See for discussion, Babich, “Material Hermeneutics and Heelan’s Philosophy of Technoscience,” AI & Society, Vol. 35 (April 2020).

  45. 45.

    Pierre Duhem, The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1954),185.

  46. 46.

    “True reality,” as Heelan explains “for a subject is his World.” In: Heelan, Quantum Mechanics and Objectivity (Hague: Nijhoff, 1965), 4. Cf., Heelan, “Hermeneutics of Experimental Science in the Context of the Life-World” in Don Ihde and Richard M. Zaner, Interdisciplinary Phenomenology (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1977), 7.

  47. 47.

    Duhem, The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory, 193–194.

  48. 48.

    Ibid., 195.

  49. 49.

    Laudan, Progress and its Problems: Towards a Theory of Scientific Growth (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977), 115.

  50. 50.

    Duhem, The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory, 182–183.

  51. 51.

    Ibid., 183.

  52. 52.

    Heidegger, Nietzsche, Volume III, trans. Joan Stambaugh, D. F. Krell and Frank Capuzzi (San Franciso: Harper & Row, 1987), Nietzsche III, 41.

  53. 53.

    P.M.S. Hacker, “On Davidson’s Idea of a Conceptual Scheme,” Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 46, No. 184 (1996): 289–307, here 289.

  54. 54.

    Hacker, “On Davidson’s Idea of a Conceptual Scheme,” 291.

  55. 55.

    Agassi, “The Role of the Philosopher among the Scientists: Nuisance or Necessity?,” Social Epistemology, Vol. 3, No. 4 (1989): 297–309.

  56. 56.

    Hacker in an interview with James Garvey, “Hacker’s Challenge,” The Philosopher’s Magazine, 2010.

  57. 57.

    In a more recent interview with the Daily Nous,

  58. 58.

    Kemp-Smith renders this: “time was when Metaphysics was entitled the Queen of all the sciences.” Kant, KdrV Aviii.

  59. 59.

    Heidegger, Zollikoner Seminare, Protokolle-Gespräche-Briefe, ed., Medard Boss (Frankfurt/M: Klosterman, 1987), 18.

  60. 60.

    Eugene Wigner, “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences,” Communications in Pure and Applied Mathematics, 131 (1960): 1–14. See Heelan’s posthumously published The Observable: Heisenberg’s Philosophy of Quantum Mechanics (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2016) on consciousness and measurement.

  61. 61.

    For a discussion, see Trudeau’s The Non-Euclidean Revolution (Basel: Birkhäuser, 2001).

  62. 62.

    William H. Newton-Smith, The Rationality of Science (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1981), 14.

  63. 63.

    Laudan, “The Philosophy of Progress,” PSA: Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association, Vol. Two: Symposia and Invited Papers (1978): 530–547, here 530.

    547; here, 530.

  64. 64.

    Newton-Smith, The Rationality of Science, 183ff.

  65. 65.

    Laudan, “The Philosophy of Progress,” 535.

  66. 66.

    These may be abandoned to Feyerabend’s criticisms perhaps as Laudan has no tolerance for what he calls “the catastrophic, ‘anything goes’” dimensionality invoked by what he takes to be misreadings of his book.

  67. 67.

    Laudan, “The Philosophy of Progress,” 538.

  68. 68.

    Cf. Nuccio Ordine, Giordano Bruno and the Philosophy of the Ass, trans. Henryk Baranski in collaboration with Arielle Saiber (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993) and the anti-edifying ass, the same conviction of the philosopher that Nietzsche references when he claims that—at some point or another—this same ‘conviction’—takes the stage: adventavit asinus, pulcher et fortissimus (BGE §8), closer to the ungainly tensions of the creature of The Tempest than the rustic amusements of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

  69. 69.

    See further Cinzia Ferrini, “The Land of Truth of the Understanding and the Threatening Waters of Reason: Maritime Sources For a Kantian Metaphor,” Esercizi Filosofici, 8 (2013): 53–70 which puts paid to a popular conviction that Kant might be rendering a Baconian metaphor (easy enough as Kant dedicates the critique to him) reminding us that our investigations take their point of departure from the otherwise insufficiently adverted to Hans Vaihinger’s reading of Kant “als Metaphoriker’.” See here, Serena Feloj, “Metaphor and Boundary: H.S. Reimarus’ Vernunftlehre as Kant’s Source,” Lebenswelt, 1 (2011): 31–46 and Peter Thielke, “Hume, Kant, and the Sea of Illusion,” Hume Studies, Vol. 29, Nr. 1 (April 2003): 63–88.

  70. 70.

    Heelan, “Afterword,” 446.

  71. 71.

    Feyerabend, Against Method, 98f.

  72. 72.

    Heelan and Feyerabend cite the third chapter of Vasco Ronchi’s, Histoire de la lumière (1956). Cf. “Evidence from Perceptual Illusions” in Heelan’s Space Perception and the Philosophy of Science (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983).

  73. 73.

    Feyerabend, Against Method, 63.

  74. 74.

    Ibid., 78.

  75. 75.

    Rudolf Kurth, “Kants ‘Allgemeine Naturgeschichte und Theorie des Himmels’ von 1755 und die moderne Wissenschaft,” Mitteilungen der Naturforschenden Gesellschaft in Bern, Neue Reihe 13 (1956), 58–80.

  76. 76.

    Ibid., 59.

  77. 77.

    Ibid., 61.

  78. 78.

    Ibid., 63.

  79. 79.

    Ibid., 65.

  80. 80.

    Kant, Natural Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), Eric Watkins, ed., I: 230, 200.

  81. 81.

    Nietzsche goes on to observe that one needs again to ‘discover,’ or to redeem nature.

  82. 82.

    Kurth, op. cit. Kurth’s references invoke Herschel, Laplace, Lambert, Mayer, Avenarius and Mach in addition to Eduard von Hartman, Eugen Dühring, Hermann von Helmholtz, etc.

  83. 83.

    See Günther Abel, Nietzsche: Die Dynamik der Willen zur Macht und die ewige Wiederkehr (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1984), 357f as well as 346f where Abel refers to Deleuze and Mallarmé to distinguish among an array of power-processes or concrescences. Cf. Babich, Nietzsche’s Philosophy of Science (Albany: SUNY Press, 1994) and Robin Small, Nietzsche in Context (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2001).

  84. 84.

    In: John Wilkes, Encyclopaedia Londinensis, or, Universal Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and Literature’ (London: Printed for the Proprietor at the Encyclopedia Office, 1812), Vol. 11, 602. This figure does not appear in Kemp-Smith’s 1929 English translation of Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason but is set as frontispiece, with the attribution: “German School,” in Howard Caygill’s 2003 edition of the Critique.

  85. 85.

    Apart from Indian versions which can have several coils and folds, adding turtles etc.

  86. 86.

    I thank Emilio Mazza for this reference, personal communication: 3 September 2021.

  87. 87.

    See Assmann, “Ouroboros: The Ancient Egyptian Myth of the Journey of the Sun,” Aegyptiaca 4 (2019): 18–32, see 18 for a photograph of the slab.

  88. 88.

    Cited in Caygill, The Art of Judgment (Oxford: Blackwell, 1989), 18.

  89. 89.

    There are broader alchemic contexts. Note with respect to Hölderlin’s Hyperion and Johann Valentin Andreae, Artur R. Boelderl, Alchimie, Postmoderne und der arme Hölderlin. Drei Studien zur philosophische Hermetik (Vienna: Passagen Verlag, 1995).

  90. 90.

    Personal communication, 21 August 2021. To add an element of parody, some elements of the ‘balance’ may recall the less-than admiring 1652 caricature of Angelus Silesius or Johannes Scheffler (1624–1677), with his multiple wares qua not pilgrim but ‘Wandersman’.

  91. 91.

    Wilkes, Encyclopaedia Londinensis, 608 illustrating the categories in an iconic schematic in a concept design credited to the Kant student (from 1793–1798) and goldsmith, Thomas Wirgman. The encyclopedia article itself details Kant’s Universal Natural History and Theory of the Heavens both as a theory and thirty years later as “evinced by the practical investigations of Herschel.” Ibid., 603.

  92. 92.

    John Maynard Keynes, “Newton, The Man” in Essays in Biography (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 363–374.

  93. 93.

    See for a discussion of Kant and experiment, including thought experiments, Buzzoni’s several discussions, e.g., “Kantian Accounts of Thought Experiments” in: Michael T. Stuart, Yiftach Fehige, and James Robert Brown, eds., The Routledge Companion to Thought Experiments (London: Routledge, 2018): 327–341.

  94. 94.

    See Stillman Drake, “The Role of Music in Galileo’s Experiments,” Scientific American, Vol. 232, No. 6 (June 1975): 98–105, here 98.

  95. 95.

    See further, Jens Lemanski, “Galilei, Torricelli, Stahl. Zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte der Physik in der B-Vorrede zu Kants Kritik der reinen Vernunft,” Kant-Studien, Vol. 107, H. 3 (2016): 451–484.

  96. 96.

    Cited from Kant’s Danziger Physik in Henny Blomme, “Kant’s Conception of Chemistry in the Danziger Physik” in Robert R. Clewis, ed., Reading Kant’s Lectures (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2015), 484–502.

  97. 97.

    See too Kenneth R. Westphal, “Affinity, Idealism and Naturalism: The Stability of Cinnabar and the Possibility of Experience,” Kant-Studien, 88 (1997): 139–189 who notes Lewis White Beck on cinnabar. See too, if more focused on Jung, Mathew Mather’s The Alchemical Mercurius (New York: Routledge, 2014), esp. 13–68.

  98. 98.

    Basil Valentine, His Triumphant Chariot of Antimony with Annotations of Theodore Kirkringus, M.D. With: The True Book of the learned Synesius, a Greek Abbot taken out the Emperor’s Library, concerning the Philosopher’s Stone (London: Printed for Dorman Newman at the Kings Arms, 1678), 124.

  99. 99.

    Like gold, cinnabar can only be dissolved in aqua regia.

  100. 100.

    Kant, Prolegomena, §2b [13].

  101. 101.

    Principe, The Aspiring Adept: Robert Boyle and his Alchemical Quest (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998), 11.

  102. 102.

    Principe is well aware of the reference to cinnabar, quoting Boyle on this in The Producibleness of Chymical Principles. Ibid., 15.

  103. 103.

    Ibid., 19. See William R. Newman, “Robert Boyle, Transmutation, and the History of Chemistry Before Lavoisier: A Response to Kuhn,” Osiris, Vol 29, No. 1 (2014): 63–77.

  104. 104.

    Ibid., 40.

  105. 105.

    John Warwick Montgomery, Cross and Crucible: Johann Valentin Andreae (1586–1654): Phoenix of the Theologians, Vol. 1, Andreae’s Life, Worldview, and relations with Rosicrucianism and Alchemy (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1973), 15.

  106. 106.

    “Luther’s heraldic seal displays a rose and a cross, and Roman Catholic critics of Rosicrucianism during the Reformation period pointed to its connection with Lutheranism.” Montgomery, Cross and Crucible, 15.

  107. 107.

    See, e.g., Thomas Pfau, “‘All is Leaf’: Difference, Metamorphosis, and Goethe’s Phenomenology of Knowledge,” Studies in Romanticism, Vol. 49, No. 1 (2010): 3–41 and Robert Bloch, “Goethe, Idealistic Morphology, and Science,” American Scientist, Vol. 40, No. 2 (April 1952): 313–322. On science, see Olaf Müller’s “Goethe’s Polarity of Light and Darkness,” Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie, 49/4 (2018): 581–598.

  108. 108.

    This is set as epigraph to Holger Schmid, Nietzsches Gedanke der tragischen Erkenntnis (Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 1984).

  109. 109.

    Montgomery, Cross and Crucible, 6, and again: 22.

  110. 110.

    For the argument that chemistry, strictly speaking, predates alchemy, see Tenney L. Davis, “The Problem of the Origins of Alchemy,” The Scientific Monthly, Vol. 43, No. 6 (1936): 551–558 n.

  111. 111.

    Nietzsche, KSA 7, 167. See further: Babich, Nietzsches Plastik (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2021), 400f.

  112. 112.

    Nietzsche: „Der Grieche kannte die Schrecken und Entsetzlichkeiten des Daseins, aber er verhüllte sie, um leben zu können: ein Kreuz unter Rosen versteckt nach dem Goetheschen Symbol.“ KSA 1, 560, cf. here: 588.

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Babich, B. On the ‘Very Idea of a Philosophy of Science’: On Chemistry and Cosmology in Nietzsche and Kant. Axiomathes 31, 703–726 (2021).

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  • Conceptual schemes
  • Nebular hypothesis
  • Chaos
  • Pluralism
  • Alchemy