, Volume 75, Issue 3, pp 377–390 | Cite as

On the Historicity of Scientific Objects

  • Theodore ArabatzisEmail author


The historical variation of scientific knowledge has lent itself to the development of historical epistemology, which attempts to historicize the origin and establishment of knowledge claims. The questions I address in this paper revolve around the historicity of the objects of those claims: How and why do new scientific objects appear? What exactly comes into being in such cases? Do scientific objects evolve over time and in what ways? I put forward and defend two theses: First, the ontology of science is so rich and variegated that there are no universally valid answers to these questions. Second, we need a pluralist account of scientific objects, a pluralist metaphysics that can do justice to their rich diversity and their various modes of being and becoming. I then focus on hidden objects, which are supposed to be part of the permanent furniture of the universe, and I discuss their birth and historicity: They emerge when various phenomena coalesce as manifestations of a single hidden cause and their representations change over time. Finally, I examine the conditions under which an evolving representation may still refer to the same object and I illustrate my argument drawing upon the early history of electrons.


Natural Kind Scientific Object Experimental Practice Cloud Chamber Hide Object 
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Earlier versions of this paper were presented at a conference on historical epistemology at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, at the Vienna Circle Institute, and at the Institut d’Histoire et de Philosophie des Sciences et des Techniques in Paris. I am indebted to the audiences for perceptive questions. I am particularly grateful to Uljana Feest, Gérard Jorland, Ursula Klein, Hans-Jörg Rheinberger, Thomas Sturm and two anonymous referees for their constructive comments and suggestions. I am deeply thankful to the École des hautes études en sciences sociales and to the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, where part of the work for this paper was carried out. Finally, I would like to thank the University of Athens for supporting my work with a research grant and the State Scholarships Foundation for funding my research through the IKYDA program.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy and History of ScienceUniversity of AthensAthensGreece

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