Man and World

, Volume 30, Issue 3, pp 343–367 | Cite as

Achievements of the hermeneutic-phenomenological approach to natural science A comparison with constructivist sociology

  • Martin Eger


The hermeneutic-phenomenological approach to the natural sciences has a special interest in the interpretive phases of these sciences and in the circumstances, cognitive and social, that lead to divergent as well as convergent interpretations. It tries to ascertain the role of the hermeneutic circle in research; and to this end it has developed, over the past three decades or so, a number of adaptations of hermeneutic and phenomenological concepts to processes of experimentation and theory-making. The purpose of the present essay is to show how appropriate these concepts are to an important current research program (solar neutrinos) and thus to point out what difference they make to our understanding of science as a whole. This goal is pursued by means of comparison. The program of social constructivism in natural science has produced alternative but parallel concepts, embodied in an alternative and parallel vocabulary. The contrast between this vocabulary and that of hermeneutics and phenomenology reveals, so I argue, the advantages of the latter. But actually it does more: It reveals as well the “pre-understanding” or “prejudgment” of science embedded in each approach.


Research Program Special Interest Natural Science Political Philosophy Social Constructivism 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Amsterdamska, O. (1990). “Surely You Are Joking, Monsieur Latour!” Science, Technology and Human Values 15: 495–504.Google Scholar
  2. Apel, K-O. (1972). “The A Priori of Communication and the Foundation of the Humanities” Man and World 5(1):3–37.Google Scholar
  3. Apel, K-O. (1988) [1968], “Scientistics, Hermeneutics, Critique of Ideology: An Outline of a Theory of Science from an Epistemological-Anthropological Point of View,” in The Hermeneutics Reader, ed. K. Mueller-Vollmer, pp. 321–345. New York: Continuum.Google Scholar
  4. Arbib, A.M. and M.B. Hesse. (1986). The Construction of Reality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Bahcall, J.N. (1964). “Solar Neutrinos I. Theoretical.” Phys. Rev. Lett. 12: 300–302.Google Scholar
  6. Bahcall, J.N. (1996). “Solar Neutrinos: Where We Are, Where We Are Going.” Astrophys. J. 467: 475–484.Google Scholar
  7. Bahcall, J.N. (1996b). “Ray Davis: The Scientist and the Man.” Nuclear Physics B (Proc. Suppl.) 48: 281–283.Google Scholar
  8. Ben David, J. (1981). “Sociology of Scientific Knowledge”, in The State of Sociology, ed. James F. Short Jr.} pp. 40–59. Beverly Hills, California: SagGoogle Scholar
  9. Bloor, D. (1991) [1976]. Knowledge and Social Imagery, 2nd. ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  10. Collins, H.M. (1985). Changing Order. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  11. Collins, H.M. and T. Pinch. (1993). The Golem. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Collins, H.M. and S. Yearley. (1992). “Journey into Space,” in Science as Practice and Culture, pp. 369–389. See Pickering (1992).Google Scholar
  13. Crease, Robert. (1993). The Play of Nature. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Dreyfus, H. (1985). “Holism and Hermeneutics,” in Hermeneutics and Praxis, pp. 227–247. See Hollinger (1985).Google Scholar
  15. Eger, M. (1993). “Hermeneutics and the New Epic of Science,” in The Literature of Science: Perspectives on Popular Scientific Writing, ed. Murdo William McRae. Athens, Georgia, University of Georgia Press, pp. 187–209.Google Scholar
  16. Eger, M. (1993a). “Hermeneutics as an Approach to Science: Part II,” Science and Education: Contributions from the History, Philosophy and Sociology of Science 2:303–328.Google Scholar
  17. Eger, M. (forthcoming). “Language and the Double Hermeneutic in Natural Science,” in Hermeneutics and Science, pp. 289–305. See Fehér, Kiss and Ropolyi (forthcoming).Google Scholar
  18. Fehér, M., Kiss, O., and Ropolyi L. eds (forthcoming). Hermeneutics and Science. Dordrecht, Kluwer.Google Scholar
  19. FØllesdal, D. (1993). “Hermeneutics and Natural Science.” Lecture, First International Conference on Hermeneutics and Science, Veszprem, Hungary,6–9 September, 1993.Google Scholar
  20. Fujimura, J. H. (1992). “Crafting Science: Standardized Packages, Boundary Objects, and 'Translation,'” in Science as Practice and Culture, pp. 168–211. See Pickering (1992).Google Scholar
  21. Gadamer, H-G. 1975 [1960], Truth and Method, (trans. G. Barden and J. Cumming, from the 2nd [1965] ed.). New York: Crossroads.Google Scholar
  22. Gadamer, H-G. (1985) [1977]. Philosophical Apprenticeships. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  23. Giddens A. (1976). New Rules of Sociological Method. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  24. Giere, R.N. (1988). Explaining Science: A Cognitive Approach. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  25. Glanz, J. (1996). “Added Weight for Neutrino Mass Claim.” Science 272: 812.Google Scholar
  26. Grene, M. (1985). “Perception, Interpretation, and the Sciences: Toward a New Philosophy of Science,” in Evolution at a Crossroads: The New Biology and the New Philosophy of Science, eds. D.J. Depew and B.H. Weber. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  27. Habermas, J. (1984) [1981], The Theory of Communicative Action, Vol. 1 (trans. T. McCarthy). Boston: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
  28. Heelan, P.A. (1967). “Horizon, Objectivity and Reality in the Physical Sciences.” Intern. Philo. Quarterly 7: 375–412.Google Scholar
  29. Heelan, P.A. (1972). “Toward a Hermeneutic of Natural Science.” J. British Society for Phenomenology 3: 252–260.Google Scholar
  30. Heelan, P.A. (1977). “Hermeneutics of Experimental Science in the Context of the Life-World,” in Interdisciplinary Phenomenology, pp. 7–50. See Ihde and Zaner (1977).Google Scholar
  31. Heelan, P.A. (1983). Space Perception and the Philosophy of Science. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  32. Heelan, P. (1988). “Experiment and Theory: Constitution and Reality.” J. Philosophy 85: 515–524.Google Scholar
  33. Heelan, P.A. (1989). “Yes There is a Hermeneutical Philosophy of Natural Science: Reply to Markus.” Science in Context 3: 469–480.Google Scholar
  34. Heelan, P.A. (1989a). “After Experiment: Realism and Research”. Amer. Philo. Quarterly 26: 297–308.Google Scholar
  35. Heelan, P.A. (1991). “Hermeneutical Phenomenology and the Philosophy of Science,” in Gadamer and Hermeneutics, pp. 213–228. See Silverman (1991).Google Scholar
  36. Heidegger, M. (1962) [1927]. Being and Time. (Trans. J. MacQuarrie and E. Robinson from the seventh edition of Zein und Zeit). San Francisco: Harper.Google Scholar
  37. Hesse, M. (1980). Revolutions and Reconstructions in the Philosophy of Science. Brighton, Sussex: Harvester Press.Google Scholar
  38. Hollinger, R. ed. (1985). Hermeneutics and Praxis. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Note Dame Press.Google Scholar
  39. Husserl, E. (1970) [1936]. The Crisis of the European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press.Google Scholar
  40. Ihde, D. (1977). Experimental Phenomenology. New York: Putnam's Sons.Google Scholar
  41. Ihde, D. (1979). Technics and Praxis: A Philosophy of Technology. Dordrecht: Reidel.Google Scholar
  42. Ihde, D. (1991). Instrumental Realism: The Interface Between Philosophy of Science and Philosophy of Technology. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  43. Ihde, D. and R.M. Zaner eds. (1977). Interdisciplinary Phenomenology. The Hague: Nijhoff.Google Scholar
  44. Ingarden, R. (1989) [1928]. Ontology of the Work of Art. (Trans. R. Meyer with J.T. Goldthwait, from the German edition of 1961.) Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press.Google Scholar
  45. Keller, E.F. (1983). A Feeling for the Organism. New York: W.H. Freeman.Google Scholar
  46. Keller, E.F. (1985). Reflections on Gender and Science. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  47. Kisiel, T. (1973). “Scientific Discovery: Logical, Psychological or Hermeneutical?” in Explorations in Phenomenology, eds. David Carr and Edward S. Casey. The Hague: Nijhoff.Google Scholar
  48. Kisiel, T. (1980). “Ars Inveniendi: A Classical Source for Contemporary Philosophy of Science.” Revue Internationale de Philosophie 131–2: 130–154.Google Scholar
  49. Kisiel, T. (1983). “Scientific Discovery: The Larger Problem Situation.” New Ideas in Psychology 1:99–109.Google Scholar
  50. Kiss, O. (1995). “Hermeneutic Roads to Commensurability,” 3rd International Conference on Hermeneutics and Science, Leusden, Holland, 12–15 July, 1995.Google Scholar
  51. Kockelmans, J.J. (1968). Phenomenology and the Physical Sciences: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Physical Science. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press.Google Scholar
  52. Kockelmans, J.J. (1985). Heidegger and Science. Washington, D.C.: Center for Advanced Research in Phenomenology and University Press of America.Google Scholar
  53. Kockelmans, J.J. (1993). Ideas for a Hermeneutic Phenomenology of the Natural Sciences. Dordrecht: Kluwer.Google Scholar
  54. Kockelmans, J.J. and Kisiel, T.J. (1970). Phenomenology and the Natural Sciences. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.Google Scholar
  55. Kuhn, T.S. (1970) [1962]. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Second ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  56. Lakatos, I. (1976). Proofs and Refutations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  57. Latour, B. (1987). Science in Action. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  58. Latour B. and S. Woolgar. (1979). Laboratory Life. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  59. Lyotard, J-F. (1984) [1979]. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  60. Marcus, G. (1987). “Why Is There No Hermeneutics of Natural Science?” Science in Context 1: 5–51.Google Scholar
  61. Mermin, D. (1996). “What's Wrong with this Sustaining Myth?” Phys. Today, March issue.Google Scholar
  62. Pickering, A. ed. (1992). Science as Practice and Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  63. Pinch, T. (1986). Confronting Nature: The Sociology of Solar-Neutrino Detection. Dordrecht: Reidel.Google Scholar
  64. Polanyi, M. (1958). Personal Knowledge. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
  65. Polanyi, M. (1969). Knowing and Being ed. Marjorie Grene. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  66. Polanyi, M. and H. Prosch (1975). Meaning. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  67. Raghavan, R.S. (1995). “Solar Neutrinos–From Puzzle to Paradox,” Science 267: 45–50.Google Scholar
  68. Rouse, J. (1987). Knowledge and Power. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  69. Shapere, D. (1984). Reason and the Search for Knowledge, Dordrecht: Reidel.Google Scholar
  70. Shapin, S. and S. Schaffer. (1985). Leviathan and the Air-Pump, Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  71. Shimony, A. (1993). “Reality, Causality, and Closing the Circle,” in Search for a Naturalistic World View, v. 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  72. Silverman, H.J. ed. (1991). Gadamer and Hermeneutics, New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  73. Wolfenstein L. and E.W. Beier. (1989). “Neutrino Oscillations and Solar Neutrinos.” Physics Today, July 1989 issue.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Martin Eger
    • 1
  1. 1.College of Staten IslandThe City University of New YorkStaten IslandUSA

Personalised recommendations