Alexandre Koyré and the History of Science as a Species of the History of Philosophy: The Cases of Galileo and Descartes

  • Stephen Gaukroger


It was Koyré who, more than anyone else, was responsible for the transformation of the history of science from an antiquarian discipline, whose role was to chronicle gradual advances towards modern science, into one in which deep conceptual issues could be raised about the nature of space, time and matter, the role of experiment and theory, the role of scientific instruments, the place of mathematics in physical theory and so on. But Koyré’s transformation of the discipline into something with real conceptual content was, I believe, achieved at a cost. He quite rightly drew attention to and explored—indeed in some respects pioneered—the metaphysical and epistemological dimensions of natural-philosophical or ‘scientific’ questions. But on a number of occasions, he went beyond this, effectively translating the latter into metaphysical and epistemological questions. This is counterproductive, for it blinds us to the nature of the questions under investigation, and I want to look at two cases—Galileo’s discussion of free fall and Descartes’ rejection of a vacuum—where this feature of his approach is more evident and most deleterious. In both cases, the underlying assumption seems to be that the most fundamental concepts in physical theory are ultimately philosophical or philosophically driven ones: Koyré effectively reduces natural philosophy to epistemology and metaphysics.


Cosmology Descartes Galileo Historiography of science Hydrostatics Idealisations Kinematics 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sydney UniversitySydneyAustralia

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