Koyré’s Revolutionary Role in the Historiography of Science



Koyré’s analysis of the birth of modern science has surely changed the old historiography of science because he recognized as an essential component of the science of this case study a metaphysics which allowed him to improve considerably the interpretative power of his accounts. He summarized this metaphysics by means of two “characteristic features”. My previous works suggested that two basic dichotomies formed the foundations of science – one on the kind of infinity and the other one on the kind of the theoretical organization. In the light of them, Koyré’s characteristic features correspond to the choices, concerning the two dichotomies, on which Newton implicitly based his mechanics. This result explains the adequacy of Koyré’s interpretation in the examined historical events before and during Newton’s time. On the other hand, the historiography of the other major representative historian of science, Kuhn, is less related to these foundations of science. However, from a comparison of the categories of both historians, a general scheme for characterizing as a whole the “new historiography” of last decades is obtained. In addition, as a verification of the previous interpretation by means of the two dichotomies of Koyré’s categories, by opposition to them, new categories are obtained for interpreting the nineteenth-century scientific theories which do not belong to the Newtonian paradigm – e.g. chemistry and thermodynamics. They apply also to the first two theories of modern physics. By quickly examining the other historiographies of the last decades, I conclude that (1) the period of the new historiographies has ended; (2) of these, Koyré’s was the best one because it approached more closely than all others the foundations of science; (3) very remarkably, the works on the history of science, Koyré’s in particular, suggested great advancements in philosophy of science.


New historiography Categories Metaphysical content Two dichotomies Foundations of science 



I am grateful to Prof. David Braithwaite for having revised my poor English and to an anonymous referee for some important suggestions.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Formerly at Physics DepartmentNapoli Federico II UniversityNaplesItaly

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