Is there a Distinction Between External and Internal Sociology of Science

(Commentary on a paper of John Zimn)
  • Yehuda Elkana
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 87)


John Ziman’s great contribution to sociology of science is the establishment of a serious, working physicist’s view of science as a collective enterprise. Fleck, according to Ziman, objects to “complete inadequacy of epistemologi-cal individualism”. Ziman recognizes in Fleck a kindred spirit. Fleck, like Ziman himself, was a distinguished and creative scientist and they both belong “to ‘science’ and ‘society’ as an active person”. But for Ziman these two worlds of science and society are kept apart. Not only does Ziman accept the external/internal dichotomy of studying the scientific process but he even makes use of the sophisticated notion of internal against external sociology of the scientific community. The Mertonian norms of communalism, univer-salism, disinterestedness and organized scepticism are thus internal sociology. The external sociology of science deals with the “actual change in the social relations of the scientist within and outside science”. This is the central theme of Ziman’s paper; and is, according to Ziman, also Fleck’s main preoccupation. We learn much about the constraints that organized research imposes on the autonomy of science as regards problem-choice, methods, career-course, and validation. It is convincingly shown that conventional academic science and scientific ideology clash with the collectivized science of the 1980’s and the normative penumbra of what Ziman brings before us is that since the science of the 1980’s has brought with it great progress, there is not that much wrong with it, and we must study its departure from its earlier course, and tune ourselves to its new character: in other words conservative modernism has the imprimatur of a leading physicist.


Creative Scientist Social Epistemology Collective Enterprise Full Independence Absolute Reality 
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  1. 1.
    Oxford: Clarendon Press 1978. This criticism is made by M. J. Klein and Trevor Pinch in the ISIS Symposium on Kuhn’s book, Isis 70 (1979), 430-441 and by Peter Galison: ‘Kuhn and the Quantum Controversy’ BJPS 32 (1981), 71-85.Google Scholar
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    Dr. Ludwik Fleck: Entstehung und Entwicklung einer wissenschaftlichen Tatsache, Benno Schwabe & Co., Basel, 1935.Google Scholar
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    W. Baldamus: ‘L. Fleck and the Development of the Sociology of Science’, in P. R. Gleichmann, J. Goudsblom, H. Korte (eds.): Human Figurations, 1977. L. Fleck: Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact, Thaddeus Trenn and Robert K. Merton (eds.), University of Chicago Press, 1979. L. Fleck: Entstehung und Entwicklung einer wissenschaftlichen Tatsache: Einführung in die Lehre von Denkstil und Denkkollektiv, Lothar Schäfer und Thomas Schnelle (Hrsg.), Suhrkamp Verlag, 1980.Google Scholar
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    Naturwissenschaften 17 (1929), 425-430. Baldamus, and Trenn and Merton do not refer to it. Schäfer and Schnelle include it in their introduction. Barbara Rosenkrantz emphasizes its importance in her review of the English translation of Fleck’s book in Isis 72 (1981), 96-99, and acknowledges her indebtedness to Paul Forman. Professor Nathan Rotenstreich tells me that in the 1930’s the late Hugo Bergmann extolled the importance of this paper in his lectures on philosophy in Jerusalem.Google Scholar
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    Kurt Riezler: ‘Die Krise der “Wirklichkeit”’, Naturwiss. 16 (1928), 705–712.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    The Popperian allusions are obvious here. The reference is to Sir K. Popper: Objective Knowledge, Oxford, 1972. It is relevant also to compare the view with Hilary Putnam’s theory of realism.Google Scholar
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    Riezler, op. cit., p. 705.Google Scholar
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    A recent philosophical masterpiece, which is written in purely philosophical terms but actually touches on issues which Fleck could easily translate into terms like thought-collective and thought-style is Nelson Goodman: Ways of Worldmaking, Harvester Press, 1979.Google Scholar
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    See the section ‘Is the Meaning in the Text?’ in my ‘The Distinctiveness and Universality of Science: Reflections on the Work of Professor Robin Horton’, Minerva 15 (1977), 155–173.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    I cannot resist repeating once more the Baconian “On waxen tablets you cannot write anything new until you rub out the old. With the mind it is not so: there you cannot rub out the old till you have written in the new”. In ‘Temporis Partus Masculus’ in B. Farrington (ed.): The Philosophy of Francis Bacon, Liverpool University Press, 1970, p. 72.Google Scholar
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    Fleck’s own definition of thought-collective is (English translation p. 39): “a community of persons mutually exchanging ideas or intellectual interaction”.Google Scholar
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    I chose this example because this one is at least documented in a full-length monograph (Y. Elkana: The Discovery of the Conservation of Energy, Harvard University Press, 1975).Google Scholar
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    Cf. with two such studies Meyer Schapiro:’ style’, in A. L. Kroeber (ed.): Anthropology Today, University of Chicago Press(1953) 1961, pp. 81–113, and E. H. Gombrich:’ style’, in the Internat. Encyclopedia of Sociology.Google Scholar
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    Y. Elkana: ‘The Conservation of Energy: a Case of Simultaneous Discovery?’, Archives Internationales d’Histoire des Sciences 90-91 (1970), 31–60.Google Scholar

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© D. Reidel Publishing Company 1986

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  • Yehuda Elkana

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