Some Determinants of Cognitive Style in Science

  • David Bloor
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 87)


I want to examine the difficult and rather obscure idea of a style of thought (Denkstil) as it occurs in Fleck’s book on the Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact 1 and his paper ‘Zur Krise der “Wirklichkeit’ ”.2 I shall try to break down this idea and isolate some of its components. I can see at least some ways of building a bridge between what Fleck says about thought-styles and the detailed work in the history of science that Shapin has outlined for us. If I am right then it should prove possible to define some of the causes of thought-styles and to relate them, in the way that Fleck would have wanted, to facts about the social structure of the Denkkollektiv.


Cognitive Style Social Epistemology Strong Programme Outright Rejection Stylistic Conflict 
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. 1.
    Ludwik Fleck in T. J. Trenn and R. K. Merton (eds.): Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact, Univ. of Chicago Press, Chicago and London, 1979. (First published in 1935.)Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Ludwik Fleck: ‘Zur Krise der Wirklichkeit’, Naturwissenschaften 17 (1929), 425-30. From the translation by G. H. Schallt and Y. Elkana, in this volume, pp. 47-58.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Genesis, pp. 43, 51, 64.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Genesis, especially pp. 18 and 19; also p. 95. Science “has no demonstrable beginning and is open ended”. For an account of the interconnected character of factual statements and the limitless effects of the changes that may be wrought on any particular part of the system, see p. 102. See also the beautiful description on p. 114 of the circularities that attend practical reasoning in science cf. pp. 18, 19 and 114. These attest to the subtlety and depth of the constructive work which goes into apparently simple matters of fact.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    ‘Crisis’, p. 49 in this volume.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    ‘Crisis’, p. 50.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Genesis, pp. 93-94.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Genesis, pp. 105-106, 114-115.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Genesis, pp. 93-94.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    ‘Crisis’, p. 47.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    ‘Crisis’, p. 51.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    ‘Crisis’, p. 51.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    ‘Crisis’, p. 51.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    ‘Crisis’, pp. 51-52.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    For example, T. S. Kuhn: ‘The Function of Measurement in Modern Physical Science’, Isis 52 (1961), 161–90; M. B. Hesse: The Structure of Scientific Influence, Mac-millan, London, 1974, chs. 1 and 2; and H. Collins: ‘The Seven Sexes: a Study in the Sociology of a Phenomenon, or the Replication of Experiments in Physics’, Sociology 9 (1975), 205-24.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    ‘Crisis’, p. 54.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    The reader who is familiar with the work of the anthropologist Mary Douglas will recognise at once the extent to which my approach is based on her work. Indeed the thesis of my paper could be expressed in the following terms: that one valuable development of Fleck’s position is to be found by equating what Douglas calls ‘cultural bias’ with Fleck’s’ styles of thought’. It is perhaps significant that Douglas’s work belongs to the tradition of Emile Durkheim, and Durkheim is one of the relatively small number of sources quoted by Fleck. The works of Mary Douglas that are most relevant to the present discussion areGoogle Scholar
  18. M. Douglas: Purity and Danger: an Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1966.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. M. Douglas: Natural Symbols: Explorations in Cosmology Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1973.Google Scholar
  20. M Douglas: Implicit Meanings: Essays in Anthropology, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1975.Google Scholar
  21. M. Douglas: Cultural Bias, Occasional Paper no. 34 of the Royal Anthropological Society of Great Britain and Ireland, 1978.Google Scholar
  22. 18.
    Imre Lakatos, in J. Worrall and E. Zahar (eds.): Proofs and Refutations: the Logic of Mathematical Discovery, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1976.Google Scholar
  23. 19.
    For a sociological reading of Lakatos’s case study designed to bring out the parallels between responses to anomaly in mathematics and Douglas’s anthropological studies of category violation, see D. Bloor: ‘Polyhedra and the Abominations of Leviticus’, British Journal for the History of Science 11 (1978), 245–72: reprinted in M. Douglas (ed.): Essays in the Sociology of Perception, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1982.Google Scholar
  24. 20.
    See the works of Douglas referred to in note 17.Google Scholar
  25. 21.
    ‘Crisis’, p. 52.Google Scholar
  26. 22.
    ‘Crisis’, p. 55. Fleck’s theory of the ever-receding-horizon and the never-to-be-perfected-law represents his version of what has been called the’ symmetry’ postulate of the strong programme in the sociology of knowledge: cf. D. Bloor: Knowledge and Social Imagery, Ch. 1, ‘The Strong Programme in the Sociology of Knowledge’, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1976.Google Scholar
  27. 23.
    This approach provides an answer to a long-standing problem in Kuhn’s theory of paradigm change. What is it that turns an anomaly into a crisis-provoking anomaly? On the present approach it would not be an intrinsic property but an imputed property. It would be a comment on the use to which some or all members of the scientific community chose to put it. The circumstances behind this use then become the subject matter for particular case studies.Google Scholar
  28. 24.
    E. Frankel: ‘Corpuscular Optics and the Wave Theory of Light: the Science and Politics of a Revolution in Physics’, Social Studies of Science 6 (1976), 141–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 25.
    J. Farley and G. L. Geison: ‘Science, Politics and Spontaneous Generation in Nineteenth-Century France: the Pasteur-Pouchet Debate’, Bulletin of the History of Medicine 48 (1974), 161–98.Google Scholar
  30. 26.
    D. MacKenzie: Statistics in Britain, 1865–1930: the Social Construction of Scientific Knowledge, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 1981: especially Ch. 7, ‘The Politics of the Contingency Table’.Google Scholar
  31. 27.
    Ibid., p. 161.Google Scholar
  32. 28.
    J. Richards: ‘The Reception of a Mathematical Theory: non-Euclidean Geometry in England, 1868–1883’, in B. Barnes and S. Shapin (eds.): Natural Order: Historical Studies of Scientific Culture, Sage, Beverly Hills/London, 1979, Ch. 6.Google Scholar
  33. 29.
    Karl Mannheim spoke of the inner logic of a theory or system of belief and was content to see the sociology of knowledge deal with deviations. See for example Ideology and Utopia, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1936, pp. 239-40. A similar position is to be found more recently in the later work of Lakatos on the relation between internal and external history: I. Lakatos: ‘History of Science and Its Rational Reconstructions’, Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science 8 (1971), 91-135. Fleck’s stress on the sequence of cognitive acts makes him much more radical. For this is precisely a device for fragmenting the flow of ‘natural’ or ‘logical’ implications or the smooth guidance of ‘meanings’. In fact Fleck’s theory is much more like that of Wittgenstein in the Philosophical Investigations, Blackwell, Oxford, 1953. He shares with Wittgenstein a commitment to what may be called a ‘finitist’ theory of meaning. Meanings are created in the specific, local context of use and are strictly confined to that context. Each and every extension of usage is problematic. Other similarities with the later Wittgenstein are, for example, their sense of the fluid relation of symptom and criteria, and something like a family resemblance theory of all classificatory predicates.Google Scholar
  34. 30.
    See particularly the items in Shapin’s bibliography under the headings ‘Professional vested interests and sociological explanation’ and ‘Interests and the boundaries of the scientific community’. For a discussion of how responses to anomaly and scientific styles can be related to the socially determined concepts of ‘mistake’ and ‘blame’ see C. Bloor and D. Bloor: ‘Twenty Industrial Scientists: a Preliminary Report’, in M. Douglas (ed.): Essays in the Sociology of Perception, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1982.Google Scholar
  35. 31.
    A particularly simple example would be, say, theories which appeal to metaphors of fragmentation and atomisation in contrast to theories which appeal to metaphors of organic unity. See for instanceGoogle Scholar
  36. S. Shapin: ‘Phrenological Knowledge and the Social Structure of Early Nineteenth-Century Edinburgh’, Annals of Science 32 (1975), 219–43;andCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. S. Shapin: ‘The Politics of Observation: Cerebral Anatomy and Social Interests in the Edinburgh Phrenology Disputes’, in R. Wallis (ed.): On the Margins of Science: the Social Construction of Refected Knowledge, Sociological Review Monographs 27 (1979), 139–178.Google Scholar
  38. S. Shapin: ‘Homo Phrenologicus: Anthropological Perspectives on an Historical Problem’ in B. Barnes and S. Shapin (eds.): Natural Order: Historical Studies of Scientific Culture, Sage Beverly Hills and London, 1979, pp. 41–71.Google Scholar
  39. Not only specific theories within science but also general and philosophical theories of knowledge can be based on social metaphors. It is, for instance, revealing to look at the Kuhn-Popper debate in the light of their two underlying models of society. This stylistic conflict in the theory of knowledge then becomes another symptom of a clash between two long-standing social ideologies — the Romantic (or Conservative) stance and Enlightenment individualism: cf. D. Bloor: Knowledge and Social Imagery, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1976, Ch. 4.Google Scholar
  40. 32.
    See particularly the work by J. R. and M. C. Jacob in Section IV(b) of Shapin’s bibliography.Google Scholar
  41. 33.
    The significance of this example is discussed and the literature summarised in S. Shapin: ‘Social Uses of Science’, in G. S. Rousseau and R. Porter (eds.): The Ferment of Knowledge: Studies in the Historiography of Eighteenth-Century Science, C.U.P., Cambridge, 1980, pp. 93–139; and D. Bloor: ‘Klassifikation und Wissenssoziologie: Durkheim und Mauss neu betrachtet’, in N. Stehr and V. Meja (Hersg.): Wissenssoziologie-Studien und Materialen, Sonderheft 27 der Kölner Zeitschrift für Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie, Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1980. An English version appears in Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 13 (1932), no. 4, 267-297.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Bloor

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations