Genetic Epistemology, a Universalist Approach to the History of Science

GER Lloyd discerns two conflicting hypotheses concerning human cognition: cross-cultural universality and cultural relativity. The history of science is one discipline among many actively contributing to our understanding of human cognition at present. Not surprisingly, then, the dichotomy is also present in the history of science. In contrast to current approaches to the history of science, which highlight cultural relativity, genetic epistemology, which is conceived by Jean Piaget as a science of the acquisition of knowledge, emphasises cross-cultural universality. Using the multidimensionality of phenomena and different styles of inquiry, I will argue that there is no inherent contradiction in the different approaches to the history of science. However, the amicable co-existence of both approaches has been undermined by Peter Damerow, who criticised the applicability of genetic epistemology to the historical development of knowledge on historical and theoretical grounds. In this paper, I will review Damerow’s theoretical critique, and, in formulating a response, I will argue that genetic epistemology cannot be dismissed as one of many legitimate styles of inquiry into the history of science on the basis of this critique.