Contingency, Nature and Hermeneutics in History of Science

When, as historians, we want to explain developments in the history of natural science, how are we to do justice to the role of the natural world – the thing scientists investigate – in our explanations? The idea that the structure of the natural world renders the development of science inevitable seems to be inadequate, but so does the idea that we should explain the history of science without any reference to nature, as if what scientists study made no difference at all to what they believe. Is ‘nature’ even a feasible category, however? To what extent is it a problem that in referring to the result of scientific development in our explanation of scientific development, we are assuming the authority of science? Does this undermine the possibility of critical and independent historiography? This article deals with several possible solutions to these problems, and outlines an alternative to rationalism as well as to the Strong Programme in the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge and Latour’s Actor-Network Theory.