Mach, Duhem and the Historical Method in Philosophy of Science
In 1903 Mach and Duhem, discovering one another’s writings, acknowledged the proximity of the philosophical views that they had been elaborating independently. A correspondence followed, which lasted several years. And in their ensuing publications both of these philosopher-scientists were careful to discuss their interlocutor’s claims. We have here ample matter for consideration. Mach and Duhem were to have an impact on the development of the Vienna Circle. Yet their conceptions are indeed different from those that followed. Characteristically, they drew on history and psychology. They were interested in the genesis of concepts, the evolution of theories and the patterns of discovery. If rational reconstruction and logical analysis were admitted, these techniques were counter-balanced by historical study. In view of recent evolutions in philosophy of science — the growing importance of cognitive science, history of science, interdisciplinarity — it is worthwhile to return again to the beginning of the twentieth century. The aim of this paper is then to reexamine the relation between Duhem and Mach, in particular with regard to the methods whereby they sought to provide a philosophical reflection on science.