Nearly eight decades ago Otto Neurath complained about the fact that historians of science had not succeeded in developing a unified method for describing physical theories (Neurath 1915/1981). Neurath’s statement was formulated in the context of an attempt to outline the development of optical theories between the 17th and the 19th centuries. The author noticed that main stream opinions about how the field grew in the past were often not only simplifying but misleading, or even plainly wrong. Historians’ evaluations of the contents of optical theories of the past diverged as strongly as their views split about how these theories had intervened in the development of the field of optics, and in its cognitive and institutional evolution.
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