Rationality and the Generalization of Scientific Style

  • Mary Hesse
Part of the International Archives of the History of Ideas book series (ARCH, volume 110)


In his article “Historical Commitments of European Science”, Alistair Crombie has traced the continuity of scientific investigation from the Greeks, and has identified its essence as “the setting and solving of problems”, on the assumption that the world is one of “exclusively self-consistent and discoverable rationality” exhibiting “unchangeably stable and predictable order”.1 Within these defining characteristics of continuity, however, Crombie finds a variety of styles of formulating and solving problems, a variety of scientific methods, and a variety of social and cultural circumstances within which the scientific enterprise has been embodied. He also notes that the moral commitment to this enterprise, and its increasing dominance in our society, has generated a paradox. It “has eliminated all values except truth and the aesthetic economy of theories which must also pass the test of truth, and all questions of motive and of the meaning of existence”. He goes on to ask

How can we relate the mentalities of other historical traditions to the mentality of Western science? Some cultures seem opaque to the presuppositions of scientific argument. The languages of traditional magic and ritual for example and of Western science, lacking fundamental common premises, are mutually untranslatable. Their interpretations of the connections of events cannot be compared or confirmed or falsified in mutually acceptable terms or categories because these do not exist. Closed to each other, any choice must be a total rejection by each side.2


Scientific Theory Social Goal Symbolic System Western Science Historical Tradition 
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© Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Dordrecht 1985

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mary Hesse

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