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History of Science and Historical Epistemology

Exploring the historicity of knowledge requires an understanding of possibilities and builds on the assumption that things could have been different. Historical research questions conditions and contingencies in search of alternatives, branching off in other directions, opening different futures. Only at first glance does the history of science devote itself solely to the past.

Like other disciplines also history of science passes with its programs and projects through trends and tendencies. Insofar as history of science aspires to be more than a kuhnian normal science, it has to reflect upon such conjunctures. As historical epistemology it historizises together with the genesis of specialized knowledge also the rules for its recognition. Herein lies the explosive power of a radical historicization of scientific practices.

In times of quantitative output measures and the evaluation of research by impact factors in terms of historical reflection and critical analysis of scientific developments must rely on epistemic values and sociopolitical models of usability, if it does not want to fall prey to the finalization of science with regard to its marketability. History of science strives to uncover the conditional structures in the understanding of concrete problem contexts and contributes thereby to current fields of action. Aftern a rapid succession of so-called 'turns' in science and technology studies at the end of the 20th century and a radical historicization of central concepts such as experiment or objectivity, history of science included a new groups of actors and spaces of knowledge. Science itself came under criticism and the history of science turned into history of knowledge. Today history of science struggles with the post-colonial criticism on Western orders of knowledge.

One continuing feature in this dynamic development is that history of science reflects the position of the observer in the field in ever changing ways. Such an endeavor has however a clear historical starting point in Ludwik Fleck’s Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact. This book emerged in Lviv’s multilingual intellectual milieu during the interwar period. The book’s detour via the US inspired Thomas Kuhn to his concept of paradigm shift and this led to Fleck’s rediscovery back in Europe.

As an academic 'after-thought', history of science appears as mere luxury in the economy of society and the university. It historicizes all truths of the various disciplines and competes solely with philosophy of science for the rigor of criticism. But only philosophical criticism and historical contextualization promise to protect us from getting overwhelmed by the next wave of scientific, technical or social innovations.

In addition, not only history of science is secondary, but science in general, as product of the questioning of reality. Already for this reason, history of science must not be sure of its own cause if it is not to lose sight of it. It requires a creativity based on a profound skepticism regarding everything that is taken for granted, as Hans Blumenberg had already formulated: "Thoughtfulness means that nothing remains as obvious as it seems.“

Cornelius Borck



Borck, C. (2020) Hans Blumenberg: The Transformation of Uexküll’s Bioepistemology into Phenomenology. In. Francesca Michelini, Kristian Köchy (Hg.): Jakob von Uexküll and Philosophy: Life, Environments, Anthropology, Milton: Routledge, S.188-204.

Borck C, Lipphardt V, Maasen S, Müller R (Hg.) (2018) Responsible Research? Berichte zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte 41(3): 209-316 [Special Issue].

Borck (Hg.) (2018) Zur Zukunft der Wissenschaftsgeschichte, Berichte zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte

Borck C (2018) Wahrheit, Wirklichkeit und die Medien der Aufklärung. Zeitschrift für Medien- und Kulturforschung 9(2): 161-183.

Borck C (2018) Konkretes Erkennen. Plädoyer aus der Wissenschaftsgeschichte für ein Denken mit den Händen. In: Christian Bachhiesl, Sophia Maria Bachhiesl, Stefan Köechel (Hg.): Intuition und Wissenschaft: Interdisziplinäre Perspektiven, Weilerswist: Velbrück Wissenschaft, S. 147-168.

Borck C (2018) Wissenschaftsphilosophie im Windschatten der Weltpolitik: Wie Karl Poppers Idee der Falsifikation im Exil zum Erfolgsmodell wurde. In: Johannes Feichtinger, Marianne Klemun, Jan Surman und Petra Svatek (Hg.): Wandlungen und Brüche : Wissenschaftsgeschichte als politische Geschichte, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, S. 37-42.

Borck C (2017) Wissenschaftsphilosophie als Schreibszene und Geistbeschwörung. In: Ute Holl, Claus Pias und Burkhardt Wolf (Hg.): Gespenster des Wissens. Für Joseph Vogl, Zürich: diaphanes, S. 49-53.

Borck C (2017) Pensar y escribir en el grupo de trabajo. La forma de trabajo de Poética y hermenéutica como constellatión (Denken und Schreiben in der Forschungsgruppe: Der Arbeitsmodus von Poetik & Hermeneutik als Konstellation). In: Faustino Oncina Coves (ed.) Constelaciones, Valencia: Pre-Textos, S. 225-250.

Borck C (2017) Wortverflüchtigung: Ganzheitsbezogenheit. In: Falko Schmieder, Georg Toepfer (Hg.): Wörter aus der Fremde: Begriffsgeschichte als Übersetzungsgeschichte, Berlin: Kulturverlag Kadmos, S. 106-111.

Borck C (2016), Animismus in den Wissenschaften. Zur Renaissance eines für überwunden geglaubten Konzepts, in: Irene Albers, Anselm Franke (Hg.) Nach dem Animismus, Berlin: Kulturverlag Kadmos, S. 19-28.

Borck C (2014) Dem Leben nachdenken [Einleitung zu einem Interview mit Georges Canguilhem], Zeitschrift für Kulturphilosophie 2014/1: 179-186.

Borck C (2013) Begriffene Geschichte: Canguilhem, Blumenberg und die Wissenschaften. In: Borck C (Hg.) Hans Blumenberg beobachtet. Philosophie, Wissenschaft und Technik. Freiburg: Verlag Karl Alber, S. 168-195.

Borck C (2013) Philosophie als „Transzendenz nach innen“: Einleitende Bemerkungen zu Hans Blumenbergs Ortsbestimmung der Philosophie zwischen Wissenschaft und Technik. In: Borck C (Hg.) (2013) Hans Blumenberg beobachtet. Philosophie, Wissenschaft und Technik. Freiburg: Verlag Karl Alber, S. 9-22.

Borck C (2010) Weltmilieu. Die Expo ’67 als Vision globaler Steuerung. In: Thomas Brandstetter, Karin Harrasser, Günther Friesinger (Hg.): Ambiente. Das Leben und seine Räume, Wien: Turia + Kant, S. 177-192.

Borck C (2007) Vom Spurenlesen und Fintenlegen. Canguilhems Votum für eine Empirie organischer Rationalität. Nach Feierabend: Zürcher Jahrbuch für Wissensgeschichte 3: 213-225.

Borck, C (2007) Scheiternde Versuche. Focus MUL 24 (4): 206-212.

Borck C (2006) Between local cultures and national styles: Units of analysis in the history of electroencephalography. Comptes Rendus de l’Académie des Sciences, série Biologies 329: 450-459.

Borck C, Hess V, Schmidgen H (Hg.) (2005) Maß und Eigensinn. Studien im Anschluß an Georges Canguilhem, München: Fink Verlag.

Borck C (2004) Message in a bottle from ‘the crisis of reality:’ On Ludwik Fleck’s interventions for an open epistemology. Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 35: 447-464.

Borck C (2004) Vivarium des Wissens. Kleine Ontologie des Schnupfens. In: Ruth Mayer und Brigitte Weingart (Hg.): Virus! Mutationen einer Metapher, Bielefeld: transcript, S. 43-60.