Keynote Speakers

Emilie Du Châtelet on Hypotheses
Karen Detlefsen. University of Pennsylvania
(Chair: Justin Smith)
The mid-eighteenth century saw the introduction and popularization of Newtonian physics in France, and with this introduction and popularization came frequent overt disparagements of the use of hypotheses in natural philosophy among those in favor of Newtonian physics – disparagements that did not always reflect actual scientific practice. Du Châtelet’s views on hypotheses stand in notable contrast with these general trends among French Newtonians. In this paper, I examine Du Châtelet’s theoretical claims about hypotheses, as well as her reactions to the use of specific hypotheses in early modern natural philosophy, to elucidate aspects of her scientific epistemology and methodology. This work will, in turn, help situate Du Châtelet in a broader history of the emergence of the use of hypotheses in scientific inquiry.

From Völkerpsychologie to the Sociology of Knowledge
Martin Kusch. University of Vienna
(Chair: Martin Lenz)

This talk is part of a broader project of trying to understand the emergence of various forms of relativism in 19th century German-speaking culture. My talk focuses on one key strand of this general theme, namely the links between the Völkerpsychologie (=VP) of Lazarus and Steinthal, and Simmel's early sociology/genealogy of knowledge and belief. My central theses are as follows:

  1. Lazarus and Steinthal wavered between a "strong" and "weak" programme of VP. Ingredients of the strong programme included: Epistemic, moral and methodological relativism; causal explanation of beliefs bases on causal laws; a focus on groups, interests, tradition, culture, and materiality; determinism; a self-referential model of institutions.
  2. Elements constituting the weak programme were inter alia: the blurring of explanatory and normative interests; an emphasis on freedom of the will; anti-relativism; anti-materialism; opposition to Comte and Buckle, no reception of Spencer.
  3. Later research projects keeping the label "Völkerpsychologie" followed the weak programme.
  4. In the 1880s and '90s, Simmel called for a return to the strong programme. Intellectually, Simmel was ideally placed to push for such radical enterprise.
  5. The intellectual-social-political situation of German academia around 1900 explains why Simmel soon distanced himself from both VP and sociology.