ABSTRACT

Having scrutinized Bacon’s methodology of experimentation and appreciating it in the context of his Instauration Magna, another snapshot from the history of the experimental sciences takes us to William Whewell (1794-1866) and his rereading of ‘Baconian’ experimentation and experience in the nineteenth century. In 1858 Whewell published his Organum Novum Renovatum as the second part of a larger work on the philosophy of the inductive sciences.1 Whewell was very sensitive to the task of developing transparent and re exive conceptions of experience, experiment and observation, and was generally concerned to create a powerful language of science. He supported a reformed type of Baconianism, which basically meant a philosophy of science that is embodied in the practice of a science throughout its history. And just like Bacon, he sought a ‘middle way’ between radical rationalism and extreme empiricism, criticizing the German idealists on the one hand for their focus on the ideal, a strongly subjective basic principle,2 and Locke and the Sensationalist School on the other hand for their focus on the empirical, objective basic principle. In pursuit of his middle way Whewell insisted on a two-sided constitution of knowledge, thus embracing a subjective as well as an objective dimension. With his Fundamental Antithesis he argued that there are mainly two opposite elements of which knowledge is composed, namely, ideas and sensations, the latter being ‘the Objective’ and ‘the Ideas the Subjective part of every act of perception or knowledge’.3 Philosopher Menachem Fisch points out that ‘[w]ith the formulation of the Antithesis Whewell takes his place with the great epistemologists. It parts early with traditional empiricism, but it also goes an important step beyond Kant’,4 mainly because Whewell does not subscribe to the notion of xed forms of intuitions and categories. Instead, his stock of Fundamental Ideas is essentially open. Whewell’s entire conception of the possibilities of knowing is pervaded by an antithetical structure. In addition to the pairing of sense and idea, there are also fact and theory, and form and matter. Following his belief in a middle way, he was convinced that in perceiving external things, ideas and sensations are very closely connected but, for analytical reasons, have to be separated as well as possible. He described this as follows: ‘ e antithesis of Sense and Ideas is the foundation of

the Philosophy of Science. No knowledge can exist without the union, no philosophy without the separation, of these two elements’.5