Ernst Mach’s Enlightenment Pragmatism: History and Economy in Scientific Cognition

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Abstract

Ernst Mach’s philosophy of scientific knowledge is profitably understood as an original form of pragmatism. Far from endorsing a simple copy-theory of empiricism, he insisted that all knowledge claims go beyond what is immediately “given” and can only be understood and legitimated by taking their context into account. His broadly naturalistic approach was informed as much by his awareness of cultural development as it was by evolutionary theory. Mach recognized science itself as a deeply historical phenomenon and scientific knowledge as path-dependent, thoroughly fallible and far from ever closed. Conceptual perplexities, he held, can only be resolved by historical-comparative investigations. What merits thinking of Mach as a pragmatist, I will argue, is his insistence, as a philosopher, on the ultimately practical orientation of all thought as a matter both of fact and norm, and, as a historian of science, on the need to investigate the specific problem situations out of and in response to which concepts and theories developed. Last but not least, the practical orientation of his philosophy found expression in his allegiance to the ideal of enlightenment. The aim of the present chapter is to make these claims perspicuous.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInterpreting Mach
Subtitle of host publicationCritical Essays
EditorsJohn Preston
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
Chapter5
Pages84-102
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9781108564311
ISBN (Print)9781108474016
Publication statusPublished - 18 Mar 2021

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