CU Home
About the Society
Fellowship Competition
Calendar of Events
Lunchtime Lecture Series

Special Events

Archive of Events
Current Fellows
Alumni Fellows
Governing Board
Contact Us

Historical Epistemology
International Conference, Columbia University, New York
October 10-11, 2008

Maison Française, Buell Hall. Click Here for a map that indicates the location of Buell Hall


Patrick Singy, Columbia University, Society of Fellows
Matthew L. Jones, Columbia University, Department of History
Kevin Lamb, Columbia University, Society of Fellows

Arnold Davidson, University of Chicago and University of Pisa
Vincent Debaene, Columbia University
François Delaporte, Université de Picardie Jules-Verne
Claude-Olivier Doron, Université Denis Diderot-REHSEIS
Peter Galison, Harvard University
Yves Gingras, Université du Québec à Montréal
Matthew L. Jones, Columbia University
Kevin Lamb, Columbia University
David Plunkett, University of Michigan
Mary Poovey, New York University
Paolo Savoia, University of Pisa
Patrick Singy, Columbia University
Tuomo Tiisala, University of Chicago


At the intersection of philosophy and history, historical epistemology has become in recent years a powerful alternative to traditional approaches to the history of science and philosophy. Focused upon conditions of possibility that transcend social causes and biographical idiosyncrasies, historical epistemology uncovers the fundamental concepts that organize the knowledge of different historical periods. It might be defined as the discipline that introduces historical contingency into the ways of understanding the world that appear inescapable to people. Kant was wrong, historical epistemology argues, to think that human beings can only understand the world as, say, Euclidean or ruled by causality. He was right, historical epistemology contends, to work to understand the conditions of possibility underlying knowledge and practice; such careful philosophical work needs to be historically specific.

Historical epistemology is a distinctive Franco-American approach to the history of philosophy and science. Building upon an earlier tradition of French history and philosophy of science culminating in the work of Georges Canguilhem, the work of Michel Foucault pointed towards historical epistemology as a viable approach for studying the past by uncovering and reconstructing the underlying historical apriori of different periods. Three of the most prominent historical epistemologists -- Lorraine Daston, Arnold Davidson and Ian Hacking -- drew on different aspects of Anglo-American philosophy and history in developing Canguilhem and Foucault’s approaches.
The precise contours of historical epistemology nevertheless remain blurry. Some eagerly endorse this approach yet do not offer any sharp positive definition (such as Davidson); others attempt to distinguish it from the history of epistemology in ways that some scholars have found unconvincing (e.g., Daston, criticized by Yves Gingras); still others dispute the name itself, but not the practice (Hacking). Without denying that a certain conceptual imprecision can sometimes be methodologically fruitful, this conference on historical epistemology will bring together scholars who have rarely had the opportunity to discuss publicly their ideas on historical epistemology.

Click here to view the conference program.

Click here to view the conference poster.

For more information about the conference, please contact Patrick Singy,

Funding generously provided by the Society of Fellows and the Sterling Currier Fund.

A special thanks to our co-sponsor, the Maison Française.

Society of Fellows, Columbia University
Phone: (212) 854-8443 | Fax: (212) 662-7289 | Email:
Web site developed by Columbia University Digital Knowledge Ventures