Readers might conclude from what I've just said that Jardine's two papers have little of value to say about anachronism in the history of science. Nothing could be further from the truth. The papers may not solve my demarcation problem, but they contain many insights and much practical advice. I found the following points especially valuable. Firstly, we can learn a lot about the past from explicit contrasts between it and the present. This is what I take from Jardine's discussion of “false friends” such as the present-day “office” and the early modern “officium”:
Of course, the moral is not that such terms should be banned; on the contrary, reflective and critical employment of them, in which the historian spells out similarities and differences between our usage and earlier usages, may provide valuable access to past life-worlds (“Etics and Emics,” 271).The second lesson speaks for itself:
The example of the disputed time and place of formation of biology as a discipline illustrates what I take to be a general feature of disciplinary history, namely the mutual dependence of historical study and the elucidation of presuppositions. In most cases we cannot first ascertain the presuppositions of a disciplinary category and then, armed with the list of its presuppositions, check out the historical record to see where and when they were first realized. Rather, it the course of a historical investigation the presuppositions of the disciplinary category and the conditions of emergence of the discipline are progressively clarified (“Uses and Abuses,” 262).A third lesson is that there are many borderline cases of anachronism, but that this is easily solved in practice:
There are plenty of devices—the use of scare-quotes and of such locutions as “at a stretch,” “so to speak,” “in modern terminology”—that can be used to indicate partial legitimacy of application of categories (“Uses and Abuses,” 263).Finally, there is no one-size-fits-all rule about what counts as good or bad anachronism. It varies according to what one is studying and which kind of narrative style (eg. analytic or novelistic) one prefers. In general,
historians of science should become less fashion-conscious, less ready to fall for arguments which exclude whole ranges of investigation as anachronistic or scientistic or guilty of some other evil-ism (“Uses and Abuses,” 274-5).In the next post I consider a general virtue of Jardine's papers that takes us back to Jonathan Rée's suggestion that recent historians of science, along with many other late-twentieth-century intellectuals, suffer from delusions of novelty. Expand post.