Hypotheses and Perspectives in the History and Philosophy of Science. Homage to Alexandre Koyré 1964–2014
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of his passing (in 2014), this special book features studies on Alexandre Koyré (1892–1964), one of the most influential historians of science of the 20th century, who re-evaluated prevalent thinking on the history and philosophy of science. In particular, it explores Koyré’s intellectual matrix and heritage within interdisciplinary fields of historical, epistemological and scientific thought. Koyré is rightly noted as both a versatile historian on the birth and development of modern science and for his interest in philosophical questions on the nature of scientific knowledge. In the 1940s and 1950s, his activities in the United States established a crucial bridge between the European historical tradition of science studies and the American academic environments, and an entire generation of historians of science grew up under his direct influence. The book brings together contributions from leading experts in the field and offers much-needed insights into the subject from historical, nature of science, and philosophical perspectives. It provides an absorbing and revealing read for historians, philosophers and scientists alike.
In this chapter we are going to examine the logical connections between various descriptions of the Scientific Revolution proposed by Alexandre Koyré. We are going to propose an attentive and detailed reading of texts written by Koyré in different periods of his life in order to identify various aspects of his interpretation of the revolution in thought that occurred in early modern Europe. His most famous description of the Scientific Revolution (the dual characterization) indicates two aspects of the process that led to the emergence of classical physics: “destruction of the Cosmos” and “geometrization of space”. However, Koyré frequently used other expressions for characterization of the period, such as “mathematization of Nature”, or transition “from the world of more-or-less to the universe of precision” and “from the closed world to the open universe”. We could expect that Koyré would try to reduce his initial dual characterization to one single formula. I argue here that, on the contrary, the duality of description had a special meaning which permits us to keep in focus the complexity of the intellectual change that occurred during 17th century, when new science was rising from a new conception of reality, and a new world-view was emerging from the new science
The aim of this article is to explore the influence that Koyré’s early work on history of religion had on the development of French phenomenology, with focus on Emmanuel Levinas and Michel Henry. It is well known that Koyré played a prominent role in spreading Husserl’s phenomenology in France, for example, as the editor of the French translation of Husserl’s Cartesian Meditations and the managing editor of the revue Recherches philosophiques. Although Koyré’s affiliation to the phenomenological movement is debatable, his thought owes much to Husserl’s phenomenological method: what matters to him is not the problem of existence, whether in the intellect or outside of the intellect but the ways in which our consciousness deals with certain fundamental ideas and the ways in which such ideas affect consciousness. In his books on St Anselm and Descartes, Koyré focuses on the idea of God and the idea of the infinite. He praises Descartes for giving the infinite priority over the finite, thereby making the notion of the finite dependant on that of the infinite, much as in Cantor’s set theory. I trace the influence of Koyré’s analysis of the infinite in its relation to the finite on the development of the idea of the infinite in Levinas. I also show that Levinassian approach to the idea of God as “the idea of the Infinite in me” goes back to Koyré’s interpretation of the ontological proof of St Anselm. Next, I explore the influence of Koyré’s book on Böhme on the philosophy of Michel Henry. Koyré’s reading of Böhme makes Böhme essentially a precursor of German idealism describing the Absolute that wishes to manifest itself and distinguishing between the manifestation and what is made manifest in this manifestation. Henry applies this approach to phenomena in general, which leads him to a criticism of intentionality and the optical metaphor. In line with much of post-Heideggerian philosophy, both Levinas and Henry prioritise affectivity (be it by the Infinite, God, or the Self) over intentionality. I show that in doing so they lose a cosmological dimension: the concepts of truth as the truth of Being (Heidegger), the truthfulness of the word to the Other (Levinas) or the truth of Life (Henry) supplant the mere truth of knowledge, that is, the truth of the world. Following Koyré’s guiding principle of “the unity of human thought” I would like to argue in favour of a more balanced phenomenology that wants to be not only prescriptive but also descriptive, and sensitive to a certain scientific dimension.