Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Working Knowledge

Working Knowledge: Making the Human Sciences from Parsons to Kuhn

Joel Isaac
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 320
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Working Knowledge
    Book Description:

    Isaac explores how influential thinkers in the mid-twentieth century understood the relations among science, knowledge, and the empirical study of human affairs. He places special emphasis on the practical, local manifestations of their complex theoretical ideas, particularly the institutional milieu of Harvard University.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-06522-2
    Subjects: History, History of Science & Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Prologue: How Paradigms Are Made
    (pp. 1-30)

    In the early summer of 1960, the historian of science Thomas Kuhn found himself in a quandary. His long-gestating book manuscript, which he had christened The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, was almost ready for publication. But he was vexed by an unresolved problem that lay at the heart of his theory of scientific development. It concerned the source of the stability of what Kuhn termed “normal science”: the “mopping-up operations” surrounding a major discovery that “engaged most scientists throughout their careers.” What was the social or intellectual glue that bound scientists together in a tradition of normal scientific inquiry? “For...

  4. 1 The Interstitial Academy: Harvard and the Rise of the American University
    (pp. 31-62)

    In the late summer and early autumn of 1936, Harvard University celebrated its tercentenary.¹ The timing could hardly have been more inauspicious. Americans were mired in an unprecedented economic downturn; a fascist coup against the democratic government in Spain threatened to spark an international conflagration; Nazi Germany stood emboldened by its seizure of the Rhineland; and the grim show trials of Stalin’s political opponents were opening in Moscow. Like other academic festivals of the Depression era, the Harvard tercentenary bristled with the tension between optimism about science and learning and the acknowledgment of what looked to many like the crisis...

  5. 2 Making a Case: The Harvard Pareto Circle
    (pp. 63-91)

    In the autumn of 1932, a group of Harvard faculty and students began to meet for a weekly seminar, which ran under the title of “Pareto and Methods of Scientific Investigation.”¹ Discussions were led by the biochemist Lawrence Joseph Henderson, who organized the course with the assistance of the prominent Boston lawyer and member of the Harvard Corporation Charles Pelham Curtis, Jr. Participants had one assignment: to read the French translation of Vilfredo Pareto’s Trattato di Sociologia Generale.² An Italian nobleman, engineer, and economist, Pareto had turned to sociology when it became clear that the calculative rationality of agents assumed...

  6. 3 What Do the Science-Makers Do? Migrations of Operationism
    (pp. 92-124)

    Notably underrepresented in the deliberations of the Pareto circle were Harvard’s psychologists. When Henderson’s seminar commenced in 1932, the institutional status of psychology at Harvard was just as uncertain as that of sociology, anthropology, and business administration. Since the 1870s, when William James established in Cambridge the nation’s first psychological laboratory, psychology at Harvard had existed in “forced cohabitation” with philosophy.¹ Very much the junior partner in this alliance, psychology would not attain independent departmental standing until 1934. Yet, marginal figures though they were, Harvard psychologists of the interwar decades—especially Edwin G. Boring, Karl Lashley, B. F. Skinner, and...

  7. 4 Radical Translation: W. V. Quine and the Reception of Logical Empiricism
    (pp. 125-157)

    Among the disciplines examined in this book, philosophy would seem to fit least well the profile of the Harvard complex. Throughout the early decades of the twentieth century, philosophy at Harvard was not in any obvious sense an interstitial enterprise—quite the opposite. Around 1900, the Department of Philosophy was “the undisputed philosophic center in the United States.”¹ Its doyen, George Herbert Palmer, proclaimed that in these years the Harvard department boasted “the first well-rounded staff for teaching philosophy organized in this country . . . made up of extraordinary men, too eminent for praise.”² In this “golden age,” Harvard...

  8. 5 The Levellers: Harvard’s Social Scientists from World War to Cold War
    (pp. 158-190)

    W. V. Quine’s response to logical empiricism was notable for its neglect of the Unity of Science movement. Neither Rudolf Carnap’s program of the Logic of Science nor Otto Neurath’s grandiose attempts to orchestrate a working alliance of the sciences registered strongly at Depression-era Harvard. Nevertheless, as S. S. Stevens’s organization of the Science of Science Discussion Group made clear, members of Harvard’s interstitial academy were deeply concerned with matters of cross-disciplinary communication and coordination. This was evident from Quine’s conviction that logic, natural science, and philosophy had important things to say to one another. The problem of interdisciplinary understanding...

  9. 6 Lessons of the Revolution: History, Sociology, and Philosophy of Science
    (pp. 191-226)

    The failure of the Carnegie Project on Theory revealed an important limitation of the Harvard complex. Parsons and his fellow Levellers had assumed that the protocols guiding seminar discussion and informal interchange in the interstitial academy would offer a suitable foundation for a general theory that could unite the Department of Social Relations. The blending of epistemology, pedagogy, and research practice seemed natural to the alumni of Henderson’s Pareto seminar. But the ambitions of the DSR’s leaders proved too grand. Harvard’s interstitial networks were too diverse and amorphous to provide the basis for a coherent independent department or an integrated...

  10. Epilogue: The Great Disembedding
    (pp. 227-238)

    The publication of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in 1962 takes us back to where we began our investigation. In the Prologue, we surveyed the crisis of the Anglophone human sciences since World War II. The defining moment of this period of upheaval was the attack on the “behavioral science” program launched during the 1960s by a heterodox group of historicists, neopragmatists, Wittgensteinians, and critical theorists. Structure is often said to have led the charge. “The natural sciences, whose claims to objectivity had intimidated humanists and inspired philosophers and social scientists,” writes one historian “fell before the historicist analysis of...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 239-300)
  12. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 301-304)
  13. Index
    (pp. 305-314)