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Reading fleck: Questions on philosophy and science
KTH, School of Architecture and the Built Environment (ABE), Philosophy and History of Technology.
2006 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other scientific)
Abstract [en]

The present thesis is based on a scientifically-informed, contextualized and historicized reading of Ludwik Fleck. In addition to his monograph, the material studied includes his additional philosophical writings, his internationally-published scientific articles and two, thus-far-unstudied postwar Polish papers related to his Buchenwald experiences. The sources provided by Fleck have been traced back to the time of their origin. Based on the above material, it is argued that, rather than relativizing science and deeply influencing Kuhn, Fleck, attempting to participate in the current debates, is an ardent proponent of science, offering an internal account of its pursuit that accords with his oft-contested epistemic concepts, e.g., Denkzwang, Sinnsehen and Kopplungen. The exposure of his description of the Wassermann reaction discloses a highly selective reading of the sources available at the time, but also reveals its relation to the current debate on Einzelwissenschaften, or the standing of new emerging disciplines versus age-old ones, all occasioned by the remarkable progress of science that has also affected philosophy. The divide between philosophers and scientists on the philosophical implications of modern physics is exposed, as is Fleck’s heuristic use of the latter topic in his epistemology. A more realistic account of his often-valued scientific accomplishments is provided. It is argued that the modern interpretation or received humanist view of Fleck is based on the opposition, at the time Fleck’s monograph was rediscovered, of STS writers to a scientifically-informed reading of his texts. An additional corrective to the received view of Fleck is found in some of his postwar Polish papers related his Buchenwald experiences. The latter might also provide an answer to some of the contradictions inherent in the modern mythology surrounding Fleck. In amply exposing the precarious situation of the time, and the complexity of the ethical issues at stake, Fleck’s papers in fact generate age-old philosophical questions still worth contemplating.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: KTH , 2006. , 26 p.
Series
Theses in philosophy from the Royal Institute of Technology, ISSN 1650-8831
Keyword [en]
Ludwik Fleck, Wassermann reaction, Informed consent, Buchenwald studies, Human experimentation
National Category
Philosophy
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-4250ISBN: 91-7178-471-3 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:kth-4250DiVA: diva2:11461
Public defence
2007-01-15, Sal F3, KTH, Lindstedtsvägen 26, Stockholm, 10:00
Opponent
Supervisors
Note
QC 20100826Available from: 2006-12-22 Created: 2006-12-22 Last updated: 2010-08-26Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. The Reading of Ludwik Fleck:: Questions of Sources and Impetus
Open this publication in new window or tab >>The Reading of Ludwik Fleck:: Questions of Sources and Impetus
2006 (English)In: Social Epistemology, ISSN 0269-1728, E-ISSN 1464-5297, Vol. 20, no 2, 131-161 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

The rediscovery in the mid1970s of Ludwik Flecks initially neglected monograph, Entstehung und Entwicklung einer Wissenschaftlichen Tatsache, published in 1935 and translated in 1979 as Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact, has resulted in extensive, still ongoing, secondary writings, mainly within the humanities. Fleck has been interpreted as furthering a relativistic conception of science. Nowadays, he is often viewed as an important contributor to contemporary sociology of science and a forerunner to Thomas Kuhn. Flecks account of the Wassermann reaction, which forms the basis of his epistemology, has been praised as developed by a scientist well acquainted with the field in question. Because of the scarcity of available material on Fleck, however, the question of his sources has remained an unsolved issue. In the present article, an alternative reading is suggested. By focusing on the scientific content of the monograph, mainly neglected in the modern interpretations of Fleck, and on the so far overlooked sources of his writings traced back to their German origin, a better understanding of Flecks account of the Wassermann reaction can be given. The consequences of this alternative reading for the conception of Flecks monograph and for the impetus of his mission are discussed.

Keyword
Ludwik Fleck; Wassermann Reaction
National Category
Philosophy
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-6679 (URN)10.1080/02691720600784477 (DOI)2-s2.0-33746791013 (Scopus ID)
Note
QC 20100826Available from: 2006-12-22 Created: 2006-12-22 Last updated: 2010-11-30Bibliographically approved
2. The Reading of Scientific Texts: Questions on interpretation and evaluation, with special reference to the scientific writings of Ludwik Fleck
Open this publication in new window or tab >>The Reading of Scientific Texts: Questions on interpretation and evaluation, with special reference to the scientific writings of Ludwik Fleck
2007 (English)In: Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, ISSN 1369-8486, E-ISSN 1879-2499, Vol. 38, no 1, 136-158 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Ludwik Fleck is remembered for his monograph published in German in 1935. Reissued in 1979 as Genesis and development of a scientific fact Fleck's monograph has been claimed to expound relativistic views of science. Fleck has also been portrayed as a prominent scientist. The description of his production of a vaccine against typhus during World War II, when imprisoned in Buchenwald, is legendary in the scholarly literature. The claims about Fleck's scientific achievements have been justified by referring to his numerous publications in international scientific journals. Though frequently mentioned, these publications have scarcely been studied. The present article discusses differences in interpretation and evaluation of science in relation to the background of the interpreters. For this purpose Fleck's scientific publications have been scrutinized. In conjunction with further sources reflecting the desperate situation at the time in question, the results of the study account for a more restrained picture of Fleck's scientific accomplishments. Furthermore, based on the review of the latter, certain demands characterizing good science could be articulated. The restricted possibilities of those not trained in science or not possessing field specific knowledge, evaluating science are discussed, as are also formal aspects of scientific papers and questions related to research ethics.

Keyword
Ludwik Fleck; Research ethics; Scientific writings; Typhus vaccine
National Category
Philosophy
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-6680 (URN)10.1016/j.shpsc.2006.12.008 (DOI)17324812 (PubMedID)2-s2.0-33847156355 (Scopus ID)
Note
QC 20100826Available from: 2006-12-22 Created: 2006-12-22 Last updated: 2010-11-30Bibliographically approved
3. Fleck in Context
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Fleck in Context
2007 (English)In: Perspectives on Science, ISSN 1063-6145, E-ISSN 1530-9274, Vol. 15, no 1, 49-86 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Since its almost serendipitous rediscovery in the late seventies, Fleck's monograph, Entstehung und Entwicklung einer wissenschaftlichen Tatsachee, initially published in 1935, translated into English in 1979 (Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact), has been met with increasing acclaim within the philosophy and the sociology of science. In historizing, sociologizing and relativizing science, Fleck is claimed to have expressed prescient views on the history, philosophy and sociology of science and in deeply influencing Kuhn. Though the neglect of Fleck by his contemporaries has been difficult to account for, the basis of his epistemology has evoked little interest, partly due to the lack of apparent sources. Fleck's philosophical writings, published between 1927 and 1939, indicate, however, a polemic, deeply ingrained in an ongoing debate, on the standing of old established scientific disciplines versus new and emerging ones, occasioned by the rapid changes within the natural sciences. Most obvious to the lay community, and also reflected in the new positivist philosophy, were the revolutionary changes within physics. As a participant in the debate, eagerly striving for recognition, Fleck used modern physic heuristically as the basis of his epistemology. The tracing of his sources, and the voices of other contemporaneous scientists opposing his views, are attempted.

National Category
Philosophy History of Technology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-6681 (URN)10.1162/posc.2007.15.1.49 (DOI)2-s2.0-34548738966 (Scopus ID)
Note
QC 20100826Available from: 2006-12-22 Created: 2006-12-22 Last updated: 2010-11-30Bibliographically approved
4. Medical Science in the Light of the Holocaust: Departing from a postwar article by Ludwik Fleck
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Medical Science in the Light of the Holocaust: Departing from a postwar article by Ludwik Fleck
2008 (English)In: Social Studies of Science, ISSN 0306-3127, E-ISSN 1460-3659, Vol. 38, no 2, 259-283 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

In scholarly debates, Ludwik Fleck's post-war paper 'Problemy naukoznawstwa [Problems of the Science of Science]', published in 1946, has been taken unanimously to illustrate the epistemology expounded in his monograph Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact. The paper has also been seen to support parts of the received view of Fleck, notably that he manufactured an anti-typhus vaccine while imprisoned in Buchenwald. However, a different narrative emerges when comparing Fleck's paper with other accounts, also published in 1946 and written by other prisoners alluded to by Fleck in his paper. The situation is further complicated by four papers, published in prestigious scientific journals between 1942 and 1945, by the German medical leader of the typhus studies accounted for by Fleck. In addition, a thus-far neglected paper by Fleck, published in 1946 and summarizing his observations on typhus, discloses his role in the Buchenwald studies. Despite the obvious difficulties with tracing the history behind these works, notably the one on Nazi science, the contention is that what was attempted in Buchenwald in the name of science amounted to pseudoscience. This conclusion is amply supported not only by the accounts given by Fleck's fellow prisoners, but also by his own post-war paper on typhus. Based on the above findings, it is suggested that the mythology about Fleck, established in the 1980s, has been accomplished by a selective reading of his papers and also that the role played by Fleck was more complex than has so far been contemplated.

Keyword
Buchenwald studies, Ding-Schuler, Ludwik Fleck, Nazi science, Typhus vaccine
National Category
Philosophy History
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-6682 (URN)10.1177/0306312707082953 (DOI)000255574900004 ()18831133 (PubMedID)2-s2.0-40849134065 (Scopus ID)
Note
QC 20100826Available from: 2006-12-22 Created: 2006-12-22 Last updated: 2011-11-08Bibliographically approved
5. Medical Ethics in the Wake of the Holocaust: Departing from a postwar paper by Ludwik Fleck
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Medical Ethics in the Wake of the Holocaust: Departing from a postwar paper by Ludwik Fleck
2007 (English)In: Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, ISSN 1369-8486, E-ISSN 1879-2499, Vol. 38, no 3, 642-655 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

In 1948 Ludwik Fleck published a paper in Polish discussing the use of humans in medical experiments, thereby addressing his peers. Though the paper has so far not been translated or studied, it has been taken to indicate Fleck's deep commitment to ethical questions, notably the question of informed consent. In being written by a former victim of the Nazi policy and a survivor of the Holocaust also acting as an expert witness in the trial of the IG Farben in Nuremberg, the paper is of interest. A scrutiny of Fleck's text and related sources discloses, however, not only the complexity of the issue at the centre of the Nuremberg trial, but also Fleck's unexpected stance in seemingly adducing his arguments from both the German defendants and the prosecution, heavily informed by US scientists. Further, the contentious discussion of the past in Fleck's paper reveals its links to modern bioethical discussion. Though sometimes oblivious of that past, it still faces the same questions.

Keyword
Doctors' Trial; Human experimentation; Informed consent; Ludwik Fleck; Nuremberg Code; Prisoner research
National Category
Philosophy History
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-6683 (URN)10.1016/j.shpsc.2007.06.005 (DOI)17893071 (PubMedID)2-s2.0-34548807979 (Scopus ID)
Note
QC 20100826Available from: 2006-12-22 Created: 2006-12-22 Last updated: 2010-08-26Bibliographically approved

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