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Lecture 8

SOC483Y1 Lecture Notes - Lecture 8: Ludwik Fleck, Paradigm Shift, Cognitive Style

Course Code
Vanina Leschziner

of 7
Understand what an episteme is , think about thought style and cognitive style
Foucault will be talking about two ways of thinking in Europe, two epistemes and ways
of thinking in both times is very different. Try to understand… he goes back and forth
What are the basic ways of categorizing stuff, knowledge in both periods, he will talk
about many different disciplines and patterns and ways people classify knowledge, look
for those things, do not get caught up in details. Look for grand patterns
SOC483Y1 November 2, 2011
Ludwik Fleck, “How the Modern Concept of Syphilis Originated,” chapter 1, and
selections from “Epistemological Conclusions from the Established History of a
Concept,” chapter 2 in
Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact
(The University
Chicago Press, 1979), pp.1-19, 20-23, 38-51.
Michael Baxandall, selections from “The Period Eye” in
Painting and Experience in
Fifteenth Century Italy
(Oxford University Press, 1972), pp. 29-40, 94-102.
Today: Cognition
Looking at it from different perspectives two studies of one history of science and the other art
The reason we read them is not for the science or art history but they show interesting studies of
more general thinking of shared activities (1) syphilis (2) people appreciating art
They have different approaches but are similar in the way they show people come to think in a
particular way in a given space or time which really shapes their perception of a particular thing
(1) syphilis or (2) art
That come from other activities: everyday life, currencies, measurements,
Fleck from astrology, religion
F and B show a certain cognitive schema is originating somewhere else, not in the particular
under study in particular
Contrast and compare the concepts they use
Fleck uses “thought style or thought collective”
Baxandall uses notion of cognitive style
= thus they are related
“Paradigm Shift” – Khun developed paradigm shift notions which is a popular idea today to
explain how science changes, how it does not change cumulatively but in growths and spurts
while we come to an understanding… theory of relativity is a paradigm. Until a lot of problems
start arising within that paradigm so when sufficient problems arise there is a paradigm shift.
This was a revolutionary idea and still present today because in past science thought of as always
growing but this paradigm shift shows it grows in spurts. Khun was Fleck’s student and thus
paradigm shift comes from Fleck his book 1935 “Genesis and development of scientific fact”
So idea of paradigm shift is developed in Fleck’s work we read
FLECK 1896-1961 physician and biologist
- Notion of the “thought collective” is a really important concept for the philosophy and
sociology of science so together without thought style, the collective explains how
science changes over time in terms of ideas
- This same idea is present in Foucault, similar way of thinking, when concepts used to
explain ways of thinking “episteme” derive from Fleck’s work
- Thought Collectives: group of people interacting, they share a certain way of thinking
and that thought style
- Thought style: similar to a paradigm (a way of thinking), an idealization structure with
consequences because it demands interpretation
o Ex. Of thought styles Fleck talks about:
o Uses syphilis to explain: understanding has changed because our thought styles
and collectives change. Those within thought style, so long as knowledge
culturally bounded, scientists in different thought styles cannot understand each
other so for ideas to travel from one paradigm to another depend on
understanding so his study of syphilis shows maybe even if new discoveries, they
cannot incorporate new findings if new thought styles
o This way of thinking was revolutionary with Fleck writing in 1930s and
positivism was present back then saying science always growing but something
Fleck overthrew and showed it is not a constant progression
o Fleck also debunks any idea of truth the understanding that any scientific
finding is agreed upon, no truth but Fleck refuses to talk about syphilis but rather
concept of “syphilis” because may not be syphilis after all just how we perceive
it… he shows how much it has changed over time given the thought style of each
time that it kept shifting into different phenomena
o Also interesting- some of the early understandings remain- though there is
change there is still some constant, the early moral idea of syphilis still remains
(moral failing to getting syphilis, some misbehaviour)
Over centuries we have not been able to shed that from the disease- that is
- Fleck was really quite beyond his time when writing, some may not seem that way to us
but if you put it into context, 80 years ago, he was beyond his time
- The notion of facts that to this day we think we discover facts, Fleck argues they are
invented, so this is not a matter of some kind of passive observation of reality but rather
an active instance of creation of a fact - Which is why he talks about syphilis concept in
- He goes even further to argue viewing scientific facts as discovered is a social
construction, a certain understanding of the scientific endeavour.
- Every scientific fact is culturally conditioned
AT the beginning of the book there is an introduction where he says we distinguish theories
from facts because theories culturally mediated given a certain world view or thought style and
we tend to perceive facts as definite permanent from cognition construction but that they are
both subject to our ways of thinking or thought styles
Fleck begins by talking about how the modern concept of syphilis originated and begins in 15th
century- Astrology was a big part of it + religion as understanding it as a punishment + this time
had a lot of disease (15th century) = development of diagnosis but very confused (acc. To Fleck)
But because there were so many diseases* it became more important than it used to be to try and
diagnose one from another- astrology and religion influenced the beginning understanding of
Fleck claims any explanation will be accepted in a society if it conforms with the prevailing
thought style
Zerubavel more advanced societies relative to certain societies more differentiation with
different groups
Fleck’s active and passive connections– this understanding helps understand Fleck’s view
What is a thought style? Is it something within one discipline? Or is it larger?
Connection with Durkheim’s collective consciousness – similar in that understanding that it
goes above and beyond the individual so Durkheim’s society has an existence in and of itself
which can be said the same for the thought collective (has existence beyond just sum of