Hans Schouwenburg does not seem to be on his own in his ‘emotional call to arms’ for history of science activism. Although all participants took a plane to get to the latest meeting of the History of Science Society in Chicago (6-9 November, 2014), socially engaged history of science was a remarkably present theme. Several speakers could be described as activist – in the sense of aiming to criticise and possibly even change the status quo in the present. I argue that this new activist history of science also changes historians’ philosophical assumptions.
De afgelopen maand is er veel te doen over de rol van wetenschap in onze samenleving, en een goed gelezen contribuant aan deze discussie is Rob Wijnberg. Na ons eerder al op de Correspondent verteld te hebben hoe het opdoeken van de filosofiefaculteit aan de Erasmusuniversiteit het moment markeert waarop we als samenleving collectief gestopt zijn na te denken, bekritiseerde hij deze week de Wetenschapsvisie van het kabinet. Wat kunnen wetenschapshistorici aan dit debat bijdragen?
In 1698, Edward Tyson, an English anatomist, attempted to treat a sick chimpanzee. A group of sailors who had captured it in what is now Angola brought the young male chimp to Tyson after it developed an abscess in its mouth. Tyson referred to the chimpanzee as his “Pygmie” wondering if it should be classified as a human. The Pygmie died in Tyson’s care, and having never encountered such a human-like animal, Tyson undertook to study its anatomy. While the experience of seeing the Pygmie alive would influence Tyson’s impressions of the animal’s nature, the animal dissected served as a window through which Tyson claimed to better understand how humans and apes were connected on the great chain of being. This research resulted in, for Tyson, a narrower definition of the ontological category of human and a broader definition of “brute” animal (animals without a rational soul).