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The term epistémology is used synonymously for epistemology , the branch of philosophy that deals with the question of the conditions of well-founded knowledge. As a term for a specific direction, epistemology is used in international and historical science studies, which analyzes what turns knowledge into scientific knowledge. Building on this French usage, it is, as the science historian Hans-Jörg Rheinberger puts it, “reflecting on the historical conditions under which, and the means with which things are made objects of knowledge, on which the process the acquisition of scientific knowledge is set in motion and kept going ". At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, a change from the epistemology of the classical philosophical tradition to epistemology in the sense described can be observed. The previous starting point was that of the knowing subject, who focuses on the relationship between concept and object. This is replaced by the reflection of the relationship between object and concept, which now starts with the object to be recognized. Instead of the question of how the knowing subject can get his objects into view, the question is asked about the conditions that have either been created or must be created in order to make objects into objects of empirical knowledge under certain conditions to be determined.

In French, a distinction has been made between epistemology and epistemology since the beginning of the 20th century ; the term "epistémologie" was used almost until the end of the 20th century to designate the " philosophy of science ", but in a certain sense ( André Lalande , Vocabulaire technique et critique de la Philosophie, Paris 1947). The representatives of epistémology emphasize the difference between epistemology and epistémology, because the problems of the sciences are to be investigated with the express exclusion of “traditional” philosophical and ideological basic assumptions. But even in France, with the massive reception of English-language analytical philosophy and philosophy of science, there has been a clear tendency to abandon the French special meaning of the expression and to use the expression "epistemology" in the sense of "epistemology" since the early 1980s .

Bachelard's Scientific Rationalism

Since the 1930s, epistémology was constituted in France as a branch of contemporary philosophy. Gaston Bachelard is considered to be the founder . He sees epistémology as “a new type of philosophy”, as the “self-confidence” of the sciences, which he saw as well as the academic university philosophy of his time, which he represented by Louis Lavelle , René Le Senne , Emile Chartier Alain and others opposed logical neopositivism .

Bachelard moves between phenomenology and positivism . He rejects the view that scientific knowledge reflects a nature independent of them, and in this sense denies a science-independent concept of objective truth. There is no continuity between the world of naive consciousness and the scientific spirit; rather, science is constituted by the demarcation from the naive ideas of pre-scientific thinking. In his main works Le Nouvel esprit scientifique (1934) and La philosophie du non. Éssai d'une philosophie de nouvel esprit scientifique (1940), Bachelard formulates the fundamental theses of his rationalism , with which he expressly ties in with Henri Bergson's views on “intuition”, “creative evolution” and “élan vital”, which he however so strongly relies on reinterprets its meaning that they no longer have much in common with Bergson's philosophy of life.

He regards the sciences as special forms of rationality. Since every science has its own “regional” rationality, Bachelard advocates “epistemological pluralism”. The representatives of the more recent epistémology such as Michel Serres insist on the specific meaning of each science and reject purely philosophical questions.

Cavaillès' philosophy of the term

A phenomenon related to Bachelard's épistémology, but clearly differentiated from it by its anti-subjectivism, is the “Philosophy of Concept” by Jean Cavaillès , who came from mathematical logic and conceived a philosophy without a subject against phenomenology and neo-Kantianism .

Despite these differences, both approaches formed a common tradition in which the philosophical motifs of Cavaillès were increasingly weighted. Bachelards and Cavaillès' students included Georges Canguilhem and Jules Vuillemin , who continued the tradition of epistémology in the second half of the 20th century.

Canguilhem and Vuillemin are used by the French philosophers, sociologists and scientific theorists who tie in with this tradition (in addition to the Foucault and Althusser mentioned below, for example, Pierre Bourdieu ). Jacques Derrida also referred to Cavaillès in his early works.

Althusser's Marxist antihumanism

In the 1960s, Louis Althusser attempted to work out an epistemology on a Marxist basis that was to be based on a new “epistemological reading” of the major Marx work Das Kapital ( Pour Marx , Lire le Capital ).

His attempt was primarily intended to counter the mechanism of the abstract “humanistic” misinterpretation of the Marxist foundations. In doing so, he relied largely on the theses of Bachelard and Canguilhem, following which he saw science (in his understanding: the Marxist theory of capitalism ) and ideology separated from one another by an "epistemological cut" ( coupure épistémologique ). In his interpretation of Marx, he made a distinction between the early work, determined by anthropological motives, and Marx's mature economic works, in which there are no longer any references to “humanistic” categories derived from idealistic philosophy.

Since “humanism” was one of the main terms of Stalinism in the 1950s, Althusser's “anti-humanist” polemics led to considerable disputes within the French Communist Party and among the then strongly Marxist intellectuals. Foucault's declared anti-humanism should also be seen against this background. Defending “humanism” against Althusser and Foucault in the name of the communist party was taken over by the party's pioneer at the time, Roger Garaudy .

Althusser was joined by a group of students at the École normal supérieure who, along with him, were among the authors of the book Lire le Capital . Since they were also among Jacques Lacan's listeners, Lacan's late work was also influenced by the epistemological considerations of epistémology, especially in the form represented by Georges Canguilhem.

Foucault's structuralist epistemology

The representatives of French epistémology give the history of science a special place. Against the positivist historiography, which interprets history as a linear and cumulative process, the epistemologists emphasize the discontinuity. The history of science is a histoire récurrente (“retrospective history”).

Michel Foucault builds on this view in his two works Les mots et les choses (1966) and L'archéologie du savoir (1969), which enlivened the debates over epistémology in France and, following on from Althusser and Canguilhem, attempted one to elaborate structuralist epistemology. In later years, however, Foucault distanced himself from these two works and the conception represented in them.

The central term of Foucault's epistémology in its structuralist phase is the term "epistémè". It refers to the structure of thought of every epoch, which gives the sciences their stamp. The term “epistémè” is associated with the “theoretical antihumanism” of structural epistémology, which abandons the central position of the cognitive subject in phenomenology and neo-Kantianism and man in the humanities (in French: “sciences de l'homme”), which are described with a polemical formulation as "humanism". Foucault formulated the criticism of this in the demand “even to make the idea of ​​the human being superfluous in research and thinking”. This enables it to people to take constitutive conditions analytically into view.


  • Roderick M. Chisholm: Epistemology , dtv Wissenschaft, Munich 1979 (Original title: Theory fo Knowledge , Prentice-Hall, Englewood-Cliffs, NJ, 1977)
  • Étienne Balibar: Écrits pour Althusser . La Découverte, Paris 1991. (= Armillaire.) There on Althusser's concept of the “epistemological incision”.
  • Pierre Cassou-Noguès: De l'expérience mathématique. Essai sur la philosophie des sciences de Jean Cavaillès (= Problèmes et controverses ), Vrin, Paris 2001.
  • Claude Debru: Canguilhem, science et non-science . Rue d'Ulm, Paris 2004.
  • Dominique Lecourt: Critique of the philosophy of science . Translated by Irmela Neu. Berlin: Verlag for the study of the labor movement, 1975. Original title: Pour une critique de l'épistémologie .
  • Hans-Jörg Rheinberger: Historical epistemology as an introduction . 2nd Edition. Junius, Hamburg 2007, ISBN 978-3-88506-636-1 .
  • Gunnar Schumann: Epistemic justification and truth as a recommendation , Mentis, Münster 2013, 352 pages, ISBN 978-3-89785-776-6 (dissertation [university not specified] 2011, 352 pages).
  • Bernhard Waldenfels: Phenomenology in France ; Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1983, in it sections on Canguilhem, Vuillemin, Althusser and Foucault.
  • Ndjate-Lotanga Wetshingolo: La nature de la connaissance scientifique. L'épistémologie meyersonienne face à la critique de Gaston Bachelard (= European university publications , XX, Philosophy , Volume 497), Lang, Bern a. a. 1996, ISBN 3-906754-43-X .
  • Jean-Jacques Wunenburger (ed.): Bachelard et l'épistémologie française (= Débats philosophiques ), PUF Presses universitaires de France, Paris 2003, ISBN 978-2-13-051535-7 .
  • Jean-Claude Vuillemin: Réflexions sur l'épistémè foucaldienne (= Cahiers Philosophiques , Volume 130), 2012, 39–50, OCLC 840544899 ( full text online HTML text, free of charge).
  • Henning Schmidgen, Jean-Francois Braunstein, Peter Schöttler (eds.): Epistemology and History. From Bachelard and Canguilhem to Today's History of Science (= MPIWG Preprint 434), Berlin 2012

Web links

Wiktionary: Epistemology  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Historical Epistemology: Introduction ( Memento from September 7, 2014 in the Internet Archive )
  2. ^ Foucault, Rejection an Sartre , in: Alternative 1967, no. 54.
  3. Vita
  4. ^ Publisher's text on the author