Skip to main content

Historical Science as Aesthetic Engagement

philosopher's steps
Thursday, March 24, 2022, 3:00 pm – 5:00 pm

The Philosophy Department of the Central European University, the Institute Vienna Circle and the Unit for Applied Philosophy of Science and Epistemology (of the Department of Philosophy of the University of Vienna) are jointly organizing a series of talks this term.

Online Plattform: The meeting will be online via Zoom | Talks in Philosophy of Science and Epistemology PSE


You can also log into our meetings through the Zoom application (rather than by clicking the link above), by using the following credentials:

Meeting-ID: 614 7520 5762

Password: 264065

No registered accounts are required, it's enough to click on the link and enter your name. Chrome or Firefox browsers work best.


Recently a number of theorists have begun to explore the aesthetic dimensions of historical natural science, focusing on such practices as paleoart (Currie 2017), fossil preparation (Wylie 2021), and the cultivation of sense of place in the field (Turner 2019). Increasingly, this work is raising questions about the relationship between the aesthetic values embedded in research practice and the traditional epistemic aims of science. Currie (2021) has argued that the relationship between the aesthetic and the epistemic dimensions of scientific practice is merely contingent. According to his attunement account, scientific training conscripts our aesthetic capacities and orients them toward traditional epistemic aims. In a word: science attunes our aesthetic capacities to epistemic ends. In this paper, I show how to defend a more ambitious conceptual account of the relationship between the epistemic and the aesthetic dimensions of historical science. According to this conceptual account, scientific investigation of the deep past just is a form of aesthetic engagement with landscapes, fossils, and field sites. I will first respond to Currie’s objections against this sort of conceptual account. I will then use an example from geology to develop a new argument in favor of the conceptual account: It is possible to define “aesthetic engagement” in terms of historical scientific practice, and this suggests that there is more going on than attunement.