Reading Natural Philosophy: Essays in the History and Philosophy of Science and Mathematics

By David B. Malament | Go to book overview

1
Introduction
The Character of Howard Stein's Work in
Philosophy and History of Physics

ABNER SHIMONY

The publication of this Festschrift to Howard Stein is an occasion for celebration in several professions: philosophy of science, history of science, general philosophy (especially epistemology, methodology, and metaphysics), and physics. His masterful interweaving of considerations commonly parceled out to these disciplines is a major reason for the unique value of his papers. Unfortunately, it has also been responsible for the fact that he is more widely admired than read, because his analysis and writing make demands that readers cannot meet without some knowledge of all of these disciplines, or at least a willingness to make an effort to follow argumentation drawn from them all. This Festschrift should draw in potential readers by acknowledging the inspiration of Howard's papers, by citing and amplifying some of his ideas, and in some cases by showing concretely how to use his suggestions for further research. It should be said, however, that Howard is the best commentator on his own work—as he somewhere said of Newton. Consequently, an even more useful guide than this Festschrift will be the collection, projected for the near future, of Howard's papers on Newton and other physicists and philosophers of that epoch. The unity of themes that bind the individual papers together ensure that one paper supports another, and passages that are condensed in one paper (usually because of limitations of time and space in conference proceedings) are made more accessible by leisurely expositions elsewhere in the collection. It is, of course, to be hoped that Howard's work on later science, especially relativity theory, quantum mechanics, and foundations of mathematics, will also be collected in the not-too-distant future.

Anyone who reads Howard's papers with even moderate attention cannot help but be impressed by the closeness of Howard's analysis of classical texts of physics and classical writings on natural philosophy. Howard is, to my knowledge, the only analyst of classical physical texts from a

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