3. Methodology of the history of science
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Science historians had of course been in existence before, and a quite impressive literature of the history of science had come to exist. But its coming into being had been dependent largely on change and personal taste. The best and the most outstanding historians of science had generally been trained as scientists, and they had later developed their interest in the history of their branch of science and gone into the field of the history of science. It was Sarton's objective to have a substantial group of people trained in universities as historians of science, just as historians, physicist, and psychologists were trained by receiving instruction in these particular fields respectively. I believe that this was Sarton's paramount and straightforward goal in contrast to his more fictitious or idealized plans to humanize science or to make historians shift their central interest to science. This at least was the more urgent matter, and once it was realized to a reasonable extent, it was Sarton's hope that, somehow the rest would probably take care of itself.
According to Sarton, those who were to be trained as historians of science should, for this purpose acquire sufficient knowledge in one branch of science at least and also in certain source languages. A historian of science, in Sarton's opinion, should become familiarized with the whole field of the history of science and should, in addition, go into two kinds of specialization: Vertical specialization in a branch of the history of science such as the history of mathematics, physics, or astronomy, extending vertically through all periods, and a horizontal field of specialization spreading over a certain civilization or culture at a certain era but encompassing as much as possible all branches of science and related intellectual fields. Examples of this would be Greek science, India, medieval Islam, or 17th century Western Europe. Strictly speaking, this second type of specialization is more easily feasible for earlier periods, of course.
However, Sarton was not dogmatic or overenthusiastic, although he was in reality unswerving, in this mode of training historians of science. He used to say that as the history of science is a youthful discipline, there are various methods and manners of approach for the historians of science, and that this freedom, not infrequently, was of advantage to the field. For in this way it became possible for its representatives to complete each other and to make up for one another's shortcomings.
Although the Introduction volumes had to stop at the end of the 14th century, Sarton himself measured up quite well to the ideal he set up for a well-trained historian of science. For he was very well-versed indeed in European science in the sixteenth and the following centuries. The wide coverage of the courses he gave at Harvard as well as certain substantial articles of his give ample proof of this. Modern European science rather than the Middle Ages was, at least initially, Sarton's area of primary competence.
Sarton's ideal was, however, to have people draw their intellectual inspirations from the history of science. Historians of science, indeed, as he would have them, with their primary field of specialization in the history of science itself, would not be expected normally to impose upon the history of science notions more peculiar to other fields of endeavour and not so appropriate to science and its history. He wrote in one of his later works: "The history of science should not be used as an instrument to defend any kind of social or philosophic theory; it should be used only for its own purpose, to illustrate impartially the working of reason against unreason ."
Initially, Sarton's plan for his university education was to study philosophy, and the started to do so. But before long he abandoned the subject "in disgust" . It is interesting to hear him speak about twenty years later, in 1919, in a passage quoted from him above to which our footnote 4 (Chapter 1) has been appended, of the necessity for him to go more deeply into the study of medieval philosophy than he would have listed to do.
These statements from his student days and from the beginning of his career are typical of Sarton also in the much mature phases of his life. He certainly had no aversion or dislike for philosophy, but it may be said, I believe, without hesitation, that he did not find the philosophical approach to questions very inviting and much preferred the more concrete and direct scientific ways of dealing with things. In A History of Science, Ancient Science. Through the Golden Age of Greece, published in 1952, he writes, "We clearly realize that Plato is the typical and 'ideal' philosopher, whose knowledge or wisdom is supposed to come from above and to stoop like an eagle on the objects below. The knowledge of a metaphysician is -complete to begin with and proceeds from heaven downward; the knowledge of the man of science, on the contrary, begins with homely things on the face of the earth, then soars slowly heavenward. The two points of view are fundamentally different ."
Figure 3: Frontispice of Liber canonis medicine by Ibn Sina (Venetiis: In edibus Luce Antonii Junta, 1527), illuminated with woodcut illustrations showing authors of classical medical and scientific texts in two vertical columns. (Source).
Sarton conducted a seminar in the history of science to which guest speakers such as Abbot Payson Usher, Arthur O. Lovejoy, Raymond Clare Archibald, Tenny L. Davis, Dirk J. Struick, and Robert S. Woodbury were invited at times as guest speakers . One day when Lovejoy was guest speaker, after he had finished speaking, Sarton made a remark to the effect that in such fields as medieval science and Aristotelian physics the more properly or specifically scientific content or material should be detached from its philosophical context and accorded preferential treatment by the historians of science. Lovejoy expressed his disapproval not only in simple words but also by a distortion in his countenance and said that the complex of these ideas resembled delicate roots of a plant all tangled up at the bottom of a pot and that one could not possibly hope to succeed in clearing and sorting out a single root without breaking it to pieces. Sarton had no answer, but he took this remark in good part; he merely smiled at Lovejoy's impatience with his suggestion.
Sarton too, I believe, did not have in mind a thoroughgoing dichotomy. In speaking of Ibn Sina, e.g., he says: "The philosopher Ibn Sina, as in Aristotle, can never be separated from the man of science ." But Sarton, when speaking, used often short and to-the-point expressions and did not use elaborate and sophisticated sentences, and that is why he had perhaps gone somewhat beyond his real mark.
 Arnold Thackray and Robert K. Merton, "On Discipline Building: The Paradoxes of George Sarton", Isis, vol. 63, p. 483.
 I. Bernard Cohen, "George Sarton", Isis, vol. 48, p. 287.
 Op. cit., p. 431.
 See, Isis, vol. 26, 1936, pp. 154-155.
 Sarton, "Avicenna: Physician, Scientist and Philosopher", Sarton on the History of Science, ed. Dorothy Stimson, 1962, p. 69.
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by: FSTC, Mon 04 August, 2008