Mapping the Space of Time: Temporal Representation in the Historical Sciences

Memoirs of the California Academy of Sciences, 20: 7–17. (New Perspectives on the History of Life: Systematic Biology as Historical Narrative, M.T. Ghiselin & G. Pinna, eds.) 1996

11 Pages Posted: 5 Feb 2015

Date Written: 1996

Abstract

William Whewell (1794–1866), polymathic Victorian scientist, philosopher, historian, and educator, was one of the great neologists of the nineteenth century. Although Whewell’s name is little remembered today except by professional historians and philosophers of science, researchers in many scientific fields work each day in a world that Whewell named. “Miocene” and “Pliocene,” “uniformitarian” and “catastrophist,” “anode” and “cathode,” even the word “scientist” itself — all of these were Whewell coinages. Whewell is particularly important to students of the historical sciences for another word he coined, one that was unfortunately not as successful as many of his others because it is difficult to pronounce. This word, “palaetiology,” was the name Whewell gave to the class of sciences that are concerned with historical causation: the class we might today refer to as historical sciences. Although the disciplines Whewell included under the heading of palaetiology might seem to cut across conventional academic boundaries of his day and ours — his exemplary palaetiological sciences were geology and comparative philology — all these fields may be examined together, Whewell argued, because of their common interest in reconstructing the past.

This paper is an essay in the palaetiological sciences, dedicated to Whewell on the bicentennial of his birth, an essay that examines some of the principles, maxims, and rules of procedure that these sciences have all in common. Its first purpose is to demonstrate the continuing validity of Whewell’s classification of these sciences through a study of historical representation in three different palaetiological fields: systematics, historical linguistics, and textual transmission. Its second purpose is to continue the development of an extended analogy between historical representation and cartographic representation that I began in an earlier paper (O’Hara, 1993, Systematic Biology), an analogy that makes especially clear the common representational practices that are found throughout palaetiology.

Keywords: historical linguistics, palaetiology, philology, philosophy of history, philosophy of science, phylogeny, stemmatics, systematics, tree-thinking, William Whewell

Suggested Citation

O’Hara, Robert J., Mapping the Space of Time: Temporal Representation in the Historical Sciences (1996). Memoirs of the California Academy of Sciences, 20: 7–17. (New Perspectives on the History of Life: Systematic Biology as Historical Narrative, M.T. Ghiselin & G. Pinna, eds.) 1996, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2559427

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