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Epistemic Vices: Continuities and Discontinuities, 1600-2000

25 jan - 26 jan 2018
Van 8:00 - 16:00uur

Impartiality, objectivity, honesty, and accuracy are qualities that generations of scholars have regarded as necessary for the pursuit of scholarly inquiry. Philosophers call them epistemic virtues, because these virtues facilitate the pursuit of epistemic aims such as knowledge and understanding of reality. As such, epistemic virtues are supposed to help scholars overcome barriers of prejudice, ignorance, sloppiness, and dogmatism – dispositions known as epistemic vices.

Following Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison’s Objectivity (2007), historians of science and historians of the humanities alike are paying increasing attention to epistemic virtues. Surprisingly, however, they have devoted much less attention to the negative counterparts of these virtues: epistemic vices. Moreover, in so far as vices are subjected to historical scrutiny, there is little interaction between scholarship on early modern science and literature on the post-1800 period. This is regrettable, if only because vices such as dogmatism have surprisingly long histories, which can be traced only through collaborative efforts of modernists and early modernists.

This conference therefore intends to stage a conversation between historians of early modern science and scholars working on post-1800 science (the humanities and social sciences included), focusing on four closely related questions:

  • What continuities and discontinuities can be identified in how scholars in different times and places conceived of epistemic vices? How did vices acquire new meanings in new circumstances, sometimes even to the point of becoming virtues (as in the case of curiositas)?
  • To what extent have early modern catalogs of vice been retrieved in modern times – think of the rediscovery of Francis Bacon’s “idols of the mind” in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries?
  • How to explain (dis)continuity over time? What were the carriers of the tradition (textbooks, for instance) or key factors altering the moral economy of science?
  • In what language did scholars speak about epistemic vices? To what extent are “deficient skills” and “lacking competences” modern reformulations of ancient vitia sive errores eruditorum?


Het KNHG is de grootste organisatie van professionele historici in Nederland. Het biedt een platform aan de ruim 1100 leden en aan de historische gemeenschap als geheel. Wordt lid van het KNHG.
Terug naar de bron: de geschiedenis ontrafeld met nieuwe technologie. Dat is de missie van het Huygens ING, een onderzoeksinstituut op het gebied van geschiedenis en cultuur.