In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Instruments in Science

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • General History of the Development of Instruments
  • Instruments and the Sociology of Science
  • Instruments and their Impact on Culture and Society

Philosophy Instruments in Science
Joseph Pitt, Steven Mischler
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 April 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 April 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0266


Historians of science and technology are well aware of the crucial role instruments play in their respective domains of study and the social implications of their use. Philosophers of science and technology have been slow to recognize their importance, primarily due to the influence of logical positivism with its emphasis on logical structure, ignoring the actual practice of science and completely side-stepping any questions surrounding technology. But as the strong arm of positivism has loosened its grip on philosophical inquiry and with the rise in awareness of the social and ethical implications of technological development, philosophers are slowly turning their attention to technological matters, if not to instruments per se. We hope to provide scholars with a sense of the range of issues instruments pose, if not the complete treatment by the totality of the international scholarly community that would extend beyond the limits set for us. Instruments raise a host of issues ranging over epistemological, metaphysical, ethical, social, economic, political, priority, and gender concerns. Instruments extend our natural abilities to interact with nature and as such touch every part of the human enterprise.

General Overviews

Under examination in the three volumes here are the relationships had between instruments and practitioners. Roberts, et al. 2007 collects a number of papers focused on that relationship during the scientific revolution. Smil 2006 offers a similar period-focused look, with the efforts concentrated on the 20th century. The themes explored here, though seemingly limited by period, will be useful in a wider context of study and are a useful point of entry for beginners. Ceruzzi 2012 is a great resource for those looking to research a field which uses computing technologies.

  • Ceruzzi, Paul. Computing: A Concise History. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2012.

    This volume provides an accessible introduction to the history and development of computers from the 19th century to the present. A useful starting point for research in fields with computer-based instrumentation.

  • Roberts, Lissa, Simon Schaffer, and Peter Dear, eds. The Mindful Hand: Inquiry and Invention from the Late Renaissance to Early Industrialization. Amsterdam: Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen, 2007.

    The notion of a “mindful hand” is thought to be expressive of the important relationship between instrument crafters and natural philosophers. This collection explores that relationship with several historical case studies from the late Renaissance through the period of early industrialization in Europe.

  • Smil, Vaclav. Transforming the Twentieth Century: Technological Innovations and Their Consequences. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

    DOI: 10.1093/0195168755.001.0001

    Smil traces the development of a number of important technologies and their impact on social and scientific practices in the 20th century. This volume is a great reference work for those interested in the development of scientific and practical technologies during the 20th century.

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