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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and thought provoking, but debatable in places, 29 Aug. 2009
This review is from: The Formation of the Scientific Mind: a Contribution to a Psychoanalysis of Objective Knowledge (Philosophy of Science) (Paperback)
An interesting book, and a surprisingly readable one (which testifies to the excellent translation by Mary MacAllester Jones), but one which seems in some places a bit superficial.

Bachelard spends a lot of time illustrating the "pre-scientific" approach to what we would now think of as science, and is generally dismissive of it. He notes, for example, the way that "simples" (components for remedies) are often anything but, since they are associated with large numbers of claimed curative properties. He complains that these properties have accreted onto the substances in question through psychoanalytic mechanisms. Yet despite noting the lack of properly thought-through evidence in support of the curative claims, he does not provide any supporting evidence to *invalidate* them either! Ergo, by his own argument, his own reasoning is just as faulty as the reasoning he disputes.

Similarly, he quotes statements in old books as evidence for claims he is making, as though it is somehow obvious that the old authors mean what he claims they do. While it may seem odd these days to read about the "phlegm that oozes out of magnets", for example, we cannot simply assume that the author means the same by the word "phlegm" as we do today. Bachelard claims (without evidence) that the original author is obviously thinking of magnetism as some sort of glue that oozes from the magnet in the same way that sticky phlegm does. But why is this any less scientific than descriptions of "fields that emanate from magnets", such as appear in today's text books? As contemporaries, we know that the word "field" has been given a technical meaning in the modern texts; what Bachelard fails to show is that similarly technical meanings were absent in earlier centuries. Indeed, the wide ranging references to substances like "phlegm" and "sponge" in situations we would consider peculiar suggests that these terms did indeed have a more general meaning than is currently the case.

Having said this, the book is full of interesting examples of pre-scientific thought, and many of Bachelard's ideas are certainly worth considering in more detail. This is the first English translation of this book, and my own first exposure to Bachelard's ideas. It will be interesting to examine other texts by the same author.
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