- In guise of a presentation of prof. Mary Brenda Hesse (Reigate, Sussex, 1924), we shall quote the relative entry by Richard Manson from the Biographical Dictionary of Twentieth-Century Philosophers, which can provide a good, though slightly out of date and inevitably approximate, brief introduction to her philosophical work.
«Hesse has been one of the most important figures in the philosophy of science from the 1960s, particularly because of her emphasis on the place of analogy, models and and metaphors in the development of the sciences. She describes herself, with some reservations, as “a lifelong devotee of the close integration of the study of history and philosophy of science” (‘Truth and the Growth of Scientific knowledge’ (1977), in Revolutions and Reconstructions in the Philosophy of Science, 1980, p. 162). She shares with Kuhn and Feyerabend a use of examples from the history of science to undermine empiricist and deductivist theories of scientific development and method. The starting-point for her own critique of empiricism has been the thesis of the underdetermination of (scientific) theories by (observational) data. This had been stated by Duhem and understood by Quine, but Hesse appreciated its critical significance for truth-as-correspondence as a possible objective for scientific theories (or even as a end-point for their convergence). She has recognized that relativism is a consequence of the thesis, but has said that her aim has been to “steer a course between the extremes of metaphysical realism and relativism” (ibid., Introduction, p. xiv).
She has suggested an instrumentalist interpretation of truth in so far as it is applied in scientific practice, but she has not given a definitive view on truth in scientific theories. Her discussion of Habermas’s consensus theory of truth (see her paper of that title (1978) in Revolutions and Reconstructions in the Philosophy of Science) has been sympathetic, although the theory has relativistic implications which she cannot wholly accept. Her preference is for some “value-oriented unification of the claims of all sciences” (p. 230), although the details remained to be filled in.
Hesse is an Anglican. Her own studies of the roles of analogy and metaphor in the growth of the sciences developed into an understanding of metaphor in religious language. Her later work has included extended studies of the relationships between religions and the sciences (Stanton Lectures at Cambridge 1978-1980 and her contributions to The Construction of Reality, 1986). She has seen the end of the realistic concept of truth in the sciences as an occasion to underline what can be not held in common to the languages of science and religion.»
[Source: Biographical Dictionary of Twentieth-Century Philosophers, Stuart Brown, Diane Collinson, Robert Wilkinson (eds), Routledge: London 1995, pp. 336-337.]
- See also: www.