The History of the Distinction between the Context of Discovery and the Context of Justification

The History of the Distinction between the Context of Discovery and the Context of Justification

Monica Aufrecht

Monica Aufrecht's research examined epistemic issues in philosophy of science, as well as ethical issues relating science research and policy to the environment, medicine, disability studies, and issues of distributive justice; her dissertation project was titled "Values in Science: The Distinction between the Context of Discovery and the Context of Justification." As linguist George Lakoff has pointed out, how a debate is framed strongly influences the outcome. The distinction between the context of discovery and the context of justification (or, as Popper would say, "how an idea occurs to a man" versus "whether the idea is justified") was for a long time extremely influential in maintaining traditional views of objectivity and science within philosophy. For example, historians can ask what life experiences led Einstein to relativity, but the suggestion is that philosophers should investigate whether the theory of relativity is justified, and should do so by examining only the theory itself.

In her dissertation, Monica Aufrecht focused on different episodes in the history of philosophy in which this distinction played an important role, noting that the distinction’s meaning has shifted since Hans Reichenbach first introduced it in 1938. In doing so she explored how these shifting and ambiguous meanings have lead to misunderstandings and mask underlying disagreements about the nature of evidence, justification, bias, and objectivity.