“Ingenuous Investigators”: Antonio Vallisneri’s Correspondents and the
Making of Natural Knowledge in 18th-century Italy

Dal Prete, Ivano

In the last two centuries, science has been regarded as the most important agent of change and progress in our society. The narrative of how and why it came to be such a commanding force contributed powerfully to this perception. The rise of modern science has long been portrayed as the triumph of human reason over superstition and authority; its history, a gallery adorned with the images of heroes like Copernicus, Galileo or Darwin who upheld self-evident facts against the prejudices of their times; experimental results and the laws of nature, the only objective “truths” that human beings could attain and agree upon. This narrative still largely informs popular views of the scientific enterprise; yet, the image of science as a disinterested pursuit of truth has come increasingly under question during the last decades, to the point that mistrust of science as a source of objectivie knowledge is considered a defining feature of postmodernity. The history of science as an academic discipline has long participated in this trend,1 but it was not until the 1980s that it ceased to identify with the development of ideas and theories, as formulated by the most illustrious scientists. In their influential 1985 book Leviathan and the Air Pump, Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer argued that experimental results ultimately represent no more than social constructions, negotiated according to the conventions that regulate the acknowledgement of authority and credibility.2 A few years later, Mario Biagioli sought to explain part of Galileo’s scientific activity (and even his trial) in terms of the courtly culture and values of his time.3


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Italian Academy
Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America, Columbia University
Italian Academy Fellows' Seminar Working Papers
Published Here
March 29, 2013