Tag Archives: Psychical research

Are you Afraid of the Dark?

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Reincarnation Research and Myths of Scientific Practice

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Pre-Print Introduction to SHPSC Special Issue Now Available: Psychical Research in the History and Philosophy of Science

The final pre-print article from the SHPSC special issue on psychical research, which I had the privilege of guest-editing, is now available online. Although it is not strictly meant as a normative contribution to the philosophy of science, I hope it will still be useful for philosophers interested in the demarcation problem. It basically boils down to an appeal nobody really should have to make, but which unfortunately is still rather necessary: be critical of secondary sources, particularly concerning histories of controversial subjects!


Andreas Sommer, University of Cambridge

introscreenshotAs a prelude to articles published in this special issue, I sketch changing historiographical conventions regarding the ‘occult’ in recent history of science and medicine scholarship. Next, a review of standard claims regarding psychical research and parapsychology in philosophical discussions of the demarcation problem reveals that these have tended to disregard basic primary sources and instead rely heavily on problematic popular accounts, simplistic notions of scientific practice, and outdated teleological historiographies of progress. I conclude by suggesting that rigorous and sensitively contextualized case studies of past elite heterodox scientists may be potentially useful to enrich historical and philosophical scholarship by highlighting epistemologies that have fallen through the crude meshes of triumphalist and postmodernist historiographical generalizations alike.

Historiography; Psychical research; Parapsychology; Demarcation problem; Popular science

Copyright © 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

“Was Sir William Crookes Epistemically Virtuous?” Online First Article of Upcoming Special Issue on Psychical Research

I’m pleased to announce the online first/in-press version of an article to appear in an upcoming special issue of Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, dedicated to psychical research and parapsychology in the history of science and medicine. Thanks to the support of Greg Radick, the editor of Studies, I had the privilege to guest-edit this special issue containing eight articles selected from about 24 papers presented at a three-days conference I organised at University College London last year.


Ian James Kidd, Durham University


William Crookes (1832-1919)

The aim of this paper is to use Sir William Crookes’ researches into psychical phenomena as a sustained case study of the role of epistemic virtues within scientific enquiry. Despite growing interest in virtues in science, there are few integrated historical and philosophical studies, and even fewer studies focussing on controversial or ‘fringe’ sciences where, one might suppose, certain epistemic virtues (like open-mindedness and tolerance) may be subjected to sterner tests. Using the virtue of epistemic courage as my focus, it emerges that Crookes’ psychical researches were indeed epistemically courageous, but that this judgment must be grounded in sensitivity to the motivational complexity and context-sensitivity of the exercise of epistemic virtues. The paper then considers Crookes’ remarks on the relationship between epistemic virtuousness and the intellectual integrity and public duties of scientists, thereby placing epistemic virtues in the context of wider debates about the authority of science in late modern societies. I conclude that Crookes’ researches into psychical phenomena offer instructive lessons for historians of science and virtue epistemologists concerning the complexity and contextuality of epistemic virtues, and the profitable forms that future studies of virtues in science could take.

Sir William Crookes; Epistemic virtues; Psychical research; Spiritualism; Virtue epistemology

Copyright © 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Amateurs, Empiricism, and the Tedium of Psychical Research. Guest Post by Alicia Puglionesi

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William James on Exceptional Mental States

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A Night of Mesmerism and Psychology at Barts Museum

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