“Baseline” and “Snapshot”: Philosophical Reflections on an Approach to Historical Case Studies

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Logically, generating knowledge requires a fixed set of presuppositions, anchored in a given conceptual framework. Scientists may or may not be aware of all the elements that are involved in the process of generating knowledge but, whether the elements are assumed explicitly or implicitly, they have to be fixed for the production of knowledge to be coherent. I distinguish between two sets of elements of knowledge, which I call a “baseline” and a “snapshot.” The baseline represents the sum of what is, in principle, available to the community of practitioners in the field. In contrast, a snapshot is personal, that is, it is the result of applying some rules of selection to the baseline. A snapshot includes, in addition to the selected elements, idiosyncratic assessments of the elements; such assessments may not be found in the standard literature. I analyze two case studies, theoretical and experimental, in which the practitioners themselves presupposed the distinction here proposed. I show that the distinction is an effective tool in the presentation of case studies with the goal of throwing light on how scientific knowledge is modified and changed. What is illuminating in the cases at hand is the fact that the scientists themselves exhibited in their works the dynamics of “baseline” and “snapshot,” in parallel to the practice of the historians and the philosophers of science.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBoston Studies in the Philosophy and History of Science
PublisherSpringer Nature
Number of pages17
StatePublished - 2016

Publication series

NameBoston Studies in the Philosophy and History of Science
ISSN (Print)0068-0346
ISSN (Electronic)2214-7942

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016, Springer International Publishing Switzerland.


  • Historical Case Study
  • Methodological Commitment
  • Scientific Change
  • Theoretical Virtue
  • Transverse Mass

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History and Philosophy of Science
  • Literature and Literary Theory
  • Anthropology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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