History and Philosophy of Measurement

"Philosophy of science without history of science is empty; history of science without philosophy of science is blind." (I. Lakatos, 1971, p. 91).

Should the history and philosophy of social science measurement be separate activities? History is about change over time. The historian's task is to tell a coherent story about a sequence of events. One standard view is that it is not the task of the historian to propose and examine an explanatory framework for these events.

A chief activity of philosophers is to investigate and contribute to our knowledge of how science ought to be conducted. Consequently, they usually view the sequence of past events in terms of progress. This implies an explanatory framework for examining these events with the central task of historical research being that of not only recording but also explaining progress.

Laudan (1977, 1990) and others argue against the separation of the history and philosophy of science. The gap between dealing with "facts" (historical component) and "values" (philosophical component) is artificial and does not reflect how science is actually conducted.

What are the implications of this for the history of measurement? Clearly, the history of measurement must include a description of what actually happened. This historical component should be sensitive to as many of the issues raised by Sokal (1984) as possible. It should also be true to the historical record. Although this seems obvious, there are philosophers of science, including Lakatos, who have argued for imaginary treatments of the reconstruction of historical events in science.

I believe that the history of measurement should include a view of what measurement ought to be. There may be debate about the inclusion of a philosophical component. But scientific activities cannot be "value-free". Whether or not we make it clear, the philosophy of measurement that underlies our historical work still exists. It is better to make these views explicit than to leave them unstated and unexamined. Philosophic beliefs about measurement will influence the selection and interpretation of historical events. Although a variety of measurement theories may inform the history of measurement, Rasch measurement, with its explicit foundation in a philosophy of measurement, suggests itself as a promising framework.

I view the history of psychological measurement as a history of ideas about the quantification of individual differences in human characteristics. I am trying to develop a history of measurement which combines a description of the major measurement theories that have been proposed with consideration of what measurement ought to be.

The history and philosophy of measurement are not independent. As we tell of the development of measurement theories and practices, it is important to move beyond the recitation of "facts" to address the evaluative and normative issues regarding progress within the field. Inherent in the concept of progress are judgments about what constitutes "good" measurement theory and practice. In my next column, I will address the concept of a research tradition, and how it can structure our thinking about progress in measurement theory.

Lakatos, I. (1971). History of science and its rational reconstructions. In R. Buck & R. Cohen (Eds.), Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science, 8, 91.

Laudan, L. (1977). Progress and its problems: Towards a theory of scientific growth. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Laudan, L. (1990). The history of science and the philosophy of science. In R. C. Olby, et al. (Eds.), Companion to the history of modern science (pp. 47-59), London: Routledge.

Sokal, M. M. (1984). Approaches to the history of psychological testing. History of Education Quarterly, Fall, 419-430.

History and Philosophy of Measurement, G Engelhard Jr … Rasch Measurement Transactions, 1990, 4:3 p. 118

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