Volume 47, Issue 1, 2016
How Could Vygotsky Inform an Approach to Scientific Representations?
In the quest for a new social turn in philosophy of science, exploring the prospects of a Vygotskian perspective could be of significant interest, especially due to Vugotsky ’s emphasis on the role of culture and socialisation in the development of cognitive functions. However, a philosophical reassessment of Vygotsky's ideas in general has yet to be done.
As a step towards this direction, I attempt to elaborate an approach on scientific representations by drawing inspirations from Vygotsky. Specifically, I work upon Vygotsky's understanding on the nature and function of concepts, mediation and zone of proximal development.
I maintain that scientific representations mediate scientific cognition in a tool-like fashion (Like Vygotsky's signs). Scientific representations are consciously acquired through deliberate inquiry in a specific context, where it turns to be part of a whole system, reflecting the social practices related to scientific inquiry, just scientific concepts do in Vygotsky's understanding. They surrogate the real processes or effects understudy, by conveying some of the features of the represented systems. Vygotsky's solution to the problem of the ontological status of concepts points to an analogous understanding for abstract models, which should be regarded neither as fictions nor as abstract objects.
I elucidate these views by using the examples of the double-helix model of DNA structure and of the development of our understanding of the photoelectric effect.