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Abstract

The debate between Ludwik Fleck (microbiologist and philosopher of science) and Tadeusz Bilikiewicz (historian and philosopher of medicine) took place shortly before the outbreak of World War II and remained virtually unnoticed until 1978. A wider recognition of their exchange was possible only after the English and German translations appeared. Basically, the polemics concerned understanding of the concept of style and influence that the environment exerted on scientific activity and its products. The polemic started with the review of Bilikiewicz’s book Die Embryologie im Zeitalter des Barock und des Rokoko (1932) where the historical account of the development of embryology in the early and late Baroque period was interwoven with bold sociological remarks. The commentators of the debate were quick to notice that the claims made by Fleck at that time were crucial for understanding of his position, especially because they let to interpret his views in a non-relativist way. While the importance of the controversy was univocally acknowledged, its assessment so far has been defective for two reasons. First, for decades the views of Bilikiewicz were known only from the short and rather critical presentation given by Fleck and this put their discussion into an inadequate perspective. Second, for over 40 years it remained a complete puzzle what prompted their exchange of views. This paper closes these gaps. Thus, on the one hand, I reconstruct the central issue of the disputation between Fleck and Bilikiewicz and situate it within the context of Bilikiewicz’s views. On the other hand – and this is more important – I try to explain the origin of their debate by quoting some recently discovered and unpublished archival materials. A review of their correspondence gives me an opportunity to advance some hypotheses about the aims and hopes connected with their project but also possible reasons for its failure.
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