For all I know, the term “hermeneutics” appears nowhere in Nancy Cartwright’s books and articles. Any attempt to appreciate hermeneutic moments in her work therefore requires special justification.1

Even though there is by now a long tradition of studies and reflections on the hermeneutics of science, it has not been able to dispel serious reservations about the transfer of a textual, if not literary mode of analysis to the domain of science and nature. First, even though it has been acknowledged that in scientific experience we do not encounter things in themselves but something that is structured by conceptual, instrumental, and sensory modalities, reality is not therefore inert and fabricated like a text. Second, the hermeneutic process is said to consist in the integration of a text within a horizon of meaning, and as this integration is never seamless it requires adjustments such that the reader of the text emerges as a different person (Gadamer 1975; Ricoeur 1981). This presupposes an individualistic conception that is hardly suitable for the collective work of science. Third, though one can say that scientific data require interpretation, this kind of “interpretation” is surely much more constrained than, say, the interpretation of a literary work.2 Fourth, while in the paradigmatic case of literature hermeneutics generally refers to the relation between reader and text, the hermeneutics of science follows Kuhn in that it is less interested in the reader of a scientific text and rather more in the scientific community as a community of interpreters that reads nature in a certain way. The hermeneutics of science thus appears stuck between a rock and a hard place: It needs to either consider nature as a text and encounter the first objection above, or it must account for the curious fact that scientific texts defy hermeneutics in that they do not require exegesis but disclose themselves immediately. Indeed, it is a hallmark of membership in a scientific community that the texts of one’s peers can be taken literally and are rarely subject to interpretation. Science and nature and scientific texts and their readers have thus appeared to be the moving targets of hermeneutic equivocation. Fifth and finally, the hermeneutic process is said to lead into a hermeneutic circle according to which there is no outside to the activity of interpretation. Bas van Fraassen elaborated how the scientific enterprise moves within such a hermeneutic

circle: Because the empirical content of a theory is specified by the theory itself, theories can only save their phenomena and have no further-reaching claim to truth (van Fraassen 1980: 56-9; see Cartwright 1983: 88). Nancy Cartwright’s work, however, is an attempt to meet van Fraassen’s challenge and to show a way out of the circle at least for causal explanations.