Thought collective

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The Thought collective is a concept associated with the Polish microbiologist and pioneer of the sociology of science Ludwig Fleck. According to Wojciech Sady:

Fleck claimed that cognition is a collective activity, since it is only possible on the basis of a certain body of knowledge acquired from other people. When people begin to exchange ideas, a thought collective arises, bonded by a specific mood, and as a result of a series of understandings and misunderstandings a peculiar thought style is developed. When a thought style becomes sufficiently sophisticated, the collective divides itself into an esoteric circle (professionals) and an exoteric circle (laymen). A thought style consists of the active elements, which shape ways in which members of the collective see and think about the world, and of the passive elements, the sum of which is perceived as an “objective reality”. What we call “facts”, are social constructs: only what is true to culture is true to nature. Thought styles are often incommensurable: what is a fact to the members of a thought collective A sometimes does not exist to the members of a thought collective B, and a thought that is significant and true to the members of A may sometimes be false or meaningless for members of B.[1]

Contending concepts

Articles from Google Scholar on the spread of ideas[2]
Discourse coalition Epistemic community Invisible college Thought collective
742/1,750 8,040/16,100 7,250/11,100 1,340/1,690

It is clear that the concept of Epistemic community is used more often than contending concepts.


A compilation of work on the concept of the ithought collective.[3]

  • Anderson, G., 1984, “Problems in Ludwik Fleck's Conception of Science”, Methodology and Science, 17: 25–34.
  • Babich, B. E., 2003, “From Fleck's ‘Denkstil’ to Kuhn's Paradigm: Conceptual Schemes and Incommensurability”, International Studies in the Philosophy of Science, 17: 75–92.
  • Babich, B. E., 2003, “Kuhn's Paradigm as a Parable for the Cold War: Incommensurability and Its Discontents from Fuller's Tale of Harvard to Fleck Unsung Lvov”, Social Epistemology, 17: 99–109.
  • Baldamus, W., 1977, “Ludwig Fleck and the Development of the Sociology of Science”, in Human Figurations. Essays for/Aufsätze für Norbert Elias, P. R. Gleichman, J. Goudsblum and H. Korte (eds.), Amsterdam: Amsterdams Sociologisch Tijdschrift, pp. 135–156.
  • Bonah, Ch., 2002, “'Experimental Rage’, the Development of Medical Ethics and the Genesis of Scientific Facts. Ludwik Fleck: an Answer to the Crisis of Modern Medicine in Interwar Germany?”, Social History of Medicine, 15: 187–207.
  • Brorson, S. and Andersen, H., 2001, “Stabilizing and Changing Phenomenal Worlds: Ludwik Fleck and Thomas Kuhn on Scientific Literature”, Journal for General Philosophy of Science, 32: 109–129.
  • Cackowski, Zdzisław, 1982, “Ludwik Fleck's Epistemology”, Dialectics and Humanism, no. 3: 11–23.
  • Cohen, R. S. and Schnelle, Thomas (eds.), 1986, Cognition and Fact. Materials on Ludwik Fleck, (Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science, v. 87), Dordrecht: D. Reidel. (Contains complete bibliography of Fleck's medical and epistemological papers, pp. 445–457.)
  • Egloff, Rainer und Fehr, Johannes (eds.), 2011, Vérité Widerstand, Development: At Work with / Arbeiten mit / Travailler avec Ludwik Fleck, (Collegium Helveticum, Heft 12), Zürich: Collegium Helveticum 2011.
  • Fagan, Melinda B., 2009, “Fleck and the Social Constitution of Scientific Objectivity”, Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 40C: 272–85.
  • Fehr, J., Jas, N., and Löwy, I. (eds.), 2009, Penser avec Fleck—Investigating a Life Studying Life Sciences, (Collegium Helveticum, Heft 7), Zurich: Collegium Helveticum.
  • Freudenthal, G. and Löwy I., 1988, “Ludwik Fleck's Roles in Society: A Case Study Using Joseph Ben-David's Paradigm for a Sociology of Knowledge”, Social Studies of Science, 18: 625–651.
  • Glück, G., 2005, “Ludwik Fleck's Ideas in Science: Compared to Similar Concepts of Michael Polanyi with Some Consequences for Teacher Education”, Appraisal: The Journal of the Society for Post-Critical and Personalist Studies, 5: 117-122.
  • Gonzalez, R. J., Nader, L. and Ou, C. J., 1995, “Between Two Poles: Bronislaw Malinowski, Ludwik Fleck, and the Anthropology of Science”, Current Anthropology, 36: 866–869.
  • Griesecke, Birgit and Graf, Erich Otto (eds.), 2008, Ludwik Flecks vergleichende Erkenntnistheorie. Die Debate in Przegląd Filozoficzny 1936–1937, Berlin: Parerga.
  • Harwood, J., 1986, “Ludwik Fleck and the Sociology of Knowledge”, Social Studies of Science, 16: 173–187. (Review of L. Fleck, Genesis and Development…; Enstehung und Entwicklung…; L. Fleck, Erfahrung und Tatsache…, Th. Schnelle, Ludwik Fleck: Leben und Denken; Cognition and Fact….)
  • Hedfors, Eva, 2006, “The Reading of Ludwik Fleck: Questions of Sources and Impetus”, Social Epistemology 20: 131–161.
  • Hedfors, Eva, 2007, “The Reading of Scientific Texts: Questions on Interpretation and Evaluation, with Special Reference to the Scientific Writings of Ludwik Fleck”, Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 38: 136–158.
  • Hedfors, Eva, 2008a, “Medical Science in the Light of the Holocaust: Departing from a Post-war Paper by Ludwik Fleck”, Social Studies of Science, 38: 259–283. (See also a comment on Hedfor's paper by Olga Amsterdamska et. al., Social Studies of Science, 38: 937–944 and Hedfor's “Reply to a Biased Reading”, Social Studies of Science, 38: 945–950.)
  • Jacobs, S., 2002, “The Genesis of ‘Scientific Community’”, Social Epistemology, 16: 157–168.
  • Janik, A., 2006, “Notes on the Origin of Fleck's Concept of ‘Denkstill’”, in Cambridge and Vienna: Frank P. Ramsey and the Vienna Circle, M. C. Galavotti (ed.), Vienna Circle Institute Yearbook, 12: 179–188.
  • Kuhn, Thomas S., 1962, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Kuhn, Thomas S., 1979, “Foreword”, in Fleck, L., The Genesis and Development…, pp. VII-XI.
  • Latour, Bruno, 2005, Reassembling the Social—An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Leszczyńska, K., 2009, “Ludwik Fleck: a Forgotten Philosopher”, in J. Fehr, N. Jas, and I. Löwy (eds.), 2009, pp. 23–39.
  • Lindenmann, J., 2001, “Siegel, Schaudinn, Fleck and the Etiology of Syphilis”, Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 32: 435–455. (See also 33: 751–752.)
  • Löwy, Ilana, 1988, “Ludwik Fleck on the Social Construction of Medical Knowledge”, Sociology of Health and Illness, 10: 133–155.
  • Löwy, Ilana, 1990, The Polish School of Philosophy of Medicine: From Tytus Chalubinski (1820–1889) to Ludwik Fleck (1896–1961), Dordrecht, Boston: Kluwer. (The books contains a good selection from the works of the main representatives of the School.)
  • Löwy, Ilana, 2008, “Ways of Seeing: Ludwik Fleck and Polish Debates on the Perception of Reality, 1890–1947”, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 39: 375–83.
  • Rheinberger, Hans-Jörg, 2010, “On the Historicity of Scientific Knowledge: Ludwik Fleck, Gaston Bachelard, Edmund Husserl”, in Science and the Life-World: Essays on Husserl's ‘Crisis of European Sciences', D. Hyder and H.-J. Rheinberger (eds.), Stanford: Stanford University Press, pp. 164–76.
  • Reichenbach, Hans, 1938, Experience and Prediction, Chicago, University of Chicago Press.
  • Sady, Wojciech 'Ludwik Fleck - Thought collectives and Thought Styles', Poznan Studies in the Philosophy of the Sciences and the Humanities 2001, vol. 74,W. Krajewski (ed.), Amsterdam: Rodopi, pp. 197-205.
  • Schäfer, L., 1993, “On the Scientific Status of Medical Research: Case Study and Interpretation According to Ludwik Fleck”, in Science, Technology and the Art of Medicine, C. Delkeskamp-Hayes and G. Cutler (eds.), Philosophy of Medicine, 44: 23–38. (See also a reply to Schäfer by N. Tsouyopoulos, ibid.: 39–46, and a commentary by R. K. Lie, ibid.: 47–54.)
  • Schnelle, Thomas, 1982, Ludwik Fleck— Leben und Denken. Zur Entstehung und Entwicklung des soziologischen Denkstils in der Wissenschaftsphilosophie, Freiburg: Hochschulverlag.
  • Schnelle, Thomas, 1986, “Microbiology and Philosophy of Science, Lwów and the German Holocaust: Stations of Life—Ludwik Fleck 1896–1961”, in R. S. Cohen, T. Schnelle (eds.), 1986, pp. 3–36.
  • Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 35, 2004. (Papers on Ludwik Fleck’s epistemology of medicine and biomedical sciences by I. Löwy, C. Borck, Ch. Gradmann, O. Amsterdamska, J. P. Gaudilliere, Ch. Sinding and K. L. Caneva.)
  • Stump, D., 1988, “The Role of Skill in Experimentation: Reading Ludwik Fleck's Study of the Wassermann Reaction as Example of Ian Hacking's Experimental Realism”, PSA: Proceedings of the Biennal Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association, 302–308.
  • Symotiuk, S., 1983, “Two Sociologies of Knowledge L. Fleck—T. Bilikiewicz”, Kwartalnik Historii Nauki i Techniki, no. 3–4: 569–582.
  • Van Den Belt, H. and Gremmen, B., 1990, “Specificity in the Era of Koch and Ehrlich: A Generalized Interpretation of Ludwik Fleck's ‘Serological’ Thought Style”, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 21: 463–479.
  • Van den Belt, H., 2002, “Ludwik Fleck and the Causative Agent of Syphilis: Sociology or Pathology of Science? A Rejoinder to Jean Lindenmann”, Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 33: 733–750.
  • Wettersten, J., 1991, “The Fleck Affair: Fashions v. Heritage”, Inquiry, 34: 475–498.
  • White, K., 1993, “Ludwik Fleck and the Foundations of the Sociology of Medical Knowledge”, Explorations in Knowledge, 10: 1–21.


  1. Sady, Wojciech, "Ludwik Fleck", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.
  2. Search conducted on Google Scholar from the UK on Thursday 24 May 2012 @ 12.50 hrs approx. Search terms = First number: "Discourse coalition"; "Epistemic community"; "Invisible college"; "Thought collective". Second number: "Discourse coalition" OR "Discourse Coalitions"; "Epistemic community" OR "Epistemic communities"; "Invisible college" OR "Invisible colleges"; "Thought collective" OR "Thought collectives"
  3. Sources include:Ludwik Fleck Stanford Encylclopedia of Philosophy First published Mon Mar 19, 2012; substantive revision Thu Apr 19, 2012