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Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

triumphalism was Leon

triumphalism was Leon Trotsky’s account of theSoviet Union’s failure to launch a worldwide‘permanent revolution’. In the case of Capitalisttriumphalism, the Tory sensibility was representedby the sociologist C. Wright Mills, who inspiredAmerican campus radicals in the 1960s by arguingthat the United States had betrayed its own liberaldemocratic values by concentrating power in themilitary-industrial complex. Not surprisingly,Trotsky and Mills were considered traitors in theirrespective lands. For they were losers without beingvictims. Consequently, there was always the chancethat they would return to reclaim their legacy.Here it is worth mentioning the ‘scientific’provenance of the Tory image of the ‘return ofthe repressed’, which fuelled the imaginations ofnot only Hegel and Nietzsche but also Ernst Machand Sigmund Freud – as well as the Popperians,especially Lakatos. It goes back to the idea thatNature promotes atavisms, that is, throwbacks tosupposedly extinct life-forms that neverthelessmanage to survive in a second incarnation.Contrary to popular views of evolution as consistingof an irreversible sequence of endlesslyprogressive species, the presence of atavismssuggested that what might be otherwise seen asNature’s drafts on the blueprint of life are in factconserved in the ‘germ plasm’ (or ‘gene pool’, as we98

would now say) awaiting propitious environmentsfor their full realisation.By analogy, starting in the 1880s, Mach, an archatavist, collected together two centuries’ worth ofdiscarded philosophical objections to Newtonianmechanics. While this struck Max Planck and thephysics establishment of the day as irrelevantantiquarianism, within a generation it served toinspire the revolutions associated with relativitytheory and quantum indeterminacy. A similarpreoccupation with historical atavism is evident inthe Popperian discussion of ‘Kuhn Loss’, named forKuhn’s belief that a consequence of any scientificrevolution is that some phenomena that had beenencompassed by the old paradigm are lost by thenew one, perhaps to be picked up by a paradigm inanother field or simply left to wallow in a prescientificstate. For Kuhn, such a ‘loss’ enables thenew paradigm to acquire a sense of focus andprogress lacking in the old one. But for Lakatos andFeyerabend, the lessons were more equivocal.Indeed, Feyerabend went so far as to mount aspirited defence of Aristotle’s unified inquiry intothe natural ends of motion, which drifted out ofphysics into biology and psychology, ultimately todisappear altogether from scientific view.99

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