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Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

shifting the Anglophone

shifting the Anglophone public image of scientistsin the 1950s from heroic individuals like Galileoand Darwin who tried to change the world to amore anonymous community of specialists focusedon cultivating their craft. This monkish view ofscientists, which Kuhn popularised in the followingdecade as ‘normal science’, was designed to protectthe autonomy of science from policy-makers inboth the Capitalist West and the Communist Eastwho, during the Cold War, were keen on convertingscience into means for larger political ends. The telltalesign of this monastic turn in Polanyi and Kuhnis that the entire sociology of science is reduced tothe process of training initiates for a life of totalcommitment to their paradigm, by virtue of whichtheir judgement will go largely unquestioned in thelarger society and questioned only on technicalmatters within their own community.Despite his own steadfast support for theautonomy of scientific inquiry, Popper found the‘heads-down’ approach of the monastic modelabhorrent. For him, belief, let alone unconditionalcommitment, mis-characterised scientific claimsto knowledge. Popper would rather have themtreated as hypotheses that one explicitly decides toundertake, with the understanding that they willbe subject to strenuous tests and, should thesebe failed, swift rejection: in short, a policy of102

‘conjectures and refutations’. Here, Popper wasdecisively influenced by two theorists of religion:the sociologist Max Weber (1864–1920) and thephilosopher Henri Bergson (1859–1941).Shortly after Germany’s defeat in World War I,Weber made a pair of famous speeches on politicsand science as vocations. There he distinguishedbetween the ethics of conviction and the ethics ofresponsibility, in part to distinguish Marxism as apolitical movement and a scientific researchprogramme, but also as an implicit critique ofGermany’s prosecution of the war. As politicians,Marxists (he was thinking of Lenin) are convincedthat they already know the truth, which emboldensthem to ignore the immediate consequences oftheir actions. But as scientists, Marxists realise thattheir access to the truth is partial, and thus proposepolicies in a more responsible, experimentalfashion, withdrawing and revising them once theyhave clearly failed. Instead of science becomingmore politicised, as many of his colleaguessuggested, Weber believed that politics shouldbecome more ‘scientised’ in the precise sense ofadopting the ethics of responsibility. Unfortunately,Weber’s message has been often misread as anendorsement of the technocratic devolution ofpolitics, when in fact he was trying to revive theoriginal idealist vision of the German civil service103

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