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Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

ecause, when they

ecause, when they succeed, one learns one hadbeen sick before. No wonder the techniques areresisted and the nature of the change disguised inlater reports.Thomas Kuhn, ‘Reflections on My Critics’Contemporary theories of knowledge rarely makereference to their religious roots. Nevertheless,these roots are indelibly marked in the philosophicaltendency to think of beliefs as compelled byevidence rather than made by decision. Somephilosophers even claim that it is psychologicallyimpossible to decide to believe something. At best,such a decision is a pretence to belief (that is, toact ‘as if’ something were true); at worst, it istantamount to wishful thinking. Clearly ‘belief’ ismeant to be a rather profound state of mind, apartial revelation of the truth, no mere hypothesisadopted out of expedience or for the sake ofargument. The problem of knowledge then revolvesaround the search for some foolproof method, orcriterion, for assessing the evidential quality ofbeliefs.Suspicion toward the role of decisions in beliefformation goes back to the distinctive Christianstate of heresy, which derives from the Greek for‘decision’, specifically where one chooses to affirmsomething contrary to what one knows to be the112

case through acquaintance with church doctrine.A dialectic of dogma and heresy has thuscharacterised the history of Christianity. A majorstep in the secularisation of this dialectic came withthe shift in the anchor point for ‘probability’ in the17th century from established collective authority(dogma) to risky individual belief (heresy). Thus,the ‘improbable’ metamorphosed from doctrinaldeviance to indefensible assertion. Both Kuhn andPopper drew on this history. Kuhn originallypresented the inherent resistance of scientificparadigms to fundamental criticism under therubric of ‘dogma’, and Popper frequently castcriticism in science as a risky personal choice madeagainst the prevailing tide of collective opinion.In defence of the view that evidence compelsbelief, epistemologists still cite the 1,500-year-oldprecedent of Saint Augustine (354–430), CatholicBishop of Hippo, who refuted the Greek sceptics byclaiming that some beliefs are self-evidently truebecause one would not have such beliefs unlesstheir putative objects had caused them. Self-evidentbeliefs compel assent regardless of the other beliefsone holds. Thus, episodes of religious conversionand scientific discovery typically involve manifestationsthat upset one’s expectations and intentions.However, since conversions and discoveries are normallyportrayed as positive moments in cognitive113

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