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Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

development, it is easy

development, it is easy to suppose that one’s priorunreceptiveness consisted entirely of irrationalprejudice. But this would be profoundly misleading.In fact, rational argument may be itself amajor source of belief inhibition.This point is important for appreciating the deepsense in which belief ‘by evidence’ and ‘by decision’are opposed. Where rational argument is the solestandard for belief evaluation, most beliefs will fallshort of the standard of deductive proof. In thatcase, a decision must be made, the consequences ofwhich the decider then takes responsibility for. Thiswas Popper’s view. Kuhn, in contrast, adhered tothe Augustinian maxim, often quoted byWittgenstein, crede ut intellegas (‘believe in order tounderstand’). In other words, we are sometimesforced to believe things on the basis of evidencewithout which we would not be inclined to believe– perhaps because we would otherwise have noreason to believe. Here one imagines St Paul’sconversion to Christianity after having beenthrown from his horse on the road to Damascus.In his notorious 1975 book, Against Method, PaulFeyerabend depicted Galileo’s status as the St Paulof Copernicanism in just this light. Contrary to thepopular image of Galileo as someone who championedbeliefs based on rational argument against aprejudiced Catholic establishment, Feyerabend114

showed how Galileo had to resort to rhetoric toenhance ‘evidence’ supplied by an instrument thathad been previously regarded as a toy (i.e. thetelescope) in his efforts to overturn a wide range ofreasoned objections. Had Galileo not already been aconvert to Copernicanism, it is unlikely he wouldhave had the determination – let alone the reason –to engage in these manoeuvres. By Popper’s highethical standards, Feyerabend’s Galileo was acoward who tried to evade responsibility for hisbeliefs by hiding behind some dodgy data. But fromKuhn’s more Realpolitik perspective, Galileo’sirresponsible conviction paid off, as his variousdialogues and debates provided clues that enabledothers, especially Isaac Newton, to lay thefoundations for a new physics.Significantly, the modern founder of the questfor a foolproof method, the French philosopherRené Descartes (1596–1650), had cast the problemof knowledge in terms of our ability to tell whetherGod or some evil demon had planted the evidencethat compels our belief. What philosophers ofscience today call ‘methodology’ turns out tobe a secularised version of the project oftroubleshooting the sources of error in beliefformation, until we are left with only one plausibleexplanation. Implicit here is that it would bepresumptuous to think that we can ascertain the115

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