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Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

nature of reality by

nature of reality by relying solely on our owncognitive resources. Rather, we must endeavour todiscover whether God – or the evil demon – hascalled us to believe. Philosophers of science havecalled the object of this quest, the ‘logic ofdiscovery’. Once achieved, we shall know how toacquire the right frame of mind for receiving therevealed Word.Not surprisingly, many of the landmark contributionsto modern methodology have been madeby theologians keen on demonstrating that only adivine hand could have crafted the order evidencedin nature. Prominent names in this vein includeChristian Wolff, Thomas Bayes, William Paley andWilliam Whewell – all scientist-theologians whoflourished from the early 18th to the early 19thcenturies. In the last 200 years, this tradition hasbeen secularised as a search for ‘transcendentaljustification’ and ‘inference to the best explanation’.Immanuel Kant and Charles Sanders Peirceare the most illustrious names associated with thisdevelopment. It amounts to a subtle strategy of selfpersuasionwhereby we come to believe that theworld could not appear as it does, were our beliefsfundamentally misbegotten. The ultimate explanationthus dispels all doubts. Our sheer inability toimagine an alternative, less edifying explanationfor our deeply held beliefs is thus made into116

grounds for what the Jesuits call the ‘moralcertainty’ of those beliefs. Of course, alternatively,our poor imagination may be the result of ourhaving forgotten the circumstances under whichwe undertook our convictions in the first place.Such erasure of the contingency of the origins ofour beliefs – especially the decisions that had to bemade before the beliefs could be ours – is the stuff ofKuhn’s Orwellian historiography of science, theseamier side of the search for the logic of discovery.It is easy to see why Popper would have problemswith this entire way of thinking about science. Itbasically reduces the search for knowledge to anexercise in fixing belief, and science itself to a ‘questfor certainty’, an expression that the Americanpragmatist John Dewey coined to capture what hesaw as objectionable authoritarian strains inmodern theories of knowledge – a hold-over fromthe days of state-established churches. WhereasPopper treated the scientific laboratory as a site formaking decisions, each of which may be reversed bya later one, Kuhn regarded the laboratory as a sitefor engaging in practices that deepen the scientist’ssusceptibility to forming certain beliefs that willcontribute to a clearer grasp of the vision of realityprojected by her paradigm. Here Kuhn follows along line of post-Augustinian thinkers from BlaisePascal to the John Henry Newman for whom117

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