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Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

‘justified belief’

‘justified belief’ or ‘real assent’ was characterised inmost un-Popperian terms by a willingness to riskone’s life on an idea through practical devotion, areturn to the etymological roots of ‘religion’ in theenchanted ritualisation of life.In the past 150 years, the secularisation of thelogic of discovery has been marked by an increasingfocus on the machine virtues of mathematical logicand computer algorithms. The result has been todash any hope of realising Augustine’s andDescartes’ dream of a way to generate self-evidentlytrue beliefs. To be sure, there are methods forgenerating (relatively) novel theories and fordetermining which of these are (relatively) true –but not both at once. All of this is music toPopperian ears because it means that people mustalways decide on which theories to pursue and takeresponsibility for their consequences. There are noepistemically respectable grounds for offloadingresponsibility on some phantom notion of‘evidence’ (i.e. what I saw, you said, or the machinecomputed) as a shield against unpleasant outcomes.God would never open the door to such cravenbehaviour by forcing us to give up our intellectualindependence in return for conformity to amethod, paradigm, or conceptual framework thatensures the validity of our beliefs.Of course, from Kuhn’s standpoint, the situation118

is rather different. For him, a scientist is not a fullyself-realised human being, à la Popper, but a highlyspecialised version of Homo sapiens. Without theepistemic guarantees of a paradigm, it becomesdifficult to motivate Kuhnian normal science.Nobody would reasonably undertake such adiscipline unless she thought it would lead to thetruth. However, Kuhn evaded this problem byavailing himself of an approach to cognitionprovided by Jerome Bruner (b. 1915), an expert onpsychological warfare during World War II whoreturned to Harvard to found its Center forCognitive Studies. Today, Bruner is remembered forhaving extended his intellectual influences – theGestalt psychologists, especially Egon Brunswikand Jean Piaget – into educational practice.However, his experimental research, epitomised inhis 1956 book, A Study of Thinking, attracted muchprivate and public funding in the Cold War for theway it defined ‘conceptualisation’. Bruner operationalisedthis basic mental process as a quick andlargely subliminal response to ambiguous stimuli inthe environment.In an amazing piece of Orwellian Newspeak,Bruner called these responses ‘decisions’, eventhough experimental subjects did not control thesituations in which their response was demanded.Thus, Bruner’s ideal subject would automatically119

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