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Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

generation of the

generation of the ‘Frankfurt School’, a speciesof critical social theory that is nowadays mostclosely associated with Adorno’s student, JürgenHabermas, who has done much to shift the School’sphilosophical centre of gravity from GermanMarxism to American pragmatism.The Frankfurt School began as the Institute forSocial Research in Frankfurt, a typical product of theWeimar Republic, Germany’s culturally rich andpolitically volatile inter-war regime that gave thecountry its first taste of constitutional democracy.The Institute was one of several think-tanksestablished by enlightened capitalists in the 1920sto assuage their guilty consciences. Specifically, inthe wake of the dubious precedent set by the 1917Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, the ‘FrankfurtSchool’ was funded to enable a politically gradualisttransition from capitalism to socialism. Specifically,it engaged in a propaganda campaign to getpeople to adopt a world-view that would lead themto no longer desire, or at least regard moreambivalently, the commodities produced by theincreasingly capitalised ‘culture industries’, whichincluded the mass media and their incursion intomore traditional art-forms. Such indefinitely longtermmental preparation was seen as necessarybefore any specific political activity could besanctioned.144

Here we see an important difference in the earlypolitical sensibilities of Adorno and Popper. Incontrast with Adorno, Popper flirted with severalexplicitly politicised courses of action, includingthe organisation of consumer collectives and thepromotion of critical pedagogy in schools. To besure, Popper was rather easily put off by the hurlyburlyof democratic politics, but retained hissuspicion of historicist-inspired political complacency.Nevertheless, after years of exile in the UKand the US respectively, Popper and Adornoreturned to Germany in 1961 to launch what, overthe rest of that decade, came to be known as thePositivismusstreit – literally the ‘conflict overpositivism’ – in German social theory. The debatewas supposedly about the methodology appropriatefor social science research. But Popper andAdorno talked more about general epistemologicalattitudes than protocols for sociological inquiry.And though pitted as antagonists, they resembledeach other much more than either resembled,respectively, the analytic philosophers of scienceand the cultural studies practitioners with whomthey are normally associated today. Such is theextent to which the unregulated division of labourin the sciences has undermined the quest for aholistic philosophical vision.Moreover, in the specific case of Popper and145

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