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Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

Adorno, the changing

Adorno, the changing political fortunes of Marxismhave added to the confusion. The result has been todivide the forces of what I call the rationalist left,thereby opening the door to the rightward, socalledneo-liberal, anti-rationalist drift that hascharacterised the ‘postmodern condition’. Therationalist left consists of the combined forces ofcritique that in the 1960s came to be officiallydivided into ‘critical theory’ (Adorno and hisMarxist followers) and ‘critical rationalism’ (Popperand his more liberal followers). In the long term,the Positivismusstreit not only dissipated the forcesof critique in the academy but also subverted anyunited defence of the university as a site of autonomousinquiry.All started well. After the original Popper–Adorno exchange at the 1961 meeting of theGerman Sociological Association in Tübingen,the rapporteur, the sociologist Ralf Dahrendorf,observed that there was remarkably broad agreementbetween the two men, marking both asstaunch anti-positivists. Adorno and Poppertargeted the same foes, notably the style of ‘grandtheorising’ and ‘abstracted empiricism’ spawned bystructural-functionalist sociology, which two yearsearlier had been lampooned by C. Wright Mills forbetraying ‘the sociological imagination’. Moreover,Popper and Adorno were even agreed on the146

tendency of experimental psychology and theoreticaleconomics to obscure, if not outright deny,the background social conditions that ultimatelydetermine the validity of their generalisations. Thismade both sworn enemies of what Popper called‘essentialism’ in social science, opposing both anypsychologism or economism that would reducesociety to the sum of atomic individuals and anysocial holism that would reduce the individual tothe sum of her social roles. Rather, Popper andAdorno followed Max Weber in regarding the socialworld as a field defined by countervailingtendencies in terms of which the potential ofindividuals is realised.Adorno and Popper equally disowned the idea ofdisunified science and its implied underlabouringapproach to philosophy that is popular not only inour Neo-Kuhnian world but also in the Neo-Kantian academic environment in which both weretrained. For them, disciplinary boundaries are notepistemically significant. On the contrary, theyinhibit the capacity for independent criticaljudgement on the current state of knowledge andimpede the drive toward a unified understanding ofreality. Moreover, neither Adorno nor Popperbelieved that the categories of the natural sciencesare inherently closer to reality than those of thesocial sciences. The categories of both sets of fields147

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