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Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

ealism’ that proposes,

ealism’ that proposes, in Hilary Putnam’s famousformulation, that the success of science would be amiracle, were it not getting closer to the truth. Heresuccess is simply identified with self-reinforcingtendencies in the accumulation of capital, statusand worldly power – as well as explanatory scopeand predictive accuracy – associated with the dominantsciences of the day. The image corresponds tothe Orwellian historiography that Kuhn associatedwith a paradigm’s self-understanding. Thus, onedoes not consider, say, the opportunity costs ofscientists having decided to pursue one researchtrajectory instead of another, or whether otherresearch orientations, provided with similarresources and control over the criteria by whichtheir work is judged, might not equally havedemonstrated the same levels of ‘success’. Bysuppressing such contingencies in the history ofscience, the hyper-rationalist downplays theresponsibility of particular scientists (and theirfunders, users, etc.) for particular decisions thathave shaped the course of inquiry. It is as if sciencewere driven by Divine Providence, and only onedecision must be made – to walk with the saints orthe sinners.On the other hand, there is the irrationalistimpulse that both Popper and Adorno associatedwith the modern resurgence of astrology. This162

egan in the Weimar Republic as a by-product ofthe general disillusionment with natural scienceafter Germany’s defeat in World War I. A wartriggered by diplomatic mishap that was ultimatelylost by the scientifically most advanced nationcaused many to question humanity’s control of itsfate. Adorno caught a second wave of thissentiment during his stay in Los Angeles early inthe Cold War, when many Americans turned toastrology to ‘cope’ with what was felt to be aninevitable nuclear showdown. At one level, thecritical perspective shared by Popper and Adornoupdates the original theological objection toastrology: astrology locates the causes of humanbehaviour in celestial phenomena so far removedfrom one’s ordinary sphere of action that it discouragespeople not only from acting decisively but alsofrom taking responsibility for whatever they do.However, the specifically modern cast of thePopper–Adorno objection to astrology is that itprovides a spurious unity of understanding in aworld of hyper-specialisation, something thatKuhn himself regarded as simply inevitable. Insteadof trying to resolve the deep-seated tensions betweendisciplinary practices that currently impedeany global understanding, astrology purports totranscend these interdisciplinary tensions – and theconflicting cognitive standards associated with163

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