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Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

sociological factors

sociological factors surrounding a knowledge claimin order to see how its manner of presentationmight affect the reception of its content. This isthen subject to criticism, which results in a ‘rationalreconstruction’ of the knowledge claim in a formthat does not make reference to any potentiallyincriminating origins. Finally, some policy recommendationmay be issued as to whether the claimshould be believed, followed, etc.A noteworthy feature of Reichenbach’s epistemologicalprocedure is that the context of discoverymust be properly understood before the context ofjustification can be properly addressed. This point isnot generally observed by philosophers today,especially those like Rorty who strain to prevent usfrom committing the genetic fallacy. Indeed, theyso mis-recognise the genetic fallacy that theycommit another fallacy in the process. Thus, Rortytakes the claim, ‘The origins of an idea need notimply anything about its validity’, to mean: ‘Theorigins of an idea never imply anything about itsvalidity.’ This inferential slide is called the modalfallacy, whereby the modal operator ‘not necessarily’(or ‘need not’) is read to mean ‘necessarilynot’ (or ‘never’). The import of committing themodal fallacy in this case is that Rorty preemptivelycloses inquiry on an issue that should bekept open until properly investigated.184

The genetic fallacy is not designed to prohibitconsideration of an idea’s origins from an assessmentof its validity. It has a more subtle function,namely, to shift the burden of proof to those whowould claim that, say, Einstein’s Jewish origins areautomatically relevant to an evaluation of relativitytheory. (This was a serious example at the time thefallacy was first raised.) These origins may besomehow relevant, but simply revealing them doesnot clinch the argument. Rather, one would needto go through the trouble of providing a causalaccount of exactly how Einstein’s Jewish backgroundpredisposed him to propose a false physicaltheory that comes to be widely accepted only onceothers have been contaminated by the Jewishmindset.Conversely, the distinction between the originsand the validity of an idea cannot be drawn simplyas part of an ordinary reading of a publishedstatement of the idea. On the contrary, we ordinarilyimport so many preconceptions into ourreading that we blur the distinction, and henceunwittingly commit the genetic fallacy. Forexample, mass communications researchers haverepeatedly shown that a message’s credibility isstrongly correlated with the receiver’s knowledge ofits source. The sheer fact that a text is required for acourse or recommended by a learned friend already185

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