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Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

generic ‘science

generic ‘science studies’. In the former field, Kuhnis given roughly equal treatment alongside hiscontemporaries, Lakatos, Feyerabend, StephenToulmin and Norwood Russell Hanson. Each wassensitive to the role of historicity, paradigmaticity,sociality and incommensurability in science.However, Kuhn surges ahead as a mythical fatherfigure in science studies. Recalling the analogyto Heidegger, the disappearance of history andphilosophy of science is akin to the disappearanceof existentialism, and Kuhn’s status in sciencestudies is comparable to Heidegger’s in postmodernphilosophy.To be sure, there is this one difference betweenHeidegger and Kuhn: while Heidegger wasreabsorbed into phenomenology as its mostprofound contributor before being made the keytransition figure to postmodernism, Kuhn wasreabsorbed, more fully and generically, as a naïveexemplar of any of several philosophical positions –relativism, Kantianism, Wittgensteinianism, naturalism,pragmatism – which is then treated as thesource of whatever one takes to be the conceptualstrengths or weaknesses of contemporary sciencestudies.From a Popperian standpoint, the first questionto ask about the parallel trajectories of Heideggerand Kuhn is why they – and not the relevant196

alternative contemporaries – have come to acquiresuch massive significance in their respective fields,especially given that neither Heidegger nor Kuhnnor their partisans ever answered the originalcriticisms of their work. To respond to this querysimply by appealing to the luminous nature of theirideas is disingenuous on two grounds.First, the realisation of this ‘luminosity’ tracksthe historical rise in the ideas’ popularity tooclosely to function as an independent measure ofthe ideas’ true significance. Once Heidegger andKuhn came to legitimate a large body of intellectualwork, there is little wonder that their ideas would betreated as luminous: even academics know betterthan to saw off the limb of the tree on which theysit. The second and related issue is that confidencein Heidegger’s and Kuhn’s luminosity tends to varyinversely with one’s knowledge of work by therelevant alternative contemporaries. Thus, youngerresearchers are much more likely than older ones tocall Kuhn or Heidegger a ‘genius’. Moreover, theluminous progenitor is credited with having originatedsuch banalities as Kuhn’s ‘discovery’ that‘science is problem-solving’, something commonto a wide range of less celebrated thinkers who mayalso have other virtues that the progenitor lacks. AsOrwell – and Kuhn – would have it, historicalamnesia does wonders to focus the collective mind.197

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