3 years ago

Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

The above pattern of

The above pattern of response is familiar fromthe annals of cross-cultural rationality – thoughnormally it is associated with the superstitiousbeliefs of primitive tribes. For example, anthropologistshave no problem demonstrating thesocially stabilising function of rain dances, giventhe vast symbolic structures that have been erectedaround these rituals. The ‘irrationality’ of suchpractices, however, lies in their continuation evenafter the natives learn that the dances are at bestaccidentally connected to anything that mightreliably bring about rain. In other words, thenatives fixate on the rain dance itself rather thanshift their attention to other practices that mightbetter achieve what the rain dance sets out to do.When Popperian anthropologists like ErnestGellner and Ian Jarvie first made these observationsin the 1960s, they were criticised for harbouring theWestern assumption that a rain dance has valueonly as a means for bringing about, or at leastpredicting, rain. On the contrary, it was argued,the dance’s primary value may be precisely itsintegrative force in the society practising it, whichin turn explains why the natives are wise not toquestion its foundations, as the Popperians wouldhave them do.Whatever one wishes to make of this response tothe Popperians, it would be odd if we were forced to198

say something similar in the case of today’sHeideggerian and Kuhnian rain dances. After all, aswe saw in Rorty’s protestations against evaluatingideas by their origins and consequences, those whotake seriously Heidegger’s and Kuhn’s ideas claim todo so because of the light those ideas shed on achosen aspect of reality. In that case, the Popperianconcern with measuring up the means against theends they purport to serve would seem to beespecially apposite, perhaps more so than in thecase of the native rain dances. Thus, we may ask: areKuhn’s ideas sufficiently powerful for understandingthe nature of science to justify thedisproportionate attention given to them? If, after acomparison with the ideas of relevant alternatives(e.g. Feyerabend, Lakatos, Toulmin, Hanson), theanswer turns out to be no, then we need to find outwhy Kuhn has nevertheless received such attention.The hint of irrationality in the mass adoptionof Kuhn is heightened by Kuhn’s own failure toparticipate in – and, if anything, to disavow – thespread of the ideas associated with him.At the very least, Kuhn’s reclusiveness goesagainst the sense of social responsibility thatintellectuals have traditionally felt for their work.While it is quite natural for people to feelresponsible for their actions, which of course areinformed by ideas, the mark of the intellectual is to199

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