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Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

Conant’s strategy. As

Conant’s strategy. As a benchmark, consider NoamChomsky, who was awarded an endowed professorshipat MIT when that university’s influence on USCold War policy was at its peak. Yet, Chomsky hadno problem biting the hand that fed him. Incontrast, Kuhn remained silent, even once he wastenured first at Princeton and later at MIT, ashimself a holder of an endowed chair.Kuhn was content not to question the largercontext in which his work figured as long as itallowed him to do what he wanted. In the ColdWar, this ‘heads-down’ posture was typical ofscientists who worked under military contracts:they were allowed considerable day-to-day freedomof inquiry, as long as they obtained securityclearance before publication and did not questionthe uses to which funders put their research. Withthe Manhattan Project’s success in constructingthe first atomic bomb with minimum externaloversight, the US government came to be persuadedof the value of scientific self-governance. Indeed,this fact convinced Conant that science would notbe deformed by military funding. The fruits haveincluded the foundations of the most distinctivedevelopments in the non-natural sciences in thesecond half of the 20th century: game theory,decision theory, artificial intelligence, cybernetics,operations research and cognitive science – not to206

mention the analytic philosophy that explicatesand legitimates this work.In practice, the need for security clearance rarelyposed a problem to research publications in theseareas because their abstract and specialised natureimpinged only very indirectly on national defenceconcerns. Problems arose only once a scientistdecided to take an interest in the ends pursued bythose on whom her autonomy depended, perhapsbecause she had come to believe that everyone livesin the same moral universe and hence should abideby the same principles. One prominent examplewas the scandal associated with The Pentagon Papers,classified documents about the Vietnam War thatwere passed to the New York Times in 1971 by theprominent decision theorist, Daniel Ellsberg. However,Kuhn was never in danger of crossing that line.Kuhn undoubtedly understood the differentsocial functions that science might perform, but hedeliberately chose to dwell on only one of them – itsfunction as organised inquiry. In a 1990 interviewwith an alumni publication, the Harvard ScienceReview, Kuhn justified this decision, when askedwhy he had not altered his account in light of 20thcenturydevelopments in science. He suggested thatat some point in its history, the principal socialfunction of science may turn (or have turned) outto be a factor of production or an instrument of207

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