3 years ago

Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

governance, rather than

governance, rather than a search for knowledge. Atthat point, science drops out of the normativehorizons of Kuhn’s model. While science mightcontinue to produce truths on a reliable basis, thetruths so produced would be done under socialconditions that prevent science from simplyfollowing the logic of its own paradigm, which isultimately what the search for knowledge is allabout.Thus, Kuhn was alive to the difference betweenpursuing knowledge as an end in itself and as aprerequisite for pursuing other ends. The former capturesKuhn’s own sensibility, the latter Conant’s,though together they defined the ‘serving twomasters’ mentality that enabled scientists to thrivein the Cold War environment. In this respect,‘autonomous inquirer’ and ‘organisation man’could co-exist as two separate aspects of the sameperson – that is, unless one was, say, Daniel Ellsberg.Indeed, the Kuhnian normal scientist was themodel for just such a person.This sensitivity gave Kuhn a distinct rhetoricaladvantage over his Popperian and positivist rivals.In effect, he was much more the ventriloquist thanthey. It was not, as is often said, that Kuhn was more‘descriptive’ and his rivals more ‘prescriptive’ withrespect to the history of science. The Popperiansespecially were no less learned in the history of the208

physical sciences than Kuhn, but they insisted onimposing their normative perspective on thathistory, and hence appeared perversely contrarianto a public for whom the authority of science wasself-evident. In contrast, Kuhn let his normativeorientation speak through the skew and arrangementof his historical examples: he included thatwhich he approved and omitted that which he didnot – but he never articulated the norm thatunderwrote his decisions. Thus, the careful reader issimply left to infer why Kuhn chose to omit, say,the history of chemistry after the 1850s and thehistory of physics after the 1920s. Given Kuhn’sexclusive interest in science as pure inquiry, it isreasonable to conclude that he believed that afterthose dates, those disciplines ceased to be relevantto his model, presumably because their secularentanglements irrevocably distorted the course oftheir inquiries. But at the same time, Kuhn equallythought that he had no business issuing thesejudgements in the public domain, especially asStructure became a campus best-seller in theturbulent late 1960s.However, it would be a mistake to conclude thatKuhn originally set out to write The Structure ofScientific Revolutions as a doubly encoded text,deliberately masking its relevance to contemporaryscience. Rather, the present only gradually receded209

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