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Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

sciences, where any

sciences, where any candidate exemplar (say, Marx,Durkheim, Keynes, Freud, Skinner, or nowadaysFoucault) would also be a lightning rod for fundamentaldisagreements.Nevertheless, Kuhn’s admirers persisted inwrenching Structure from its original context andtreating it as an all-purpose manual for convertingone’s lowly discipline into a full-fledged science.These wishful readings of Structure have beenhelped by its readers’ innocence of any alternativeaccounts of the history of science – often includingtheir own – with which to compare Kuhn’s. Theerrors then only deepened. They ignored that thebook was happily published by the philosophy ofscience establishment that Kuhn was held to havedeposed. They ignored that Kuhn never talkedabout any science that was done after the 1920s,despite his professional qualifications in contemporaryphysics. They ignored that Kuhn, far frombeing a ‘scientific revolutionary’, argued thatrevolutions were only a last resort in science –indeed, an indication of just how fixated scientiststend to be on their paradigm that they have noregular procedure for considering fundamentalchanges in research direction.Unlike Kuhn’s Structure, no single workepitomises Popper’s position. He was always a‘philosopher’ in the grand sense, for whom science22

happened to be an apt vehicle for articulating hisgeneral world-view. At the time of the KuhnPopper debate, much was made of the recentlytranslated Logic of Scientific Discovery. However, thatbook was a substantially expanded version of workthat Popper had done in the 1920s and 30s as ayoung dissenter from the logical positivists in theirEuropean phase, when they existed in Vienna as theErnst Mach Circle, or simply the ‘Vienna Circle’.Since logical positivism today is associated withgenuflection to scientific authority, it is importantto see why someone with as heightened a criticalsensibility as Popper would have found the movementattractive.‘Positivism’ and ‘sociology’ were words coinedby the same person, Auguste Comte (1798–1857),who believed that the growing secularisation ofEurope required a new universal authority toreplace the declining Catholic Church. Thatauthority was to be found in the unification of thesciences, the final product of which would be anoverarching science – sociology – that would drawon the resources of the other sciences to administerto society’s needs. Comte’s vision flourished largelyoutside the universities, which remained in clericalcontrol. In the Anglophone world, his main advocatewas John Stuart Mill (1806–73), who put amore democratic – perhaps Protestant – spin on23

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