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Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

committed to a

committed to a particular research programme, oreven formally trained in it. Popper differed from hispositivist cousins only in his insistence that thislanguage must be itself revisable in light of futuredevelopments in science and society.Nevertheless, the fact that both learned academicsand ordinary folks do not normallyquestion the devolution of allegedly universalforms of knowledge to specific experts testifies toPlato’s lingering influence. As a result, intellectualdiscrimination continues to function as a relativelynon-coercive vehicle for social control. In thisrespect, Kuhn is the latest rider on Plato’s wave.While neither Kuhn nor Popper would care to denythat a specific paradigm may dominate theunderstanding of a particular slice of reality atparticular time, they differ over whether it shouldbe treated as a source of stability (Kuhn) or aproblem to be overcome (Popper). Authoritarianinterpretations of Hegel rest on the former view,while Lakatos tried to recover a more liberalinterpretation of Hegel that spoke to the latter. Herea set of analogies proves useful: what Popperdemonised as ‘historicism’ relates to history’sopenness to the future as monopoly capitalismrelates to the free market – or alternatively, asKuhn’s winner-takes-all view of scientific para-54

digms relates to a public good conception ofscientific knowledge whereby innovations aredistributed as widely as possible.Thus, Kuhn and Popper embody both ‘pluralist’and ‘universalist’ attitudes toward scientific inquiry,though each turns the two terms to opposite effect.Kuhn’s pluralism is a reluctant outcome compelledby his brand of universalism, whereas Poppereagerly embraced pluralism as a means for realisinghis brand of universalism. For Kuhn, a science isalways dominated by one paradigm that its memberspursue religiously until it runs up against thelimits of its puzzle-solving capabilities. Pluralismthen emerges in the form of increasingly specialiseddomains of inquiry, each dominated by its ownparadigm. In contrast, for Popper pluralism is, atleast ideally, intrinsic to the day-to-day conduct ofscientific inquiry, as scientists are encouraged toproliferate alternative hypotheses that then facestiff cross-examination by standards that commanduniversal assent. To be sure, Popperians havetended to stress – more than Popper himself – thatscientists may rationally continue to pursuehypotheses after they have been falsified but only inthe recognition of what it would take to change theminds of fellow inquirers.Textbook caricatures of Kuhn and Popper tend to55

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