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Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier


. CHAPTER 5 .DIALECTICS AS THE PULSEOF SCIENTIFIC PROGRESSPopper used to say that science is philosophy bymore exact means. He had in mind the kind ofcritical philosophy that proceeds by dialecticalengagement, pitting one hypothesis against acounter-hypothesis over a commonly disputedmatter. This procedure goes back to the Athenianlaw courts, the local model for Socrates’ own brandof questioning, which was eventually institutionalisedas an academic practice with scholasticdisputation and, with the 19th-century reinventionof the university, the German dialectical tradition,culminating in Hegel and Marx. However, thislineage was always haunted by the spectre ofscepticism, which takes consistently applied criticalinquiry to the point of self-destruction. It was withthis lineage in mind that Lakatos invited theleading historian of scepticism, Richard Popkin, togive the opening speech at the conference thatfeatured the KuhnPopper debate.Lakatos was alive to this strain in Popper’sthought because of his own doctoral research into58

the 19th-century roots of modern mathematicalproof theory, which was published posthumouslyin 1976 as Proofs and Refutations: The Logic ofMathematical Discovery. For Popper and Lakatos, aswell as the 19th-century mathematicians, deductionwas used more to uncover and eliminate errorsin arguments than to justify entire systems ofreasoning, as a logical positivist might haveexpected. In this Popperian sense, ‘to make adiscovery’ is not to generate a new, self-certifyingexperience of reality – what science popularisers calla ‘Eureka experience’ – but to recognise a limit inour current understanding of reality. However,Lakatos found Popper’s exploitation of this negativeside of the discovery process much too radical.Indeed, in debate with Kuhn, Popper refashionedTrotsky’s ‘permanent revolutionary’ stance as hisown. However, for Lakatos this was tantamount tonihilism, since every new theory is born refuted,not yet having had the chance to pursue itsdistinctive course of inquiry long enough to seehow it truly differs from its competitors.Lakatos understood well the nihilistic side ofdialectics. Though trained mainly in mathematics,he had been a research assistant of the great Marxistphilosopher György Lukacs (1885–1971) in hisnative Hungary. For three decades, Lukacs wasStalin’s most eloquent apologist. Today he is more59

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