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Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

mercifully remembered

mercifully remembered for his early scholarshipthat led to the recovery of Marx’s debt to Hegel.Lukacs showed that Marx adapted Hegel’s sense ofthe ‘cunning of reason’ in history – to explain howcapitalism would become a victim of its success, asthe relentless pursuit of profit would alienate thosein its pursuit, thereby creating a permanentunderclass that would eventually rise up againstcapitalism’s diminishingly few beneficiaries.Lukacs held that Hegel gave Marx a fine appreciationfor the invisible hand’s perverse sense ofhumour. Indeed, one might say that Lakatoshimself became the butt of one of Hegel’s jokes.Lakatos realised that science, mathematicsincluded, has made progress – in a way that philosophyhas not – by its selective encouragement andappropriation of criticism, or in terms that couldhave come from that master German dialectician,Hegel, criticism applied critically to itself. In otherwords, criticism is productive only under certainconditions – for example, not in a research programme’searly stages. Kuhn implicitly understoodthis point much better than Popper. But at the sametime, Lakatos could not tolerate Kuhn’s conservativecomplacency, which went to the other extremeof permitting criticism only once a standingparadigm had already run into so many difficultiesthat it had entered a state of ‘crisis’.60

Lakatos believed he had improved on Popper’saccount by showing how – at least in mathematicalinquiry – the discovery of error is followed bysomething more than the simple removal of thefalsified theory. Rather, in the process that Lakatoscalled ‘lemma incorporation’, a counter-example toa theory is retransmitted as a boundary conditionfor applying a successor version of the theory. Thus,error elimination is made into a genuinely collectivelearning experience, whereby a prima facienegative episode in the theory’s history becomes afeature of its logical structure.Moreover, from a pedagogical standpoint, thisprocess is better seen as dialectical than strictlydeductive. Dialectics lays bare patterns of reasoningthat are normally mystified by mathematicians’appeals to the ‘intuitiveness’ of a proof’s axiomsand lemmas. The social, indeed rhetorical, dimensionof mathematical inquiry is therefore finallyexposed. Lakatos would have us focus more on howone from among several competing sets of axiomscame to be selected than on how, once selected, thisset manages to entail a set of conclusions.Why does Lakatos’ preoccupation with dialecticsmatter in the KuhnPopper debate? The answer isencapsulated in what analytic philosophers call theunderdetermination thesis – the idea that any body ofevidence can be explained by any number of61

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