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Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

practices whose

practices whose metaphysical and epistemologicalassumptions contradicted its own. There was no feltneed for achieving a larger synthesis that wouldreconcile the fundamental differences between thevarious bodies of knowledge, as each wasconceptually and empirically adequate to its ownslice of reality. Of course, this all began to change inthe late 16th century, when Galileo promotedCopernicus’ Sun-based astronomy from acomputational variant to a substantive challenge toPtolemy’s system.What we call the ‘modern’, and distinctlyWestern, sensibility emerged as people tried toorganise the conduct of the sciences in light ofsecond-order considerations of what might becommon to all the sciences. The result was aGalilean zeal for spotting latent contradictionsbetween bodies of knowledge, the pretext foreliminating the social, linguistic and practicalbarriers to their proper integration into onesystem of thought. Popper promoted a version ofthis strategy in his attack on the ‘myth of theframework’, the Kuhnian idea that the presence ofincommensurable theories rendered any explicitnormative comparison so difficult that one simplyhad to wait for history to take its course, asindividuals come to adopt one or another theory fortheir own reasons. In contrast, Popper argued that if66

the incommensurable theories are truly scientific,they aspire to universality, which means that therewill be cases that they have yet to explain or predict.These cases may then serve as relatively neutralground for designing a crucial experiment to decideamongst the theories.In many respects, the postmodern conditionassociated with Kuhn’s ascendancy marks a returnto a pre-modern sensibility. What is often called‘relativism’ – be it in praise or condemnation – issimply the ancient attitude, perhaps most clearlydefended by Aristotle, that all knowledge must beadequate to its objects. Ethnographic sociologistsnow speak of ‘context sensitivity’ and cognitivepsychologists of ‘domain specificity’ to mean muchthe same thing. While it may be possible to derivesome abstract categorical principles (or ‘metaphysics’)from the various forms of knowledge,those principles are treated simply as objects intheir own right with no expectation that they willshape the conduct of the first-order inquiries fromwhich they were abstracted. This aspect of thehistory of Western thought follows a course similarto that of the great Eastern intellectual cultures ofChina and India, none of which ever managed toacquire the dynamism associated with modernWestern science.67

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