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Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

. CHAPTER 6 .A PARTING

. CHAPTER 6 .A PARTING SHOT AT THEMISUNDERSTANDINGKuhn’s ideas are interesting but, alas, they aremuch too vague to give rise to anything but lots ofhot air. Never before has the literature on thephilosophy of science been invaded by so manycreeps and incompetents. Kuhn encourages peoplewho have no idea why a stone falls to the groundto talk with assurance about the scientific method.Now I have no objection to incompetence but I doobject when incompetence is accompanied byboredom and self-righteousness.Paul Feyerabend, ‘How to defendsociety against science’So, Popper was a democrat concerned withscience as a form of dynamic inquiry and Kuhn anélitist focused on science as a stabilising socialpractice. Nevertheless, they normally appearwith these qualities in reverse. How can thisbe? We have already seen that the texts of boththinkers are normally read so out of contextthat important background assumptions are68

systematically misunderstood. Consider one finalexample: what both thinkers made – and arethought to have made – of the received view thatthe physical sciences are superior to the socialsciences because they are better at predicting andcontrolling the aspects of reality that they study.On the one hand, Kuhn is read by his admirers ashaving levelled, or ‘relativised’, the status differencebetween the natural and social sciences byomitting any reference to the received positivistview from his account of scientific paradigms.For Kuhn, science is simply good at solving itsself-defined problems, whose purely technicalnature led him to dub them ‘puzzles’. But far fromdemoting the physical sciences, Kuhn was actuallytrying – as a latter-day Plato might – to insulatethem from responsibility for real world effects,entanglement in which has historically preventedthe social and biological sciences from taking fullcontrol of their inquiries. For Kuhn, these secularentanglements explain the failure of these fields tobecome proper sciences.On the other hand, Popper’s detractors read himas endorsing the received view and hence treatingthe social sciences as uniformly inferior to thephysical sciences. But this is false too. Popperchampioned what he called ‘piecemeal socialengineering’, but this meant placing science’s69

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