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Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

philosophers are

philosophers are nowadays divided into ‘scientists’such as Galileo, Boyle and Newton, and ‘philosophers’such as Descartes, Hobbes and Leibniz. Thepeople we now call ‘philosophers’ are basically thenatural philosophers on the losing side of thebattles that we now call ‘scientific’.This embarrassing tendency becomes morepronounced as we get closer to the present. Themajor moments in the philosophy of science aredefined by such notables of the ‘long 19th century’as William Whewell, John Stuart Mill, ErnstMach, Pierre Duhem and Henri Poincaré. All wererecognised as scientists who engaged in majorphilosophical disputes with one another, otherphilosophers and other scientists. However, all turnout to have been scientific losers – often ratherspectacular ones, as, say, the last cultured despisersof atomism and relativity. Indeed, sometimesopposing sides of a philosophical dispute may beunited in scientific error. For example, Whewelland Mill battled over whether scientific knowledgeis built from, respectively, the top down (i.e.deductively) or from the bottom up (i.e. inductively).Should science be a distinct professionrequiring university training (Whewell) or anintegral part of citizen education in a liberaldemocracy (Mill)? Nevertheless, both Whewell andMill were in agreement that their contemporary74

Darwin’s theory of natural selection had failed toadvance science’s quest for a unified account ofnature. This is the sort of complaint one mightexpect today from proponents of ‘Intelligent DesignTheory’, the scientific version of Creationism.Moreover, matters hardly improve, upon turningto the ‘professional’ philosophers of science whoemerge from logical positivism in the 20th century.The leading positivist, Rudolf Carnap, originallywanted to revive the classical philosophical taskof unifying the sciences in his home discipline ofphysics. He had been impressed by Einstein’spencil-and-paper reconceptualisation of space andtime. It reinforced a normative ideal, also commonto Popper and Kuhn, that science is simplyphilosophy by more exact means. Unfortunately,Carnap’s fellow physicists failed to see the need forany more conceptual grounding than what wasalready allowing physics to pose and solve interestingempirical problems. Thus, they rejectedCarnap’s dissertation proposal. However, philosophy,a field that had been in continual decline inGerman academia since Hegel’s death in 1831, wasonly too glad to approve it. In heroic retrospect,the logical positivists appear as the last light ofreason in the darkening philosophical landscapeof Weimar Germany that eventuated in the rise ofHitler. Rarely is it added that they fell into this role75

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