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Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

after having been cast

after having been cast out from the organisedscience of their day.Moreover, Carnap was profoundly disappointedby the ease with which, less than a decade afterEinstein proposed the special theory of relativity,the German physics community fell into line withthe practitioners of the epistemologically inferiorscience of chemistry to support the Kaiser’s cause inWorld War I. In reaction, Carnap set a precedentthat would sharply distinguish logical positivismfrom most previous pro-science movements: heattempted to justify physical knowledge withoutmaking any reference to its worldly applications.This is a precedent that Kuhn would follow.Carnap’s model was mathematics’ success indeclaring disciplinary independence from physicsand engineering in the 19th century by rediscoveringits ancient Euclidean roots in deductive prooftheory – the subject of Lakatos’ doctoral research.Here Carnap had been influenced by his old teacherGottlob Frege, whose arcane Begriffschrift (‘conceptwriting’) had been championed as ‘symbolic logic’by Bertrand Russell and Carnap’s fellow World WarI veteran, Ludwig Wittgenstein, a self-loathingengineer who was heir to Austria’s leading steelmakingfamily. In the inter-war years, Wittgensteinintermittently attended the Vienna Circle meetingsin which logical positivism’s tenets were crystallised.76

But the complete alienation of philosophy ofscience from mainstream science was best epitomisedin the training of Karl Popper, who wasnearly a dozen years younger than Carnap. Hehovered in the periphery of the Vienna Circle, as heworked on a doctorate in educational psychology,a subject that officially aimed to make scienceeasier to assimilate, not criticise. Popper’s ownoriginal interest in the field, however, was inspiredby children’s resistance to novelty, or in theKierkegaardian terms that Karl Jaspers hadpopularised among psychologists, ‘anxiety towardthe unknown’. However, Popper soon becameequally disillusioned by Vienna’s socialist educationalauthorities, who were keen on force-feedingstudents with reformist dogmas that were themselvesnever subjected to scientific scrutiny.In the middle third of the 20th century, whenlogical positivism and the Popperian heresyreached their institutional peak in the Englishspeakingworld, practising scientists accordedthem little more than polite notice, even whenthey seemed to be making epistemological andontological claims of grave import. For example,the American pragmatist philosopher who madethe most successful transition to positivism,Ernest Nagel (1901–85), worried about the fateof science, if physical causation dissolved into77

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