2 years ago

Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

organisms, proposed that

organisms, proposed that biology would itselfbecome the science to which sciences of the mindand society would be reduced. Although the formerproject no longer attracts much philosophicalinterest and the latter has been periodicallyfashionable (first as cybernetics, now as complexitytheory), neither captured the actual strategy bywhich biology consolidated as the science we knowtoday.Instead, practising biologists followed the lead ofthe Russian Orthodox Christian, US-based geneticistTheodosius Dobzhansky (1900–75), whose1937 book, Genetics and the Origins of Species, arguedthat biology could achieve an intra-disciplinaryunification – what is now known as the Neo-Darwinian synthesis – without either subordinatingitself to physics or lording over the humansciences. As Dobzhansky saw it, the main obstacleto biology’s scientific autonomy was that naturalselection appeared to be purely destructive andwasteful, leaving only a trail of extinct species andunrealised genetic potential in its wake. However,Dobzhansky argued, natural selection is not auniform force that beats genetic variation intoadaptive submission. Rather, it moves diffusely,placing specific environmental pressures on particulargene pools. Thus, natural selection reveals acreative side, akin to an ‘invisible hand’, that80

permits the survival of chance mutations in localsettings that over time may transform entirepopulations of organisms.Dobzhansky’s co-operative vision of therelationship between genetics and natural historywas rather unlike the traditional antagonismbetween the two fields that positivist philosophers,including Popper, continued to foster. The flavourof this conflict is captured in the schism between‘quantitative’ and ‘qualitative’ methods thatcontinues to plague the social sciences.Geneticists are akin to experimental psychologistsand mathematical economists who studyhumans under abstract conditions that enablemaximum generalisation across environments.Researchers in this category have typically had areformist policy bent, be it in agriculture or welfare,where the capacity for prediction and control is at apremium. In contrast, Darwin’s original constituency,natural historians and ecologists, are likethe field ethnographers and archival historians whoaim to understand humans as products of uniqueenvironments. These researchers tend to adopt amore protective attitude toward the phenomenathey study that sometimes verges on romanticism.Popper accused biologists in this category of thedreaded vice of ‘historicism’, as evolutionary theoryappears to deal only in series of one-off events that81

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