3 years ago

Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

underlabourers belong to

underlabourers belong to the class of Guardians,not Philosopher-Kings-in-training.Kuhn was the crucial figure in this transition.Unlike the positivists and the Popperians, Kuhn didnot postulate an end to science other than whatsatisfied the constraints laid down by the dominantparadigms. Thus, post-Kuhnians have come toaccept scientists’ working assumptions at facevalue, including the counter-intuitive implicationthat reality consists of many distinct worlds, eachroughly corresponding to a scientific discipline. Forexample, whereas Lakatos had called on historians,philosophers and sociologists to master thetechnical details of contemporary science so asnot to depend on scientists’ own ex cathedrapronouncements about the merits of their researchprogrammes, Kuhn’s progeny master such details inorder to impress scientists that they are sufficientlycompetent to be taken seriously at all. Kuhn’sreduction of the ends of science to the trajectoriesalready being pursued by particular sciences hasnow inspired two generations of philosophers tobelieve that they should be taking their normativemarching orders from the sciences they philosophiseabout, and hence do not question themunless the scientists themselves have done so first.At work here is not the scientific humiliation ofphilosophy but a relatively unnoticed legacy of86

Cold War science policy – namely, the selfalienationof ‘autonomous science’. In Plato’sAcademy, the pursuit of pure inquiry had beenjustified in terms of the mental discipline itprovided for statecraft. According to Plato, aconsequence of being focused on the ideal for manyyears would be a resolve to do what is right, evenwhen it is unpopular. What Plato had not envisagedwas that this fixation on the ideal would become anend in itself, which would then enable the work ofthe pure inquirers – mathematicians, philosophers,computer programmers, physicists – to be insertedunproblematically into military strategy and othergovernance schemes that were decided withouttheir consent. That is, the Cold War social conditionsunderwriting the autonomy of scienceencouraged the scientist to function less as a freeagent who aims to transcend boundaries than acognitive module who operates within strictparameters. For those Central European émigréswho had experienced multiple regimes of sciencepolicy in their lifetime – Popper, Feyerabend andLakatos included – this perversion of the Platonicprogramme was epitomised in Kuhn’s valorisationof ‘normal science’, which locates the collectivegenius of science in its occasional ability to eke outinnovation from a very narrow set of epistemicconstraints. Today’s philosophical underlabourers87

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