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Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

Divine Providence in the

Divine Providence in the Christian salvation story,the philosophical histories of progress recounted inthe Enlightenment, the path of the world-historicspirit charted by Hegel, and the scientific theories ofdialectical materialism and evolutionary naturalisminspired by Marx and Darwin. The style inwhich these histories are typically written is oftencalled Whig history, named after the victors of the17th-century English Civil War, who wrote of theconflict as one they were bound to win as defendersof liberty.In the third quarter of the 19th century, oncethe modern natural sciences began to drive outnatural philosophy and, more importantly, naturaltheology from pride of place in the universities,popular histories of science started to be written inthe Whiggish mode. They are still largely writtenthis way today, as witnessed by the continuingtendency of popularisers to pit the scientific worldviewagainst some ‘force of darkness’ like religion,politics, literary criticism, or even common sense.Moreover, these Whig histories not only edify thegeneral reader; the scientific respectability of theirauthors also testifies to the role of these histories inedifying practising scientists whose spirits wouldflag if they realised just how prone the actualhistory of science has been to contingency andambivalence. Again we see Kuhn’s nod to Orwell:94

the rather technical and tedious work of normalscience requires that scientists be in full control oftheir own historiography, continually rewritingit to keep their comrades motivated that theyare indeed pushing back the frontiers of humanignorance.At the same time, however, Kuhn paved the wayfor the postmodern critique of Whig history bycalling for two ‘separate but equal’ historiographiesof science – an airbrushed, inspirational one forscientists (and the general public) and a confusingbut more accurate one for historians. Kuhnaccepted this version of the double-truth doctrineas a Faustian bargain: scientists live a noble lie inpublic view, while historians cultivate the truth inthe relative obscurity of their professional societies.We tend to fixate on the positive side of the bargain,namely, that Kuhn enabled history of science to bewritten by people with ‘proper’ historical trainingand not simply self-serving scientists who usehistory to influence contemporary debates. Unfortunatelyoverlooked is that Kuhn purchased theautonomy of history of science precisely bycondemning historians to irrelevance with respectto the contemporary scientific scene.Postmodernists have rarely adhered to Kuhn’shistoriographical segregationism. Thus, in theongoing Science Wars, cultural studies scholars95

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