Re: Kuhn, was Re: new to list

From: Mark Walker (
Date: Wed Aug 29 2001 - 11:14:55 MDT

----- Original Message -----
From: "Russell Blackford" <>

> > said:
> >> Kuhn's theory was that all scientific theories are equally and
> >> subjectively valid, and one only gains credence over another due to
> >> class conflict between established scientists and the younger
> >> generations of scientists.
> >
> >Is that in "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions"? That's sure not
> >I learned from that book! Where is this part of his mindset exposed?
> Actually, I think Mike is more or less right on this occasion (I mean
> "correct"; he's always
> (somewhere to the) right <g>). Kuhn does talk somewhere about old
> having to die off (though not by violence) as part of the way new
> achieve acceptance.
> Russell who most definitely has read Kuhn
The Reader's Digest version of Kuhn:
On the negative side he criticized the two main views of scientific
objectivity prevalent at the time:
Inductivism: Kuhn said that this view presupposes a theory or paradigm level
of observation and meaning, but there is no such theory neutral level of
observation. Scientists working in different paradigm see the world
differently, much like Gestalt switches.
Deductivism: against Popper and the poppets Kuhn claimed that scientific
paradigms always work with "anomalies", observations which do not fit with
existing theory. Deductivism tells us to renounce theories or paradigms in
this case. But according to Kuhn no paradigm has passed this test.
On the positive side Kuhn flirted with several views of scientific
objectivity most notably:
1. An idealistic or what some today might call a 'social constructivist'
account of objectivity where reality is constituted or made (at least in
part) by scientists themselves. This reading is supported by such remarks
that scientists working in different paradigms live in "different worlds".
2. A model of science inspired by Darwinian evolution, viz., that science
should not be seen as evolving towards some final goal like "the true theory
of everything" but merely as evolving in response to difficulties that
paradigms all seem to eventually face. The idea, in other words, is to give
up some overarching teleology for science in the same way that biologists
have abandoned this idea for species evolution.

Kuhn backed away from 1 almost immediately, including the postscript to the
second edition and in his later writings. Kuhn never developed 2 although
others have tried. Kuhn's lasting legacy may be that he raised to prominence
the question of the relation between scientific practice and the philosophy
of science. If Kuhn is right, inductivism and deductivism are hopeless as
accounts of actual scientific practice. Most philosophers of science today
think that an adequate philosophy of science has to somehow account or model
actual scientific practice, so in a sense, Kuhn won the day. (Critics, from
the safety of their armchairs, complain that this confuses the context of
discovery with the context of justification). Mark

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Fri Oct 12 2001 - 14:40:21 MDT