Tag Archive: Kuhn

The real Popper

It is worth noting that even in Lakatos’s own “methodology of scientific research programmes” (“MSRP”)—a type of sophisticated methodological falsificationism that Lakatos presents as the crowning synthesis of the “thesis” dogmatic falsificationism and the “antithesis” naive methodological falsificationism—the test statements and interpretative theo­ries still are accepted on the basis of a research program. So Lakatos gives a conventionalist solution to the problem of how basic statements are selected, in his interpretation of Popper’s methodology and in his own methodology as well.

This interpretation of Popper is not correct, and the suggested conventionalist solution to the problem of how test state­ments are accepted is not satisfying. Popper’s criticist solution, which Lakatos has not correctly understood, is much better and is also a solution that allows us to understand the history of science better than Lakatos’s oversophisticated combination of conventionalism and falsificationism. Lakatos maintains that sophisticated methodological falsifica­tionism combines the best elements of voluntarism, pragmatism, and the realist theories of empirical growth. Critical falsificationism is better still, among other reasons because it avoids that kind of eclecticism. And for those interested in the history of ideas, it might be worthwhile to know that the real Popper is neither a dogmatic falsificationist nor a naive or sophisticated methodological falsificationist. Not only Popper0 but also Popper1 and Popper2 are myths created by a misunderstanding of Popper’s critical falsificationism.[53]

Falsification as conditional disproof

Kuhn asked what falsification is, if not conclusive disproof. The answer is that falsification is a conditional disproof, conditional on the truth of the used test statements (and in some cases also on the truth of some used auxiliary hypotheses). Feyerabend’s example of the alleged falsification of the Copernican system with naked-eye observations shows this conditional character of falsifications quite well.

Does this cause any logical or methodological problems? The logical situation is quite clear and unproblematic. The methodological situation is only problematic for those who assume that there are infallible test statements. But as Kuhn said, Popper stresses that test statements are fallible. [56]

The myth of naive falsificationism

Naive falsificationism is a myth created by positivist and conventionalist misunderstandings of Popper’s methodology. In the contemporary methodological discussion it is time to end the discussion of the straw man of naive falsificationism in its different positivist and conventionalist variants. It is time to come back to reality and to begin a discussion of real and critical falsificationism. [62]

The plumber as scientist

As I have said before, I see in science (whenever I look at it in an evolutionary context) the conscious and critical form of an adaptive method of trial and error.

This is why I say that we (from the amoeba to Einstein) learn from our mistakes. This is also why I say that science–that is, scientific discovery—is “revolution in permanence”.

I do not mean by this that we cannot distinguish in science between ls of stagnation (as Watkins calls them) and more revolutionary and progressive periods; or that all periods are permanently “revolutionary” in that sense in which we speak of a Copernican, a Galilean, a Newtonian, and Ensteinian “revolution”.

I mean something very different. I mean that even a minor discovery (it he made by an animal) is revolutionary. I mean that many engineers and blogists are minor or major revolutionaries. I mean, more precisely, established beliefs (or routines) are overthrown every day. Sometimes are major discoveries: more often they are very minor discoveries. The heating engineer who faces the problem of how to install a central heating system required to work under unusual conditions may just apply his established rules of thumb, and thus fail to solve the problem: in the face of failure he may depart from his routine and (after eliminating several possible solutions) arrive at a critical solution of his problem. He will have as an applied scientist in my sense of the word, and he will have made a discovery by critical thinking, by the critical rejection of erroneous solutions. [1147]

Kuhn’s progeny

Unlike the positivists and the Popperians, Kuhn did not postulate an end to science other than what satisfied the con­straints laid down by the dominant paradigms. Thus, post-Kuhnians have come to accept scientists’ working assump­tions at face value, including the counter-intuitive implication that reality consists of many distinct worlds, each roughly corresponding to a scientific discipline. For example, whereas Lakatos had called on historians, philosophers and soci­ologists to master the technical details of contemporary science so as not to depend on scientists’ own ex cathedra pro­nouncements about the merits of their research programmes, Kuhn’s progeny master such details in order to impress scientists that they are sufficiently competent to be taken seriously at all. Kuhn’s reduction of the ends of science to the trajectories already being pursued by particular sciences has now inspired two generations of philosophers to believe that they should be taking their normative marching orders from the sciences they philosophise about, and hence do not question them unless the scientists themselves have done so first. [86]

A Kuhnian invasion of creeps and incompetents

Kuhn’s ideas are interesting but, alas, they are much too vague to give rise to anything but lots of hot air. If you don’t believe me, look at the literature. Never before has the literature on the philosophy of science been invaded by so many creeps and incompetents. Kuhn encourages people who have no idea why a stone falls to the ground to talk with assurance about scientific method. Now I have no objection to incompetence but I do object when incompetence is accompanied by boredom and self-righteousness. [68]

[Paul Feyerabend: ‘How to Defend Society against Science’]

Never put to a fair test

Of course, like the most enduring monarchies, the scientific establishment continues to enjoy widespread public sup­port on most matters, including the tinge of divine inspiration that has traditionally legitimated royalty. It might therefore be claimed that science already represents ‘the will of the people’, and hence requires no further philosophical schemes for democratisation. Here Popper’s anti-majoritarian approach to democracy – what I would call his ‘civic republican’ sensibility – comes to the fore. Many authoritarian regimes, especially the 20th-century fascist and com­munist ones, could also persuasively claim widespread popular support, at least at the outset and in relation to the available alternatives. For Popper, however, the normative problem posed by these regimes is that their performance is never put to a fair test. Kuhn suffers from the same defect: a paradigm is simply an irrefutable theory that becomes the basis for an irreversible policy. [47−8]

Accountable to more than just themselves

Popper and his followers were unique in seizing a glaring weakness in Kuhn’s theory: Kuhnian normal science was a politically primitive social formation that combined qualities of the Mafia, a royal dynasty and a religious order. It lacked the sort of constitutional safeguards that we take for granted in modern democracies that regularly force politicians to be accountable to more people than just themselves. Scientists should be always trying to falsify their theories, just as people should be always invited to find fault in their governments and consider alternatives – and not simply wait until the government can no longer hide its mistakes. This notoriously led Popper and his students to be equal opportunity fault-finders across the natural and social sciences. [46]

More or less corrupt versions of the scientific ideal

Whereas actual scientific communities existed for Popper only as more or less corrupt versions of the scientific ideal, for Kuhn the scientific ideal is whatever has historically emerged as the dominant scientific communities. [6]

Kuhnian success

In the last twenty years, however, a new generation has come to dominate the history, philosohpy and sociology of science. They take Structure as the unproblematic foundation for its inquiries – as if the original criticisms had never been made. Certainly Kuhn never answered the criticisms, and the current generation of science studies practitioners is sufficiently beholden to Structure not to want to answer them. One thing must be said in Kuhn’s behalf: he succeeded according to the terms set out by his own theory. [40−1]

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