Sunday, February 5, 2012

Thomas Kuhn blogging

Ryan Murphy is rightfully impressed by a passage from Kuhn that I actually had in mind this morning when writing this comment about Newton on a Jonathan Catalan post.

Murphy writes: "Kuhn says a bunch of novel things in the book. Like so many others, there are many subtleties in the book that you don’t get by reading the “Whig” summary of Kuhn’s ideas."

I think that's exactly right, and I think the degree of this in Structure of Scientific Revolutions is much higher than in your average book. On my less charitable days, I say that those who consider Kuhn a relativist have clearly never actually read him. But that's probably unfair, because as Ryan points out there is a lot of subtlety to the argument. It's probably better to say "those who consider Kuhn a relativist have clearly never read Kuhn carefully".

I still feel lost in Ryan's discussions of essentialism (although I think I agree with him). That's his interest in this passage. It's just like Gene Callahan's discussions of idealism, although in those I feel lost and I don't know where I fall. I probably should have taken a philosophy class or two at some point. The nice thing about getting attached to the American Pragmatists is I can convince myself it's OK that I never did.


  1. Out of curiosity Daniel, what kind of philosophy do you consider Keynes to have subscribed to? The following paper makes a good argument that Keynes was an early "Logical Empiricist" that Rudolf Carnap would draw inspiration from...

  2. Kuhn in later papers worked hard to debunk the relativist interpretation, but once it was out there...

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. I think I've mentioned it before, bu Kuhn was in the middle of a correspondence trying to defend against charges he had reduced the practice of science to an irrational enterprise when he died.

    Here's a paper my current History of Phil & Science professor wrote on the subject of Kuhn and relativism: Scientific Progress, Relativism, and Self-Refutation (I mysteriously botched the link when I first posted.)

    A passage from Kuhn is one of the sections in our course material, as well.

    Personally, I'm pretty sympathetic even to the view that science is in some measure irrational, but it's hard then to reconcile (as I see it) the appearance of the theoretical virtues as a guiding influence in science. Is it merely coincidental that these appear with seeming predictability, or is there some bedrock upon which they must rest?

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. I'm still having trouble remembering how to properly format links and preview posts - sorry.

    Is Kuhn still timely? I did find a few points to quibble with Kuhn about, and I wonder if his insistence in seeing the structure of scientific revolutions as responses to new evidence or failures of old paradigms to respond to the evidence is limiting, especially with the plausibility of cases where there may be nothing to "revolve" to ! I think it may be a good starting point, though.


All anonymous comments will be deleted. Consistent pseudonyms are fine.