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An afternoon with Kuhn

If you had happened to be one of my office-mates this afternoon, you might have been privy to a bit of profane muttering as a certain someone subjected himself to reading Thomas Kuhn's The Structures of Scientific Revolutions. Such blasphemes which might have struck your ears may have included...

  • "That makes no G&#-&$#@ed sense."

  • "What the bloody &*#@ are you talking about? That's obviously wrong."

  • "Are you out of your bloody mind?"

  • "Puzzle-solving my &*$."

... And so on. I'm particularly annoyed by Kuhn's insistence on employing the word "paradigms" when he should obviously deploy the word which he actually denotes what he means: "orthodoxies". As in, "Science consists in the advancement of the scope and precision of orthodoxa ("right, and in this case, established opinions"), rather than episteme". Thus far in the book, no case has been made for if or how scientists (or anyone else, for that matter), comes into contact with a reality which is hitherto describable only in terms of doxa. It's amazing to me that the man comes within an inch or two of declaring with Nietzsche that science is nothing more than a will-to-truth, with "great scientists" acting as mere stand-ins for the creative übermench. Not that I think that Kuhn read Nietzsche, of course; he's much too dull a read to have imbibed that one's skill in rhetoric.

That this man was within a hair's breadth of attaining a Ph.D. in physics when he jumped the shark simply boggles the mind. His account of how easily his fall into his own peculiar brand of relativism transpired is itself boggling. In summary, "I took a course by an historian of science, who described what scientists did in such and such a way, and I was converted."

Thus, Kuhn became a relativist, because he became converted by a non-scientist's historicist account of what Kuhn himself did for a living. And so, unable to account for how he himself did science, what knowing consisted in, or any other important epistemological points, the man simply accepted an historicist account, and made no attempt to defend the position that he, as a scientist, may actually know something about reality. The utter lack of self-reflection is... I don't know what. A head-scratcher, maybe.

Is this where modern thinking and education gets you? Scientists so unreflective and gormless that they can be so easily convinced that the truth that they're looking for doesn't actually exist? Né ton dia.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 29th, 2011 11:50 pm (UTC)
I'm sorry for your fury, but this post is hilarious. You've made him sound like Father Dougal having Catholicism explained to him by Father Ted. (Do they have Father Ted abroad? Ignore if not.)
Nov. 30th, 2011 12:01 am (UTC)
It's less fury than utter exasperation. Given how prevalent Kuhn's musings have become in the social sciences on this side of the Pond, you can imagine how one could be inspired to bang one's head against a desk. :-)

I think that we do have Father Ted over here; I've heard some friends talk about the show. Most likely it's showing through the American public network, the Public Broadcast System. They tend to air a lot of British comedies.
Nov. 30th, 2011 02:07 am (UTC)
Is this where modern thinking and education gets you?

I'm afraid so. Did you throw the book across the room? I did when I read it.
Nov. 30th, 2011 02:21 am (UTC)
I'm afraid so. Did you throw the book across the room? I did when I read it.

Tempting though it might have been to do so, I must report that I replaced it on the shelf in a cool-headed manner.
Nov. 30th, 2011 07:02 pm (UTC)
You really are a dinosaur! How delightful. Where does this current of Canadian Platonists come from? Dalhousie Classics?
Dec. 1st, 2011 01:26 am (UTC)
Mostly from Concordia University it seems.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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