Eugene Lashchyk, Contingent Scientific Realism and Instrumentalism, 1992

B. Two Interpretations of Kuhn's SSR

A plausible case can be made that there are at least two interpretations of Kuhn's SSR or two Kuhns. Kuhn l's SSR can be read as denying the possibility not only of an ahistorical, a priori, logical positivist theory of science and epistemology a la Carnap, but even of the relativized and historicized one as well. This reading puts absolute incommensurability and incompatibility center stage. If scientists are prisoners of their paradigms, that is, if they can see the world only through the lenses of their paradigm-theories, and if communication is only possible within the community formed by the commitments to a particular paradigm, and if the criteria of choice for a good paradigm-theory are paradigm relative then, ask these interpreters, how is rationality, objectivity or a theory of science possible?{26} There is no rational way of going from one paradigm to the next. There is no rationality or objectivity tout court in science. These concepts are always relative to the standards employed by a particular Paradigm.

Kuhn 2 is the man who intended incommensurability between paradigm-theories to be only partial. This Kuhn allowed for the possibility of overlapping not only between standards or values{27} but also for the partial overlapping of problems and solutions. The breakdown in communication that is caused by a shift in the meaning of scientific terms is temporary.

1. Some Brief Remarks on Kuhn 1 -- The View That Incommensurability Leads To Irrationalism and Scepticism

Some interpreters like Imre Lakatos read Kuhn to be employing purely psychological and sociological notions in explicating science. He says:

There are no rational standards for their (paradigm theory) comparison. Each paradigm contains its own standards. The crisis sweeps away not only the old theories and rules but also the standards which made us respect them. The new paradigm brings a totally new rationality. There are no super paradigmatic standards. The change is a bandwagon effect. Thus in Kuhn's view scientific revolution is irrational, a matter of mob psychology.{28}

Dudley Shapere{29}, Stephen Toulmin{30}, Kenneth F.Shaffner{31}, Carl Kordig{32}, and Wolfgang Stegmuller{33} follow a similar interpretation of Kuhn. Lakatos, Shapere, Kordig, and Newton-Smith, to name only a few of these philosophers, go on to give an alternative account of science on which science comes out to be rational and objective. It would take us too far afield to provide a critique of each of these readings or of alternative accounts of science that have been proposed. I will discuss some problems with such interpretations of SSR under Kuhn 2 as well as in the section on Fine.

2. Partial Incommensurability: or How to Reconcile Relativism, Rationality, and Realism.

I would like to turn, at this point, to another movement in contemporary philosophy one that also sees itself as responding to the historical and relativistic turn marked so significantly by Kuhn's SSR. Already in my 1969 Dissertation,{34} I provided a reading of Kuhn's SSR on which Kuhn is to be read as attempting to develop a new epistemology and a new theory of science rather than arguing that both are an impossibility and must be overcome or forgotten. Similar readings have subsequently been given by Gerald Doppelt{35}, Richard Bernstein{36} and Joseph Margolis{37} to name only a few of the philosophers in this group.

The center piece of this reading of Kuhn's SSR -- Kuhn 2 is to highlight those passages which suggest partial rather than total incommensurability. For example, Kuhn not only speaks of criteria or values that are paradigm-dependent but he also says that there are paradigm-independent criteria for paradigm-theory choice (as on "These five characteristics -- accuracy, consistency, scope, simplicity, fruitfulness -- are all standard criteria for the evaluating the adequacy of a theory."). Kuhn calls arguments based on these values "hard headed arguments."{38} And "Because scientists are reasonable men one or another argument will ultimately persuade them. But there is no single argument that can or should persuade them all."{39} Kuhn is explicit about there being an overlap of problems between the old paradigm and the new one. Meaning variance is another aspect of incommensurability that results in only temporary breakdown in communication, for somehow scientists do come to learn to communicate with the opposition using the new terminology.

The thesis that the history of science is a history of periods of normal science punctuated by periods of crisis and revolution, together with a kind of internal realism a la Putnam, provide an attempt at developing a theory of science and a framework for a new relativistic epistemology. Margolis, probably in part motivated by Kuhn's SSR, is one of very few thinkers who has tried to develop an epistemological position that is relativist, realist and which at the same time rejects skepticism and irrationalism in science. Take for example the following passage:

There is a perfectly eligible sense in which Kuhn, for instance does not intend the incommensurability of evolving scientific problems and standards to constitute a defense of skepticism in science even in the absence of a neutral language, a tertium quid, in terms of which to overcome such incommensurability without remainder. The overlapping of problems, standards, procedures, observations, practices, and the like insures, Kuhn believes, a basis for making the work of one group of incommensurabilists intelligible to the members of another, without the support (impossible anyway) of an omnicompetent third language. Furthermore, this thesis of incommensurability Kuhn takes to be compatible with progress in science -- which insures Kuhn's minimal realism; and it constitutes a form of relativism without skepticism -- which insures the nonequivalence of the incommensurability thesis and skepticism and the nonequivalence of relativism and skepticism.{40}

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{26} For a critique of such readings of Kuhn see Eugene Lashchyk, "Scientific Revolutions: A Philosophical Critique of the Theories of Science of Thomas Kuhn and Paul Feyerabend," Ph.D. Dissertation (University of Pennsylvania, 1969), Ch. II, particularly pp. 44-70. [Back]

{27} For a further development of this idea see particularly Thomas Kuhn's article "Objectivity, Value Judgment, and Theory Choice" in Kuhn, The Essential Tension: Selected Studies in the Scientific Tradition and Chanqe (Chicago: The University of Chlcago Press, 1974). [Back]

{28} Imre Lakatos "Falsification and the Methodology of Scientific Research Programs" in Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge, ed. Imre Lakatos and A. Musgrave (Cagmbridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970): p. 178. [Back]

{29} Dudley Shapere "Meaning and Scientific Ckanqe" in Mind and Cosmos: Essays in Contemporary Science and Philosophy, ed. R. G. Colodny (Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh University Press, 1966): pp. 31-85. [Back]

{30} Stephen Toulmin, Human Understanding (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972): p. 102. [Back]

{31} Kenneth Schaffner "A Logic of Comparative Theory Evaluation" in Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science, Vol.V, ed. Herbert Feigl and Grove Maxwell (University of Minnesota Press, 1970): pp. 311-354. [Back]

{32} Carl K. Kordig "Comparability of Scientific Theories," Philosophy of Science Vol. 38, 4, p. 479. [Back]

{33} Wolfgang Stegmuller The Structure and Dynamics of Theories (New York: Springer-Verlag, 1976): p. 215. Ibid., pp. 294-5. [Back]

{34} Lashchyk (1969), pp. 55-70; also Eugene Lashchyk "A Rational Reconstruction of Kuhn's Model of Rationality of Science." Presented and later published in the 16th World Congress of Philosophy 1978 Section Papers II (Frankfurt an Main: Verlag Peter Lang, 1983): pp. 533-537. [Back]

{35} Gerald Doppler, "Kuhn's Epistemologfcal Relativism: An Interpretation and Defense," Inquiry XXI (1978). Doppelt's account, without admission, is partly dependent on Lashchyk's 1969 Dissertation. [Back]

{36} Richard Bernstein, Beyond Objectivism and Relativism (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1983). [Back]

{37} Joseph Margolis, Praqmatism without Foundations: Reconciling Realism and Relativism (New York: Basil Blackwell, 1986). For a thorough discussion of Kuhn on relativism, realism and rationality see Ch. 5 "Realism and Relativism" particularly pp. 113-116. [Back]

{38} T. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions Chicago: 1962): p. 157 (From now on referred to as SSR) [Back]

{39} Ibid., p. 157 [Back]

{40} Margolis, Pragmatism Without Foundations, p. 114. In general, I agree with the spirit of the above characterization though I have argued in a series of articles that Kuhn's position on incommensurability (which in places he claims to be total) is inconsistent with claims of incompatibility and with claims of partial overlaping of problems, standards, etc. One could begin to restore consistency in SSR by claiming partial rather than total incommensurability. For the development of such a view see Lashchyk (1969) Dissertation Chapter II; also Lashchyk, "The Axiology of Scientific Change," Abstracts of the IVth International Congress for Logic, Methodology and Philosophy of Science (Bucharest, Romania, 1971): pp. 162-163. [Back]

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