Kuhn on progress
Tue 22 Oct 2013 09:42 PM
We've finished Structure in my Scientific Revolutions course, and today we're discussing Heather Douglas' forthcoming article "Pure science and the problem of progress". She argues that Kuhn is both committed to there being scientific progress and also forced to deny the possibility of progress. She maintains, furthermore, that this tension results from Kuhn considering science just as basic research. And she offers an alternative way of thinking about progress.
Kuhn even says that something counts as science only insofar as it is capable of progress. Douglas describes this point as "echoing historian George Sarton", which is an interesting connection. (We read Sarton earlier in the semester, too.)
For Kuhn, scientific change occurs at two time scales. Over the short term, normal science exhibits progress by posing and solving puzzles. Yet normal science only occurs within a paradigm. Over the long term, paradigms fall into crisis and are replaced by others. Douglas writes, "Precisely because of the radical nature of change across paradigms, because scientists have to give up on some aspects of the old paradigm in order to embrace the new, any clear rubric for measuring change across paradigms is elusive for Kuhn."
Sarton also views scientific change at two time scales, but his are the reverse of Kuhn's: Over the short term, the development of science is subject to the historical vagaries of particular scientists. They might fail to make progress and might even, for a while, write falsehoods into the annals of science. Over the long term, science is the accumulation of truth. Any once-held falsehoods are ultimately rectified.
So the Kuhn is a like a mirror-universe Sarton.
(More about Douglas' positive account tomorrow.)