Douglas on progress 
A follow-up to yesterdays' post about Heather Douglas' discussion of Kuhn's inability to make sense of progress:

Her central claim is that Kuhn's trouble with progress results from a commitment to the distinction between pure and applied science. She traces the history of the distinction and shows that it was an unquestioned, implicit part of Kuhn's milieu.

She writes:
I think that this problem of characterizing the progress of science arises for Kuhn, and indeed for philosophers of science generally, primarily because Kuhn (and the current philosophical community) is focused on pure science, quite divorced from applied science. It is an interest in theory, in the theoretical development of science, and theory alone, that generates the puzzle of progress. As such, it is somewhat an artificial problem. If we relinquish the idea that science is only or primarily about theory, the problem of progress disappears.

If we include applications, then there is an obvious sense in which science progresses. Its instrumental power increases over time, as it allows for greater prediction and control. She writes, "With the pure vs. applied distinction removed, scientific progress can be defined in terms of the increased capacity to predict, manipulate, and intervene in various contexts."

Yet she recognizes a dilemma for this account of progress. Either (a) any gain in instrumental power counts as progress or (b) only increase in valuable and important power matters.

(a) The first horn of the dilemma means that even monstrous and terrible power (e.g., efficient methods for genocide) would count as progress. This would not be a "sense of scientific progress that sounds genuinely like progress, with all its positive connotations."

(b) The second horn of the dilemma, Douglas' preferred option, requires (to put it crudely) that real progress is power to predict things that matter and to do good in the world. This aligns scientific progress closely to social progress.

Given my pragmatist sympathies, I am happy to accept that prediction and control are the bounty of science. Yet I don't see how this overcomes Kuhn's problem with progress. A Kuhnian paradigm change can disrupt theoretical progress because standards and meanings change, making some old puzzles either irrelevant or incoherent. In a similar way, social change can disrupt instrumental progress because values change, making old accomplishments irrelevant or worthless.

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