Winch orm, winch orm, measuring the marigolds

Mon 12 Dec 2005 08:49 AM

Reading Peter Winch's The Idea of a Social Science (1958), I was surprised by the following passage:

The accepted view runs, I think, roughly as follows. Any intellectual discipline may, at one time or another, run into philosophical difficulties, which often herald a revolution in the fundamental theories ... Those difficulties [bear] many of the characteristics which one associates with philosophical puzzlement and they [are] notably different from the technical theoretical problems which are solved in the normal process of advancing scientific enquiry. [pp. 42-3]
Winch gives the example of Einstein's development of relativity.

Later in the book, he contrasts the discovery of a new germ ("a discovery within the existing framework of ideas") with the development of germ theory itself. The latter involves "not merely a new factual discovery within an existing way of looking at things, but a completely new way of looking at the whole problem of the causation of diseases, the adoption of new diagnostic techniques, the asking of new kinds of questions about illness, and so on" [pp. 122-3]. This is the Kuhnian contrast between normal science (in which work goes on inside a theoretical framework) and revolutionary science (in which a new framework is introduced.) The only thing Winch lacks is a nice term like paradigm with which to describe the whole matrix introduced by the germ theory.

It is typical for philosophers to treat Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions as a watershed, anticipated only in the work of N.R. Hanson. This was the way I was taught in science studies courses, without even the passing reference to Hanson. The Edinburgh School (for example) is treated as a post-Kuhnian development, a rivulet running from the Kuhnian watershed.

Not only does Winch have the distinction between normal and revolutionary science four years before Kuhn, but he considers that distinction not to be such a big deal. It is, he says, "the accepted view."

Barnes, Bloor, Shapin, and the rest of the Edinburgh crowd were post-Kuhnian in the sense of writing after Kuhn, of course, but their approach to science studies belongs to a tradition that predates Kuhn. Their use of Wittgenstein follows in the footsteps of Winch's, and is not merely a theoretical framework used to cash out Kuhnian insights.

This might be obvious to anyone who lived through more of the history than I have, but it is not something that I could glean from philosophy of science as it was taught to me. Just as science students are taught cleaned up, textbook science, I was taught cleaned up science studies in which Kuhn was the hero.


from: Matt Brown

Tue 13 Dec 2005 02:33 PM

I don't have specific things to point to that are as clear as this, but I remember coming to Kuhn after having read Poincare, Einstein, maybe Duhem or Polanyi and thinking "Gee, what's the big deal. This isn't so new." I think the warm reception Kuhn originally was supposed to have got from the positivists is another indication that Kuhn wasn't as revolutionary as he was later portrayed.

from: Greg Frost-Arnold

Fri 13 Jan 2006 06:57 PM

Hi P.D. --

Decades before Winch, there was a Pole Ludwik (or Ludwig) Fleck, who strongly anticipated Kuhn as well -- in his 1935 <i>The Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact</i>. Fleck's notion of a "thought-collective" [Denkkollectiv] is strikingly similar to Kuhnian paradigms in certain respects.

The Science Studies community has not entirely cleaned-up/ erased its history though: the 4S society awards the Ludwig Fleck Prize, which I think is the analogue of the Lakatos Prize for (us) philosophers of science.