CRISIS, NARRATIVE AND SCIENCE
Natural Science can be a rational form of inquiry if, and only if, it is the writing of a true dramatic narrative, that is, of history understood in a particular way can be a rational activity. Scientific reason turns out to be subordinate to, and intelligible only in terms of historical reason. And if this is true of the natural sciences, a position it will be true also of the social sciences.
Kuhn is the most referenced work in the past 40 years. Criticism of Kuhn must entail at least three areas: (1) His first formulation is more flawed than he himself acknowledges; (2) His original failure is also entailed in the weakness of his later revision; (3) A. McIntyre’s criticism is perhaps a stronger position. Kuhn’s original presentation was an account of epistemological crisis in natural science which is essentially the same as the Cartesian account of epistemology and crisis in philosophy.
Transition between incommensurability, the transition cannot be made step by step (and incrementally), and he used the expression “gestalt switch” as well as conversion experience. The conflict has invaded every area of rationality with this disagreement. It is not that commensurability is present, but rationality apparently cannot be present in any other form. His critics accuse Kuhn with being “irrational” with “science” and the “life of the scientist.”
The following is a brief survey into the crisis in the received view and scientific positivism and some major epistemological gap results and some took the road to scepticism, and some to instrumentalism/functionalism; the two are forms of relativism.
There has been an almost ubiquitous debate precipitated by Kuhn’s “concept paradigm” thesis and the heirs of Karl Popper’s philosophy of science (conclusion about these controversies)/ Epistemological crisis and of the relationship of conflict to traditional positions of science of the most heated antagonists, e.g. Thomas Kuhn and Imre Lakatos, convergence through successive reformation of their positions.
(See my papers, “The Christian Faith and Scientific Revolutions” a comparison of Demarcation in Kant and Popper; and “The Heart of Postmodernism is “Rooted” in Kuhn, Popper, Goedel and Polanyi’s Debate Concerning Narrative Displacement”)
Kuhn’s thesis required a presidential addresses to the American Political Science Association to license the theoretical failures of Social Science. Left uncriticised, this thesis provides a threat to our understanding of the sciences.
Kuhn originally presented an account of epistemological crisis in natural science, which is essentially the same as the Cartesian account of epistemological crisis in philosophy. His indebtedness to Michael Polanyi acknowledged. Polanyi’s thesis affirms that all
justification takes place within a social tradition (paradigm) and that the pressures of such a tradition enforces often unrecognized rules by means of which discrepant pieces of evidence or difficult questions are often put on one side with a tacit assent of the scientific community. Often the protagonists move by successive reformations of their positions. Polanyi is the Burke of the philosophy of science and I mean this analogy with political and moral philosophy to be taken with great seriousness. Earlier criticism of Burke now become relevant to the criticism of Polanyi. Polanyi, like Burke, understands tradition as essentially conservative and essentially unitary. Paul Feyerabend agrees with Polanyi in his understanding of tradition. It is just because he so understands the scientific tradition that he rejects it and has turned himself into the Emerson of philosophy of science; not “every man his own Jesus,” but “every man is his own Galileo.” Since reason operates only within traditions and communities according to Polanyi, such a transition as a reconstruction could not be a work of reason. It would have to be a leap in the dark (conversion leap in the dark). The ultimate issue is -- does a paradigm bind reason to its interpretive paradigm or can reason transcend its own paradigm? Or--is reason necessarily context-bound rather than context specific? The history of science from Aristotle to Galileo, Newton, et.al., strongly suggests that “reason” has the capability of transcending its received paradigm of interpretation when new evidence requires it. The ultimate issue is--does new evidence “require” merely “revision” or rather necessitate a paradigm shift? One such classical example is the relationship of the work of John F.W. Herschel and William Whewell’s encounter with Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and the impact of Darwinianism on every parameter of social studies
See the following bibliography: Michael Ruse, “Darwin’s Debt to Philosophy” in Studies in The History and Philosophy of Science (1995, no. 2); also my articles, “Darwin’s Impact of Dewey’s Pragmatic and Sociology in Anthropology, Psychology, Chemistry, Geology, Botany, Psychoanalysis, Economics, Religion (history, comparative sociology of psychology of phenomenology) Social Darwinianism and The Origins of The Social Gospel; From Dilthey to Darwin and Dewey: Prophets of Cultural Relativism and Postmodern Multicultural Diversity and Tolerance Syndrome; Prolegomena to Theories of Scientific Revolution: Kant, Lakatos, Carnap, Popper and Kuhn; The Heart of Postmodernism; The Social Construction of Reality (e.g.. Is reality constructed on deconstructed, coded-decoded); Contextualization in Context and Hermeneutics and Structuralism; The 17th Century was preoccupied with Reason,” The 18th century with Nature; the 19th century with History, the 20th century was Language and the 21st century we dwell in The Temple of Tolerance where the gurus of Anti Science, Revisionist History and Social Construction of Reality are all but totally culturally dominated in Humanities and Education
Kuhn along with Feyerabend must receive credit for recognizing in an ordinary way the significance of character of “incommensurability” (see my paper, “Whatever Happened to True Truth:” and “The Christian Faith and Scientific Revolution: “Demarcation and Incommensurability Thesis”).
Feyerabend concluded that “proponents of competing paradigms must fail to make complete contact with each other’s viewpoints” and that the translations from one paradigm to another requires a “conversion experience” do not follow from the premises concerning “incommensurability.” These last threefold adherents of rival paradigms during a scientific revolution disagree about what set of problems provide the test for a successful paradigm in that particular scientific situation; their theories embody very different concepts, and they “see different things when they look from the same point in the same direction.” Kuhn concludes that-”just because it is a transition between incommensurability:”
It is not just that the adherents of rival paradigms disagree but that every relevant area of rationality is invaded by that disagreement. It is not just that threefold incommensurability is present, but rationality apparently cannot be present in any other form. Now this additional premise would indeed follow from Polanyi’s position and if Kuhn’s position is understood as presupposing something like Polanyi’s, then Kuhn’s earlier formulations of his positions becomes all too intelligible and so do the accusations of irrationalism by his critics, accusations which Kuhn professes not to understand. The Cartesian epistemological crisis is impossible! Everything cannot be put in question simultaneously. There is no rational certainty between the situation at the time immediately preceding. Are Kuhn’s critics correct--is his thesis of scientific revolutions irrational? His own position is “that, if history and other empirical disciplines lead us to believe that the development of science depends essentially on behaviors that have previously been thought to be irrational, then we should conclude not that science is irrational but that not one of rationality needs adjustment here and there.”
Feyerabend begins from the same premise as Kuhn but draws on his own behalf the very conclusion which Kuhn so abhors. And surely if scientific revolutions were as Kuhn describes them, if there were nothing more to them then such features as the threefold incommensurability, Feyerabend would be correct. Thus, if Kuhn is to “adjust” the notion of rationality, he will have to find the signs of rationality in a feature of scientific revolutions to which he has not yet attended. Are there such features? Certainly, but they belong precisely to the history of these episodes. It is more rational to accept one theory or paradigm and to reject its predecessor when the later theory or paradigm provides a stand point from which the acceptance, the life story and the rejection of this previous theory or paradigm can be recounted in more intelligible historical narrative than previously (contra postmodern Revisionist History and Anti Science). An understanding of the concept of “superiority” of one physical theory to another requires a prior understanding of the concept of the superiority of one historical narrative to another (i.e., issue rejected postmodern denial of one narrative as truer/superior to another (multicultural diversity, tolerance syndrome). Wittgenstein’s “Language Game”).
If each episode of scientific revolution has its own theory of rationality theory there can be no metanarrative story, for scientific critique and adjudging of one paradigm as superior to another (see my prolegomena, Eastern Antecedents to The Development of Western Science in my forthcoming Narrative Displacement in the History/Logic of Science. Even transcendence of the mind is regarded in Goedel’s Theorem: no completeness nor sufficiency proof in number theory.
An understanding of the concept of the superiority of one physical theory to another requires a prior understanding of the concept of superiority of one historical narrative to another. The theory of scientific rationality/revolution is inseparably embedded in a philosophy of history and this fact is inseparable from theories of logic and epistemology (see my “Theories of Logic and Epistemology in Light of Goedel’s Theorem concerning Mathematics”).
A correlative understanding of what constitutes the progress of a single intellectual life, i.e., from one paradigm to another are epistemological ideals. Just as Descartes’s account of his own epistemological crisis was only possible by reason of Descartes transcendentability to recount his own history, indeed to live his life as a narrative about to be cast into a history, an ability which Descartes himself could not recognize without falsifying his own account of epistemological crisis, so Kuhn and Feyerabend recount the history of epistemological crises as moments of almost total discontinuity without noticing the historical continuity which makes their own intelligible narrative possible. This is very similar to the intellectual journey involved in the critique of Kuhn by Lakatos in the final stages of the development away from Popper’s initial
If Polanyi is the Burke of the philosophy of science and Feyerabend the Emerson, then Popper himself or at least his disciples, inherent the roles of J.S. Mill as Feyerabend has already noted. The truth is to be approached through the free clash opinion. The logic of normal sciences is to be replaced by Logik der Forschung (Logic of Research). Where Burke sees reasoning only within the context of tradition (a’la’ Wittgenstein’s Language Game) and Feyerabend sees the tradition as merely the notion of rational tradition (e.g.. Worldviews and Legitimization Structures, Paradigm Narrative Story). What hindered this attempt was the Popperian insistence of replacing the false methodology of Induction by a new methodology. The history of Popper’s own thought and that of his most gifted follower was for quite a number of years the history of successive attempts to replace Popper’s original falsification by some more adequate version, each of which in turn fell prey to counter examples from the history of science (e.g.. Without a metanarrative of Rationality how could anyone recognize a counter example?) From one point of view the true heir of Popperian attempts is Feyerabend--who formulated the thesis that all such attempts were doomed to failure.
There is no set of rules as to how science must proceed and all attempts to discover such a set founders in their own encounter with the actual history of science (this assumes that there is an actual history of science and that it is available for rational critique).
As long ago as 1968, while he was still a conservative Popperian, Lakatos had written: “the appraisal is rather of a series of theories then of an isolated theory.” He went on to develop this notion into that of a research program. The notion of a research program is of a course oriented to the future and there was therefore a tension between Lakatos’s use of this notion and his recognition that it is only retrospectively that a series of theories can be appraised. In other words, what is appraised is always history; for it is not just a series of theories which is appraised, but a series which stand in various complex relationships to each other through time which is appraised. All scientific appraisal of the gene code, the periodic chart, DNA, all the Laws of Nature, etc., is static but their historical life has a history--only to the human mind who discoveries scientific data/facts. If we read scientific text books in historical perspective, we will learn that the Kinetic Theory of 1859 was not quite that of 1845 and that the kinetic theory of 1901 is neither that of 1857 nor that of 1965. Yet stages bear marks of the previous history of encounters with conflicting or lawless evidence, with other theories, with metaphysical points of view (see my essay on Changing Narratives in Greek Views of the Concept of the Atom). Lakatos’ thesis is precisely to write that history of “research” which entails defeats and victories (see his “History of Science and Its Rational Reconstruction” in Boston Studies in The Philosophy of Science, vol. viii, ed. R,.C. Buch and R.S. Cohen (Dordrecht, Holland: A. Reidel Pub. Co., 1974).
Methodologies are to be assessed by the extent to which they satisfy historiographical criteria, the best scientific methodology is that which can supply the best rational reconstruction of the history of science and for different episodes different methodologies may well be unsuccessful. But in talking not about history, but about rational reconstruction, Lakatos has still not exorcized the ghosts of the older Popperian belief in methodology; for he was quite prepared to envisage the rational reconstruction as a caricature of actual history. Yet it matters enormously that our histories should be true, just as it matters that our scientific theories make truth one of its goals.
Kuhn interestly insists against Lakatos on truth in history and accuses him of replacing genuine history by “philosophy fabricating examples,” but yet denies any notion of truth to natural science other than that truth which attaches to solutions, to puzzles, and to concrete predictions. He wants to deny that a scientific theory can embody a true ontology, that it can provide a true representative of what is “really there.” “There is, I think no theory-independent way to reconstruct phrases like “really there.” The notion of a match between ontology of a theory and its real counterpart in nature now seems to me illusive in principle.” (Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (2nd edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970, p. 206)
This thesis is very odd, because science has certainly shown us decisively that some existence claims are false just because the entities in question are not really there--whatever any theory may say. Epicurean atomism is not true, there are no humorous; nothing with negative weight exists, philogiston is one with the witches and the dragons. But other existence claims have survived exceptionally well through a succession of particular theoretical positions, eg. Molecules, cells, electrons. Of course, our beliefs about molecules, cells and electrons are by no means what they once were. But Kuhn would be put into a very curious position if he adduced this as a ground for denying that some existence claims still have excellent variant and others not.
Kuhn is worried about something else: “In some important respects, though by no means in all, Einstein’s general theory of relativity is closer to Aristotle’s mechanics than either of them is to Newton.” (Kuhn, op.cit., pp. 206,207). He concludes therefore, that the superiority of Einstein to Newton is puzzle solving and not in an approach to true ontology. But what in Einstein’s ontology enables us to understand is why from the standpoint of an approach to truth Newtonian mechanics is superior to Aristotelian For Aristotelian mechanics as it lapsed into incoherence could never have led us to the special theory; construe them how you will, the Aristotlean problems about time will not yield the question to which special relativity is the answer. A history which moved from Aristotelianism directly to relativistic physics is not an imaginable history.
What Kuhn’s disregard for ontological truth neglects is the way in which the progress toward truth in different sciences is such that they have to converge. The easy reductionism of some positivist programs for science was misleading here (see my essay, “Narrative Displacement in Reductionistic Posttivism”); but the rejection of such a reductionism must not blind us to the necessary convergence of physics, chemistry and biology (eg. See my “Neurobiology--The Brain, Mind, Computer Analogue Reductionism”). Were it not for a concern for ontological truth and nature of our demand for a coherence and convergent relationship between all the sciences would be irrational, and unintelligible!
Kuhn’s theory of paradigmatic revolution seems to fit well into the postmodern theory of fallibilism. This epistemological fallibilism is the postmodern received view of every category of study in almost the total academic world (eg. Multicultural Pluralism/Tolerance/Diversity, i.e., no interpretative narrative is truer than any other cultural and epistemological relativism is inevitable which is death to both Science and Christtianity).
Perhaps Einstein’s physics may one day be overthrown just as Newtonianism was perhaps as Lakatos used to suggest, all our scientific beliefs always have been and always will be false. But it seems to be a presupposition of the way in which we do natural science that fallibilism has to be made consistent with the regulative ideal of an approach to a true account of the fundamental order of things and not vice versa. If this is so, Kant is essentially right; the notion of an underlying order, the kind of order that we would expect if the ingenious, unmalicious god of Newton and Einstein had created the universe is the regulative ideal of physics (this is precisely the Judaeo/Christian concept of God, the creator of heaven and earth and not the process god of postmodern openness theology).
We do not need to understand this notion as Kant did and any form of antitheological belief may make us uncomfortable in adopting it. But surely discomfort is a sign of physical/scientific progress. Surely the best account that can be given of why some scientific theories are superior to others presupposes the possibility of constructing an intelligible metanarrative which can claim historical truth and in which such theories are the subject of successive episodes. It is because and only because we can construct better and worse histories which can be rationally compared with each other, that we can compare theories rationally too. Physics presuppose history and history of a kind that involve just those concepts of tradition intelligiblity and Epistemological crisis which our Western civilization experienced. It is here that we are enabled to understand why Kuhn’s account of scientific revolution can in fact be rescued from the change of irrationalism leveled by Lakatos (Jaki, et.al.) And why Lakatos’ final writings can be rescued from the charges of evading history leveled by Kuhn. Without this background of narrative displacement scientific revolutions become unintelligible episodes; indeed Kuhn becomes what in essence Lakatos accused him of being--the Kafka of the history of science. This leaves us little to wonder at--why Kuhn felt that Lakatos was not a historian, but a historical novelist.
Crucial in our brief excursion into the profundities of the history and logic of science is to NEVER FORGET the connection between narrative and tradition on the one hand, and theory and method on the other, in order to avoid losing sight of the philosophy of science in order to avoid insoluble problems. Any set of finite generalizations is compatible with any one out of an infinite set of generalizations. Any attempt to show the rationality of science, once and for all, by providing a rationally justifiable set of rules for linking observation and generalization breaks down. This conclusion is exposed in the history of the Popperian schools’ emphasis on falsification as much as for any version of positivism. It holds, as the history of Carnap’s work shows, no matter how much progress may be made on detailed, particular structures in scientific inference. It is only when theories are located in history, when we view the demands for justification in highly particular contexts of a historical kind that we are freed from the program which dominated the philosophy of science from the 18th century onwards, that of combining empiricism and natural science (rationalism, mathematics) was bound either at worst to break down in irrationalism or at best in a set of successively weakened empiricist programs whose driving force was a deep desire not to be forced into irrationalist conclusions. Hume’s disease is, however, incurable and ultimately fatal and even back gammon, or that type of analytical philosophy which is often the backgammon of the professional philosopher, cannot stave off its progress indefinitely. It is ultimately Vico’s Historical Relativism) and neither Descartes nor Hume, who has turned out to be in the right in approaching the relationship between history and physics. The history of science cannot be constructively examined independently of the historiographical revolution of the 19th and 20th centuries. (See my work, “Narrative Displacements in the Historiographical Revolution” and my “Narrative Displacement in Theories of Logic and Language in the 19th and 20th Centuries” and “Goedel’s Displacement of Autonomous Mathematics of Russell and Whitehead’s Principia”
Dr. James Strauss, Professor Emeritus
Lincoln Christian Seminary
Lincoln, IL 62656