Can a paradigm in science be true?
|April 26, 2012||Posted by News under Philosophy, Science, News|
Assessing the legacy of philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn in “Shift Happens” (Chronicle of Higher Education Review, April 26, 2012), David Weinberger offers,
In 1950 he met Sir Karl Popper, the pre-eminent philosopher of science, who steered him toward others who were challenging logical positivism, the dominant philosophy of science of the time. The positivists were strict parents. If a proposition could not be verified, it not only wasn’t science, it was devoid of meaning. Popper had pulled much of the ground out from under the positivists by arguing that falsifiability was the real test: If a hypothesis doesn’t come with ways to show it could be false, then it isn’t a scientific hypothesis. Thus our best knowledge of the world isn’t that which has been verified, but instead is characterized precisely by the fact that it can be decisively cast aside.
Kuhn undid Popper even more fundamentally than Popper had undone the positivists. The individual propositions within a science might be characterized by falsifiability, but how about the sort of gestalt that crystallized for Kuhn when at last and in an instant he understood Aristotle’s idea of motion? That gestalt—which Kuhn of course called a paradigm—was of a different category than the propositions it enabled. Its acceptance may be rational in important ways, but Kuhn throughout his career could not bring himself to call paradigms “true.”
The question might be easier to examine if we turn it around and ask, can a paradigm be false? People usually know what they mean by “false,” even if they quibble about what they mean by “true.” Thoughts?