Comparison Between Popper’s And Kuhn’s Philosophy Of Science
Popper and Kuhn portray themselves as critical of each other and contradict each other greatly in their epistemological premises as well as the practical implications. However, one can still note some similarities in their views of science that demonstrate how they complement each other. In fact, Hutcheon (1995) views them as complementing rather than contradicting each other. Both have contributed greatly to the field of science and have answered questions on the evolution of science, albeit using different approaches.
They also seem to share certain views such as when Popper concurs with Kuhn’s view of normal science and terms it as valuable though he maintains that it is not a norm and not a science. They both agree on what science is, but approach it differently. By Kuhn’s own admittance, he shares certain similarities with Popper (Marcum 2005: 84). However, he tries to make Popper share his historicist school of thought. For instance, he asserts that they both agree on critical testing of a theory.
However, while Popper talks of testing to either prove or disprove a theory, Kuhn asserts that theory testing in normal science is done to determine the ‘normal scientist’s ingenuity as a problem solver’ (2005: 84). A second similarity lies in the Popperian view that through conjecture and refutation (trial and error) scientists learn through mistakes. Kuhn agrees that scientists learn through mistakes but points out those mistakes are made not during conjecture and refutation but during normal science and that it is these mistakes that lead to a paradigm shift.
Kuhn also somewhat agrees with Popper on the issue of falsification by acknowledging that theories cannot be disproved by a single observation but by a series of them (Marcum 2005: 85). Packman and Attanasio (2004) also acknowledge the existence of similarities between Kuhn and Popper such as in the fact that they both hold that a theory choice cannot be premised on the type of proof employed in mathematics and logic. Popper views conjecture, testing and refutation as the key elements in the functioning of a theory; a principle shared by Kuhn as well though he asserts that these elements take place during normal science.
Popper emphasizes on conjecture though he maintains that a new conjecture cannot be based on a rationale that is given. Falsification of the conjecture is the only time it is based on an existing rationale. Kuhn uses the same line of thinking when he says that a new paradigm is not introduced on the premise of an existing rationale but that these rationales exist for scientists when working within the paradigm (Marcum 2005: 22). Differences As Fuller asserts, Kuhn and Popper have very radically different views. He views both philosophers’ works as being ambiguous, but is more inclined to the views of Popper.
Fuller feels that Popper’s views are more applicable and sees Kuhn as quite conservative in his views (2003). From an analysis of both philosophical views, one of the most evident differences lies in how the two philosophers demarcate what is scientific from that which is not scientific. Popper uses the falsifiability criterion for this demarcation which essentially implies that if a theory is not compatible with all possible empirical observations, it is considered to be scientific and where it is compatible with all such observations, it is not scientific (Popper, 1972:12).
This view is further reiterated in his article, “Science: Conjecture and Refutations. ” In this article, he grapples with the problem of demarcation and argues that a theory is scientific only if it is testable, refutable or falsifiable (Popper, 2002). On the other hand, Kuhn believes that a research is scientific only if it uses paradigms to guide its research and contribution to scientific knowledge since such guidelines are important in the proper interpretation of history.
In fact, Kuhn faults Popper’s falsification criterion by stating that rejecting theories on grounds of failure to be falsified would mean that all theories would be subject to rejection (“Thomas Kuhn”). In Kuhn’s view, accepting that all statements are laden with theory and consist of metaphysical elements will make it impossible to justify objectivity as the theories are being tested according to theories, not facts. If the theories are radically different in their metaphysical assumptions, it will not be possible to compare them using the warranted standards (Couvalis 1997: 6).
Another difference can be seen in the emphasis on the history of science. Karl Popper rejects historicism in all its forms. He feels that a belief in historical destiny is superstitious and asserts that human destiny cannot be predicted scientifically or otherwise (Popper 1974: iv). Popper views the historicist position as showing that attempts to change life are futile since society will follow some predetermined path of development (1974: 50). He faults historicism in many ways, such as in its failure to differentiate between scientific laws and scientific trends.
In thinking that conditions that made a historical event possible can also make a similar future event possible, Popper finds the historicist position guilty of logical fallacy (1974:50, see also, Catton & MacDonald 2004: 87-89). On the other hand, Kuhn is an advocate of historicism and is actually referred to as a historian of science. Through major writings on a variety of topics in the history of science such as the Copernicus revolution, Robert Boyle and structural chemistry and the historiography of science, he contributes greatly to the field of historicism.
He is also able to show that the scientific theory evolves, not simply from the accumulation of knowledge through empirical evidence as Popper would suggest, but from a series of intellectual revolutions that occasionally interrupt the stable growth of science; a process that is more inclined to history (Brush, 2000). Interestingly, Matheson (1996) states that Karl Popper, like any other philosopher dealing with scientific rationality, actually uses the history of science ‘as an illustrative and polemical device’. Popper and Kuhn thus differ in their view on how science develops.
Popper holds that through continuous research, the body of knowledge continues to expand through the accumulation of facts that are based on empirical evidence. Thus for instance, he views Einstein’s theory of relativity as an improvement on the classical Newtonian physics. On the other hand, Kuhn considers such an improvement in the body of knowledge to be a paradigm shift and asserts that an old theory cannot be built upon by a new one but that rather, the new theory will replace the old either in part or in whole.
Thus in this case, Newton’s physics is just an approximation of Einstein’s theory which brings it nearer to the truth than the previous theory, but it is not an improvement in the body of knowledge. Popper’s view of science is that it is an objective process since theories are either proved or disproved using empirical evidence. Popper rejects inductive reasoning and instead, advocates for the modus ponens, or deductive reasoning to arrive at particular conclusions, some of which are predictions (Popper, 2002). On the other hand, Kuhn asserts that scientific inquiry is subjective due to the fact that it is based on some existing paradigm.
He finds scientists not to be objective thinkers since they apply only that which they have learnt to scientific knowledge without question. He claims that their research is usually aimed at discovering that which is already known and they therefore do not discover anything new as their instruments are skewed towards achieving that which they already know in advance. Thus they will often ignore findings that may contradict their existing paradigm and cause the development of another. While the similarities and differences between the two theories can be clearly seen, there are instances when it is difficult to compare the two philosophers.
This is especially due to the fact that the vocabularies employed by the two are at times similar which implies that they attach some of those meanings differently and as such, their communication is only partial. Thus it is not easy for one to decide which theory is more superior to the other (qtd in Strauss, n. d) Reconciling the two theories: A Lakatosian approach Imre Lakatos has attempted to reconcile the contradictory views of Thomas Kuhn with those of Karl Popper by supporting some sections of each school of thought.
His development of the Methodology of Scientific Research Program is seen as an attempt to a stop to the contradictions between the two philosophers (Psillos, 1995). One of the reconciled views is in the problem of demarcation between scientific and non scientific theory. Popper supports the falsification criterion while Kuhn uses the paradigm criterion. Lakatos supports the view that progress will be made through falsification (Lakatos 1977) but also adopts the concept of a research program which is similar to Kuhn’s paradigm.
In Lakatos’ view, the research programs (like Kuhn’s paradigm) are indicative of science and that some of them are progressive (through empirical testing, they contribute to the growth of knowledge) and others are degenerative (through failure of empirical testing to contribute to growth). The research program is a set of assumptions that cannot be questioned and this is similar to Kuhn’s idea of a paradigm which he states that scientists accept without question (Paterson, 1998).
In Kuhn’s point of view, scientists are not interested in discovering knowledge that will contradict the existing paradigm and therefore try to adjust their instruments accordingly to suit their expectations of outcome. Crisis begins only when refutations are too persistent, eventually leading to a paradigm shift whereby a theory is replaced in part or in whole by another (“Observation”). Thus Lakatos attempts to reconcile the two views by arguing that science has bits of Kuhnian normal science which are packaged as research programs and after being empirically tested, they are either considered a success or a failure.
Thus, contrary to Kuhn’s belief, normal science does not work in series but consists of many programs running parallel and competing with each other, thereby acknowledging Popper’s view that theories have to be in competition with each other and have to be empirically tested. However, Lakatos is quite taken with Kuhnian’s assertion that theories are routinely faced with refutation that he find’s Popper’s view untenable (“0bservation”). Thus Lakatos seems to formulate a third scientific rationality which contains bits and pieces of Kuhnian and Popperian views.
For instance, he agrees with Kuhn’s historicist view of science but at the same time, disagrees with his idea that paradigm shifts cannot be described rationally. They are indeed described rationally through an empirical process as asserted by Popper (Paterson, 1998). Lakatos thus manages to overcome the difficulties encountered by these two philosophers. He protects scientific progress while avoiding the issue of incommensurability. He also manages to avoid dogmatic thinking evident in normal science yet accepts that research is guided by the ‘hardcore’ until it is done away with (Psillos, 1995)
All in all, Popper and Kuhn have greatly contributed to the field of scientific knowledge and even though they present themselves as contradicting each other, one is more likely to benefit from their works if they are read with an objective rather than subjective mind. REFERENCES Bird, A, “Thomas Kuhn”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed. ), URL = <http://plato. stanford. edu/archives/fall2008/entries/thomas kuhn/>. Brush S. G 2000, “Thomas Kuhn as a Historian of Science”, Science and Education vol. 9 no. 1-2 p. 39-50(20)
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