Further to the question raised by John Horgan at Scientific American, as to whether philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn was “evil,” a friend writes to say,
I haven’t read Errol Morris’s book about Kuhn, but I read Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions when it first came out, and I’ve read it several times since then. I also heard Kuhn speak to academic audiences years ago.
Whatever else one may say about Kuhn’s most famous book, I think one thing is clear: He described with amazing insight how the scientific establishment works to suppress a radically new idea. Viewed through the spectacles of someone involved in the controversy over intelligent design, Kuhn’s book was uncannily prophetic.
Kuhn was accused of relativism, and it’s true that he attributed the victories of new “paradigms” to non-empirical factors. Yet there was one paradigm that Kuhn assumed was not a paradigm, but a fact of nature: Darwinism. His whole approach to scientific revolutions was Darwinian. New paradigms emerge as accidental mutations, not because of new evidence. Old and new paradigms then compete for survival, with the winner coming out on top for reasons other than the evidence.
I’m reminded of a conversation I once had with a communist. We were talking about scientific revolutions, and I argued that all scientific theories have subjective elements. He begged to differ, and said he knew of one science that was totally objective. “What that?” I said, intrigued. “The Marxist view of history,” he answered. It took me a while to pick my chin up off the floor.
Wow. That’s bigger than an Ashtray.
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See also: Was philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn “evil” Postmodernism is to science what rabies is to dogs. That is, it will lead to post-science as surely as rabies leads to post-dogs. But by all means, let them fight in the meantime.