Thursday, April 28, 2011

What is science?

Kuhn and Lakatos

    Kuhn’s account of paradigm shifts describes anomalies and inconsistencies as their root.  This argument suggests a single model for change.  Whether or not Kuhn believes this to truly be the only model would definitely color my ability to believe in his logic.  His definitions, I find also, are too restrictive. 
    He further explains that, as demonstrated by astronomy, the holes in a theory serve as a latching point for a new theory, without which it is unlikely for a new theory to hold.  Retooling is an expensive process (intellectually and otherwise).  Not just any theory would be considered for study.  Something must be the catalyst for change.
Another way to state this is that “crises are a necessary precondition for the emergence of novel theories” (pg. 77).    This is a very logical way to think about these changes.      However, when he writes “To reject one paradigm without simultaneously substituting another is to reject science itself” (pg. 79), I cannot agree with him and neither can Lakatos.  Suggesting that you work within one paradigm until you create a new one once again calls to the no-interregnum argument against Kuhn’s formation.  And while he does admit to a possible period of confusion, he does not call this science. 
    Lakatos, on the other hand, counters this by first introducing a concept from Popper that “all theories are not only equally unprovable but also equally improbable” (pg. 95).  Dogmatic falsificationism assumes a “psychological borderline” between theory and factual prepositions.  Once again, psychology comes into the realm of discourse because science can never be a “pure” exercise free from human foibles and intentions.   “There is no natural (i.e. psychological) demarcation between observational  and theoretical prepositions” (pg. 113).  He instead changes a paradigm from solid to “background knowledge.”  
    One interesting side note comes from a footnote which states that some might see “methodological falsificationism as an existentialist philosophy of science” (pg, 113, footnote 2).  Adding sophistication to methodological falsificationism involves distinguishing between interpretive theory and explanatory theory (pg. 129).  Lakatos then replaces the notion of a single theory as being scientific with the necessity for a succession of theories to be scientific.  I think that this is a better representation.  Taking Kuhn’s view of science-no science-science to explain periods of confusion does not account for the intricacies of science and for the entire process. 
    Lakatos uses the word “metaphysics” which represents an interesting focus for discussion, which in this case describes methodological rules as being “....motivated by the metaphysical principle that any explanation is only approximate because of the infinite complexity of the factors involved in determining any single event.”

So two questions we could ask are:  To what extent does seeing methodological falsificationism as an existentialist philosophy of science affect the researcher?  Does seeing science in a succession of theories make more sense than claiming individual theories as scientific?

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