Re: [asa] HPSS - Survey of Views - Thread Summary

From: Gregory Arago <>
Date: Mon Apr 21 2008 - 12:55:26 EDT

There were 17 responses to the thread “HPSS – Survey of Views” (excluding my own and also Don’s auto-response apology). Please see below my summary of these responses, with additional contextual commentary. The four figures cited were: Karl Popper, Thomas Kuhn, Imre Lakatos and Paul Feyerabend.
  Don Nield (Nz) read all four figures (some time back) in a PoS course, but stated “these are peripheral to my main interests.” Steve Matheson has read Kuhn, some Popper and “excerpts here and there” of Lakatos and Feyerabend. Ted Davis “took a grad course in POS from a Lakatos student who also knew Popper,” uses Kuhn’s work in his courses from time to time, and has not read Feyerabend. Dave Siemens has “not read much from the four.” James Mahaffy has read Kuhn, is “somewhat aware of Popper” and tried to read him once, but has not read Lakatos or Feyerabend. Dave Wallace has many Popper books, knows about Kuhn through summaries and other peoples’ views, and has not read Lakatos or Feyerabend. David Opderbeck has “read at least some of all four” and highlighted the name Roy Bhaskar, the British ‘critical realist.’ Randy Isaac has “read only Kuhn and read about Popper's views.” He is “interested in knowing what they have to say,” though at the same time “not inclined to
 spend the time reading them.” He prefers to ‘just do the science,’ which David O. claimed, ‘begs the [deeper] question.’ In response to David O., Randy said he “enjoy[s] it [PoS] and would like to learn more.” George Murphy made two comments, e.g. he doubted “the guidance of some philosopher of science about how to do science,” but he did not answer the survey question.
  Two off-list posts confirmed people reading Kuhn and ‘bits and pieces of others.’ One person stated (with permission to quote) that “the average scientist probably could use a better dose of philosophy...But the everyday process of doing science is about finding out how the physical world works, regardless of one's philosophy.” Natural scientists in America, it seems, are not overly concerned with philosophy, history or sociology.
  In summary, Feyerabend is the least read of the four, though it doesn’t seem that Lakatos is given much time either. This is surprising, first because the focus on ‘scientific research programs’ is Lakatos’ and when people use the notion of a ‘degenerating research program,’ like George Murphy did in the last three days, they are actually using the logic of Lakatos (without knowing it!). Thomas Kuhn is widely acknowledged in America (the lone American of the four) and we can probably infer that for many natural scientists, their limited views of HPSS are filtered through Kuhn, and that ideas such as ‘paradigm shift,’ ‘scientific revolution,’ ‘normal science’ and ‘community of scientists,’ as well as things such as ‘consensus’ are common fare. Many of these topics are regularly applied in peoples’ observations and discussions of the IDM and its proposal of ‘intelligent design theory,’ which is sometimes actually meant as Intelligent Design theory. That is to say, Kuhnian
 language has deeply penetrated American scientific discourse as well as popular discourse about science and the demarcation game (what is and isn’t ‘science’), though Popper’s falsification perspective is also referenced as well as Lakatos’ ‘hard core’ principles of a ‘research programme,’ for example in people claiming that ID has little or no practical research program.
  David O. mentioned the importance of “understand[ing] scientific practice in its social and cultural context.” James Mahaffy noted that Kuhn “was very important in helping me understand that science does not work just objectively.” David O. also raised the issue that “the extent to which practicing scientists don't realize or acknowledge the social context of their day to day work is itself an interesting question.” James verified this in stating that: “It is interesting how often on this [ASA] group science appears in many posts to be objective and not really influenced by paradigms.” Within social-humanitarian thought, a reflexive scientific method is applied that does not result in purely subjective, but rather in a more paradigm-sensitive view of the world. “By our theories you shall know us.” – David Harvey
  Randy Isaac confirmed that “scientists from all sorts of different sociological and philosophical perspectives weigh in on the matter,” that they corroborate and reproduce the “essence of scientific methodology.” Randy also wondered “if any of these 4 (or others) philosophers of science ever considered a paradigm shift that included abandoning the idea of a consistent order in the universe?” Two comments: First, there was an implication in the title of the thread that these four are not only/merely ‘philosophers’ of science, but also used history of science and sociology of science and were themselves participants in natural scientific dialogues. The transition of importance from HPS to sociology of science (SoS), as much work has been done already in HPS and much less in SoS, with Kuhn being a key transition and also R. Merton and J.D. Bernal, is crucial for understanding where we are today. Second, no, I don’t think any of the four abandon the idea of a “consistent
 order in the universe.” They should perhaps be read more carefully by scientists for their contributions to knowledge, especially for scientists’ knowledge of themselves and what they do. But this ‘reflexive’ knowledge is often condescended upon by (‘hard’) natural scientists as ‘not scientific’ and thus as less valid.
  As a response to this survey and ‘gap’ in knowledge that it exposed, I’ll start a thread with Feyerabend and see what happens. This is also a response to Randy, who said “I'd appreciate concise summary statements on this list of what these philosophers actually said and contributed.” Feyerabend’s “How to Defend Society against Science” is a short essay and was his way of addressing ‘science and religion,’ which ASA is fundamentally about. I don’t stand behind all of his statements, but accept the notion that science in ‘our’ current era is no longer the monolithic, Enlightenment-version of ‘Science’ (with a capital ‘S’) that it once pretended to be.
  One last point, in response to one of Randy’s questions to me that I did not respond to earlier (as some people have accused me lately of not directly answering people’s questions): “Are you indirectly confirming that all the paradigm changes they [the 4 figures] consider still retain the core of a belief that science is possible?” Yes, now I am directly confirming that they all believe that ‘science’ IS possible, with one crucial distinction: AFTER the contribution of the four figures highlighted in this thread, it is generally accepted that there is not a single ‘science’ but rather PLURAL ‘sciences.’ Science is not single but many, i.e. challenging the previous view of a ‘unity of scientific knowledge’. (And I imagine this probably gets under many peoples’ skin at ASA!!) The two questions: Which science? Whose science? are now fundamental in HPSS and these questions drive my continued challenge to the pretend hegemony over the scientific theory of ‘evolution’ by
 biological scientists.
  Greetings, 35 days between ‘Western’ and ‘Orthodox’ Easters, 2008,
  Gregory Arago

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Received on Mon Apr 21 12:56:51 2008

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