An overview of the debate between the two most influential modern philosophies of science.
Fuller (Sociology/Univ. of Warwick) places Thomas Kuhn (1922–96) and Karl Popper (1902–94) at the heads of two divergent schools of thought about the roles of science and the scientist. Kuhn’s 1960 book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, postulated that scientists normally work within a paradigm, a framework of ideas that controls what questions they ask and what data they examine. At intervals, a new paradigm—for example, the Copernican solar system—captures the imagination of a new generation of scientists and replaces the old one, without necessarily being a more accurate depiction of reality. Popper, an intellectual descendent of the logical positivist school, argued that the essence of science is the search for ways to falsify accepted viewpoints, and that only those propositions that can be disproved are genuinely scientific. Fuller states the two men’s basic positions and examines their underlying scientific, historical, and political premises. Openly acknowledging that he finds Kuhn’s theory detrimental to the independence of science, the author suggests that because Kuhn came to intellectual maturity in an era when American society needed to subsume scientific research into the Cold War effort, he favored a view in which most scientists do not ordinarily question basic principles. Popper’s view, that science is a model of an open society in which free inquiry is the norm, offers at the same time more personal freedom and more personal responsibility to the individual scientist. While the general verdict is that Kuhn won the debate during the two men’s lifetimes, Fuller argues that Popper’s view retains the potential to liberate science from its current role as the handmaiden of government and business.
A succinct yet in-depth inquiry into a significant philosophical issue.