With the help of a smartphone, we can access worldwide news
within seconds, we know what time it is on the other side of the world and we
can even find out which event is going to take place where and when. This has
not been possible for a long time, but thanks to science, it is possible now.
Talking about science is an interesting and sometimes even controversial issue.
Thus, it is necessary to have a clear definition of science.
defines science as “a search for true description of the world” (Godfrey-Smith,
2003, p. 58). This definition seems to be broad but this paper presents the
different theories of Popper and Kuhn to accumulate a better understanding of
what science actually is. Furthermore, it explains these theories resulting in
my personal opinion on which I consider to be more accurate.
Popper identifies two different kind of sciences. On the one
hand, he identified science and on the other hand, he recognized
pseudo-science. Pseudo-science beliefs by Freud or Marx do not automatically
futile but they remain “non-scientific”. But the actual problem concerning the
distinction of the two sciences is what he dubs the “problem of demarcation”
(Godfrey-Smith, 2003, p.58). Such demarcation entails the concept of “falsification”,
which implicates that the refusal of claims is decisive for science.
reason, Popper introduced a normative scheme which delineates how scientists
ought to work. This scheme includes the establishment of a hypothesis by a
scientist which is followed by an examination of this thesis. Usually the
thesis is denied and hence “falsified”. Concerning this, he argues that a
denied thesis cannot be accepted anew just by aligning it to the criticism. Moreover,
he adds that merely a risky and therefore rebuttable theory is a scientific one.
one acknowledges a theory by agreeing on the made observation, it does not
necessarily mean that it is true and hence, Popper argues that “confirmation is
a myth” (Godfrey-Smith, 2003, p. 58). He even goes further and claims that “we
can never be completely certain about factual issues” (p. 59), which idea is
known as fallibilism. What is more, he adds his disapproval with the idea of
observational experiences being the provenance of theories and consequently animadverts
the inductive technique of research. Popper strengthens his allegation by giving an
example of swans: “No matter how many instances of white swans we may have observed,
this does not justify the conclusion that all swans are white.” (Popper, 2002,
p. 4). Accordingly, Popper backs
the deductive method because he explains that the only way to engender
scientific expertise is by disproving the existing laws.
Kuhn, as a relativist
(Godfrey-Smith, 2003, p. 94), applies a more historical aspect to expound
science and thus, has a different opinion than the normative Popper. As well as
Popper, Kuhn divides science into two. On the one hand, he identifies “normal”
science, which work is done inside the field of a paradigm. On the other hand, “revolutionary”
science ruptures “normal” science due to the occurrence of anomalies and
paradigm is “a whole way of doing science, in some particular field. It is a
package of claims about the world, methods for gathering and analyzing data,
and habits of scientific thought and action” (Godfrey-Smith, 2003, p. 76). Once
recently acquired knowledge discounts the established knowledge, the paradigm
is replaced. Kuhn argues that “anomalies” are required, if they arise in a
considerable amount, is necessary for change in a paradigm.
As a result, the old paradigm forfeits its relevance and
the “revolutionary” science overtakes the “normal” one. This process eventuates
when scientists can move from one paradigm to the “crisis science”, in which
the “existing paradigm has lost the ability to inspire and guide scientists”
(Godfrey-Smith, 2003, p. 82), and ultimately to a new paradigm. Kuhn apprehends
this unavoidable disappearance as part of scientific progress.
Simplified, Popper delineated a normative theory and Kuhn
stuck to a descriptive way perceiving science. Based on this simplification
there is not much potential of marring each other. Yet, there is one last, crucial
point left to mention. Godfrey-Smith (2003) argues that Kuhn thought that his
theory is also how it should be (p. 81). Both have different ways of seeing science
but the pivotal difference between Popper and Kuhn is the scrutinizing regarding
fundamentals. In Popper´s eyes, good science ought never be certain about data,
which becomes clear in his criticism against the inductive method and his idea
of “falsification”. On the contrary, Kuhn expresses that a good scientist must embrace
facts within a paradigm to be constructive.
Criticism and Appraisal
So far, this paper has
clarified the theories by Popper and Kuhn. It now presents criticism against
both concepts and is followed by a final appraisal.
The main criticism against Popper is seen in his “falsification”
itself. Critics say that his concept is rather philosophical than scientific
because it is impossible to refute it. Furthermore, he argues once an empiric
proof has been encountered and consequently, the theory is false; it is belied.
Such criticism can be deployed on Popper´s example of the white swans. Just
because a black swan has been seen in present time, it does not automatically
mean that there will be more black swans in the future. Perhaps the black swan
gets killed or turns white for whatsoever reason. Accordingly, the scientist
arrives at the second stage of Popper´s plan because the scientist does not
have to speculate anymore because the theory is already belied anew.
Nevertheless, Popper expects the scientist to start over once the theory is
belied. Because of that, the theory which might have been bona fide except for this one debarment dies.
Critics scrutinizing Kuhn, identify the relativistic facet
of his theory as the key problem. Kuhn argues that due to the paradigm certain
anticipations and principles affect the interpretation of the outcome. This is
an idea which is related to Godfrey-Smith´s idea of relativism as “the truth or
justification of a claim, or the applicability of a rule or standard, depend on
one´s situation or point of view” (2003, p. 94). Concerning this, logical
positivists criticize Kuhn due to this, while he alleges that research is invariably
on the basis of empirical proof and neutrality. In some scientific areas
paradigms are able to coexist. This contradicts Kuhn, yet, who understands a
developing paradigm as a radical step towards the “time of crisis”.
To conclude, Popper´s “problem
of demarcation” achieves my support. Moreover, I agree with his idea of “falsification”
concerning the division between science and pseudo-science. Notwithstanding, I
think his additional beliefs are not conformable. For Popper, coming back to
the given definition in the introduction, science is an activity which helps us
improving our perception of the world. Therefore, his idea of how science should
work, shows his assumption that it is about accomplishing it in the proper way.
A theory can involve as much verity as possible but once a mistake arises in
the theory, the scientist has to start over.
To my mind, science is a pure instrument easing us to
understand the bigger picture. It is better to have a flawed instrument than
having to function bare-knuckle. Because of this, Kuhn receives my support. His
theory proffers a framework which eases us ameliorating the contemporary worldview.
Moreover, his theory is output-driven and it is more important to back us arriving
at the truth than being an immaculate truth. Eventually, a new, superior
paradigm will replace the former one anyhow. In my opinion finding a consummate
answer straightaway is more difficult than honing something until it is