A comparative study of Thomas S. Kuhn and Karl Popper
Few men have exerted so much influence on philosophy of science as Kuhn and Karl Popper had done in the twentieth century. Both men were esoteric in their own right without being enmeshed by the zeitgeist of the period. Having published his classic The Structure of Scientific Revolution in 1962, Kuhn challenged the then dominant philosophical views of science pertaining to ‘progress, rationality, observation, theories, and language.’ On the other hand, Karl Raimund Popper vehemently abjured ‘the Baconian observationalist-inductivist view of scientific methodology.’ For him only ‘a system of theories that is falsifiable by experience should be accorded genuine scientific status.’ Both were no doubt sincere students of nature and methodology of acquiring knowledge.
Though nature and methodology of acquiring knowledge are the focal point of their study, their views on knowledge are different from each other. According to Kuhn’s understanding of progress of science, it is radical and revolutionary in nature. The progress of science is but the vicious cycle, a process in which the existing normal science is fundamentally challenged by discovery of new facts which are incompatible with the existing methods, and thus beg new explanation which leads to formulation of new theory or paradigm (the phase of crisis within scientific community), and that phase is followed by contestation between new and old paradigm in which the new paradigm comes out victorious; and thus establishment of new paradigm which later becomes normal science. In the other word, the progress of science for Kuhn is the story of paradigm shifts or scientific revolutions.
Unlike Kuhn Popper does not see the progress of science as revolutionary in nature. For him it is a gradual and cumulative enterprise. In Popper’s understanding, ‘the critical role of experience in science is to show us not which theories are true but which theories are false.’ Nevertheless, a theory that has successfully withstood critical testing is thereby ‘corroborated’ and considered as a preferred model to falsify rivals. In this way knowledge grows in the passage of time.
Nothing, for a student of social sciences, can be more beneficial than indulging a comparative study of Kuhn and Popper to have a better understanding a scientific approach to social world. Notwithstanding the difference between the two with regard to nature of scientific progress, without making any value judgment, one can still immensely benefit from their insights on nature of science cum knowledge. As they were, as they are, without any misgiving Kuhn and Popper will still be widely studied philosophers of modern time.
Dan Seng Lawn
MA 4th Semester, JNU
15th February 2015