Argumentation ved brug af askebæger

Da jeg var studerende, var der et kursus i matematikkens videnskabsteori på det semester, der hed Mat 3 (som så faktisk var 5. semester), og her blev jeg præsenteret for Thomas Kuhns arbejde. Thomas Kuhn, der var fra USA, var faktisk slet ikke matematiker – han var oprindelig fysiker, men hans arbejde om fysikkens historie førte ham over i videnskabsteorien, og her inspirerede han den ungarske matematikfilosof Imre Lakatos. Senere forærede jeg en af mine bofæller, Nigel Wilding, der lavede en PhD i fysik, et eksemplar af Kuhns The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Nigel kendte nemlig ikke denne vigtige bog, og jeg syntes, at det var lidt ironisk, at en ikke-fysiker som jeg gjorde. Essensen af Kuhns arbejde er en teori om at videnskabernes udvikling foregår gennem skift af paradigmer, og at disse paradigmeskift sker pludseligt, ikke via gradvis forandring. Der ophober sig flere og flere eksempler på at på et givet tidspunkt eksisterende “normalvidenskab” ikke kan have ret i sine hypoteser, og så introduceres et nyt og usammenligneligt videnskabeligt paradigme. Denne udvikling skulle så ikke kun gælde for fysik eller for naturvidenskaberne, men generelt.

Errol Morris, der studerede på Princeton University, har en ret interessant og ubehagelig anekdote om Kuhn. Her er den korte udgave (forkortet af mig):

I had written a paper on James Clerk Maxwell’s displacement current for Kuhn’s seminar on 19th century electricity and magnetism. The paper might have been 30 or so double-spaced pages. Kuhn’s reply, typed on unlined yellow paper, was 30 pages, single-spaced, with Courier marching all the way from the left to the right side of the paper. No margins. He was angry, really angry.

He had written at the very end of his comments, “You have long since passed the end of the road on which you began.” I asked, “What is that supposed to mean? I’m 24 years old.” He said that I was a “good” first-year graduate student but would become “less good” in subsequent years….

We began arguing… The conversation took a turn for the ugly. Were my problems with him, or were they with his philosophy?

I asked him, “If paradigms are really incommensurable, how is history of science possible? Wouldn’t we be merely interpreting the past in the light of the present? Wouldn’t the past be inaccessible to us? Wouldn’t it be ‘incommensurable?’ ”

He started moaning. He put his head in his hands and was muttering, “He’s trying to kill me. He’s trying to kill me.” And then I added, “…except for someone who imagines himself to be God.”

It was at this point that Kuhn threw the ashtray at me. And missed.

Det er nu ikke kun Dilberts tegner, der er faldet i min agtelse.

Hvorfor lige et askebæger som kasteskyts? Errol Morris’ beretning afslører, at Kuhn var storryger og røg 6-7 pakker cigaretter daglig, mange af dem mens han forelæste. Det var lang tid før rygelovgivningen i USA!

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