TRINPsite, 56.31.7-56.31.7 





Whatever the exact definition of science may be, essential to science is some kind of theoretical method or procedure. Anything goes --a variant of a two-and-a-half thousand years older everything flows-- may be true of nondisciplinary thought, it cannot be true of disciplinary thought, and least of all for the most methodic form of the factual-modal type of it: science. (Granting that there is a difference between nonscientific and scientific thought other than that it is called "scientific". That science is then the most methodic on the whole does not imply that it would be methodic by some high, abstract standard.)

But what is the 'scientific method'? It has to do with the inner logic of a theory, that is, the propositional factual, modal and/or normative conditions, and insofar as it is empirical science, with the relationship between theory and experiment, that is, the facts, modes and/or norms of correspondence. It was once said that empirical science would thus be both rational and inductive; 'inductive' in that it would infer from a limited number of instances of some concurrence of predicates that the concurrence would obtain universally. On this inductivist account of science, empirical theories or generalizations would only have to be verifiable. Against this position it has been argued that science may be rational, but that it is not inductive. If all known specimens of a certain species happen to have a predicate P, then the inference that all members of that species, wherever in the universe, have predicate P is just not valid if verifiability were taken as the criterion. (Happen to have P, for the having of P must not be a predicate which a member of that species has by definition.)

On the deductivist (but still rational) account of empirical science, the test is not verifiability but falsifiability. Now a scientific theory does not hold because it has been proved, but because it has not yet been disproved. However, this ideal picture of science has in turn been attacked for describing perhaps how the empirical scientist ought to work, but not as 'e actually does work. In other words: the objection is that the deductivist conception of empirical science is normative rather than descriptive. In the course of history, empirical science would on the alternative view not only not have been inductive, but not rational either. According to the nonrationalist philosopher of science who looks at 'er subject in a historical, that is, factual, perspective, a scientific theory is actually never abandoned because it has been falsified. And it just 'need not, and in fact never does, explain the facts with which it can be confronted'.

To understand the nonrationalist position (which definitely is not 'irrationalistic') one must conceive of science not as a purely individual undertaking in which solitary researchers occupy themselves with clearing a way to truth and relevance, but as a social phenomenon. In practise the scientist, or at least the person whose brainchild needs recognition as a scientific theory, is part of, or faced with, a 'community of specialists'. It is this community which determines which problems and hypotheses deserve their own and the general public's attention. What the members of such a community share has been called "a disciplinary matrix". Such a matrix is said to have four components. Firstly, there is a common conceptual apparatus with its own terminology, analogies and metaphors; an example of this is the belief that the molecules of a gas 'behave like small elastic billiard-balls'. Secondly, there are the so-called 'symbolic generalizations' used by all members of the group; they are expressions cast in a logical form. Thirdly, there is a body of norms and values particularly concerned with predictions (which should be quantifiable and accurate) and whole theories (which should be coherent, simple and plausible). The most important component of the disciplinary matrix in this philosophical theory of science is, however, the 'paradigm'. In the strict, original sense this is merely an 'exemplar', a 'concrete problem-solution', serving as an example of how to scientifically handle a problem in the discipline concerned. In a much wider sense paradigm has come to be regarded as the whole disciplinary matrix itself.

As the argument runs, 'the installation of a paradigm in a scientific field is a prerequisite of proper, that is, normal science'. This 'normal science' is definitely not bent upon falsification. On the contrary: it will attempt to interpret the facts in such a way that they agree with the paradigm in force at that moment, or to reinterpret or restrict the paradigm itself in such a way that it corresponds with the facts. Hence, on this account it is erroneous to believe that a theory which has the status of a scientific paradigm would be abandoned when falsified. Not only one or a few, but many deviations or 'anomalies' have first to be discovered and deemed important enough to cause a crisis. Such a crisis has been assumed to be 'a necessary precondition for the emergence of novel theories'. But altho the old paradigm may have 'exhausted its fertility', and altho scientists may begin to lose faith, and may begin to look for alternatives, they will not --as pointed out-- 'renounce the paradigm which has led them into crisis'. It is only if, and when, an alternative candidate is available to take its place, that scientists give up their belief. 'The decision to reject one paradigm is' therefore --if this description of science's history is correct-- 'always simultaneously the decision to accept another'. The so-called 'traumatic episode' during which an old scientific paradigm is disposed of, and a new one established, has been described as "a scientific revolution". Less dramatically, however, one could also speak of "a more or less radical transition". This transition can be quite a disturbing experience as a change of paradigms is, as it were, a change of world-view. (A change which sometimes appears to be as sudden as a 'gestalt switch'.)

A radically new theory must first be developed or a new discovery must first be made by one or a few individuals. 'Usually' --as noted-- they are people 'so new to the crisis-ridden field that practise has not yet committed them too deeply to the world-view and rules of the old paradigm'. It is not necessarily the case that their contemporaries who are too deeply committed to the traditional paradigm would have to apostatize personally. What often happens --as one scientist has observed -- is that the apologists of the traditional paradigm eventually die, and that a new generation grows up which is made familiar with the new doctrine. Even in science the transfer of allegiance from paradigm to paradigm is said to be a conversion experience which cannot be forced upon the believers. Endeavoring to do so would be asocial.

As could be expected, the nonrationalist theory of scientific paradigms has met with much criticism. It has been objected, for example, that it is a purely sociological and psychological description of the business of science, but this objection is not to the point so long as it does not pretend to be a normative methodology of (empirical) science. It has been objected too that, altho 'normal science' and 'paradigms' exist, 'normal science' in the sense suggested is uncritical, and that scientists who stick to their paradigm thru thick and thin suffer from dogmatism. According to a similar objection, several scientific theories (paradigms?) may coexist in one community at the same time. Finally, it has been correctly pointed out that the practise of science as described in the theory of scientific paradigms is not that unreasonable. The ultimate, collective decision to accept a particular paradigm may indeed take place in accordance with certain rules, yet when the established paradigm is getting into serious trouble, a scientist ought to work, or some scientist is bound to start working, on the development of a plausible alternative. To be a plausible alternative and to become the new paradigm it will have to fulfil certain requirements of rationality. These requirements are at least partially reflected in what will remain the same in the bodies of norms and values of the old and the new disciplinary matrixes. At the same time they do reflect at least partially, the norms and values of scientific rationalism.

In dealing with the theory of the succession of scientific paradigms the historicist interpretation of this theory has not always been clearly distinguished from a nonhistoricist one. On the historicist view the succession of paradigms would not only be a historical fact, but a necessity, and the theory would thus offer a law of historical development. This historicism would even imply, for example, that given a certain paradigm anomalies once must occur. Looking at the theory from a nonhistoricist angle tho, the focus of attention is not so much on any regularity in the succession of paradigms itself, but on regularities in the conduct of scientists vis-à-vis the paradigm and, perhaps, change of paradigms in their own time and community. When comparing science with denominationalism, it is these regularities in the conduct of people, and in the social acceptance of traditional or novel systems of disciplinary thought, which are particularly interesting as they would hold at all times in the past, the present and the future.

©MVVM, 41-56 ASWW

Model of Neutral-Inclusivity
Book of Instruments
Paradigms of Disciplinary Thought
Paradigms in Science and Denominationalism