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What is the Objectivist view of scientific truth, theory, and paradigm shift? And, what do Objectivists think of Thomas Kuhn's "Structure of Scientific Revolutions"?

For those unfamiliar with Kuhn, here is a summary of his work:

Thomas Kuhn suggested that a paradigm defines “the practices that define a scientific discipline at certain point in time.” He also postulated that paradigms are discrete and culturally based.

For example, a Chinese medical researcher, with a profound knowledge of eastern medicine, will inhabit a different paradigm than a purely western researcher.

What is a Paradigm's Purpose?

The philosopher, Thomas Kuhn was the first to use the term for science, suggesting that scientific research does not progress towards truths, but is subject to dogma and clinging to old theories. The word, like many scientific terms, comes from Greek, and means example.

He came up with four basic ways in which a paradigm indirectly influences the scientific process. A paradigm dictates:

What is studied and researched. The type of questions that are asked. The exact structure and nature of the questions. How the results of any research are interpreted.

Kuhn believed that science had periods of patiently gathering data, in a paradigm, and then revolution occurred as the paradigm matured.

A paradigm can absorb some errors but they eventually become insurmountable, like Ptolemy's epicycles, and result in a paradigm shift.

The new paradigm is not necessarily any better than the old, just different.

Also:

Generally speaking, there is no hard and fast rule to when a theory becomes 'accepted truth' but Kuhn's paradigm idea is a decent fit. Scientific truth is implicitly assumed when an entire field, other than a few fringe scientists, reaches a consensus.

asked Jan 23 '13 at 18:22

user890's gravatar image

user890
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edited Jan 23 '13 at 18:22


A more generic term for "paradigm" would be "trend." The origin, influence, and causes of trends is a topic that has been discussed often and in depth in Objectivism. Ayn Rand wrote about it in her major essay, "For the New Intellectual," emphasizing psycho-epistemologies and their effects:

In any given period of history, a culture is to be judged by its dominant philosophy, by the prevalent trend of its intellectual life as expressed in morality, in politics, in economics, in art. Professional intellectuals are the voice of a culture and are, therefore, its leaders, its integrators and its bodyguards....

Historically, the professional intellectual is a very recent phenomenon: he dates only from the industrial revolution. There are no professional intellectuals in primitive, savage societies, there are only witch doctors ... and tribal chiefs. These two figures dominate every anti-rational period history, whether one calls them tribal chief and witch doctor -- or absolute monarch and religious leader -- or dictator and logical positivist....

These two figures -- the man of faith and the man of force -- are philosophical archetypes, psychological symbols and historical reality.

(From FNI, Signet paperback edition, pp. 3-7.) Another key passage in that essay explains (p. 16):

Men's epistemology -- or, more precisely, their psycho-epistemology, their method of awareness -- is the most fundamental standard by which they can be classified. Few men are consistent in that respect; most men keep switching from one level of awareness to another, according to the circumstances or the issues involved, ranging from moments of full rationality to an almost somnambulistic stupor. But the battle of human history is fought and determined by those who are predominantly consistent, those who, for good or evil, are committed to and motivated by their chosen psycho-epistemology and its corollary view of existence -- with echoes responding to them, in support or opposition, in the switching, flickering souls of the others.

A man's method of using his consciousness determines his method of survival. The three contestants are Attila, the Witch Doctor and the Producer -- or the man of force, the man of feelings, the man of reason -- or the brute, the mystic, the thinker. The rest of mankind calls it expedient to be tossed by the current of events from one of those roles to another, not choosing to identify the fact that those three are the source which determines the current's direction.

Ayn Rand mentioned the role of philosophy again in her introduction to The Romantic Manifesto:

If I see that the good is possible to men, yet it vanishes, I do not take "Such is the trend of the world" as a sufficient explanation. I ask such questions as: Why? -- What caused it? -- What or who determines the trends of the world? (The answer is: philosophy. )

Ayn Rand's book, Philosophy: Who Needs It, elaborates further on the power and cultural influence of philosophy. Leonard Peikoff's book, The Ominous Parallels, explains that the growth of unreason in a culture leads to dictatorship, as illustrated by the rise of the Nazis in the Weimar Republic. The Epilogue in OPAR, titled "The Duel between Plato and Aristotle," provides further insight into the influence of philosophy on man's history. Most recently, Leonard Peikoff's newest book, The DIM Hypothesis: Why the Lights of the West Are Going Out, explains the specific process (intellectuals' method of cognitive integration) by which philosophy exerts its cultural influence. At one time, this book was tentatively subtitled, "The Epistemological Mechanics by which Philosophy Shapes Society" (if I remember the wording correctly). The book shows how the DIM categories operate in sciences like physics as well as literature, education and politics.

Objectivism, in sort, has led to a wealth of material on the general topic of this question. Refer also to the topic of "History" in The Ayn Rand Lexicon.

answered Jan 25 '13 at 01:20

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦
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Asked: Jan 23 '13 at 18:22

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Last updated: Jan 25 '13 at 01:20