Losing Faith in the Objectivity of Science
In his book, The Foundation of Scientific Revolutions, Kuhn challenged the prevailing belief of how science was conducted, and people in the Humanities found his book compelling, even disruptive. Why would people in the Humanities consider Kuhn’s theories on the nature of science, a different discipline, relevant to their work? Those in the Humanities believed that science was the standard for objective research and the discovery of truth. Consequently, they believed that truth in the Humanities could be attained by modeling their research techniques on scientific methods. However, Kuhn concluded in his book that the very scientism that those in the Humanities had depended on was powerfully and historically shaped, and ignorantly formed, and did not describe what scientists were doing. Kuhn proposed that science is not an empirical, cumulative, progressive pursuit towards an objective truth. Rather, it is conducted through the utilization of subjective paradigms, which are commonly accepted theories that, “provide models from which spring particular traditions of scientific research beliefs,” and that these paradigms influence the way scientists perceive reality. Further, the scientific community abruptly discards and replaces paradigms via “scientific revolution,” based on an “act of faith” that the new paradigm is better than the previous one. When a scientist moves from one paradigm to another, he moves to “a different world,” and thus he sees his physical world in a completely different way. Due to these abrupt changes in orientation, scientific progress is not cumulative, because its successive stages cause previous understandings to be discarded.
Through his theories, Kuhn showed that a scientist’s relationship with the physical world is more complex and subjective than previously understood. He theorized that a scientist’s observations are constrained and influenced by an intrusion between the scientist and his archive, the physical world, because scientists operate under the guidelines and restrictions imposed by the paradigms they create. Further, Kuhn explained that the inability for scientists to use pure Baconian methods provides as much as it takes, because scientists construct paradigms so that they can focus on certain questions. Paradigms help scientists understand what they see, and performing pure Baconian research is not productive. In fact, Kuhn proposed that performing research according to the paradigm is what makes a scientist a scientist. By imposing order via the paradigm, a scientist can discriminate and determine priorities, because if a scientist had a purely pristine interaction with the physical world, the result would be nonsense or simply noise. Instead, due to his limited capacity to view the world, a scientist must prioritize and make decisions on what is more and less important if he is to further science. Scientists use paradigms to simplify their research, and to determine which questions should be asked. Moreover, working under the same paradigm enables scientists sub-discipline to share the same understanding for how work should be conducted, which helps them to develop experiments that target the questions that the paradigm can help explain. As such, Kuhn believed that paradigms were integral to scientific research, and that the paradigm was the "implicit body of intertwined theoretical and methodological belief that permits selection, evaluation, and criticism."
While Kuhn’s book challenged the existing view of how science was conducted, it raised other disturbing philosophical questions concerning the influence of paradigms as well. A paradigm creates the world in which a scientist resides, and powerfully influences how he perceives his environment. When the paradigm changes, the scientist occupies a new world, and thus sees his environment in a new way. Consequently, paradigms can restrict and determine a scientist’s perception...
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