As Johnson & Duberley rightly observe, the most telling difference between positivism and conventionalism is the latter’s redefinition of the scientist’s role—from a passive, detached, and would-be objective observer of a preexisting reality to a subjective, culture-bound observer who necessarily impresses his or her cultural and intellectual biases on the material under investigation. The readings for this week demonstrate the rationale for and implications of that change, first in continuing Kuhn’s discussion of scientific revolutions and in the debate between Morgan and Bourgeois & Pinder over the value and role of metaphor in scientific investigation.
Less prominent in the readings but equally important are questions about continuity, rationality, and integration in the development of scientific knowledge—in other words, the relationship between one theory, paradigm, or metaphor, and another. The issue appears as the question of commensurability in the Kuhn text, concerns the nature and value of research programs in the Lakatos & Feyerabend article, and is a question of the linkages between one metaphor and another in Morgan’s Images of Organization. However, it is arguably present in Popper’s questions about the provability of scientific theories and the question of whether science moves closer to the truth when it replaces one theory with another.
You might be tempted to conclude at this point of the course that “everything is relative.” The message, however, should probably be different: once scientific knowledge of nature or society becomes a historical and cultural phenomenon, our challenge as readers, scholars, and leaders becomes enormously greater, not simply to accumulate scientific knowledge, but to find an approach that does justice to the complexity of the world around us and to our role as both students of and historically and culturally situated members in the society we seek to understand.
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