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JoshuaZ comments on Only humans can have human values - Less Wrong

33 Post author: PhilGoetz 26 April 2010 06:57PM

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Comment author: JoshuaZ 26 April 2010 10:52:56PM 1 point [-]

Re: Kuhn. You don't need the postscript to see that he's not arguing for the meaningless of scientific progress. For example, he specifically discusses how certain paradigms allow other paradigms (for example how one needed impetus theory to get Galilean mechanics and could not go straight from Aristotle to Galileo). Kuhn also emphasizes that paradigm changes occur when there is something that the paradigm cannot adequately explain. Kuhn's views are complicated and quite subtle.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 26 April 2010 11:16:07PM 0 points [-]

Can you find examples where he says that science progresses, and gets closer to the truth? I didn't. Believing that there is, say, a Markov transition matrix between paradigms, doesn't imply believing in progress.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 27 April 2010 01:02:10PM *  1 point [-]

I don't have access to a copy of SSR right now, but I believe he said that "Later scientific theories are better than earlier ones for solving puzzles in the often quite different environments to which they are applied. That is not a relativist's position, and it displays the sense in which I am a convinced believer in scientific progress." A quick Google search agrees with this and gives a page number of 206 in the 1970 second edition. IIRC, that section has other statements of a similar form.

Kuhn's views on scientific progress are wrong, but they are wrong for more subtle reasons than simple denial of scientific progress.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 27 April 2010 04:41:20PM *  1 point [-]

The passage you quote is probably in the postscript to the 2nd edition, which, as I said in the post, denies the original content of the 1962 edition. Make outrageous statement, get media attention, get famous, then retain your new position by denying you ever meant the outrageous thing that you said in the first place. If he'd been that careful and subtle in the first edition, he might never have become famous.

Your memory for passages is remarkable.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 28 April 2010 12:06:38AM *  2 points [-]

Bad phrasing on my part: I didn't remember the exact wording but very close to it (I remembered the end and beginning precisely and Google confirmed). I would have simply looked in my copy but unfortunately it is on my Kindle which decided to break (again). (Growing up in an Orthodox Jewish setting trains you pretty well to remember passages almost word for word if you find them interesting enough. Unfortunately, passages of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality seem to be an increasingly common category and I know those aren't that useful. There's probably an eventual limit).

Edit: Thinking about this more you may have a point about making outrageous statements. But it seems to me that a lot of what he said did get woefully misinterpreted or ignored outright by a lot of the po-mo people who followed up on Kuhn. For example, he makes the point that science is unique in having accepted paradigms and that this doesn't happen generally in non-science fields. Yet, a lot of his language was then used by others to talk about paradigms and paradigm-shifts and the like in non-science fields. I'm inclined to think that some not-so-bright or ideologically inclined people just misunderstood what he had to say. (I'm under the impression although don't have a citation that Lakatos didn't think that Kuhn was arguing against scientific progress. And I'm pretty sure Lakatos read drafts of the book. IRCC he's acknowledged as helping out in the preface or forward).

Comment author: timtyler 18 May 2011 09:28:45AM *  1 point [-]

It is from the Postscript. That starts with:

Postscript: Revolutions and Relativism

One consequence of the position just outlined has particularly bothered a number of my critics. They find my viewpoint relativistic, particularly as it is developed in the last section of this book. My remarks about translation highlight the reasons for the charge. The proponents of different theories are like the members of different language-culture communities. Recognising the parallelism suggests that in some sense both groups may be right. Applied to culture and its development that position is relativistic.