Incommensurability, relativism, and scientific knowledge

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Title: Incommensurability, relativism, and scientific knowledge
Authors: Morrissey, Brian Patrick
Advisor: baghramian, maria
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Date: 2016
Abstract: Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (SSR) has been a source of inspiration for many relativistic theories in the social sciences and beyond (1962, 1970, 1996). Despite an ever-growing number of books and articles, however, the question of what sort of relativism, if any, and on what grounds it follows from SSR has not yet been adequately addressed. This thesis attempts to shed light on the connections between the Kuhnian view of science and relativism by investigating the precise mechanisms by which various kinds of relativism might be grounded in Kuhn's account of science. Traditionally, arguments for relativism, in SSR and beyond, have been framed on the presupposition of the possibility of incommensurability between scientific paradigm or conceptual schemes. However, Donald Davidson, Hilary Putnam and others have argued that relativism is impossible or incoherent, because if paradigms are incommensurable to the degree claimed then we cannot engage with other paradigms in order to consider them genuine alternatives and find no means of judging objectively between them, as an argument for relativism would require. Contrary to their views, this thesis argues that, within a Kuhnian framework, there could be levels of incommensurability that will be hospitable to some forms of relativism. However, we need a finer grade understanding of the very idea of incommensurability as well as of relativism in order to see how plausible arguments for relativism could be framed based on Kuhn's views of science in SSR. This thesis shows that a non-scientist observing from outside of a scientific paradigm, lacking objective criteria to assess the meaning of terms in scientific language; the methods and standards, including knowledge claims, of the paradigm; and the ontological commitments of the paradigm, can articulate arguments for relativism at any point in the Kuhnian cycle of scientific revolution. Scientists working within a scientific paradigm adhere to the semantic, methods and standards, and ontological criteria of the paradigm, accepting these standards as objectively correct, and so they do not frame arguments for relativism about science at any point in the Kuhnian cycle. The thesis does not defend relativism about science; rather, it is an attempt at clarifying some core issues in a contentious area of philosophy of science.
Type of material: Doctoral Thesis
Publisher: University College Dublin. School of Philosophy
Qualification Name: Ph.D.
Copyright (published version): 2016 the author
Keywords: IncommensurabilityParadigmRelativismScientific knowledgeStructure of Scientific RevolutionsThomas Kuhn
Language: en
Status of Item: Peer reviewed
Appears in Collections:Philosophy Theses

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