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Kuhn vs. Popper: The Struggle for the Soul of Science (Revolutions in Science)

3.2 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0231134286
ISBN-10: 0231134282
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Editorial Reviews

Review

This is an eloquently written book, offering new and interesting perspectives on the moral and social ramifications of this debate.

(Ray Percival New Scientist)

A succinct yet in-depth inquiry into a significant philosophical issue.

(Kirkus)

It's a fascinating and, at 132 pages, delightfully concise work.

(Gregory Mone Popular Science)

A feisty and rich little book...always stimulating

(A. C. Grayling Financial Times)

This slight volume is a lively, incisive volume...This volume will be of great interest both to academic specialists and general readers...Recommended.

(Choice)

Kuhn vs. Popper is a concise and engaging book that philosophers of science, investigators of political thought and, indeed, laymen with a philosophical interest will find an interesting read.

(Milja Kurki History of Political Thought)

Provocative and brilliant.

(Neil McLaughlin Canadian Journal of Sociology Online)

A provocative read.

(Robert J. Deltete Philosophy In Review)

Review

Reading Steve Fuller is like reading Umberto Eco on speed.

(Jeff Hughes, University of Manchester)
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Product Details

  • Series: Revolutions in Science
  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press (December 14, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231134282
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231134286
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.6 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #789,735 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Polemics are fun, and this one is no exception. Fuller is an excellent, energetic writer, and he seems to have read everything. If the result is more sizzle than steak, it's still a very interesting view of the divergence between two of the giants of 20th-century philosophy of science. Recommended.

Karl Popper is about my favorite modern philosopher. His view of what science should be like, and the kind of liberating cultural role it should play, is inspiring. Thomas Kuhn, on the other hand, provided a very different, and much less exhilarating, picture of how science does, in fact, operate. In my experience, Kuhn's description is largely accurate, something Popper himself did not deny. If that is so, then this "debate" is between a normative theorist of how science should function (Popper) and an observer/analyst of how science does function (Kuhn). In a debate like that, the queston of "Who's right?" is not destined to lead much of anywhere.

Fuller is critical of Kuhn for being a repesentative of, or even an apologist for, establishment "big science" that tends to operate beyond democratic political controls; Fuller's sympathies are all with Popper's refusal to countenance orthodoxies or establishments of any kind, with science properly serving as an integral part of and support for the rational and critical Open Society. As much as I would like Popperian ideals to guide scientific practice, Fuller's attack on Kuhn seems to me a case of killing the messenger for delivering an unwelcome message about how science actually goes about its business. Science is like it is for reasons that have nothing to do with Thomas Kuhn, and it would be this way even if Kuhn had never been born.
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Format: Hardcover
Among the first things one notices when reading Kuhn vs. Popper is Steven Fuller's preoccupation with Kuhn's politics (or lack thereof, which amounts to the same thing). It is true that in Kuhn's system, science is affected by politics and ideology, among many other factors. But to Kuhn, if you want to solve problems in science you try to see the encumbrances for what they are, as obstacles to be overcome. To Fuller on the other hand, politics or ideology (he might frame it "social responsibility") serve to justify science; they are its raison d'être. But that is exactly the wrong thing for science, because politicizing it serves to corrupt the process, rendering it hopelessly non-objective and biased. Paradigm struggles become ever less about science and ever more about political special interest advocacy.

Fuller is a sociologist and perhaps that is one reason Kuhn irks him so, for Kuhn also seems to be offering a paradigm challenge to the science of sociology itself. "Normal" (i.e. mainstream) sociologists like Fuller take it for granted that ideology should guide the process. But to Kuhn, sociology is more of a necessary evil; akin to group psychology, and as such it is but one factor out of many in paradigm struggles in science. One such group, the scientific community, plays a crucial role during such periods. In settling scientific debates the final authority is and must be the community of scientists. There is no other--unless one prefers a head of state to render a verdict; or better yet, as in Fuller's fantasy, the sociologist-as-philosopher-of-science should have the final word. This is why it is so important to keep science and politics separate.
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Format: Hardcover
KUHN VS. POPPER: THE STRUGGLE FOR THE SOUL OF SCIENCE

As a working scientist, I approached this little book with interest, for four reasons. First, Thomas Kuhn's perspectives on scientific progress have seemed correct to me since my first reading of his classic "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions", back in the 1960s. Second, the views of Karl Popper that I have come across - with respect to the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen problem of quantum physics (which Popper first formulated) and on the nature of mind (together with John Eccles) - have always struck me as well thought and informative. Third, I have heard about the Kuhn-Popper debates over the years. Finally, my own area of research (nonlinear science) seems to offer a clear example of a Kuhnian revolution.

On the positive side, the author - Steve Fuller, a professor of sociology at the University of Warwick - gives a well informed account of the academic background to the famous 1965 meeting of Kuhn and Popper and he help the reader to understand how the "debates" were (and are?) largely between acolytes of Kuhn and Popper. He also provides a useful glossary of the terms used in philosophical discussions.

Beyond these features, the book is disappointing. Rather than informing the reader about the subject implied by his title, the author devotes the majority of his pages to promoting his own ideas about what scientists should and should not be doing, closing with a chapter curiously entitled: "Is Thomas Kuhn the American Heidegger?'' This is a stretch. Martin Heidegger, after all, was a Nazi, whereas Kuhn, with a doctorate in physics, elected to teach humanities majors about the nature of science.
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