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Kuhn Vs Popper Hardcover – May 27 2003

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Hardcover, May 27 2003
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"Reading Steve Fuller is like reading Umberto Eco on speed." Jeff Hughes, University of Manchester


Reading Steve Fuller is like reading Umberto Eco on speed.

(Jeff Hughes, University of Manchester) --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 13 reviews
29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
Fun read, but flawed March 23 2006
By meadowreader - Published on
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.

If the problem is the gap between Kuhnian reality and Popperian ideal, then the important question is how to get from the one to the other. Fuller's suggestions about that are pathetically weak. For example, he notes that "Paul Feyerabend advocated the devolution of science funding from nation-states to local communities as the surest way to increase science's capacity for good and lower its capacity for evil." When Fuller refers to the voicing of this fantasy as a "public intervention by a philosopher of science," you don't know whether to laugh or cry. Even if you accept Fuller's ideological commitments, he fails to describe any credible scenario by which modern science, with its vast funding requirements, its national security role, and its industrial entanglements, could conceivably be transformed into the kind of enterprise that he, and Popper, would approve of.
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Fuller's Preoccupation Jan. 7 2009
By Neil DeRosa - Published on
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.

Fuller criticizes Kuhn for not taking a stand on political issues, making him into something akin to a "Nazi sympathizer," (in this case a Conservative sympathizer, no doubt), for how else are we to read the analogy to Heidegger? There is little doubt where Fuller's sympathies and priorities lie. In a perverse sort of way I can see Fuller's point. Several notable philosophers and scientists, "intellectuals" of the early to mid-twentieth century like Russell and Einstein, took (left wing) political positions on the pressing issues of their day. Kuhn refused to do so. If I were to guess at his reason I would say he thought it might compromise his philosophical/historical theory on how science develops over time, and turn him into a mere partisan. Fuller characterizes Kuhn's failure to engage in political mud slinging as "cowardice;" I call it being professional and scientific.

As for the book itself; Kuhn vs. Popper has some value in that it gets the reader to think about a very important subject. But that's as far as it goes. Almost from the outset, Fuller plays fast and loose with language. In almost every paragraph, he makes reckless claims, faulty analogies, and erroneous assumptions. Fuller is a loose thinker for whom words have amorphous meanings; the very opposite of thinkers like Kuhn and Popper, however one might judge their respective philosophies.

If one intends to critique an author's work, it helps to first summarize what it says. But Fuller immediately launches into his interpretation before any facts are laid out. For example, on page 13, while ostensibly giving a synopsis of Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Fuller reports that Kuhn "heightens the tension between, on the one hand, the sort of heroic and progressive history that scientists must tell themselves...and, on the other hand, the actual history of science with all its diversions, complexities, and imperfections. Kuhn treats these histories as `separate but equal,'...[and this] would be undermined if scientists had the professional historian's demythologized sense of their history."

But what does all this hyperbole mean? Neither Structure, nor the Postscript to Structure, nor The Road Since Structure say anything like it, and certainly not in that way. There are endless similar examples of Fuller's misinterpretation of Kuhn's theory. Compare the above quote to Kuhn's description of the way science is portrayed in the textbooks:

"From the beginning of the scientific enterprise, a textbook presentation implies scientists have striven for the particular objectives that are embodied in today's paradigms. One by one, in a process often compared to the addition of bricks to a building, scientists have added another fact, concept, law, or theory to the body of information supplied in the contemporary science text...But this is not the way science develops. Many of the puzzles of contemporary normal science did not exist until after the most recent scientific revolution." (Structure, 140)
39 of 50 people found the following review helpful
By Alwyn Scott - Published on
Format: Hardcover

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. Although Fuller's point is that Kuhn had a "negative responsibility" as an influential person to struggle against the US military-industrial complex and the Vietnam War, I don't buy it. As an active member of the antiwar movement in Madison during the early 1970s, it seems to me that participating in such activities involves decisions that people make for a variety of reasons, most of which would be unknown to a commentator separated by an ocean and a generation.

Alwyn Scott

18 of 24 people found the following review helpful
A Stinker May 24 2006
By Reader From Aurora - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Steven Fuller's Kuhn versus Popper is a short work published by Icon Books. Fuller is a sociology professor at the University of Warwick in Great Britain.

Fuller uses the contrasting views of Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn as an avenue to discuss broad social and political implications of modern approaches to science. Although I think that the differences between these two thinkers can be overstated (i.e. Kuhn can be seen as a realist and Popper an idealist), it could nonetheless be an interesting approach in the hands of a capable writer. Unfortunately Fuller is not such a writer.

I think Fuller may have some interesting, if unconventional, thoughts in regard to how scientists should interact with broader society, however, they are lost in this self-righteous rant. His comments are rambling, blustering and totally unreferenced. It is evident that Fuller has many axes to grind; he rails against Kuhn, philosophers in general, American academics, etc. His rant against philosophers as being failed scientists supporting failed ideas is particularly ironic coming from a sociologist.

Overall, it is a true stinker- angry and incoherent. If this is indicative of the quality of books published by Icon, I would advise readers to steer clear of them. This text came to me by way of the "bargain bin" and it has left me by way of another "bin".
Pseudo-science vs. Science May 28 2014
By Thomas P. Burwell - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Popper takes science to mean "objective inquiry", or "philosophy by more exact means" to use Popper's own phrase. When we look at today's university and corporate science institutions, we do not find objective inquiry. Therefore, what we call "science" is in fact pseudo-science, according to Popper. As Fuller states on p. 29, "Science's success as a source of societal governance and economic growth may have been at the cost of its progress as a form of inquiry."

A parallel can be drawn to what Walter Benjamin wrote about the concept of progress in industry.
"This is how the angel of history must look. His face is turned toward the past. Where a chain of events appears before us, he sees one single catastrophe, which unceasingly piles debris on top of debris and hurls it before his feet.... A storm is blowing from Paradise and has got caught in his wings; it is so strong that the angel can no longer close them. This storm drives him irresistibly into the future to which his back is turned. That, which we call progress, is this storm." - Thesis IX, On the Concept of History
We mistake an accumulation of debris for progress in industry in the same way that, according to Popper, we mistake an accumulation of pseudo-science for progress in science.