chapter  3
10 Pages

The Popper-Kuhn debate

In 1962 Thomas Kuhn published The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. The book caused a furore among philosophers of science, many of whom accused Kuhn of relativism and irrationalism (see Popper in Lakatos and Musgrave 1970, p. 56). Lakatos claimed that ‘For Kuhn scientific change…is a mystical conversion which is not and cannot be governed by rules of reason and which falls totally within the realm of the (social) psychology of discovery’ (Lakatos and Musgrave 1970, p. 93). Unfortunately for his critics, Kuhn originally trained as a physicist and was by then working as an historian of science. He was, therefore, rather difficult to dismiss as a crank. It is my view that much of the brouhaha depended upon a misreading of Kuhn. I shall not pursue that thought here, however, because the purpose of this chapter is to establish the context in which Lakatos developed his own views on the history and philosophy of science. As we shall see in the next chapter, Lakatos tried to emulate the historical sensitivity of Kuhn’s work while avoiding what he saw as Kuhn’s concessions to irrationalism. Hence, what we need is precisely Kuhn-as-read-by-Lakatos.