15 Pages

Models versus paradigms in the natural sciences

The question of differences in method between the natural and the social sciences has come to the fore again recently with the revival of concern within English language philosophy with continental characterizations of the so-called ‘hermeneutic’ sciences of man. The hermeneutic account of science takes its models from problems of interpretation of biblical and other esoteric texts, from problems of understanding alien cultures, both in the Wissenschaften of history and of anthropology and from the ideological challenge of Marxist and other potentially revolutionary interpretations of our own society and culture.1 Some philosophers have gone on to argue from these models that the empiricist account of science as objective, cumulative, success-oriented, and value-free, is no longer adequate either as an ideal or as a methodological model for the social sciences. The challenge has even been carried into the domain of the natural sciences themselves in Kuhnian interpretations of the history of science (Kuhn 1962) in terms of successive paradigms and revolu­ tions between which there are few or no rational links or accumula­ tions of truth, and which are irreducibly dependent on their own social culture or on the sub-culture of their own scientific elites.