The Reaction of Other Metasciences to the Psychology of Science

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Historians of science traditionally have not been much concerned with the general psychological traits and motives involved in the history of science. Ever since Whewell, many historians have documented and described the major events and trends in the history of science, and some, of course, have documented the lives of particular scientists, delving into psychological forces.

But on the whole historians have not moved beyond narrative histories of individuals’ lives; they have generally avoided “psychologizing” about individual scientists or even samples of scientists. Yet psychological forces—concept development, motivation, ambition, creativity, imagination, and so on—are implicit in much of this history of science.

Historians view these aspects at a cultural rather than an individual level. Moreover, as discussed above with Hull’s comments about philosophers, Sulloway has argued that historians often actively resist a fundamental tool in the psychologist’s arsenal, namely, hypothesis testing, believing instead that their analyses are narrative explanations that neither require nor can make use of testing and evidence.

Historically, philosophers of science have probably been more actively disdainful than historians of the psychological perspective in the study of science.

This disdain is perhaps nowhere seen more clearly than in Popper’s arguments against “psychologism.” Here we get to Popper’s real concerns of introducing psychological factors into the analysis of science. “The initial stage, the act of conceiving or inventing a theory, seems to me neither to call for logical analysis nor to be susceptible of it.

The question of how it happens that a new idea occurs to a man—whether it is a musical theme, a dramatic conflict or a scientific theory—may be of great interest to empirical psychology; but it is irrelevant to the logical analysis of scientific knowledge.

Taken at face value, Popper is making an important distinction, one first made by Hans Reichenbach. On one hand, Popper is arguing that science as a product must be evaluated completely independently of the psychological, social, and historical context. Personalities, historical contexts, and sociological influences are irrelevant to the evaluation of a scientific idea.

On the other hand, he implies that science as a process is precisely the topic of psychological, social, and historical analysis.

Of course the stage of inspiration and creativity is not amenable to logical analysis, for the process itself is intuitive and implicit. Popper was perfectly correct to point this out, but the distinction and boundary between process and product is not quite as clean as the philosophers would have us believe.

By making this distinction between product and process, it would appear that Popper was amenable toward a psychological perspective if it focused on process rather than product. Later writings, however, made quite clear that Popper had no sympathy for a psychological (or historical or sociological) perspective under any circumstance.

T. Kuhn wrote a critique of Popper’s work, entitled “Logic of Discovery or Psychology of Research?” in which he critiqued some of Popper’s most basic assumptions. The sparks really started to fly when the issue of logic versus psycho-logic arose, the essence of Kuhn’s chapter. For Popper, logical analysis is absolutely paramount and any evaluation of scientific theory must be limited to either logical or empirical criteria.

Kuhn, on the other hand, argued that Popper has provided not a logic of knowledge but rather an ideology of knowledge and that there are forms of scientific knowledge to which logical analysis does not apply.

No, this is not the way, as mere logic can show; and thus the answer to Kuhn’s question “Logic of Discovery or Psychology of Research?” is that while the Logic of Discovery has little to learn from the Psychology of Research, the latter has much to learn from the former.


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