Recently I had a scholarly invitation to a history of economic thoughts conference. One of the presenters was talking about different theories of how industrial revolution had happened. I came to think that he was more likely addressing “Where” they come from, therefore after he was done, I him if he thought where theories come from was important. He said no (which is the right answer), but then another presenter who was listening, a famous one actually, came into conversation. She also thought that the origin of theories were not important, but during the course of the conversation, she mentioned that she believed all philosophers of science were wrong until Thomas Kuhn and his notion of “Science just as another language”.
She, like Kuhn, believed that there is no objectivity in science, and it is only through “conversation” that scientists came to agree with something.* In other words, truth value of scientific statements is subjected to language and human psychology. Well, how can we disprove this? Here are three reasons off the top of my head that I hope can easily demonstrate that science is in fact our most objective knowledge. Off the top of my head (or anyone’s head for that matter), since I presented these to another professor in a casual chat while mentioning this notion of subjectivism.
1) This one is of course trivial, but effective: What we have made based on our scientific understanding of the world works. and that shows science is a good description of what reality of the world is, and it is always improving.
Now, a philosopher (or logician) that knows about history of science would immediately point out that this notion is logically problematic. After all, a lot of technology was based on things that were incorrect to begin with, or things that we didn’t know.
True as it may be, there is one thing that can save that notion. That is what was not put forward: I was careful in framing my sentence in the beginning, It was not said that science was “true” because of the technology based on it, it was said that science was “a good description” of reality.
The Newtonian paradigm of physical understanding was wrong, but it was not a total waste of a “description”. Since it did work. And it’s funny that when Einstein finally changed that paradigm, what technologies were changed and invented. I think just the GPS system should be enough, something that Newton probably could never think of. The essential point is, our knowledge is growing, step by step closer to ever better understanding of reality.
2) This next notion has a close relation with the third one, though they are separate. That is the existence of pluralism, both in philosophy and practice of different types of knowledge, particularly dominant religions, versus almost none existence of any kind of pluralism within scientific community and scientists.
The mere none existence of pluralism in that sense seems to defeat the notion of incommensurability put forward by Kuhn: If theories were indeed incommensurable, we should have had scientists who were pluralists in scientific understanding. But it is not so: Scientists in practice remain completely none pluralistic. They either agree with each other’s position (theories) or they don’t. We do not have scientists who are prepared to accept two or more opposite theories at the same time.
3) The third point is none existence of different scientific branches. From time to time, scientists come to disagree with each other on theories (or paradigms). For Popper these were problems, and for Kuhn they were crisis. No matter: Even Kuhn accepts that different paradigms die away (e.g. Newtonian paradigm).
But look at religions (or other types of knowledge like arts), different branches come to exist, and almost never die. I have used the likes of this picture before, but using it again seems very relevant (this time it is cults of Islam):
If one is looking for a none objective knowledge, one should not look far: How religions behave shows what they are. And how science behaves can only show that it is the only human knowledge that has the most objectivity.
* This is not word by word what she said. In fact for the purpose of this post I stretched it a bit. But I believe this is the essence of what she thought about scientific method, though she did not mentioned it word by word.