The History and Significance of the Incommensurability Thesis
The incommensurability thesis (IT) maintains that there are no non-prejudicial means of choosing between competing theories in the empirical sciences. If true, IT would entail that natural science is a fundamentally subjective or irrational activity. Should this latter claim prove justifiable, then empirical science cannot be regarded as an organ of objective knowledge, and "scientific realism" is eo ipso false. I follow the origin of IT from its pre-history in Logical Positivism, through certain preliminary philosophical developments in the work of Karl Popper, W. V. O. Quine, Stephen Toulmin and N. R. Hanson, to the eventual formulation and introduction of IT by Thomas Kuhn and Paul Feyerabend. I then examine the rigorous criticism of IT by various philosophers since about 1964, and discuss different methods of objective theory comparison which have been advanced by such philosophers as Hilary Putnam, W. H. Newton-Smith, Michael Devitt, Hartry Field, Philip Kitcher and Howard Sankey. I conclude by arguing for two counterintuitive claims: (1) Even if true, IT fails to provide evidence against scientific realism. (2) In fact, the truth of IT actually furnishes evidence for a necessary condition for scientific realism, and hence evidence which can be construed as indirectly favorable to scientific realism.
- Pub Date:
- EMPIRICAL SCIENCE;
- SCIENTIFIC REALISM;
- Philosophy; Physics: General; Language: Linguistics; History of Science