Kuhn, Normativity and History and Philosophy of Science

Epistemologia:103-111 (2012)
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This paper addresses the relationship between the history and philosophy of science by way of the issue of epistemic normativity. After brief discussion of the relationship between history and philosophy of science in Kuhn’s own thinking, the paper focuses on the implications of the history of science for epistemic normativity. There may be historical evidence for change of scientific methodology, which may seem to support a position of epistemic relativism. However, the fact that the methods of science undergo variation does not entail that epistemic justification varies with the methods employed by scientists. In order to arrive at the relativist conclusion, an epistemological argument is required that justification depends upon operative methods. This raises the question of epistemic normativity. Kuhn himself attempted to deal with this question on a number of occasions, but without success. Following brief discussion of Kuhn on this topic, the paper then turns to the treatment of epistemic normativity in the work of Lakatos, Laudan and Worrall. Lakatos and Laudan proposed that particular episodes from the history of science might be employed to adjudicate between alternative theories of method. Such episodes are selected on the basis of value judgements or pre-analytic intuitions, but such value judgements and intuitions are themselves problematic. Laudan later proposed the normative naturalist view that a rule of method is to be evaluated empirically on the basis of its reliability in conducing to a desired cognitive aim. Against this attempt to naturalize meta-methodology, Worrall argued that the normative force of the appeal to past reliability requires an a priori inductive principle. In my view, the problem of epistemic normativity is solved by combining the particularist focus on specific episodes in the history of science with the naturalistic account of the reliability of method.
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