The Incommensurability Thesis

Abingdon: Taylor and Francis (1994)
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This book presents a critical analysis of the semantic incommensurability thesis of Thomas Kuhn and Paul Feyerabend. In putting forward the thesis of incommensurability, Kuhn and Feyerabend drew attention to complex issues concerning the phenomenon of conceptual change in science. They raised serious problems about the semantic and logical relations between the content of theories which deploy unlike systems of concepts. Yet few of the more extreme claims associated with incommensurability stand scrutiny. The argument of this book is as follows. The terms of theories with different concepts diverge semantically and the vocabularies of such theories may not be fully intertranslatable. Given the possibility of referential overlap between the terms of conceptually divergent theories, it does not follow that the content of such theories is incomparable. Nor, given the distinction between understanding a language and translation from one language into another, does it follow that the proponents of mutually untranslatable theories are unable to communicate. Neither is it the case that the shift between conceptually divergent theories involves a discontinuous transition between theories which have no common reference or that refer to distinct worlds of their own making. The semantic differences resulting from conceptual variance may be embraced within a thoroughly realist framework on which they are construed as diverse linguistic relations to a fixed and independent reality. The book, which was originally published in 1994, has now been re-issued in the Routledge Revivals series.

Author's Profile

Howard Sankey
University of Melbourne


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