Objective knowledge and the knowing subject: The Popper-Kuhn debate

Lloyd Martin Eby, Fordham University


The controversy between Sir Karl Raimund Popper and Thomas S. Kuhn, two of the most important post-Logical Empiricist theorists of science, has been one of the central issues in theory of science of the past two or three decades. This dissertation presents a summary of this controversy and then goes on to sketch a theory of scientific knowledge that goes beyond Popper and Kuhn. Some areas of controversy are: the question of objectivity or subjectivity in knowledge, the status and role of what Kuhn calls "normal science," the relationship of language to science and knowledge, the question of commensurability of differing frameworks or paradigms, and the nature and role of logic and formal methods and systems in scientific discovery and scientific knowing. The work of Michael Polanyi, with its emphasis on the "tacit dimension" and the personal character of knowledge, figures prominently here in the answer to Popper and Kuhn. The theory of language presented by Morton Kaplan, and the work of theorists such as Dudley Shapere and Frederick Suppe are also used. One of the conclusions of the dissertation is that both Popper and Kuhn succeed in refuting the central claims of the other side, but that neither side is very successful in its own positive suggestions or theories. A second conclusion is that neither side offers a logic of scientific discovery or scientific method, and that formal logic or formal methods are of little help or relevance in scientific discovery or scientific knowledge. The account of scientific knowing proposed here holds that knowledge is a give-and-take relationship between a knowing subject and what is apprehended or known--the objective world. There is an essential role for the community of knowers, and a give-and-take relationship exists between the individual knower and the community of knowers. This account allows knowing to be at once both subjective and objective. It also holds that we are conditioned by history, by our community, and by whatever paradigms we bring to the knowing process, but not determined by any of them.

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Recommended Citation

Eby, Lloyd Martin, "Objective knowledge and the knowing subject: The Popper-Kuhn debate" (1988). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI8818457.