Analysis of the Kuhn-Popper Controversy

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The controversy of Kuhn’s “puzzle-solving” characteristic of science and Popper’s falsifiability of science had been ongoing since Kuhn’s publication of “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” (Dahnke & Dreher, 2016b, p.153). While Popper proposed that theories must be abandoned when empirically refuted in order to obtain the truth (Díez, 2007), Kuhn proposed that science is aimed at puzzle-solving within a scientist’s “paradigm” (Dahnke & Dreher, 2016b, p.154). The purpose of this paper is to describe the above controversy on science epistemology. From my perspective, I am in favor of Popper’s falsifiability principle because Kuhn neglected to address the “sophisticated” version of falsifiability (Dahnke & Dreher, 2016b, p.159).

To be specific, Kuhn and Popper both targeted to explain the aims of philosophy of science from a metaphilosophical prescription/distinction standpoint (Díez, 2007). Kuhn differs from Popper in the following ideas. First, Kuhn suggested that “normal science” answers research questions within the premise of an established paradigm (Dahnke & Dreher, 2016b, p.154) or as Diez (2007, p.544) describes the “rules of scientific practice”. However, an anomaly might occasionally occur that refutes the original nucleus theory and such science is deemed as revolutionary (Dahnke & Dreher, 2016b, p.155). Popper criticized the concept of normal scientists in that they are simply “victims of indoctrination” (Dahnke & Dreher, 2016b, p.157). Popper only referred these scientists as “applied scientists” rather than “real or pure” scientists (Popper, 2002). Second, Kuhn describes the normal scientists’ work as puzzle-solving and the research question they sought to answer is merely a test of their skill as scientists (Dahnke & Dreher, 2016b, p.155). However, Popper refuted that scientists are “problem solvers” in that they set out to obtain the absolute truth of theories and research questions (Dahnke & Dreher, 2016b, p.155). Third, Popper argued that science is critical and only one dominant paradigm rules to guarantee the progression of science. Kuhn, on the other hand, argues that science cannot be understood merely by an appeal to methodology and multiple paradigms exist to help us understand the world (Dahnke & Dreher, 2016b, p.154).

Diez (2007, p.548) summarized that Kuhn and Popper both suggested that scientists cannot be empirically indifferent when there is a predictive failure. Furthermore, Diez (2007, p.549) suggested that the normal scientists under Kuhn’s description have to epistemically abandon their synchronous theory and replace it with another synchronous theory under the current (nucleus) dichotomous theory. And scientists’ skills are tested during this process. For example, evidence in nursing literature suggests that there is a theory-practice gap existed between nursing theory and nursing practice (Theodoridis, 2017). Risjord, as a normal scientist as Kuhn would probably say, seeks to fill up the gap by proposing that the nursing standpoint secures the relevance of nursing research while a postpositivist view of theory safeguards the scientific status of nursing science (Theodoridis, 2017).

The reason I refute Kuhn’s theory is because Popper, in fact, has a more sophisticated explanation for falsifiability. It states that a theory is scientific only if it has corroborated excess empirical content over its predecessor (Dahnke & Dreher, 2016b, p.159). A theory may encounter some disconfirming instances, but it should be retained if it is corroborated, useful, and productive (Dahnke & Dreher, 2016b, p.159). Under this investigation, Risjord is not a normal scientist. He is retaining the current theory while looking for more evidence as he is well aware of the fact that “nursing science” cannot cope with a broad field of crucial philosophical problems pertaining to the nursing field (Theodoridis, 2017). Another example is the current curriculum design that revolves around the concept of “practice”. Dahnke & Dreher (2016b, p.82) agrees with MacIntyre’s concept of practice that current DNP curriculum should include theoretical knowledge, practical knowledge, and knowledge of production. However, at a glance of current DNP programs, few included courses that teach philosophy of nursing science (Dreher, 2009). These disconfirming evidences should not throw away Dreher’s belief that DNP curriculum should incorporate philosophy. Instead, it should stimulate researchers’ desire to further investigate in this phenomenon.

In conclusion, I am in favor of Popper’s principle of falsifiability. The examples of “theory-practice gap” and the debate of incorporating philosophy into nursing education corroborate Popper’s sophisticated falsifiability. Although, the ongoing controversy of Popper and Kuhn can be explained by the argument of Díez (2007) on the ways these two philosophers examine the structures of theory, I still feel strongly toward Popper’s method of approaching the question “What is science?”.

References

  • Dahnke, M. D., & Dreher, H. M. (2016a). Philosophy of Science in a Practice Discipline. Philosophy of science for nursing practice: concepts and applications (pp.71-97). New York, NY: Springer Publishing Company.
  • Dahnke, M. D., & Dreher, H. M. (2016b). What is Science? The problem of demarcation. Philosophy of science for nursing practice: concepts and applications (pp.143-164). New York, NY: Springer Publishing Company.
  • Díez, J. (2007). Falsificationism and the structure of theories: The Popper–Kuhn controversy about the rationality of normal science. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A, 38(3), 543–554.
  • Dreher, H.M. (2009) Education for advance practice: The question: Is the PhD or DNP the right degree model for future advanced practice nurses? In Joel (Ed.), Advanced practice nursing: Essentials for role development (2nd ed., pp. 58-71). Philadelphia, PA: F.A. Davis
  • Popper, K.R. (2002). The logic of scientific discovery. London, UK, and New York, NY: Routledge.
  • Theodoridis, K. (2017). Nursing as concrete philosophy, Part I: Risjord on nursing knowledge. Nursing Philosophy, 19(2).

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