(Social) Scientific Revolutions

11 Sep

I was made to do Science as a minority subject in the Sixth Form [ie last two years] at school, and came across a couple of figures who have recently been the subject of profiles in The Guardian:

Sir Karl Popper: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/sep/10/karl-popper-enemy-uncertainty

Thomas Kuhn:http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2012/aug/19/thomas-kuhn-structure-scientific-revolutions?INTCMP=ILCNETTXT3487

At risk of a shredding in the comments – I’m not a scientist – I’ll summarise what I understood to be their key points:

(1) For a field of knowledge to be entitled to be called scientific, then it must be able to say ‘given results XYZ then we need to pack up and go home,’ and the same applies to particular theories of interpretation of life, natural phenomena etc. If there is no set of results that will show that (say) astrology or Marxism are false, then they are not scientific. As Sherlock Holmes might put it, the facts are being made to fit the theory rather than the theory being tested by the facts. This seems to be called falsifiability;

(I don’t think Sir Karl Popper said that anything non-scientific was necessarily nonsense – just that it wasn’t science, and shouldn’t pretend to be. His especial target seems to have been historicism in general and Marxism in particular)

(2) Thomas Kuhn proposed that science advances usually steadily and sometimes by gigantic ‘paradigm shifts’ – when the fundamental contradictions (as Duncan Kennedy would put it) of the old theoretical framework become impossible to maintain and a new one is needed and found – which lasts until …(etc)

I wonder – and I cannot be the first to ask – whether this works in legal theory, and/or in Law teaching – and whether it should ? Could individual areas of Law be analysed this way – such that Donoghue v Stevenson marked a paradigm shift in the Law of Tort, such that Human Rights Law enjoys (if that is the right word) paradigm shifts as its uses/contents both are rethought ?


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