Washington & Lee University

Phil 255
Philosophy of Science

Prof. Gregory
Winter 2003

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Reading Questions for

“Science: Conjectures and Refutations”


“Logic of Discovery or Psychology of Research?”
“The Nature and Necessity of Scientific Revolutions”

Sir Karl Popper
  Thomas S. Kuhn

Link to brief Encyclopędia Britannica bios of Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn

Popper, “Science: Conjectures and Refutations”

  1. Popper claims that in his work he was not looking for a criterion of truth or acceptability, nor (as he says toward the end of the selection) was he looking for a criterion of meaningfulness. What sort of criterion was he looking for? Why wasn’t he looking for one of these other criterions?
  2. What is wrong with the traditional answer to his problem—the answer that science is distinctive in being empirical and inductive?
  3. How, according to Popper, does Einstein’s theory importantly differ from Freud’s, Adler’s, and the Marxists’? I.e., what property does Einstein’s have in virtue of which it is scientific? Explain what this property is and why it functions as Popper’s criterion, rather than the property of being well-confirmed (a property which the other three theories each apparently have). What’s the problem with the sort of confirmation those theories have?
  4. Does Popper insist on practical testability or only on in principle testability? Does he always use ‘testability’ in the same way?
  5. In what sense does Popper think Marxism and psychoanalysis are like myths? If a theory is like a myth in this sense, is it necessarily useless to science?

Kuhn, “Logic of Discovery or Psychology of Research?”

  1. Kuhn agrees with Popper that scientists frequently perform tests, yet Kuhn differs from Popper on the nature of these tests. What sort of tests does Kuhn see as most frequent in science, and how do they differ from the tests which Popper discusses? What, according to Kuhn, do these tests reveal about the nature of science, and scientific progress, and how is this view contrary to Popper’s?
  2. Briefly explain Kuhn’s conceptions of (and differences between) normal science and revolutionary science (the commentary may help here, as this article takes these concepts somewhat for granted).
  3. In light of your answers to the above two questions, explain Kuhn’s provocative claim that “it is precisely the abandonment of critical discourse that marks the transition to a science” (14).
  4. How does Kuhn argue that astrology actually does meet Popper’s criterion? How does Kuhn rule out astrology as a science?
  5. Kuhn claims that even in the rare cases of revolutionary change (which is the type of change Kuhn thinks Popper focuses on to the exclusion of everything else), testing is not always a factor. Explain.

Kuhn, “The Nature and Necessity of Scientific Revolutions”

  1. What parallels does Kuhn see between scientific and political revolution? Why does he characterize revolutionary change as involving choice between “incompatible modes of community life” and “mass persuasion” with “no standard higher than the assent of the relevant community”?
  2. The traditional view of the history of science and scientific change is one of continuous cumulative growth. But Kuhn argues that the history of science is actually beset with periods of revolution which are importantly discontinuous, and that cumulative incorporation of novel phenomena is improbable. Explain this view and the support he gives for it, as well as the claim that “the differences between successive paradigms are both necessary and irreconcilable”. (bottom of 94)
  3. What does Kuhn mean when he claims (95) that successive paradigms are incommensurable?
  4. What does all this mean for the supposed rationality (or lack thereof) of science—both in terms of periods of normal science and periods of revolutionary change?

Remember to jot down or email one or two questions you had while reading. Include your thoughts on possible answers.