A dialogue is a discourse consisting of question and answer on some philosophical or political subject, with due regard to the characters of the persons introduced and the choice of diction. The dialectic is the art of discourse by which we either refute or establish some proposition by means of question and answer on the part of the interlocutors.
By Matteo Motterlini
The following dialogue between Lakatos and Feyerabend is obviously nothing more than fiction, but over the years a real dialogue did take place between the two friends. It consisted in a genuine, lengthy, continuous, and outspoken exchange of letters and papers which shows the two men taking stands in the discussion for and against method. My fictitious reconstruction mirrors their own contributions, but paraphrases them for stylistic reasons. . . The rhetorical form of the dialogue is well described in the above fragment by Diogenes Laertius. The reason for adopting it here is given by the two imaginary interlocutors explicitly at the beginning of their discourse.
Rumour has it, dear Imre, that while one can freely discuss ideas in a loose way, in letters, phone calls, and at dinner, academics will always prefer an essay or a book. And any paper of this kind has a beginning, a middle, and an end. There is an exposition, a development, and a result. After that the idea is as clear and well-defined as a dead butterfly in a collector’s box.’
Plato thought that the gulf between ideas and life could be bridged by dialogue — not by a written dialogue, which he considered but a superficial account of past events, but by a real, spoken exchange between people of different backgrounds. I agree that a dialogue reveals more than an essay. It can show the effect of arguments on outsiders. It makes explicit the loose ends which an essay tries to conceal by showing the inconclusiveness of “conclusions”
. . . and, above all, it can demonstrate the chimaerical nature of what we believe to be the most solid parts of our lives. And with this, we have already reached our topic. In particular, I would like to discuss the tremendous gulf that exists between the various images of science and the ‘real thing’. I cannot but think that the fine dividing line between scientific truth and epistemological ‘castles in the air’ is in fact very similar to the line we draw between ‘normal’ and ‘insane’ people: a trait which recurs among the latter is the tendency to detach themselves further and further from reality.’
I agree that any attempt to reform science by bringing it closer to the abstract image philosophers have of it is bound to damage and may even destroy it.
The point on which we disagree, though, is your attempt to save both ‘Progress’ and ‘Reason’. You claim there are standards which are flexible enough that they leave science leeway in which to progress and at the same time substantial enough to let reason survive.
As a matter of fact, my standards apply to series of theories (research programmes) and not to individual theories; they judge the evolution of a programme over a period of time, and not its shape in a given instant; they compare its growth with that of rival programs. These criteria are therefore open both to the history and to the practice of science. Moreover, I term ‘progressive’ any programme which predicts events confirmed by subsequent research, thereby leading to the discovery of ‘new’ facts. I term ‘degenerating’ any programme which makes no such predictions, but simply ‘saves’ data discovered by its rival. Since I do not believe there exists any ‘natural saturation point’ in a programme, I can also distinguish between falsification and rejection, something Popper could not do. In this way I am entitled to ‘shift’ his initial problem—the demarcation between science and pseudoscience—to the new one of demarcating between good science and bad science (i.e., between progressive and degenerating programmes)
I’m with you, but one question keeps bothering me, and that is whether there is any pragmatic implication in evaluating theories with your kind of standards.
Methodological standards act like teachers: they give marks to theories. Moral criteria used in judging individuals have grave practical implications in education; similarly, scientific criteria used in judging theories have deep consequences for scientific method?
Are you saying that if a research programme is judged better than a rival one, scientists ought to work on the allegedly superior one?
I am actually injecting some Popperian elements into the judgement of whether a programme progresses or degenerates, or whether it is overtaking another one. I am giving you criteria for progress and stagnation within a programme, and rules for the ‘elimination’ of entire programmes. Should a programme explain in a progressive way more than a rival programme accounts for, then it ‘supersedes’ the latter, and the rival one may be ‘rejected’ or simply ‘shelved’. You cannot at this point fail to understand what the pragmatic meaning of ‘rejecting’ a programme is: very simply, it means the decision to cease working on it.
OK, but it is easy to see that standards of your kind have practical force only if combined with some time limit after which to keep working on a degenerating programme would be ‘irrational’. If you accept the idea of the time limit, then unfortunately, arguments very similar to the ones you used against naive falsificationism backfire against your own standards. Consider that if it is unwise to reject faulty theories the moment they are born because they might grow and improve, then it is also unwise to reject research programmes on a downward trend because they might recover and attain unforseen splendour: a butterfly emerges when the caterpillar has reached its lowest state of degeneration…
Don’t get me wrong here. My methodology deals exclusively with fully fledged research programmes, but has no intention of handing out advice to the scientist on how to arrive at good theories or on which of two rival theories he should work on. The standards of appraisal I put forward explain why it is rational to accept Einstein’s theory rather than Newton’s, but they do not force the scientist to work on the Einsteinian programme rather than the Newtonian one. I can only judge what scientists have done: I can say whether they have progressed or not. But I cannot give them any advice—nor do I wish to.
And yet, at the beginning, the bold project of “the logic of scientific discovery” was aimed at describing those rules which govern the acceptance and rejection of scientific theories. Rules that should have functioned as a code of intellectual honesty whose violation was intolerable.” What, then, is the point of laying down rules which may be either followed or ignored? You’re like the author of a cookbook who describes the recipe for making good pizza and then remarks: “Of course, I am not telling you what to do, but whatever you do, keep a record of it.” Your standards are only verbal ornaments: a remembrance of past happier times when it was still thought possible to run a complex and often catastrophic business like science by following a few simple and ‘rational’ rules. As a matter of fact, your flexible scientific `method’ is nothing but a disguised version of my anything goes.
There is freedom (`anarchy’, if you like) in choosing which programme to work on, but the products must be judged. You are conflating methodological appraisal of a research programme with heuristic advice on what to do. One may rationally stick to a degenerating programme until it is overtaken by another, and even after. What one must not do is ignore its poor record. Playing a risky game is perfectly rational (and honest): what is irrational (and dishonest) is to pretend the risk isn’t there, or to belittle it. Everyone is free to follow his own peculiar inclinations, but only as long as he publicly admits the state of open competitiveness.
I still think you are not clear enough in your distinction of rationality and honesty: a person can easily be rational and dishonest (or irrational and honest). Dillinger was surely dishonest, but it would be hard to show that he was irrational with regard to his research programme, which just happened to be organised crime. If your only piece of advice is to be honest in judging the evidential pros and cons of the various research programmes, then consider how futile is the point of view which allows a thief to steal as much as he wants, and yet be praised by the police and by everybody else as an honest man provided he admits to stealing. If your methodology differs from anarchism in this sense only, then I’m ready to become one of its fans. Who would prefer criticism to praise, if all he has to do is describe his actions in the language of a particular school?
Wait a second. I’m not saying that people who support a degenerating research programme should enjoy as much freedom as you seem to imply. In fact, they should not be allowed to publish their papers, which contain, in general, solemn iterations of their positions or attempts to reabsorb counterevidence by ad hoc adjustments. Editors should refuse publication, research foundations should refuse them funds.]’
And here we come across yet another “strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.” First you give full rein to your anarchic vein, maintaining that the only irrational kind of behaviour consists in denying the state of the programme one is working on. Then you entreat publishers and societies to refuse printing and funds! Let me also add that I was not at all confusing ‘methodological appraisal’ with ‘heuristic advice’, as you seem to suggest. I was rather insisting that there is a legitimate link between them. You are the first to admit this when, betraying your authoritarian nature, you strengthen your standards not on an argumentative level, but by shaping a historical and social situation which renders it difficult, in practice, to cultivate a degenerating programme. Taken by themselves your standards are incapable of ruling out the most outrageous behaviour; taken in conjunction with a certain kind of conservatism, on the other hand, they have a subtle but firm influence on the scientific community. You want it both ways: you’re making the omelette (you have more liberal standards), keeping the eggs (you have them used in a conservative way), and even passing as a rationalist!
I’m not ‘passing’ as a rationalist, I’m a full-blooded rationalist!
You abhor irrationality, that’s true. And yet you can exclude it only by adopting measures which turn out to be irrational when set against your very own standards! This of course doesn’t make you a willing anarchist, but it makes you a rationalist who by misadventure ends up in irrationality.
But still there is a considerable difference between us.
There is a considerable difference in rhetorics. Combining commonsense standards of scientists with the methodology of scientific research programmes, you utilize the intuitive plausibility of the former to support the latter: a splendid Trojan horse that can be used to smuggle real, honest (a word you hold so dear) anarchism into the minds of our most dedicated rationalists. You are much better at this than I am, since rationalists are constitutionally incapable of accepting anarchism when it is offered to them undisguised. One day, of course, they will realise that this is what happened. That will be the day they will finally be ready for anarchism, pure and simple. I have to admit that your plan is diabolical. But remember, my name is Lucifer, so it is I who bring the light, not you!
Yes, but Lucifer denotes the chap who brings false light, while I am shrouding them in the darkness of truth. My methodology is a theory for characterising real cases of growth of knowledge and distinguishing them from impostures. Its appraisals are retrospective: they tell us only that a programme has been better than its rival up till now, without in any way deciding anything for the future.
This, however, means that any piece of advice based on past performance will be totally arbitrary, and we are back at the start.
No, we aren’t. If the methodology of research programmes aims to be something more than a descriptive account of the past performance of theories, then it must provide its methodological rules with an extramethodological support of a conjectural kind. I once asked that Sir Karl Popper admit a ‘whiff’ of inductivism in order to relate the scientific gambit of pragmatic acceptances and rejections to verisimilitude.
A ‘whiff’? I would rather say a full-blown storm.
Call it what you wish. The point is that only a similar ‘inductive principle’ can turn science from a mere game into an epistemologically rational activity; from a set of lighthearted sceptical gambits pursued for intellectual fun into a serious fallibilistic venture of approximating the ‘Truth of the Universe’.
But what have we gained?
I can now give a positive answer to your previous question concerning the value of any practical indications based on judgements which refer exclusively to scientists’ past performances. Thanks to our `conjectural principle of induction’, the fact that our appraisals may in the future be contradicted does not constitute a good reason for not relying on them now. Even though the future is unpredictable, programmes chosen at random are not all equally promising. Thus, from an appraisal such as “programme A has been degenerating up till now whereas programme B has been progressing,” one may possibly derive a piece of practical advice, such as that the scientific community should devote most of its intellectual and economic resources to programme B (and note that most is not equivalent to all!). This solution certainly offers ‘all the advantages of honest theft over dishonest toil’; but it might be that in this area ‘honest theft’ is our only option.
So what’s left of the anti-inductivist bequest of Popper, who is commonly known as the slayer of Logical Positivism and as the one who solved (in a negative way) ‘Hume’s problem’?
It seems to me that Popper has to admit that methodological appraisals are interesting primarily because of a hidden inductive assumption-that is, that if we act in conformity with these appraisals, we have a better chance to get nearer to the Truth than otherwise. This reminds me of Columbus when the “sea current carries exotic plants, animal carcases, finely carved wooden objects, and he visualizes the far-off and yet unknown land from which these objects come.”
One of the examples Ernst Mach loved to use when he wanted to show the vital importance of conjectures, even the most speculative ones.
Neither can we do without bold hypotheses in the theory of knowledge. The fact that one particular assumption is put forward as pure speculation shows that we are conscious both of its lack of proof and of its necessity. There is nothing wrong with fallible and speculative metaphysics, but only with interpreting such metaphysical statements as infallible inductive principles.
I like your candid fallibilism, which is surely a step in the right direction. I mean towards releasing our most deeply rooted beliefs from their putrid foundations. Yet the task of scientists no longer lies in “searching for the truth” or “improving predictions,” but rather, in the words of the Sophists, “in making the weaker case the stronger one, thereby to sustain the motion of the whole.”
So, from your point of view, as I understood it, it is not “the truth [that] will make you free”?
The truth, whatever it is, be damned. Play, fun, and fiction will make you free. Someone who laughs looks intelligent (much more so than someone who explains her ‘profound convictions’). She seems magically lifted out of the sea of fear, poverty, and egoism into which fate threw her and in which she is kept by the ‘truth’. What we need is to take things lightly. Were I to choose an auspicious image for the new millennium, I would choose this one: the sudden agile leap of the philosopher who raises himself above the weight of the world, showing that with all his gravity he has the secret of lightness. (Of course, I would be talking about the lightness of thoughtfulness rather than the lightness of frivolity. In fact, the thoughtful kind of lightness can make frivolity seem dull and heavy.) You have a gift for laughter, even where your own position is concerned; thus for me you are a good guy.
But we live in a world moulded by science: isn’t this reason enough to study science?
Of course it is. But when there is an invasion of locusts, people study locusts in order to be free of them, not so as to turn them into new-found gods!
So here’s my idea of pesticide. I have claimed that the unit of appraisal for the growth of knowledge is a series of theories, in which each one is obtained by adding some auxiliary clauses in order to accommodate certain anomalies and produce new predictions. But we must also require that, at least once in a while, the increase in content should be corroborated: the programme as a whole should also display an intermittently progressive empirical shift.”
And this is where your recipe fails to work: how should we conclude that the research programme in question has ‘run out of steam’ and should therefore be abandoned? In fact, what appears to be a sequence of degenerating adjustments may just happen to be the initial phase of a long progressive development. After Aristotle and Ptolemy, the idea of the Earth moving —that weird, ancient, and ‘entirely ridiculous’ Pythagorean view—was dumped into history’s rubbish heap, until Copernicus breathed new life into it and forged it into a weapon to defeat its defeaters.
All programmes are at first only “excrescences of imagination fighting for existence by trying to outgrow each other.” However, such “flowers of phantasy” must be destroyed by merciless criticism, before a single one develops further and attains some permanence. Lacking the role of criticism, science would be reduced to “a witches’ sabbath of adventurous ideas.”
But my objection return: if you don’t specify a time limit for a (degenerating) programme, ‘criticism’ won’t guide the growth of knowledge. How could you then distinguish scientists doing science from witches in `sabbath’?
It would not be very wise to assert, in the abstract, a time limit valid for all situations. In fact, any appraisal of an individual case should not be applied mechanically, but should rather follow from general principles allowing for some Spielraum. And I chose the term ‘intermittently’ in my proposal to give sufficient rational scope for dogmatic adherence to a programme in the face of prima facie `refutations’
I can’t tell how your idea of the growth of knowledge differs from mine. It resembles an ever-increasing ocean of alternatives: every agle theory, every fairy tale, every myth forces the others into greater -ticulation and via a competitive process they all contribute to the deAopment of our consciousness.
But I’m lucky enough to own a compass that enables me to avigate that ocean in many ways. I still think it’s useless to indicate a ‘me limit in the abstract relating to a research programme, deciding, ay, on its thirtieth or fiftieth degenerating version that it must be reected. Notwithstanding, I still think it possible, sensible, and practical o give that time limit indirectly, by comparatively evaluating two or Wore programmes and their respective states of progress.
Where, then, does the ‘objective’ (as opposed to socio-psychological) reason to reject a programme lie?
The objective reason to reject a programme is supplied by another programme which explains the previous success of its rival and supersedes it by a further display of heuristic power.
But my objection can spring back against your time limit in `comparative terms’ .
. . . alright, but I have no intention of claiming any direct inference from: “programme A is currently most favored by evidence” to: “the only rational course of action is that of working on programme A” (or: “it would be irrational to try to develop any alternative programme”). If we were to accept this criterion, we would be claiming that all the great scientists in history have acted irrationally! The wave theory of light, for example, was not unambiguously the best theory available when Fresnel decided to work on it in the early nineteenth century; it was Fresnel’s work that turned it into overwhelmingly the best available theory.
This seems to me simply another way of saying that there is no rational way of showing that the choices taken by a scientist who works inside a degenerating research programme are necessarily irrational.
You’re right, and you’re wrong. If we are satisfied with ‘deductive rationality’, then you’re right: if we are referring to mere logical possibilities, then of course there is nothing illogical in believing and hoping that however badly a programme has behaved in the past, it may still recover and reach unsuspected peaks of splendour. But Duhem had already shown that deductive logic alone when coupled with crude observational results can supply only a very weak theory of rationality. On the other hand, if we will not be satisfied with the weak requirements that logic alone demands from scientific practice, then you’re wrong. No doubt there are cases of very general metaphysical ideas that have had a chequered history; once absorbed into a steadily degenerating programme, they have then much later been brought back to life as elements of a progressive programme. Atomism is often cited as a good example of this. But if we take a look at specific cases, if we consider individual research programmes, then it becomes apparent that in the history of physics no one who has stuck to a highly degenerating research programme when a progressive alternative was available has ever managed to reverse the situation. Thus, although I agree that there is nothing illogical in choosing to work on a degenerating programme, that choice is indeed irrational (unscientific) simply in the sense that it does not follow a procedure that seems to have invariably paid off in science.
And what on earth would these ‘procedures’ be? The new astronomy of Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo took root; witch hunts came to an end: these facts were brought about because independent thinkers resolved to introduce and defend obsolete theories in spite of all the traditional methodological procedures. The theory of witchcraft, far from being a mere outburst of folly, had a well-defined structure between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; it was ‘rationally’ formulated and ‘empirically’ confirmed. The Copernican theory, on the other hand, contradicted some of the most convincing observations of the time, as well as reasonable principles of physics which had produced surprising results in physiology, psychology, and even theology.
I disagree, and I’ll explain why. It seems to me that while there has been no general agreement concerning a theory of scientific rationality, there has been considerable agreement concerning the basic value judgements about specific achievements of science, that is, whether a particular move in the game was scientific or crankish, or whether a particular gambit was played correctly or not.
And yet the ‘common scientific wisdom’ you give so much weight to is not very common and certainly not very wise. On the one hand, basic value judgements are not as uniform as you assume. ‘Science’ is split into numerous disciplines, each of which may adopt a different attitude towards a given theory, and single disciplines into schools, heresies, and so forth. The basic value judgements of an experimentalist will differ from those of a theoretician. A faithful Bohrian will regard modifications of quantum theory with a different eye than will the faithful Einsteinian. On the other hand, basic value judgements are only rarely made for good reasons. Everyone agrees now that Copernicus’s hypothesis was a big step forward but hardly anyone can give a halfway decent account of it, let alone enumerate the reasons for its excellence. Newton’s theory of gravitation was “highly regarded by the greatest scientists,” most of whom were unaware of its difficulties and some of whom believed that it could be derived from Kepler’s law. Whatever unity remains is dissolved during revolutions. Revolutions leave no theory unturned and, above all, no principle unchallenged. Now: if revolutions challenge all the ideas born in connection with those procedures, including ‘basic’ value judgements, how can you decide to reject, say, the standards of Aristotelian philosophy along with its ‘basic’ value judgements in order to replace them with the standards and the basic value judgements of Galileo’s or Newton’s science?
On the basis of a ‘rational reconstruction’.
On the basis of a rational reconstruction of what?
On the basis of the rational reconstruction of science from the point of view of modern science.
But in this way you are assuming what has still to be proved: the methodological supremacy of modern science. And you are also condemning the Aristotelians from ‘our’ point of view, without showing that ours is better than theirs.
Your position is just a colourful version of Pyrrhonian scepticism. You should look at the excellent book by Dick Popkin: The History of Scepticism. From a sceptic’s point of view, scientific theories are a set of beliefs which have equal epistemological ranking to so many other sets of beliefs. There may be change in belief systems but no progress. It follows that any system is free to grow and influence any other; but none can claim epistemological superiority. You deny any possibility of producing any theory of appraisal whatsoever. Your only piece of advice is: do your own thing. This is your only code of intellectual honesty.”
Be careful, I’m not simply a Pyrrhonian, but rather a ‘cultural relativist’. I think the validity of ideas depends on the tradition against which we compare them. Einstein is better than Newton from a modern scientist’s point of view, worse from a Dinglerian’s, and the problem is of no interest at all from a Hopi Indian’s point of view
I’m very careful, and to my mind there is a basic weakness in your position. I can show that you are two-faced: one face is the face of a sceptic, the other is the face of an authoritarian. Let me explain: the tolerant sceptics believed that utopian dogmatism was responsible for the worst suffering of mankind. They pointed out that those who claimed to possess moral, political, and religious ‘truth’, those who boasted of knowing which way progress lies, used the Inquisition and torture, bloody wars, and genocide in order to realize their predictions in practice. Tolerant sceptics dreamt of a social contract that would decide how to restrain the human animal and minimise suffering. From their point of view—and yours—happiness and welfare replaced Truth. They argued that betrayal of reason (or rather ‘reason’) by man was better than the betrayal of man by reason. However, in the face of any controversy, a sceptic has no choice: he either turns into a dogmatist or he resorts to force without argument. Thus, ultimately, there is only one type of political philosophy consistent with scepticism: the philosophy which equates right with might. This is why many sceptics became well-paid courtiers of the bloodiest tyrants in history
I still think that scepticism is not going far enough. If the sceptic does not know anything, then he may well do whatever he wants to do; that is, he may engage in propaganda, he may defend the status quo, he may oppose it: ‘anything goes’. Anything goes, on the other hand, clearly does not mean scepticism. It means: anything goes, therefore also law and order, argument, irrationalism, et cetera. But one point has to be made clear, I would not hurt a fly—let alone a human being.
I do not mind your anything goes, but when it comes to moral theory I even make mincemeat pieces of Pyrrho. Of course you would not hurt a fly, as you put it. The question is what you do when you are in a position in which you can hurt either one fly or another and you are bound to hurt one. Would you commit suicide? You may remember that before I started on research programmes, I discovered that I had to replace the question of the acceptance and rejection of theories with the preference of one theory over another. And this of course also applies to ethics and politics. Thus I am faced with a problem which / am willing to face but you cannot.
I admit I’m wrong, and you are right. But I don’t mind being wrong here and there.
Well, there are two different kinds of betrayal of reason, and yours is certainly the worst. The first consists in mitigated scepticism which originates as a sort of blind reaction to the outrages of dogmatism. It is the ancient betrayal of reason and I regard it as a venial sin. The second is radical scepticism. Undeterred by the long series of successes of Newtonian science, radical scepticism has tried to show that they were sham successes and even the best theories of the exact sciences were nothing other than irrational beliefs. The hallmark of the modern betrayal of reason is the intellectual attack on the objective epistemological value of the exact sciences. I regard this betrayal of reason as criminal.
I hold that any inquiry into a theory of ‘rationality’ should try to answer two main questions: (1) What is science? How does it proceed, what are its results, how do its procedures, standards, and results differ from procedures, standards, and results of other enterprises? (2) What is so great about science? What, for instance, makes it preferable to the form of life of the Azande? What makes modern science preferable to the science of the Aristotelians? You, on the contrary, along with all the other Friends of Reason, do not show, but simply assume, that modern science is ‘objectively’ better than the basic wisdom of witches and warlocks. In this way you take (mis-)possession of the term ‘rationality’ for ideological purposes, and you equate it with the standards characteristic of a certain intellectual community: that of scientists of ‘the past three hundred years’. To define as ‘rational’ whatever is consistent with those standards implies you have already answered the second question. But you have not: you don’t argue, you simply use the alleged superiority of science to justify those same standards you have already encoded in your methodology of scientific research programmes. You are forgetting that the strength of scepticism lies in the fact that, together with the particular results, the criteria to assess them are also changing—you’re the one who should leaf through the pages of Popkin’s book! What would you do if faced with a ‘new style of reasoning’ capable of producing yet another particular knowledge? What future Lakatos will inveigh against the hypothetical-deductive method and the theory of research programmes to which it has given birth?
I’m amused by your suggestion that scientific revolutions are revolutions in standards. This is of course the story I encapsuled in my announced book “The Changing Logic of Scientific Discovery.” I might agree that methods in science (and mathematics) change and can be expected to change. The important thing is to try to ensure that such methodological changes are for the better. However, we can take charge of this only if we succeed in rationally reconstructing change in standards as we reconstruct change in scientific theories. From this point of view my “Changing Logic” aims at grasping the “unfolding of reason” and presenting it “cut and dry,” after its process of formation has been completed.
But it might be the opposite of what you claim! I mean that the better a methodology seems to capture the rationality of science, the greater its actual mystification of science. After all, if the most arbitrary moves often coincide with the main radical turns in the growth of knowledge, then putting forward a ‘theory of rationality’ and using it to rule our (internal’) reconstruction of history is a tyrannical act of the intellect which damages both science and society. Nor is it of any use to claim stubbornly that science is superior to other forms of life. Science today reigns supreme not because of its comparative merits, but because the whole show has been rigged in its favour.
Alright, alright. Attaching a label with ‘rational’ or ‘irrational’ written on it to researchers’ strategies is not, after all, so significant for my methodological appraisals. But I’m not waving a white flag: the fundamentally valid idea that a programme is adopted by researchers not only for its explanatory power but especially for its heuristic power remains. It is adopted and retained for its ability both to put on the table new and interesting problems and to point to possible solutions. And my exhortation towards a rational reconstruction of individual historical cases should be taken as a historiographical programme, an encouragement towards defining the reasons and strategies which have produced new ideas. There is, therefore, nothing wrong in appraising past beliefs according to a given norm or theory of rationality. On the contrary, such judgements lead to historical data which is not easily obtainable in other ways, and also allow one to outline and explain the whole process. This does not imply that there is any need to pry into the brains of scientists in order to assess the ‘reasons’ or peculiar aversions which have governed their choices, but only that we should try to analyse and evaluate the case we are faced with in the light of our methodological standards. Any appraisal of ‘rationality’ of this kind is doubly desirable: the historian learns ‘new’ facts, the philosopher checks his own standards.
I’m ready to admit that as an instrument for carrying out research in the history of ideas your theory is vastly more sophisticated than Kuhn’s, and so it will definitely lead to more detailed research, and to more discoveries. The discoveries may in the end turn against you, but that does not discredit you today, when no other theory provides an equally detailed inventory of suggestions.
And I concede that one has to be sceptical with regard to an immutable statute law. This is why I advocate a pluralistic system of authority, one that would allow the particular authority of ‘basic’ statements to criticise the general authority of the theory of rationality, and vice versa. Only in this way can the proliferation of differing points of view, the comparison between different ‘rational’ reconstructions, the awareness of local strategies and of the reasons behind researchers’ moves specify how we can learn from history and, especially, how we can escape from the influence of the ‘worst’ philosophies or, to put it in the words of John Maynard Keynes, “to emancipate ourselves from old ideas which ramify, for those brought up as most of us have been, into every corner of our minds.”
You’ve struck a blow for your side, so let me answer back in the same way, and quote from Lenin: “History in general, and the history of revolutions in particular, is always richer in content, more varied, more many-sided, more lively and ingenious than even the best parties, the most conscious vanguards of the most advanced classes can imagine. This leads to two important practical consequences. First, that in order to fulfill its task, the revolutionary class must be able to master all forms or aspects of social activity without exception. Second, it must be ready to pass from one to another in the quickest and most unexpected manner.” Lenin, of course, is addressing parties and the revolutionary vanguards rather than scientists and methodologists, but the lesson is the same: methodological rules should be adapted to the circumstances and reinvented anew each time. This increases freedom, the sense of humanity, and the hope of succeeding. After all, you are the only philosopher of science who secretly imbibes the forbidden brew of Hegelian dialectic, and the results are evident in your magnificent work “Proofs and Refutations.” All that is required now is that you confess your ‘vices’ openly.
I’m afraid that some ardent Popperite may already be rejecting all that I am about to say, but I confess that even the poverty of historicism is better than the complete absence of it. Always providing, of course, that it is handled with the care necessary in dealing with any explosives . . .
. . . and is placed under the right targets.