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Issue #18 -- February 2007. Pp. 27-32
Kuhn, Metaphysical Realism, and Reduplication
Copyright © by Andrew M. Bailey and Sorites
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Kuhn, Metaphysical Realism, and Reduplication
Andrew M. Bailey

One orthodox interpretation of Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions charges him with two follies. First, Kuhn's paradigms are supposed to have a constructive or constitutive function.Foot note 1 They do not merely reflect reality -- they are reality. Second, Kuhn is said to disregard truth for something lesser (such as coherence). At the least, he is said here to have abandoned any common sense notion of correspondence. Consider Franklin's radical and well-phrased claim that, «The worst effect of Kuhn, and the one taken up both most unthinkingly and most forcefully across the whole range of disciplines he influenced, has been the frivolous discarding of the way things are as a constraint on theory about the way things are.»Foot note 2 The conjunction of these two prongs of attack amounts to a charge of creative anti-realism.Foot note 3 Kuhn's anti-realism is supposed to be more than a merely epistemic thesis (such as scientific anti-realism), furthermore -- it is a metaphysical view about what is.

The alleged vices of creative anti-realism are well-known and oft-recited; I will not catalogue them here, merely noting that the view tends towards self-stultification. Instead, I argue that Structure does not commit Kuhn to such a view. I will contribute to this end this by offering an analysis of one troubling passage. It is not unique; many analogues can be found scattered throughout Structure. In providing an analysis of the one, then, I hope to shed light on the many.

The passage in question ends Kuhn's initial discussion of the nature of scientific theories and their relation to the paradigmatic commitments of relating scientific communities:

An investigator who hoped to learn something about what scientists took the atomic theory to be asked a distinguished physicist and an eminent chemist whether a single atom of helium was or was not a molecule. Both answered without hesitation, but their answers were not the same. For the chemist the atom of helium was a molecule... for the physicist, on the other hand, the helium atom was not a molecule. Presumably both men were talking of the same particle, but they were viewing it through their own research training and practice.Foot note 4

Kuhn may hold there to be exactly one object in question («the same particle»); he has thus thrown the realists a bone. But what are we to make of the other language he uses? I take his «For the chemist...» locution to mean more than merely «according to the chemist.» That is, he is not merely pointing out a place of disagreement, with one right and one wrong party. Instead, he points to a case of difference in paradigmatic commitments.Foot note 5 The question then arises: is Kuhn suggesting that an object of scientific study can actually have feature and not have it? Can one and the same object be a molecule and not be a molecule at the same time and in the same sense?

A tempting solution lies in the opposite side of side of the spectrum; to maintain that more than one object is in question -- that the chemist and the physicist really are looking at two non-identical things. On this reading, Kuhn's famous claim that that scientists of different paradigms «study different worlds altogether» might be taken at face value. But this is to embrace a problematic notion of creative anti-realism, given what Kuhn has already claimed about the nature of scientific paradigms. Neither of these solutions, then, seems promising. The dilemma's two horns can be formally explicated as follows:

i. ∃x(Fx & ¬Fx) «There exists some object which both has and does not have feature F»

ii. ∃x(Fx) & ∃y((y=x) & (¬Fy)) «There exists some object which has feature F and some distinct object which does not have F.»

(i) is a formal contradiction; if Kuhn is committed to this, his position seems reduced to incoherent babbling, hardly a promising prospect. (ii), in conjunction with other remarks by Kuhn entails a denial of realism (in some important sense), a first step towards a global creative anti-realism. Can a third reading be found to avoid these pitfalls?

One key to unraveling this potentially incoherent tapestry is in the locution «for S...»Foot note 6 I suggest that Kuhn's language hints at a solution involving reduplicative propositions of the form x as c is F. Armed with this conceptual resource, one can maintain that an object `as c' has a feature while the exact same object `as d' does not.Foot note 7 We can see how Kuhn might maintain this more precisely, with Fxc signifying a reduplicative proposition attributing a feature F to a subject x, not as such, but as something c, by positing the following:

iii. ∃x(Fxc) & ¬Fxc) «There exists some object which as c has feature F and as d does not have F.»

A direct formal contradiction can thus be avoided. While the Fxc locution is perhaps ambiguous,Foot note 8 it is not obviously incoherent -- just the sort of epistemic virtue needed in rescuing Structure from the dilemma explicated above.

One example (that Kuhn himself draws on)Foot note 9 may increase the plausibility of the reduplicative solution: the Gestalt Switch. A single drawing as a rabbit can be truthfully said to have ears, while as a duck, it cannot. The difference is not merely one of perspective, furthermore -- it really is the case that the `rabbit picture' has ears, and it really is the case that the `duck picture' does not. These differences cannot be reduced to perceptual or epistemic differences -- they are ontological, in some important sense.

Reduplicative propositions are common-place in English -- I take this as further evidence of their cogency. Consider Morris' clearly coherent example of the shocking Jones who is an upstanding Sunday School teacher but a lecherous theology professor. Jones as a professor is a seducer of his students, yet as a Sunday School teacher he is not.Foot note 10 Both statements can be true at the same time without fear of contradiction. While success of this analysis will rest upon the ultimate coherence of reduplicative propositions, a subject beyond this paper, I here suggest that Kuhn's central thesis have more promise when seen `as (iii)' than `as (i) or (ii).'

A respondent may object that (iii) is no different than (i) or (ii), in that it faces an analogous dilemma. It must collapse into one of the two untenable positions already articulated. There are, after all, either one or more than one objects of study. xc must be either identical to, or distinct from xd. If xc is identical to xd, then there is just one object, and the formal contradiction of (i) can readily be derived -- one object with an inconsistent set of properties. If xc is not identical to xd, two distinct (non-identical) objects are being studied, and the anti-realist folly of (ii) has been succumbed to.

Though this objection seem on its face to be a powerful one. I grant that the dilemma it presents has some intuitive force, but I believe it to be misguided nonetheless. The inference of the dilemma's first horn seems valid enough. Its seems, in fact, to merely rely upon an iteration of the universal Principle of the Indiscernability of Identicals, as innocent a premise as any. The inference in question can be formalized (using my reduplicative notation) as something like the following:

iv. ∀x, c, d (xc = xd ⊃ ∀F(Fxc_↔ Fxd)). «For every x, every c, and every d, if x as c is identical to x as d, then for every feature F, x as c will have F iff x as d has F.»

This seems reasonable enough. If the Principle of the Indiscernability of Identicals is a law of logic, and reduplication is a coherent maneuver, furthermore, (iv) is not only true -- it is necessarily so -- a theorem of basic predicate logic with identity. Thus, the option of positing xc and xd as identicals seems precluded. To claim this option would be to affirm a contradiction of the most egregious sort: one subject with explicitly incompatible predications made of it. The first horn of the dilemma, then, is not a tenable option for a defender of the reduplicative reading of Kuhn.

Despite the apparent validity of (iv), and its admittedly intuitive force, it is not a sufficiently strong premise to make the second horn of the dilemma fatal to my project. Here's why: the second horn of the objection relies upon a different inference, which I hold to be invalid. Instead of merely positing that identical objects have identical sets of properties, it claims that if some object x is referenced via a reduplicative proposition in two distinct orthographic strings, and that the two reduplications are not identical, then `x' being referenced in the first reduplicative proposition must be non-identical to `y' in the second reduplicative proposition. The force behind this horn of the objection seems to rely upon an inference, then, of the following sort:

v. ∀x, y, c, d ((xc = yd) ⊃ (x=y))

«For every x, every y, every c, and every d, if x as c is not identical to y as d, then x as such is not identical to y as such.»

But what reason is there to believe that this follows? It seems consistent to posit x and y as identical (disregard for a moment their disparate designations `x' and `y' to see this), despite the distinction between their `reduplicative counterparts.' Application of a prior example will illustrate my point. If (v) were a valid rule of inference, the following conjunction I've already considered could not be true, where `Jones' is taken to rigidly designate the same person in both atomic propositions:

vi. Jones as a professor is a seducer of his students, yet as a Sunday School teacher Jones is not.

If (v) is a law of logic akin the Principle of the Indiscernability of Identicals (from which I take it to derive much of its intuitive force), it must be necessarily true. But what is at stake by claiming that (v) is a necessary theorem of some logic? I take this to in turn entail that there is no possible world W in which there are some objects x and y such that x is identical to y where x as c is distinct from y as d. And yet, it seems more obviously possible that (vi) than that (v). This is so since (vi) seems to point to a genuinely possible world in which the very state of affairs precluded by (v) obtains. Since (vi), of course, can be possibly true only if (v) is false, I suggest that one is justified in rejecting (v), and, by extension, (v) as a law of logic.

I conclude that (v) may obtain in some worlds, but if it is not a law of logic, we have little reason to believe that it obtains in the actual world. If a cognate of (vi) actually obtains, we have good reason to believe that (v) does not obtain in the actual world. The evidence is thus stacked against (v), and for this reason, I suggest that it is false.

Taking on the second horn of the dilemma as I have done entails that that xc and yd are non-identical.Foot note 11 But this is not as problematic as the objection initially suggests. That two objects `x as c' or `y as d' are distinct, as I have argued above, does not preclude the identity of x as such and y as such. Furthermore, that x as such and y as such remain identical (despite differences which obtain between their reduplicative counterparts) can ground a robust metaphysical realism, even across paradigmatic divides, giving Kuhn just the sort of reality hook necessary to maintain the claim of a scientist experiencing a paradigm shift that, «Whatever he may then see, the scientist after a revolution is still looking at the same world.»Foot note 12 Hence, I conclude that the objection is not a defeater to my project or to Kuhn's. I finally note that this recognition makes room for the possibility of (iii), not just as a good reading of Kuhn, but as being within the realm of genuine possibility -- and perhaps even something we have reason to believe actually obtains.

The same worry I have already considered can be stated somewhat differently. Let us suppose that there is some object x that as c is F and as d is not-F. Does the conjunction of these two atomic propositions yield the contradiction of (i) -- that `Fx & ¬Fx?' I see no grounds for this conclusion. To claim that (iii) collapses into (i), as the objector here does, seems to simply to beg the question against the defender of the reduplicative reading of Kuhn.Foot note 13 It is to suppose that there is nothing different about a reduplicative proposition and an atomic proposition of the normal variety -- but this is the very matter under dispute. The move being made by my potential detractor, then, is simply a denial of my project's success -- but absent independent reason to affirm this denial, it is a dialectically suspect maneuver, and persuasive only to one already convinced of the detractor's position.

I have considered a means of digging Kuhn out of a potentially deep pit. I have furthermore defended this analysis against a powerful objection. My solution has three advantages. First, as already articulated, it avoids the `formal contradiction or anti-realism' dilemma. Kuhn and his defenders need not posit objects of scientific inquiry under differing paradigms as entirely distinct in all sense -- nor need they claim that such objects have contradictory property sets. Second, it suggests an immediate research project which may prove fruitful; reduplicative propositions. While some quality work has been done in this area in the history of philosophy (eg, Aristotle's sketch of what it is to speak of `x qua y'), there is no systematic, analytical body of work on the topic. Reduplication could be treated as a special sort of modal sentential operator, as a component of the subject of predication (as I have done above), or as a descriptive addition to a rigidly designating name, fixing reference thickly, so to speak.Foot note 14 Third, I note that my solution coheres well with Kuhn's overall project and self-identification:

But is sensory experience fixed and neutral? Are theories simply man-made interpretations of given data? The epistemological viewpoint that has most often guided Western philosophy for three centuries dictates an immediate and unequivocal, Yes! In the absence of a developed alternative, I find it impossible to relinquish entirely that viewpoint. Yet it no longer functions effectively, and the attempts to make it do so through the introduction of neutral language of observations now seem to me hopeless.Foot note 15

The above quotation, combined with statements like, «though the world does not change with a change of paradigm, the scientist afterward works in a different world,»Foot note 16 suggest that Kuhn sees himself at a mid-point on a spectrum between creative anti-realism and deep or naive realism. My solution carves out a bit of dialectical space for Kuhn to work within by articulating part of that third way -- reduplication.Foot note 17 In doing this, I have dismantled one compelling reason to view Kuhn as a creative anti-realist.Foot note 18


Andrew M. Bailey
Biola University
<wrathius [at][ gmail [dot] com>









[Foot Note 1]

See, for example, the (not uncommon) claim that, «Kuhn suggests that in one sense one's paradigms are partially constitutive of one's world. It isn't just that with different paradigms we see and mean differently (although he means at least that), but that in some sense which he has difficulty defining, the worlds to which are paradigms address themselves differ.» Del Ratzsch, Philosophy of Science, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986), p.51.


[Foot Note 2]

James Franklin, «Thomas Kuhn's Irrationalism,» The New Criterion Vol. 18, No. 10, June 2000.


[Foot Note 3]

«[creative anti-realism is the thesis] that we are actually responsible for the basic lineaments, the fundamental structure and framework of the world itself [emphasis added].» Alvin Plantinga, in The Analytic Theist, ed. James F. Sennet. (Grand Rapids/Cambridge: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1998), p.330.


[Foot Note 4]

Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 3rd Ed., (Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 50-51.


[Foot Note 5]

As others have noted, there are at least two important senses of «paradigm»: «(1) an example to be followed (in style and technique), or (2) a core set of assumptions (embedded in the example) to be used to ground research.» Mark R. Brawley, Hegemonic Leadership: Is the Concept Still Useful?, 19 Conn. J. Int'l L. 345, Spring 2004. In this paper, I focus strictly on the latter. For critical analysis of Kuhn's various senses of «paradigm,» see Dudley Shapere, «The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,» Philosophical Review 73, 1964, 383-94 and Gerd Buchdahl, «Revolution in the Historiography of Science,» History of Science 4. 1965, 55-69.


[Foot Note 6]

That is, «For the chemist...» or «For the physicist...»


[Foot Note 7]

Here I develop in more detail a passing remark in Israel Scheffler, Science and Subjectivity (New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1967), 45-66. While Scheffler's approach is critical of Kuhn; I intend to show how a reduplicative solution can cohere with the text and with realism.


[Foot Note 8]

For example, it could refer to a mode of being («x as an electron») or to a mode of perception («x seen as an electron»). The distinction between the two could prove to by an important one in attacking or defending the coherence of my reduplicative analysis.


[Foot Note 9]

See Kuhn, 63, 111-114, 127, 150. At one point in Structure, Kuhn himself dismisses the Gestalt switch as a complete model to understand changes in paradigmatic commitments (p.85). In other passages, however, he suggests that something closer to the opposite is the case. I shall simply assume that this aberration is an oversight on Kuhn's part and will side with the majority of the textual data in giving a reduplicative reading of what happens in cross-paradigm study (scientists of differing paradigms studying the same world) and paradigm shifts.


[Foot Note 10]

Thomas V. Morris, The Logic of God Incarnate. (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1986), 48-49.


[Foot Note 11]

This is my way of making sense of Kuhn's claims that the «data themselves change» subsequent to a paradigm shift. Kuhn, 134.


[Foot Note 12]

Ibid., 129.


[Foot Note 13]

For one enlightening (and amusing) take on presumption and begging the question, see Peter van Inwagen, An Essay on Free Will, (New York/Oxford: Clarendon Press/Oxford University Press, 1983), 18, 101-103.


[Foot Note 14]

Kuhn himself intriguingly suggests something similar to this in the descriptivist theory of reference he assumes when discussing the different worlds observed by scientists of differing paradigms: Kuhn, 148.


[Foot Note 15]

Ibid., 126.


[Foot Note 16]

Ibid., 121.


[Foot Note 17]

It's not surprising that Kuhn has often been interpreted as a creative anti-realist, given certain features of the history of thought at his time. Morawetz notes one of them: «Kuhn's model of scientific and conceptual revolutions fell on receptive ears and had influence beyond its intended domain. As an intellectual ploy, it resonated with the mid-century currency of Wittgenstein's model of language games. Just as Wittgenstein urged us to think of all communicative efforts (and, by implication, all thought) as embedded within a bedrock way of proceeding that is not subject to reflection and questioning, a form of life, Kuhn seemed to apply this insight to science.» Thomas Morawetz, Paradigms, Assumptions, and Strategies: Royce and Method, 10 Conn. Ins. L.J. 123, 2003/2004.


[Foot Note 18]

I am indebted to Gregg Ten Elshof for his critical comments that contributed to the development of this paper. All errors are, of course, my own.




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