Philosophical Problems in the Contemporary World

by Dilek Arlı Çil (Volume editor) Nihal Boyaci (Volume editor)
©2019 Edited Collection 246 Pages


The social and technological developments, social movements, scientific discoveries, economic growth or diseconomies give rise to many problems for human beings. Many disciplines such as economics, political science, architecture, sociology and psychology discuss these problems and offer solutions from different perspectives. Philosophy has its own way of dealing with these problems. As opposed to the common belief, philosophy does not only deal with ideals independently of what is going on in real life. The problems of the contemporary philosophy are also the problems of the contemporary world. For this reason, this book aims to present and discuss certain philosophical problems in the contemporary world and to suggest solutions to them.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • Preface
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Contents
  • Revisiting Kuhn’s Theory of Science: Perspectivism, Relativism and Multiculturalism
  • Can the Study of Heuristics be Adopted in Ethics?
  • Poverty: A Philosophical Overview
  • “What Is the Self” or “Who Is the Self” After Cartesian Cogito
  • Life and Death Ethics: Burden of Natality and Mortality
  • An Inquiry Concerning the Philosophical Foundations of Ethical Subjectivism
  • Perf/normativity: Between Butler and Rorty
  • On the Logic of Constellation and Basic Challenges of Contemporary Political Orientations
  • City as a Contemporary Philosophical Problem
  • The Problem of the Criterion: Can Skepticism be Overcome?
  • Spinoza’s Conception of Democracy Based on Knowledge and Morality
  • The Ontology of Politics in Hannah Arendt and Lying


Revisiting Kuhn’s Theory of Science:

Perspectivism, Relativism and Multiculturalism


Thomas Samuel Kuhn started his academic life as a physicist but focused on the history of science in his subsequent works. Through his theories formed by synthesizing his scientist and science historian interests with philosophy, he created a revolutionary perspective on the philosophy of science. For him, science advanced not as an uninterrupted accumulation, but rather, through revolutionary transformations that seriously interrupted or even ruptured established scientific knowledge. In other words, the progression of science is characterized by breaks and revolutions, rather than being a whole and in a regular manner; it is affected by conflicts and the impacts of environmental conditions, just as in nature as in society. These arguments have deeply impacted the Western thought on science and society.

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions published in 1962, and considered as his most significant work, dealt a mighty blow to the classic, progressive understanding of science, then dominating the understanding of the history of science, which claimed there was a continuous and linear advancement in science. Kuhn’s critique of this dominant understanding of science exceeded the boundaries of science and promoted the development of numerous theories such as “perspectivism” and “multiculturalism” as well as being widely discussed in the full range of the humanistic, cultural, and social scientific disciplines. Delving into the premises of his views, this study focuses on how Kuhn’s theory of science developed, and its influences on fields other than science.

As its very name suggests, Kuhn’s work, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, created a revolutionary effect on the field of philosophy of science, and on many other disciplines of social sciences. Kuhn differentiates science as ‘normal’ and ‘revolutionary’, defining former as “scientific achievements that some particular ←11 | 12→scientific community acknowledges as supplying the foundation for its further practice” (Kuhn, 1996: 10). Kuhn describes paradigms, conceptualized as “disciplinary matrix”, as the scientific achievements that are universally accepted, and that produce problems and solutions which can serve as models for a group of researchers, for a certain period (Kuhn, 1996: 22–24). The function of paradigms is to provide puzzles for scientists, and tools for the solution of these puzzles (Kuhn, 1996: 36). Kuhn suggests that the accumulation of unsolved anomalies eventuates in a crisis for a particular paradigm; in other words, paradigms encounter crises when there is no longer confidence that solutions for puzzles can be found (Fuller, 2003: 219). If a rival paradigm can overcome this crisis, then, a scientific revolution occurs. Another argument by Kuhn, leading to numerous debates about perspectivism, relativism and multiculturalism, is discussed below: his view that the scientific understandings in the two rival paradigms are incommensurable. Thus, Kuhn argues that there is no standard criterion by which to evaluate and compare the value of rival scientific theories.

In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Kuhn draws an unprecedented frame regarding the nature of scientific development, as previously, the linear scientific development model had dominated in the philosophy of science. According to this view, science is a progressive whole that consists of the addition of new information to the archive of old information, the correction of inaccurate theories or the clarification of past theories. In the field of the history of science, before Kuhn, an inductivist and verificationist approach had been dominant; however, this dominant approach was criticized by Popperian falsificationist theory, and a new level of competence was achieved. It can be confidently stated that Kuhn’s understanding of science emerged, to a certain extent, as a critique of Popper’s understanding of science, which holds that science moves linearly towards a more scientific theory through the falsification of the previous one. In this regard, in order to comprehend Kuhn’s understanding of science, it is essential to examine Popper’s falsificationist theory in relation to the inductionist approach.

From Popper to Kuhn: Science and Progression

The most significant aspect of Karl Reimund Popper’s philosophy is its critical approach; Popper reveals this attitude in his opposition to totalitarianism in the philosophy of politics, and to the inductionist approach in the philosophy of science. Anti-inductionism is the clearest divergence from the Vienna Circle (Wiener Kreis), a group of famous contemporary philosophers which included Gustav Bergmann, Rudolf Carnap, Philipp Frank, Otto Neurath, and Moritz Schlick. Inductionism contends that science is able to advance through firstly ←12 | 13→collecting data and observing, and secondly, through inducing scientific laws and predictions from these data (Gillies, 1993: 26).

For the philosophers of the Vienna Circle, scientific knowledge is based solely on experiment, i.e., what is directly given. According to this view, the purpose of scientific endeavor is to reach unified knowledge by applying rational reasoning to the experimental data (Güzel, 1998: 8–9). For Popper, just as with the Vienna Circle, the primary question is how to know what is scientific, and again similar to them, he took an empiricist approach. Though Popper focuses on the same problem as the Vienna Circle, and though he belonged to the same tradition of philosophical thinking, he entirely diverges from the Circles’s inductionist and verificationist approach due to his peculiar answers to this same question. In this regard, Popper, in Science: Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge, suggests “[t];hus science must begin with myths, and with the criticism of myths; neither with the collection of observations, nor with the invention of experiments, but with the critical discussion of myths, and of magical techniques and practices” (Popper, 2009: 66). For Popper, therefore, inductionism leads us to err in the formation of new theories, and in distinguishing the scientific from the unscientific. For him, the correct way to eliminate this mistake is to adopt a falsificationist approach.

Popper specifically focuses on four theories, which were especially influential on the formation of his falsificationist approach: Karl Marx’s theory of history, Sigmund Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis, Alfred Adler’s theory called “individual psychology,” and finally, Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, which he sets apart from the other three (Popper, 2009: 44–45). He argues that the explanatory power of Marx, Freud, and Adler’s theories deeply affects people; on encountering them, people tend to see countless indicators confirming these theories, and the theories seem to explain the vast majority of events in the areas they are related to (Popper, 2009: 45–47). For Popper, the common aspect of these three theories is the constant, inexhaustible stream of evidence and observations that support them. Popper states that “every conceivable circumstance can be interpreted in the light of Adler’s, or similarly, with the help of Freud’s theories”, and that there is no human behavior that cannot be explained within the frames of these theories. For example, the behavior of a man who tries to drown a child and that of another who tries to save the same child can both be explained by Adler’s theory of the feeling of inferiority and the need to prove oneself. In other words, even very different and contradictory situations can be explained according to these theories, and these theories cannot be falsified. According to Popper, therefore, these theories’ apparent and assumed strength actually constitutes their weakness (Popper, 2009: 46–47).

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Setting Einstein’s theory of relativity apart, he asks himself why the first three theories remain less sufficient. For Popper, Einstein’s theory of relativity is completely different from these other three, mainly for the reason that it can be falsified. In his own words, “what impressed me most was Einstein’s own clear statement that he would regard his theory as untenable if it should fail in certain tests” (Popper, 2002: 38–39). Einstein’s theory of relativity falsified Newton’s theory, which had previously been verified; yet, Einstein’s theory itself is open to falsification. Thus, Popper argues that the basis of being considered scientific lies in the capability of being falsified. Popper, in this regard, lists many criteria for distinguishing between science and pseudo-science, and similarly, between what is scientific and what is not; and further states, “[o];ne can sum up all this by saying that the criterion of the scientific status of a theory is its falsifiability, or refutability, or testability” (Popper, 2009: 48). In sum, science is different in that it is falsifiable, refutable and testable, rather than verifiable. He concludes by re-emphasizing his conviction that “scientific attitude was the critical attitude, which did not look for verifications but for crucial tests; tests which could refute the theory tested, though they could never establish it” (Popper, 2002: 39). Thus, Popper believes that theories can never be fully confirmed, but can be strengthened and consolidated provided they are able to withstand tests.

Eventually for Popper, science is not done by gathering random data and transforming them into theory; but rather, as a result of the adoption of a “critical” approach to a problem, based on a determined purpose and taking a particular viewpoint. For instance, while Einstein was forming his theory of relativity, he created a new theory not as the result of purposeless and causeless observations, but rather, because he understood that aspects of Newton’s theory could be tested and falsified. Therefore, each theory arises from the falsifiability and from the falsified aspects of a previous theory. It is clear that Kuhn was influenced by Popper’s views; because his approach followed Popper’s in arguing that the transition from Newtonian physics to Einstein’s physics was due to the falsified aspects of the previous system. However, this transition, for Kuhn, does not take place in a smooth structure where the previous theory is abandoned after being discredited, and simply leads to passing on to the next theory. In his studies of the history of science, Kuhn discovers that science does not advance in a straight course, contrary to the claims of the traditional approach. According to Kuhn, science is not a holistic structure with stable progression, but rather, it is a fragmented structure which develops as it passes through different science periods, some normal, and others revolutionary, characterized by ruptures. In this context, the question of how this transition takes place is the issue over which Kuhn’s philosophy differs significantly from Popper’s.

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Kuhn’s Theory of Scientific Revolutions

The transition, for Kuhn, starts when problems occur in periods of normal science, which he characterized as: “research firmly based upon one or more past scientific achievements, achievements that some particular scientific community acknowledges for a time as supplying the foundation for its further practice” (Kuhn, 1996: 10). As can be understood from Kuhn’s definition, the normal science arises from adhering to the existing scientific community, sharing the same values, tools, and even metaphysics. In Kuhn’s theory, the normal science is referred to as the puzzle-solving period (Kuhn, 1996: 113). In the normal science period, the person dealing with the puzzle – the scientist – tries to solve the puzzle within a certain area, the rules of which he knows, and within the limits of his knowledge. In the normal period, the scientist does not conduct research in an unknown area; on the contrary, scientists try to solve, so to speak, a puzzle, in an area where the tools, methods and boundaries are clearly defined, using the available tools and methods and within the known boundaries. During this period, many puzzle solutions accumulate in a cumulative form.

Another issue Kuhn deals with is the period in which the scientific revolution takes place. The period of scientific revolution refers not to a change in speed of advance but rather, a change in quality. Kuhn likens scientific revolutions to political revolutions and explains, them as follows:

Political revolutions aim to change political institutions in ways that those institutions themselves prohibit… Initially it is crisis alone that attenuates the role of political institutions as we have already seen it attenuate the role of paradigms… Like the choice between competing political institutions, that between competing paradigms proves to be a choice between incompatible modes of community life. Because it has that character, the choice is not and cannot be determined merely by the evaluative procedures characteristic of normal science, for these depend in part upon a particular paradigm, and that paradigm is at issue. (Kuhn, 1996: 93–94)

An analogy can easily be established between political revolutions and Kuhn’s understanding of the structure of scientific revolutions. For instance, when a political situation is unable to produce solutions, there can be no easy or direct transition to a new political situation considered to be more capable producing the necessary solutions, but rather, it will require a break, a revolution. However, from a Popperian viewpoint, we foresee that a theory will be abandoned if either it cannot perform the necessary functions, or can be falsified; in other words, to speak in political science terms, there must be a transition from the wrong to the right system. In contrast, Kuhn holds that despite all the mistakes, ←15 | 16→scientists who share the same paradigm will either do their utmost to resolve these anomalies, or ignore them, however significant they are. Moreover, the new scientific system, or, as in the example above, political system cannot be defined as being more accurate or better, the only claim that can be made is that it is better in solving more puzzles (Kuhn, 1996: 206–207). Again, the scientists who share the same paradigm do not abandon it when one aspect of the theory is falsified, but rather, they defend it until the paradigm is no longer viable or defendable.

When the history of science is examined, the fact that Ptolemaic astronomy and Aristotelian physics dominated the scientific thought for centuries, I believe, also confirms Kuhn’s point. Although Aristotle’s and Ptolemy’s understandings of science could be falsified in the centuries when they were dominant, and though unable to respond to developments in the face of emerging scientific data, they continued to be accepted as authority far into the Scholastic era. In this context, Kuhn argues that in what he calls the period of normal science, a paradigm will be defended by the scientists adhering to it until further defense is impossible, and that, only when the paradigm becomes totally inaccessible due to its internal contradictions, a scientific revolution occurs and transition to a new paradigm takes place.

During the revolutionary science period, the accumulation that is discovered in the normal period is undermined and some of these previous gains cannot be transmitted to the period of the revolution; thus, a phenomenon successfully described in the previous period may remain without explanation after the revolution. Such deficient theories lose the power of explanation. In short, a theory or paradigm losing its problem-solving ability due to such a revolution is known as “Kuhn-loss” (Hoyningen-Huene, 1993: 261). Although Kuhn argues that the choice between counter-science processes is a social-psychological process, it is clear that the post-revolution paradigm must involve more problem-solving abilities and fewer anomalies than the paradigm that necessitates a revolution.

The Problem of Incommensurability

For the revolution to take place, Kuhn argues that the theories which gain a deeper potential of explanatory power should be greater in number than the theories that lose the power of explanation. However, he holds that it remains unclear whether this situation is in fact an indicator of scientific progress (Kuhn, 1996: 162–165). For Kuhn, as mentioned earlier, the criteria for selecting the scientific ideas to create the revolution are socio-political rather than objective, and ←16 | 17→he gives the example of the Copernican revolution. He states that Copernicus himself admits having chosen the heliocentric astronomy since he found it aesthetic rather than useful. For astronomers, the choice between the systems of Copernicus and Ptolemy is a matter of taste, and such issues are the most difficult to define and discuss (Kuhn, 1995: 172). Kuhn has an evolutionary approach to transition between scientific systems; the evolution occurs according to the environmental conditions, not necessarily towards the more ideal or accurate system.

Another problem in Kuhn’s philosophy is about whether theories are comparable; or in other words, whether commensurable or not. Therefore, the aspect in Kuhn’s philosophy that is linked to the idea of perspectivism, and that influenced debates over issues that range from postmodernism to multiculturalism, is related to the incommensurability of theories. Kuhn argues that comparison of theories cannot be performed in a straight-line logical approach, as in the case of standard empiricist views. For Kuhn, theories are incommensurable not because the lack of a common measure, rather, paradigms do not have a common criterion; since they are attempts to solve puzzles in different periods (Kuhn, 1996: 103–104). The values in a paradigm will change simultaneously with the change of paradigms due to the revolution. According to Howard Sankey, “Kuhn’s notion of incommensurability involved semantical, observational and methodological differences between global theories of paradigms” (Sankey, 1993: 760) and as a result it is possible to distinguish three types of incommensurability:


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (May)
Social Philosophy Political Philosophy Epistemology Ethics Applied Ethics
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2019. 245 pp.

Biographical notes

Dilek Arlı Çil (Volume editor) Nihal Boyaci (Volume editor)

Dilek Arlı Çil is Assistant Professor in philosophy at Maltepe University in Turkey. Her areas of interest are social and political philosophy, ethics and epistemology. Nihal Petek Boyacı is Assistant Professor in philosophy at Medeniyet University in Turkey. She has translated Plato’s dialogues Ion and Lysis from Ancient Greek to Turkish. Her areas of interest include Ancient Greek philosophy and philosophy for children.


Title: Philosophical Problems in the Contemporary World