In the third installment of the Korbel Speaker Series this Tuesday October 4th, Dr. Martin Rhodes laid out his rebuttal to the initial theme of ignorance in his lecture “Two Cheers for Positivism, One for Its Critics,” inciting debate from professors and students.
Framing his talk from the historical perspective, Rhodes ran through the litany of debates around scientific methodology. Going back and forth across the titans of each philosophy of science paradigm, the crux of his argument rested in the need to pursue objectivity and truth.
“Taking those aims away, you lose the impetus to improve,” said Rhodes.
Acknowledging that “truth with a capital T” may not be attainable, it was the pursuit of these objectives that framed the progress of science, Rhodes argued. Conversely, in the series’ opening remarks, Dr. George DeMartino alluded that the “specter of ignorance” was rampant in the social sciences because many scientist believe they have in fact been objective and discovered the ultimate truth when they have not.
In order to alleviate the issue of subjectivity, methodological camps have to be open to criticism, said Rhodes. Agreeing with DeMartino, Rhodes outlined the three biggest problems with schools of thought today: hubris and arrogance, certainty, and closure to criticism.
But where Rhodes diverged was that he believed these issues could be treated by a firm commitment to communication across camps, mixed methods, and criticism. The critical rationalist argument espoused by Karl Popper, and as most learn in primary school though not by name, is that science must be repeatable and falsifiable. But the barriers to criticism in most schools of thought make the falsifiable part difficult.
“I could make myself unpopular for saying this, but it’s not just neoclassical economics that suffers from not questioning and barriers to criticism. We not only find it in the big camps, we find it in the small camps,” said Rhodes.
The deeply epistemological arguments have crisscrossed history for years, including the “science wars” of the 1990s. “We should be rationalist, but critical,” said Rhodes, combining the two largest tenants in the philosophy of science.
The next lecture in the Korbel Speaker Series will be held at 12pm on Tuesday October 25th, in Cherrington 301. Professor Haider Khan will present “Sense in Social Sciences: Learning vs. Knowledge.”
- Sarah Crozier, MA Candidate, International Development