Who Said It?

by Jon Mandle on April 5, 2006

I recently ran across a quote that I don’t remember ever seeing before, but which expresses pretty clearly a view that is commonly associated with Kuhn. Who said it (and when)? Answer below.

Old ideas give way slowly; for they are more than abstract logical forms and categories. They are habits, predispositions, deeply engrained attitudes of aversion and preference. Moreover, the conviction persists – though history shows it to be a hallucination – that all the questions that the human mind has asked are questions that can be answered in terms of the alternatives that the questions themselves present. But in fact intellectual progress usually occurs through sheer abandonment that results from their decreasing vitality and a change of urgent interest. We do not solve them: we get over them.

John Dewey, “The Influence of Darwinism on Philosophy” (1909).

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Crooked Timber » » Who Said It?, Part the second
04.05.06 at 11:58 pm



Bill Hooker 04.05.06 at 12:23 pm

I’m reading Dewey’s “Quest For Certainty” (1929) at the moment, and realizing that many later philosophers of science probably owed him a considerable debt. I haven’t read enough to know whether this is an acknowledged debt or a case of Dewey’s ideas coming back into vogue.


Chris 04.05.06 at 12:30 pm

I always liked this one from Max Plank:
“A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”


Steve LaBonne 04.05.06 at 12:40 pm

And as I recall Larry Laudan wrote a paper in which he tested Planck’s quip against the historical record and claimed to find that it was not supported. (Anyone have a reference?)


pdf23ds 04.05.06 at 12:46 pm

In other words, most of the important questions beg the question.


Chris 04.05.06 at 1:04 pm

A whole host of people have studied Planck’s principle, though I don’t know of Lauden doing so. I think the vast majority of the studies have shown it to be false.


No Nym 04.05.06 at 1:26 pm

I called Dewey, this sounded (and was) just like him. Had I not guessed Dewey I would have said Laudan, but it’s not in his style. Same underlying concerns, though.


marcel 04.05.06 at 3:00 pm

Briefer Planck (#2 above):

Science progresses funeral by funeral.



Henry (not the famous one) 04.05.06 at 4:15 pm

St. Thomas Aquinas (speaking to Dante Alighieri, whom he happened to meet in the Fourth Heaven, the Sphere of the Sun, roughly 706 years ago) echoes the first part of Dewey’s statement:

«E questo ti sia sempre piombo a’ piedi,
per farti mover lento com’uom lasso
e al sì e al no che tu non vedi . . .

. . . perch’elli ‘ncontra che più volte piega
l’oppinion corrente in falsa parte,
e poi l’affetto l’intelletto lega.»

“And let this always weigh down your feet like lead,
to make you move as slowly as a weary man,
to refrain from yes or no when you do not see . . .

because hasty opinion too often
points the wrong way and then affection
for one’s own opinion binds up the intellect.”

Paradiso XIII: 112-114, 118-120


Cosma 04.05.06 at 4:31 pm

Re Laudan on Planck’s quip: See Arthur Donovan, Larry Laudan and Rachel Laudan (eds.), Scrutinizing Science: Empirical Studies of Scientific Change (Kluwer, 1988), especially the introduction, where this is postulate “GA4.5”.


Nicholas Gruen 04.06.06 at 7:36 am

Kuhn didn’t do much. I’m sure he was a clever fellow, but his ‘discovery’ was simply the rediscovery of things that people had known about the history of science for ages. The pragmatists probably put it best, and C.S. Pearce said similar things earlier than Dewey. But Adam Smith said not dissimilar things in his History of Astronomy in the eighteenth century.


soru 04.06.06 at 10:24 am

I think the vast majority of the studies have shown it to be false.

However, the people who believe it to be true are not dead yet.


ed_finnerty 04.06.06 at 10:30 am

when I read Kuhn it seemed like a rehash of Whiteheads Climate of Opinion stuff, which of course was a rehash of …, (etc to infinite regress)


Steve LaBonne 04.06.06 at 10:56 am

If Peirce had ever presented his main ideas clearly and systematically in a nice easy-to-read little book like Kuhn’s Structure, nobody would ever have heard of Kuhn. Of course Peirce just wasn’t that kinda guy.


No Nym 04.06.06 at 1:35 pm

Steve Labonne said: “Of course Peirce just wasn’t that kinda guy.”

Like Dewey was?

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