Did Tom Kuhn Decide Errol Morris Was Incommensurable?

Errol Morris—in an odd lecture— claims that Tom Kuhn threw an ashtray at him after an argument over incommensurability turned personal. Weird. Check it out here (video) (audio).

According to Morris, he approached Kuhn with a certain indignation over Kuhn’s apparent abnegation of the search for Truth in science and the history of science. We can only guess how (if?) the conversation turned violent. But like all conflicts, this one pleads for analysis.

Morris takes Kuhn’s idea of incommensurability to make the accumulation of knowledge impossible. I’ve always favored a reading of Structure that allows for the accumulation of knowledge, even as paradigms come and go. I guess I presume a sort of translation can and does take place across paradigms.

I’m fascinated by Morris’ passionate response. Is this an example of a reformist Liberal’s fear of creeping relativism? I think I (we?) too often forget that the culture wars were not simply left-right. Liberals and conservatives all did and do have reason to object to strong post-modern epistemologies.

5 thoughts on “Did Tom Kuhn Decide Errol Morris Was Incommensurable?

  1. Anonymous

    the boundary-work around Structure is obviously fascinating – those dissatisfied with what they perceived as a relativism hacked away from all sides (political, disciplinary, &c.), and i think a better effort to put immediate and subsequent responses into their political and intellectual context in mid-c20 US is called for!


  2. Anonymous


    Apparently, Errol Morris is supposed to publish a paper on incommensurability in the a few days (he wrote anout it on his Twitter account). The thing I'd really like to know is if Morris took the time to read Thomas Kuhn's postface to his Structure… written in 1969. There are some important distinction to make in order for this discussion to be rigorous and productive: for example, the difference between ontological relativism, methodological relativism and perspectivism.

    Thanks for the links to the lecture.



  3. Dan

    P., thanks for the heads up on Morris' essay. His twitter stream is indeed rife with Kuhn-put-downs in progress. I guess we'll see if any thing rigorous or productive results, but I'm not holding my breath.



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