Category Archives: epistemology

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.