All since Thomas Kuhn’s strongly influential The Structure of Scientific Revolutions the Philosophy of Science and –even more so –the Social Sciences have contained a greater amount of theories that could be described as more or less relativistic, meaning that the standards of justification or truth thereafter more often were said to be relative to language, culture, or biological makeup. One of the more elaborate ways of developing Thomas Kuhn’s theories in a more relativistic direction ismade by the philosopher Richard Rorty. Rorty, mainly a supporter of Thomas Kuhn, is also a philosopher who has been seen as a main exponent of a so called Postmodern philosophy.
My intention in this thesis is to evaluate whether Kuhn's and Rorty's theories of science and knowledge could be regarded as relativism, in respects of their view of incommensurability, rational argumentation, and of their position vis-á-vis the more conventional picture of scientific knowledge and truth. Both Rorty and Kuhn agree on the idea that there is no common measure for assessing the different scientific theories, since science is grounded within specific theories of the period, what is called the thesis of incommensurability. This idea rules out certain kinds of comparison of two theories in different paradigms and consequently rejects some traditional views of scientific development, such as the view that later science builds on the knowledge contained within earlier theories. Even though Rorty and Kuhn also do not agree with the view that later theories are closer approximations to the truth than earlier theories, Kuhn differs from Rorty in the –seemingly contradictory stated -view that later theories generally are better than earlier ones for solving problems (puzzles), and that science is guided by some extra-paradigmatical criteria.
While neither Rorty nor Kuhn are willing to describe themselves as relativists, this seems rather to be right in only one respect namely that they are not to be described as ontological relativists, even though Kuhn sometimes has made a few undeveloped statements in direction of ontological relativism. While Kuhn's (above mentioned) seemingly contradictory view -where he harbors both incommensurability and the possibility of distinguishing the progress of science –makes the verdict of epistemic relativism not totally solid, it is however clear that Rorty should be considered a clear epistemic relativist. For Rorty neither the concept of truth, nor those of objectivity and of reality, can be invoked to explain or legitimate our inferential practices and our standards of warrant. Rorty's arguments are instead rejecting science and scientific methodology to let us be constrained in our beliefs by the world. It is a matter to discuss whether Rorty's view of science, if it were to prevail, would mean that scientists no longer would be motivated to carry on as they are and if the status of Scientific knowledge would diminish in an unwanted way.
2012. , 42 p.