Home Opinions Thomas Kuhn’s truth about “truth” may not be absolute

Thomas Kuhn’s truth about “truth” may not be absolute

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Thomas Kuhn’s greatest accomplishment in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is providing the reader with a reality check regarding the way in which science is carried out. 

According to Kuhn, scientific theories are chosen, not simply with regard to evidence and logic, but also with regard to external factors, like an individual’s philosophical ideas about the world. 

While this seems to be a good analysis of the way in which the developed bureaucracy of science has worked and continues to work through theory choice, there seems to be something about the essence of science that Kuhn is missing here. 

Indeed, while humans may distort the practice of theory selection via reliance upon preconceived philosophical notions, this tendency is not reflective of science, but rather the viscous cloud that science is surrounded by – the viscous cloud that is impossible to penetrate. 

Science is a purely objective activity with the aim of lifting the veil from the face of reality, within which there is no room for persuasion or philosophy. 

As such, Kuhn’s description of theory choice is not descriptive of science, but rather the accessible viscous cloud around it. 

Truth is a given, for even in the statement “there is no truth,” there is truth. 

There are truths that exist like preference and created definitions that science need not have authority over, for we acknowledge that these are fabrications made into concrete notions for the sake of sensical existence. 

Truth outside of these realms, however, exists under the jurisdiction of science – it is called objective truth. 

These are truths that are true independent of the existence of the observer. 

There may be an infinite amount of objective truths. There may be a finite amount of objective truths. The objective truths may be static. The objective truths may be ever-changing. Regardless of the nature of these objective truths, the objective truths can be embodied in totality by a theory. 

The totality of objective truths is called total truth. The embodiment of total truth in a theory is called the “Absolute.”

It might seem counter-intuitive to to think that total truth can be embodied by a theory if total truth is infinite or ever-changing. 

However, the embodiment of total truth by a theory is possible because the nature of a theory will align with the nature of the truth. 

Therefore, if a truth is finite, the theory embodying that truth will be finite. If a truth is infinite, the theory embodying that truth will be infinite. If a truth is static, the theory embodying that truth will be static. If a truth is ever-changing, the theory embodying that truth will be ever-changing. 

Therefore, the theory of total truth, known as the Absolute, will share its nature with total truth, and exist as an accurate embodiment of total truth.

Science is the construction of the Absolute. As there is one Absolute, no matter the nature of the Absolute, there is no choice in theory with regard to science. There is only that which aligns with the Absolute and that which does not. As science is the construction of the Absolute, only truths that align with the Absolute may be chosen when conducting science. Therefore, Kuhn’s idea that theories are “chosen” in science is false.

However, as humanity is constantly stuck in the impenetrable viscous cloud surrounding science rather than practicing pure science, Kuhn’s analysis of philosophy, personal preference, aesthetic beauty, simplicity and persuasion influencing our theory choices is correct. The distinction, however, between science in and of itself and the viscous cloud that surrounds it is an important one. North Korea claims to be a social democracy, but is it? It is the essence of science that we must chase as much as we chase truth. 

Iain Carlos ’20 (irwin2@stolaf.edu) is from Chicago, Ill. He majors in music and religion.