Dispatches from the ivory tower

The filmmaker Errol Morris has posted the first of a five-part series on what he calls “The Ashtray Argument”. I have no idea where this will go in the next posts, but the first piece is worth reading for its (not very positive) description of Thomas Kuhn alone:

I asked him, “If paradigms are really incommensurable, how is history of science possible? Wouldn’t we be merely interpreting the past in the light of the present? Wouldn’t the past be inaccessible to us? Wouldn’t it be ‘incommensurable?’”

He started moaning. He put his head in his hands and was muttering, “He’s trying to kill me. He’s trying to kill me.”

And then I added, “…except for someone who imagines himself to be God.”

It was at this point that Kuhn threw the ashtray at me.

Not only is the whole thing funny, it also seems to be developing into an interesting critique of Kuhn, a thinker I never found as convincing as many others seem to do.

It’s also interesting that Morris attended Saul Kripke’s lectures that would later turn into Naming and Necessity, the only philosophy book I have read more than two times, and one of the very best. I’m usually not into analytical philosophy, but this is so much more, and the fact that the book is compiled from the notes of a student listening to the lecture, which Kripke gave without notes, is simply astounding. It is a tough but mercifully short read, which is why I’ve reread it several times, but recommended to anyone who believe that the study of language has nothing to do with real life.


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