Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Essential Tension II

Kuhn went on to appropriate and deploy the paradigm concept to encapsulate the various collections of beliefs and shared agreements, about nature, that allow scientists to solve problems. According to Kuhn, "No natural history can be interpreted in the absence of at least some implicit body of intertwined theoretical and methodological beliefs that permits [problem] selection, evaluation, and criticism” (16-17). In my thinking, Kuhn's argument has repercussions for how we choose the social problems we seek to address, the strategies we develop to address them, and the kinds of arguments that we construct to justify and gain support for our decisions.

Initially, historians and philosophers of science found Kuhn's thesis problematic. Later, in the seventies, during a time of social turmoil, graduate students embraced Kuhn's relativism and made him a rock star. His arguments justified the impulse towards social change. Today, decades after the initial publication, SSR has sold more than one million copies and influenced generations of academicians.

As a Christian interested in the American church and reconciliation, Kuhn's thesis seems useful for thinking about our ability to make sense of and act in the world. While Kuhn was concerned with the advance of scientific knowledge, his psycho-sociological approach informs my perspective on the JPC’s reflection upon the origins of its mission and subsequent activities. Kuhn seems to suggest the need for developing new approaches to elaborate its mission. I would ask the following questions: How are SPRINT trips informed by the thinking of individuals like Josiah Strong? What are the consequences? Have we recognized the connection between urban involvement and the Social Gospel and progressivism? If not, how do these religious and social theories make a difference? How do ideas about redistribution reflect the Gospel of Wealth and Social Darwinism?

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