Heidegger vs. Kuhn: Does Science Think?
In What is Called Thinking?, Heidegger provocatively says that: “science does not think” (WCT 8). Unfortunately, Heidegger does very little to explain this bold claim, or explicitly articulate what he sees as the unthinking aspects of science. With that said, this essay elucidates Heidegger’s controversial assertion by aligning Heidegger’s distinction between Gestelland Gelassenheitwith Kuhn’s distinction between normal and revolutionary science. Briefly, the idea is that the puzzle-solving of normal science, much like the calculative activity that orders modern technology (Gestell), fails to ask what it means for scientific entities to be. However, theparadigm-testing of revolutionary science represents a releasement (Gelassenheit) from the practices and presuppositions of normal science such that it is able to ask about the beingof scientific entities. In short, revolutionary science thinks about the being of entities in a way that normal science does not.
In order to make the connection between Heidegger and Kuhn clear and thereby explain Heidegger’s claim that “science does not think,” I begin this essay with an account of the distinction Heidegger makes between being and entities. I then spell out this distinction and tentatively explicate the meaning of being via an analysis of Kuhn’s distinction between scientific paradigms and the objects we study through them. The basic thought is that Heidegger’s “being” is akin to Kuhn’s “paradigms” insofar as both tell us what it means for a specific entity or object to be. In Section 2, I explain why science does not think about the being of entities. Specifically, I connect Heidegger’s interpretation of scientific explanation and calculation with Kuhn’s account of puzzle-solving in normal science. I then illustrate why the pursuit of problems related to entities precludes questioning the paradigm that presents us with those entities and also leads to the dangers Heidegger sees in modern technology. In Section 3, I compare Heidegger’s interpretation of our releasement from the calculative activities that characterize technology with Kuhn’s account of the paradigm shifts that typify revolutionary science. In doing so, I note that revolutionary science does think about the being of entities, but in Section 4 I indicate a key difference between Heidegger and Kuhn over the extent to which thinking is either externalor internalto the practices of science. As Heidegger sees it, thinking about the being of entities is achieved through a releasementfrom calculative activities. But for Kuhn it is an intense engagementwith the puzzle-solving of normal science that enables a paradigm shift. This suggests Heidegger might be skeptical about science’s ability to think even in the revolutionary case, whereas Kuhn appears to be optimistic about science’s ability to think, generally. Finally, I show that Heidegger may still have some sympathy for Kuhn’s position insofar as Kuhn’s account of anomalies is consistent with Heidegger’s claim that as the dangers of technology grow the potential for being saved grows as well.