The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
Paradigms vs. Research Programmes - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, July/September 1978, vol. 1, No. 3 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
This work is copyrighted by the Institute for Humane Studies, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia, and is put online with their permission.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Paradigms vs. Research Programmes
“Kuhn versus Lakatos, or Paradigms versus Research Programmes in the History of Economics.” History of Political Economy 7 (1975): 399–433.
The methodology of science has recently been the field of battle among methods, a Methodenstreit, waged by the late Imre Lakatos, who pitted his “scientific research programmes” against Kuhnian paradigms. At issue is the conflict in view-points between a descriptive and a normative methodology for scientists.
Normative methodology prescribes what sound practice should be in science, even if scientists historically have failed to obey its precepts; descriptive methodology tends more to chronicle the actual, positive history of science. This poses a baffling dilemma. On the one hand, it seems impossible for a descriptive historiography of science to be value free. How can we write positive history without revealing our concept of value-laden “good” vs. “bad” science? On the other hand, it seems arbitrary to preach the value of the normative “proper” scientific method and ignore whether scientists ever followed such norms. This dilemma raises serious problems for an adequate methodology of economics.
Economists generally imbibe methodological discussions through secondary sources. Thus, during the 1950s and 1960s they absorbed the methodology of Karl Popper through Milton Friedman's “Essay on the Methodology of Positive Economics.” Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) likewise filtered through to economics via indirect sources. Now Imre Lakatos and others have indirectly alerted economists to question Kuhn's scientific “paradigm” and “normal science.”
Karl Popper's aim in The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1935) was to distinguish science from nonscience. He replaced the verifiability principle with the falsifiability principle: theories were never finally “verified” as true; they were true so long as they survived efforts to refute them when they formulated falsifiable predictions. Popper's methodology was thus anti-inductionist and normative in that it prescribed correct behavior for scientists.
Kuhn preferred descriptive history over normative methodology. Contrary to Popper, Kuhn believed that doctrinaire adherence to established theories was the rule among “best-practice” science. Kuhn's positive history centered on the tenacity of scientists adhering to orthodox “normal science” and outmoded paradigms. Scientists were reluctant to bow to the pressures of mounting anomalies and shift to a new paradigm. In general, Kuhn stressed the subjective role of values in choosing between rival paradigms; he was suspicious of normative methodology as well as epistemological rationality; and he underlined the determining role of such sociological factors as authority, hierarchy, and reference communities in science.
Lakatos rebelled against Kuhn's relativism and sought to rehabilitate Popper's normative methodology. Unlike Popper, Lakatos welcomed others to scrutinize his own normative methodology of falsifiability as a historical theory of the way science has always progressed. He saw methodology's role as a normative “logic of appraisal” providing the criteria of scientific progress. The units of appraisal are not isolated theories but clusters of interconnected theories or “scientific research programmes” (SRP). He distinguished between “progressive” and “degenerating” research strategies (or SRPs) by asking whether reformulations of any SRP (in response to anomalies) can predict something novel. An SRP is degenerating if it simply patches up a flimsy SRP with ad hoc adjustments to accommodate anomalies.
Elements of Lakatos's SRP consist of a rigid “hard core” of ideas (resembling Kuhn's paradigm) surrounded by a “protective belt of auxiliary hypotheses which has to bear the brunt of tests” and be reformulated to survive empirical objections and crises. A “positive heuristic” in any SRP supplies hints how to rehabilitate the refutable or flexible protective belt.
Lakatos believed his SRP went beyond Kuhn and unraveled the mystery of why paradigms are replaced: “Can there be any objective (as opposed to socio-psychological) reason to reject a programme, that is, to eliminate its hard core and its programme for constucting protective belts?” His answer was “yes”—if the new SRP both explains the previous success of its rival and surpasses it by a superior display of heuristic power, as Einstein's general theory of relativity surpassed Newton's more limited theory of gravitation.
Lakatos also made the startling claim that all the history of science followed this normative “inner history” of objective justification, fundamentally free from the “external history” of social, psychological, or other irrelevant reasons.
In short, Lakatos offered his Progressive Scientific Research Programme as a substitute for naive falsificationism as well as for Kuhn's descriptive paradigms and scientific revolutions.