Saturday, December 15, 2007


Guy Robinson Foulkstown, Ballinure, Thurles, Co. Tipperary, Ireland.

22 Feb 94
Dear Tom

Many years ago when you kindly took me to lunch in Princeton (and in conversation we discovered that we had both been to Solebury) you mentioned your interest in art as illuminating the sciences. I think I may, at long last got onto what you were after back then. It comes out in the enclosed, which I hope you may find interesting in its general thrust even though it is only part done and requires a lot more work on the notion of objectivity by way of trying to break the hypnotizing and paralyzing grip of the real and ultimate reality and suchlike. I think those notions, for example, completely paralyze the discussion in that collection of pieces by Putnam, Van Fraasen et al called Scientific Realism, and that the strength of their grip has deep and subterranean sources not easy to break till those sources are brought out and understood.
I have tried to bring them out, a bit anyway, in accounting for the multiple misunderstandings that your work has encountered. I think that the basic thrust of your work is far too revolutionary (just as Wittgenstein’s is) and confronts deeply-held and multiply-connected elements of a world view that has been dominant since the Seventeenth Century.
Anyway, I’d be interested to hear if I have finally got the right end of the stick that you were tendering back then (somewhen in the 70’s).
I’m assuming you’re settled somewhere in the Princeton area, I hope happily. I remember your wife saying at the 1964 Bedford Conference when you were just moving there: ‘Not another permanent position!’

Thomas S. Kuhn 985 Memorial Drive, Apt. 303, Cambridge, MA 02138

July 16, 1994

Dr. Guy Robinson
Foulkstown, Ballinure
Thurles, Co. Tipperary

Dear Guy Robinson:

It's close to six months since you addressed a fine letter to me in Princeton. As you'll gather from this letterhead, it had to be forwarded (I left Princeton in 1979 for "another tenure position" shortly after my divorce from the wife who put that phrase into the language. Since then I've been at, or emeritus from, MIT where your letter finally reached me in mid-March. Unfortunately, at that time I was still engaged in an exhausting battle (it's occupied most of a year) to recover from major surgery followed by radiation treatment. That recovery is putting me back into very nearly the shape from which I began, but l'm only now finding the strength and concentration to face the large pile of manuscripts and mail that accumulated while I was "away". Your letter has at last surfaced, and I'm immensely glad of it, for the manuscript that came with it has given me intense pleasure.

Before trying to give an account of my reaction, I've an embarrassing confession to make. I've never had a good memory, and I've entirely forgotten our past meetings. Your letter is too circumstantial and the reactions you report too plausible to leave me with doubts. I can reconstruct the events you speak of and also participate in them here and there. But its your memory and my sense of self that permits that participation.

All this is a prelude to saying that I like the manuscript pages you've sent me very much indeed. How could I not? They flatter me in ways I long for and rarely achieve. Kuhn and Wittgenstein, eh! Egad! I would not, however, react in that way if I didn't think you'd seen, to an almost unprecedented extent, what I've been up to. I couldn't have identified my position so clearly at the time I wrote Structure, but I've learned since and many of the views you express emerge loud and clear in the early chapters of the book I've now got underway. People to whom I say what I now believe, sometimes tell me I've changed my mind. I think I've only developed it, and the parallel between the positions you and I have reached after these years tends to confirm that description of what's occurred. In particular, both you and I would now emphasize that the position towards which Structure points requires the abandonment of anything like the realist's notion of truth and the approach of scientific belief to it. I think we'd agree also that the charge of relativism was and always has been a red herring.

A couple of more specific remarks. I initially responded with a big marginal "WOW!" to your second paragraph, the one in which you demolish Scientific Realism by asking what changes in the world could change its status from true to false or vice versa. That's just the sort of argument I most love, one that leaves readers wondering how they could ever have held such demonstrably absurd beliefs. The first argument against metaphysical realism in my projected book aims to be of that sort, and it delighted me to be supplied with another. Now, however, I'm not so sure that yours works as we both want it to, and I suspect that what has come to trouble me about it may be important to us both. If I'm reading you properly, the "world" you have in mind is the natural world, the one that natural scientists aim to understand. But Scientific Realism is not a doctrine about the natural world but about the relation between it and a social practice. If one addresses your question about the effect of change to that relationship Other than to the natural world by itself, it may get a different answer. Scientific Realism would not, of course, be reintroduced by that change in the object of the question, but the argument would work very differently in ways that should perhaps be explored

My other remark is quite different. Since I don't remember our conversation, I can't be sure what I had in mind in speaking of studying art to illuminate the sciences, but I doubt it's the point you make so splendidly on p. 3. I agree fully with that point, think it important, and doubt that I could have made it so cogently when I wrote Structure. But I'm more likely to have had in mind the desirability of studying art to explore what made it different from science. I thought of Structure as buying into the categories used in history of art, literature, etc., and declaring that science was like that too. Partly as an unintended consequence of that book, there's developed a considerable body of sociological literature arguing that science is just like all other human practices, and that it's claims to special status are simply a political ploy. I, without any thought of establishing a hierarchy, have always felt a need to recapture what's special about science, what differentiates it, not from other practices as a group, but from other practices considered individually. Art is an obvious and an especially apposite practice to choose for this purpose. I suspect that that is what I was getting at in my remark to you.

There's much more in your paper that interests and cheers me, but I can't now go on. I'd value being kept in touch as you develop these themes. And I'd be glad also, if you respond positively to that suggestion, to learn a bit more about who you now are and what you're more generally up to.

Warm greetings,

Tom Kuhn

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