For Science in the Social Sciences by David Papineau (auth.)

By David Papineau (auth.)

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On this view, for any theoretical term there is always some-possibly quite complicated-observational expression which is precisely equivalent in meaning. This means that theoretical language is in principle quite dispensable, in that anything said in it would always equally well-if not equally conveniently-be said using the observation language only. For the translationist, theoretical talk is just a useful shorthand for making complex observational statements. At bottom, talk of 'temperature' is just talk about thermometer readings, talk of an organism's 'genes' is just talk about the distribution of certain observable characteristics amongst its relations, talk about 'class structure' is just talk about certain patterns of interactional behaviour, etc.

What examples such as these suggest is that even the immediate material of sensory awareness can often incorporate all kinds of assumptions deriving from abstract scientific theories. Perhaps these examples are less than convincing. The judgement that something is an X-ray tube carries implications about its ability to produce X-rays. How then can such a judgement be part of direct sensory perception? Direct observation can show us the shape, the colour, the hardness, etc. of an object-but surely not that it will produce X-rays.

Both Kuhn and Feyerabend agree that the empirical evidence can never force the scientist to abandon a commitment to some favoured set of general postulates. Even when those postulates are framed in terms that can be applied in direct response to observation, the scientist can always deal with apparent counter-evidence by reinterpreting it to fit his chosen postulates. Kuhn and Feyerabend independently adopted the term incommensurability to indicate the impossibility of objective choices between alternative theories in a given domain.

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