An Evaluation of Imre Lakatos’ Attempt to Reconcile Normative and Descriptive Accounts of Science22
Njenga, Francis Mwangi
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In philosophy of science, philosophy has the role of analysing the foundations, methods and implications of science. This role involves analysing the way science ought to be and the way it is. In this quest, the normativist philosopher of science argues that it is only possible to understand science in reference to certain norms and standards. The descriptivist philosopher of science on the contrary argues that it is only possible to understand science in reference to its actual activities. This means there is a controversy between the normative and the descriptive accounts of science. Karl Popper in his theory of falsificationism, gives a picture of science that is normative in character. Thomas Kuhn on the contrary, in his theory of scientific revolutions, gives a picture of science that is descriptive in character. When Imre Lakatos perceives this diversity, he thinks that he could reconcile it using his methodology of scientific research programmes. He is of the view that it is possible to give a picture of science that is both normative and descriptive in character. This raises the question on whether he succeeded or not. The problem of this study, therefore, is to evaluate the success of his attempt to reconcile Popper and Kuhn in their normative and descriptive accounts of science. In order to achieve this goal, this study adopts an analytic, descriptive and synthetic method which enables a successful critical understanding of the relevant primary and the secondary sources. The study finds out that Lakatos in his attempt partially succeeds (the strengths of his methodology) and partially fails (the weaknesses of his methodology). Nevertheless, the study concludes that Lakatos provides an account of science that is far much better than either the normative or the descriptive account (each on its own). This conclusion is further informed by Gilbert Herman’s theory of ‘Inference to the best explanation’; a theory that helps to assert that Lakatos’ approach, despite its weakness, is an account of inference to the best explanation.